Me vs The Angry Mob | Halftime

 Do you think that I'm funny?

Would you look at that? A sports reference. Send me in coach, I’m ready for the big baseball match!

It’s been a pretty crazy month for comic book retail – or at least it seems that way. All the information I have comes from my own personal experience within the confines of my store and bits of anecdotal stories from the internet (a notoriously flawed information source), so please, give me a little leeway with this statement. From the bits and pieces that I keep hearing, sales and interest are up across the board – and it’s not just speculators who are coming into the stores. There’s a smattering of lapsed readers and a good chunk of new readers popping in to try out the new books. Several Marvel-only customers have been dipping their toes in across the aisle, and in general, sales are up. A lot. It’s very tempting to take this victory and run a lap around the track, arms raised. But this isn’t over yet. Not by a long shot.

Me vs. The Angry Mob

Halftime

01. FIRST HALF

The game goes like this. First quarter, DC announces their big line change. Fifty-two new books, a brand new continuity, blah blah blah. From that moment, the game begins. From my chair at the helm of the store, I start stirring up interest. Previews hits, I’m pushing copies at everyone. Everyone. File customers, regulars, new customers… the whole nine yards. Every person who walks through the door – hell, even people that I pass on the street – I’m filling them in on the impending changes. The reaction is quite varied – some are beyond excited, some are cautiously optimistic, and a few diagnose this change as the end of life as we know it, what with the massive black hole that is produced from the obvious failure-to-come. But the reaction? Doesn’t matter. It never matters that far in advance. What matters is the fact that people know. At that point, as long as you’re getting the word out, you’re winning.

The second quarter begins when you have to set your orders. This not only includes your initial orders, but the orders for the Final Order Cut-Off date which, in my opinion are even more important than the first round of orders. If you’re playing the game properly, you aren’t sitting back on the first batch of orders and hoping for the best. You’re continually pushing the launch, getting readers both old and new interested in books that they’re probably going to love, and you’re always making adjustments. During this stage, I fumbled a little bit. When I was going through the Final Order Cut-Off numbers, I was only taking into account the people who had committed already. I didn’t adjust for the any ballooning that would take place in the three plus weeks in between. This was a mistake that caused my numbers for the first couple weeks to be a little lighter than I would’ve liked. However, there’s ways of correcting errors like this.

The moment you realize something is up – either positively or negatively, you have to adjust, and you have to adjust fast. Damn the fact that the final order date has passed. The only thing that means is you can’t lower your numbers, and in this case, a person probably didn’t need to lower their numbers – they just needed to raise them. And so as the first book disappeared off the shelf, I hit the computer and feverishly changed our numbers of several upcoming books. Not all of those orders went through, but some of them did. Our Batman numbers came through perfectly – and our week four numbers would’ve been as close to pitch perfect as could be, had Diamond not fucked me over (but more on that in a little bit).

The second half ends right about now, when the orders for the last week come in, and you see what they’re doing on your shelves. While the numbers might be good, and it seems like everyone is winning to a certain extent, you can absolutely blow a fantastic lead by fucking up the second half. You should not wipe your hands and call it a day, letting your numbers for issue 2, 3 and 4 ride out. If you do that, you are absolutely going to lose the game.

02. SECOND HALF

This is where we are now. The first bits are done, and the first wave is pretty much over. You’ve surveyed the damage and made adjustments. Now, it’s time to go forward.

At this moment, Diamond is asking you to send in your initial orders for November. That means you’re looking at how all of your #1s did and you’re ordering your number 3s to suit. The luxury wasn’t there for the issue twos, but hey. Each first issue had a bit of selling time before those second issues hit the Final Order Cut Off, so you adjusted those, right? If you didn’t, whelp, it was nice knowing you. Hit the showers, because that’s a fuck up so monumental, it might as well yell out to everyone that you’ll be out of business completely within two years. Seriously, mark it on your calendar. Or no, actually don’t, because the writing has been on the wall for a while now, hasn’t it. You’re just barely scraping by, right? Right.

Anyway, you’re setting your month three orders, and if you’re doing things right, they should be pretty okay. You’ve been asking customers every week about which books they’ve been enjoying, you’ve been adding and dropping things from their files, and most of the hard work is done. (You’ll still need to account for stragglers, but that’s always a given.) But now, you should have yourself a larger customer base. Those new readers and those returning lapsed readers? They have a whole world of comic book reading that they have yet to experience, and they are just yearning to get into some good stuff. Over the past month and over the months to come, you should be able to discern their tastes fairly well, and you should be able to recommend books from there. Just because they are in your store now, don’t think that they will be active about their pull list, or discovering new things. They don’t know this world as well as you do, and they are looking for a guide – and you should never. EVER. Just let them use the internet as a guide. EVER. That place is full of absolute bullshit, and is an accurate representation of jack shit. Talk to your newer customers and get their opinions. Add books and drop books. Keep them happy, and you’ll keep their business.

And old customers. Don’t forget about those people. They are the ones that brought you to the dance, and the reason you’re still in the game today. Make sure that they are getting the books that they want, and more importantly, make sure that their purchasing habits are still within their budget. A bevy of number ones is tempting, but if they just added 52 books to their file, they’re probably feeling a bit of strain. Make sure you’re talking to them every time they walk through your doors and help them make the cuts they need to make. If you don’t do this, you could very well see them disappear from your shop when it all becomes too much, and you do not want that to happen.

And finally – bulk up on your other orders. Just because this whole initiative came from DC, you shouldn’t assume that those new readers won’t want to try books from other companies. In fact, one of the best moves DC made when putting together the line-up was including several different genres. There’s almost a book for everyone in that line up (just missing a more humourous book and maybe a romance title or two) and selling other books towards taste will work out, if you approaching things properly. Again, it comes down to recommending books to people that they would like, and not the ones you would like them to read. Do this. Get on this. Get them buying smarter, and get them loving comics. If you can do this, all of your orders will be stronger as a result. Which is how you win this particular game.

FINAL ORDERS FOR THIS WEEK

  • The final week of DC #1s just shipped, and each and every one of those books are on your final order sheet right now, alongside the second prints. You’re changing these orders now, right? Increasing, lowering, whatever you need to get those numbers as perfect as you can get them. Do this. This is maybe one of the most important things for you to do this week. Myself, I’m a little hamstrung for a few of the books. Diamond fucked up my order and as a result, I’m missing half of my Aquaman and Savage Hawkman orders. And worse: I only received 20% of my Teen Titans orders. Not even enough to cover all of our subscriptions, which is just the worse fucking thing. If only this industry had a remotely competent distributor, that would be awesome. Anyway, without these books on my shelf, I’m guessing at my orders for #2s. Wish me luck!
  • The first issue of Spaceman is on the list. This is the new book from Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, the guys behind 100 Bullets and the Batman Flashpoint tie in. Azz is also the writer of Wonder Woman. Think you can move a few copies of this book? How about for a dollar? Because that’s how much it is. Spend the next couple of weeks smoozing the customers, and put that book right up at the till on release week, and offer everyone the book for a dollar. Or hell, free with a Wonder Woman purchase, why not. You’ll lose pennies, but potentially make a lot more money in the long run. What do you have to lose?
  • Jonathan Hickman’s new Plus project starts in a few weeks. The first title in this line is the Feel Better Now one-shot that’s on the list this week. Have you been doing all that you can to promote this book? It’s the first he’s written and drawn for quite some time, and he’s not going to collect this until he gets three more of these one shots done. That’s gonna take some time and you’re going to want this on your shelves… well, maybe not until the collection comes out, but you want to have a good stock of this book. Making sure your Red Wing customers will have access to this book should provide you with a good base number. What, you sold out of Red Wing? Well then you’re numbers should be more than that. Go. Do.
  • The beginning of Jason Aaron’s run on Incredible Hulk begins here. This run is emerging from the ashes of Fear Itself and has writing from the guy responsible for the latest X-Men event. If those bits of information tweak anything in your brain, go with that feeling, and adjust. Oh, and keep in mind some guy named Marc Silvestri will be handling the art chores. Whoever that is. (Wink.)
  • Have you seen an increased amount of interest in the new Wolverine and the X-Men book? Well that could be because Marvel recognizes where the final order cut off falls and has been pushing that book heavy this week. You should probably up your orders a little, unless you’ve already gone all in on that particular book. At least match your Schism numbers. Also, the price of this went from the advertised $4.99 to $3.99. So keep that in mind.

The New 52 Hoedown Throwdown – Week 04

Comics! The Blog in conjunction with Wizard’s Comics brings you the New 52 Hoedown Throwdown – a quick blow-by-blow spoiler free set of recaps that help you choose which of the new books are right for you!

ALL STAR WESTERN #1

A serial killer stalks the streets of 1880s Gotham.  Much to the consternation of the chief of police, an unlikely duo is on the case: Dr. Amadeus Arkham and renowned bounty hunter of the weird west, Jonah Hex.  What they discover when they start digging will chill their bones, because the evil in Gotham goes far higher than they imagine.  A turn of the century buddy cop cowboy story to make you sleep with the light on.

Recommended if you like: Jonah Hex, ghost stories, Scott Snyder’s run on Detective Comics

AQUAMAN

You might think Aquaman is the stupidest superhero around.  You might make the jokes. He’s heard them all.  You might think he talks to fish.  He can’t even have a nice fish and chips lunch because of people like you.  But Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis are here to prove you wrong.  Aquaman might actually be… cool?

Recommended if you like: Green Lantern, The Flash, self deprecating humour.

BLACKHAWKS #1

A covert air-ops team goes on some high octane adventures, and then returns to their awesome secret head quarters for RnR and sexy times. Also: micro machines and marco explosions!

Recommended if you like: Modern Warfare type games, Greg Rucka’s Checkmate, flying into the danger zone.

BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT #1

Bruce Wayne is Batman! Also, he’s got a meeting to run, and he’s late for it. So he pops down through a skylight, delivers a nice speech and is very dapper. Then he jacks villains in the face with his fist. All a day’s work for good ol’ Bruce.

Recommended if you like: The previous Dark Knight series, board meetings, Batman straight up wrecking dudes.

THE FLASH #1

Barry Allen, police scientist.  Barry Allen, awkward date.  Barry Allen, the Flash!  As the fastest man alive, he’s always moving.  When a friend turns up involved in a crime, and… you know… dead… right after the Flash throws him through a window, both halves of Barry’s double life will need to get to the bottom of things.  Featuring the gorgeous art  and writing of Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato!

Recommended if you like: Geoff Johns’ Flash series, Teen Titans, romantic comedies.

THE FURY OF FIRESTORM #1

Ronnie Raymond and Jason Raush are two totally different cats. One of them is a jock, the other writes for the school newspaper. One is a bit country and the other is a bit rock and roll. Anyway, when they get their hands on some far out nuclear science powers, things get positively explostive, which in this case, might be a bad thing.

Recommended if you like: Secret Six, Weird Science, teen dramas.

GREEN LANTERN: NEW GUARDIANS #1

Kyle Rayner is an artist – and also? A Green Lantern. One that gets into quite a spot of trouble with the rest of the lantern corps when someone likes it, an attempts to put another ring on it.

Recommended if you like: Green Lantern, sci-fi adventures, bling.

I, VAMPIRE #1

Vampires have been lying low for a few hundred years. One of them has gotten bored with this and may start straight up wrecking folks. Should be fun!

Recommended: If you hate Twilight, and if you like Twilight. Seriously, this book works for both.

JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK #1

When the Enchantress’ crazy majicks threaten to destroy the world, Madame Xanadu will have to assemble a team of the New DCU’s premiere magic users to battle the threat that’s already disposed of the Justice League.  The heroes of Vertigo return!

Recommended if you like: Vertigo Comics, Zatanna, Demon Knights, Supernatural

THE SAVAGE HAWKMAN

Cryptologist Carter Hall doesn’t want to be Hawkman any more.  Unfortunately, the world – not to mention his suit of Nth Metal – have something else to say about it.  Of course, it’s not like Carter has a choice anyway.  Sometimes, some aliens are just hellbent on ruining everything, and that means Hawkman will have to save the day, whether he wants to or not.

Recommended if you like: Brightest Day, Justice League, going medieval

SUPERMAN #1

Superman is back in Metropolis, but it’s not the one he – or the rest of us – is used to.  The Daily Planet has been bought by a media conglomerate, its signature globe demolished.  Lois is moving up and away from the paper into a new role in news TV, and Clark Kent will have none of it.  But some things never change.  When a fire monster tries to destroy the city, only the Man of Steel can save the day.

Recommended if you like: Action Comics, aerial action scenes, a new twist on iconic heroes

TEEN TITANS #1

Super powered teens are being rounded up by a mysterious organization for nefarious purposes – and Tim Drake is the only one who can see it happening? Can he put together a team of new heroes before someone takes him down?

Recommended if you like: Superboy, the old Teen Titans book, conspiracy stories.

VOODOO #1

Her name’s was Lola Priscilla, she was a showgirl
With yellow feathers in her hair and a dress cut down to there
She would merengue and do the cha-cha
And while she tried to be a star, Tony always tended bar
Across a crowded floor, they worked from 8 till 4
They were young and they had each other
Who could ask for more?

At the Copa (CO!), Copacabana (Copacabana)
The hottest spot north of Havana (here)
At the Copa (CO!), Copacabana
Music and passion were always the fashion
At the Copa….they fell in love

(Note: actual plot contains less clothes and more grizzly murderings.)

Recommended if you like: Witchblade, ye olde Wildstorm comics, Pretty Woman Swordfish.

Women in Comics Who Rock, Part 1

Last week, a lot of people were not pleased, to put it incredibly lightly, with the new Catwoman and Red Hood and The Outlaws #1 issues as part of The New 52.  In her excellent article over at ComicsAlliance, Laura Hudson outlined exactly what she feels is the frequent disrespect superhero comics have for its female characters and readers.  And we don’t disagree.  However, here at Comics! The Blog, we’re dedicated to talking about the best in comics, as completely subjectively decided by us, and so an article like Laura’s isn’t exactly in the cards.

Plus, did you see how good that article is?  We’re not going to do as well, no sir.  Or as good as a seven year-old Starfire fan’s response.  Or as David Willis’ Shortpacked comic about it.

Instead, we decided that, as always, our voice was best spent talking about comics we like, ones that have wonderful female characters that we think people can get behind without having to feel like half the population is being somehow disrespected by what’s on the page.  Some of the series below are superhero comics.  Others are about spies or detectives or vampire murderers.  One of them is about a wonderful little girl.  Each one is one of our absolute favourites.

These aren’t the only series out there that feature wonderful female characters that are beautifully drawn.  We don’t even get to Marvel, let alone exhausting it, DC, the smaller publishers or the wonderful world that is the internet.  Just like the response to the articles above has shown that there are people who support a change in the current face of comics, there’s a lot of existing strength to build on.  Comics, not even superhero ones, are not all like the ones at the source of the controversy.  There’s stuff to love and hold dear to us as we make things better.

This is just the beginning.

——–

Are you scared? You probably should be.Queen and Country (Oni Press)
by Greg Rucka and various super-talented artists

One of Rucka’s best works, featuring one of his finest creations. In this series, we follow the life of Tara Chase, an operative of the Special Operations Section in Britain as she and her various cohorts deal with external threats and internal politics in order to make the world a better place.

Unlike most spy stories, there’s a slow building tension here. In the place of explosions are small, calculated moves, designed to go unnoticed. You know, like a real spy might do. There’s no gadgets, no flying cars, just good old fashioned talent and know-how – and at the center of it all, Tara Chase. She’s not the stereotypical spy story sex pot. She does not fall in bed with men because they can smile and wink. She’s a fully realized character, one with all the flaws you might find in the make-up of the male lead in a noir detective series, transposed onto a far more capable character. She has highs and lows, she drowns her sorrows, agonizes over victories. She’s amazing, and sadly, an anomaly. But that said, she still exists. There are four volumes of Queen and Country available, as well as three prose novels to be read. We suggest you get on that. (B)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Faith (Dark Horse Comics)
By Joss Whedon and a fantastic rotating cast of writers.  Buffy art largely by Georges Jeanty, Angel art by Rebekah Isaacs

At this point, you probably know who Joss Whedon is and what his most famous franchise is because hey, you know what this site is and I have literally no idea how someone could know about this site and not Buffy the Flippin’ Vampire Slayer.  You probably even know about the Buffy comics, too, but might still be wondering: are they any good?  The answer is yes!

Starting with Season Eight, Buffy the Vampire Slayer took all the wide-open possibility that the TV series’ finale raised – a world full of slayers instead of just one – and ran with it.  Buffy runs a worldwide paramilitary organization, but then vampires become cool and all of a sudden she’s running from the army or something.  It is pretty exciting!  It definitely works with the bigger palette that comics affords than TV, because there is no network telling you that exploding George Clooney is too expensive.  Then, the end of the “season” blows things up (both figuratively and, I recall, literally).  As Season Nine and the new series Angel and Faith are picking up, the series is dealing with the fallout of Season Eight, with a closer look at some great characters.  And dang, how great they are!  There is a reason this show enthralled me as a twelve year-old and has never, ever stopped: the incredible characters.  The flawed, funny, incredibly human and immeasurably strong characters.  I have been following these people for over half my life and I am not going to stop any time soon, they practically defined “strong female characters” for a generation. (J)

Manhunter (DC Comics)
by Marc Andreyko and various artists

Emerging almost out of nowhere, somewhat randomly without a big event or crossover to boost it, was Manhunter. Borrowing it’s title (and character name) from the various other Manhunters withing the DC universe, this one was different. Kate Spencer is a prosecutor in the DC Universe who is sick and tired of seeing these psychos sluffing off murder charges – and so she takes matters into her own hands. Stealing bits and pieces of costuming and weapons from an evidence locker, she becomes the Manhunter, a superhero who picks up where so-called Law and Order drops off.

Through the series, Kate handles herself wonderfully, even in the face of all the trouble coming her way. In addition to her real job as a prosecutor, she’s a mother to her son Ramsey, the product of a marriage that fell apart because… well, Kate works and she carries that work with her all the time. The relationship between Kate and her ex is portrayed as cordial, albeit strained. Clearly, there’s pain that exists there, but the characters are often times bigger than it, only sometimes succumbing to pettiness when the day has ground them down.

And then, of course, Kate is a superhero, who tries to take care of the bad guys. I say tries because as a new superhero, this doesn’t always work out. Sometimes, like all of us, she needs a little help from her friends – who in this case are a former henchman named Dylon, whom provides her with all her tech, and super crime spy Cameron Chase who is in many ways Kate’s confidant in the crazy world of superheroes. The book is brilliant, simultaneously building up a new character while bringing in aspects of the larger DC universe in such a way that doesn’t confuse or alienate readers who might not know or care about it. It’s a fine read that I would suggest to pretty much anyone. There are five volumes of this title, alongside a bit of uncollected work from the back pages of Streets of Gotham – and are well worth seeking out. (B)

Suck it, gravity.Batgirl (Bryan Q. Miller version) (DC Comics)
Written by Bryan Q. Miller, art by some swank-ass dudes

This is a book that I think you could be pretty safe giving to almost anybody who thinks that superheroes are stupid and all the same, primarily because Stephanie Brown spends a lot of her time as Batgirl complaining about how stupid things are.  She is also wickedly funny, incredibly smart and despite another life as the costumed hero Spoiler, still so amazed at all the insanity that happens in her life.  She likes boys.  She also likes punching motherfuckers.  You see a lot more of the latter.  Heck, in one issue, she and Supergirl have a “sleep-over” that basically turns into them fighting two dozen draculas, which is something you absolutely should read.

Bryan Q. Miller’s work with the character isn’t all draculas and motherfuckers, though.  At its core, it’s about the relationship Stephanie has with the people in her life and her fight against the ones who have been telling her for years that she isn’t good enough.  It’s about her learning to believe that she deserves the suit and showing other people that she does and if not, fuck them and fuck the grappling hook launcher they rode in on.  It’s about her relationships with Barbara Gordon (Oracle) and Babs’ other protégé, Proxy.  It’s about growing up into the kind of person who you want to be.

Okay, and it’s about teaching a young sociopath about being a kid using a moon bounce.

Yes, you should buy all of this. (J)

Courtney Crumrin (Oni Press)
by Ted Naifeh

Courtney Crumrin is a girl with a strange life. After her parents move in with her old Uncle Aloysius, she is forced to be a part of a new school – which is fine until, you know, some kids start getting eaten. After a light tussle with some night things, she discovers a fondness for magic and manages to get mixed up in a lot of different, wild adventures. Dangerous ones, where there’s a tangible sense of death skirting the edges of the story. The series is absolutely fantastic and if you’re looking for a book with a good role model, maybe one that plays into a love of Harry Potter, this book will definitely hit the spot. (B)

Birds of Prey (DC Comics)
Previously written by Gail Simone, currently written by Duane  Swierczynski, art by various artists

At its most iconic, the series was about Barbara Gordon in her role as Oracle bringing together a team of badass female superheroes to fix the stuff the rest of the capes ‘n’ tights community couldn’t.  It was also about the friendship between these fantastic women who would gladly die for one another, who held each other up when they needed it and got drunk and caroused when they’d earned it.  With the exception of Barbara Gordon, who I’ve loved since I first saw Yvonne Craig swing across the screen in a beach house on the set of the 1960s Batman TV series, I didn’t really care who any of these characters of Black Canary, Huntress or Zinda Blake were until I read this book.  To be honest, I thought of them as Batman’s supporting players.  Then I started reading, and I was delighted to find that they were so much more.  They were exciting!  They were amazing!  They were heroes.  Now, they loom large in my imagination.

In its newest incarnation, just one issue in, Babs is less involved but Starling drives a car through a church to save a fellow, which is pretty okay by my books!  It’s not the same as the old book, but it looks like it will keep the tradition of amazing women doing astonishing things. (J)

That's what I'M talkin' 'bout.Amelia Rules!
by Jimmy Gownley

This one is one of my absolute favourite series. It features a girl named Amelia McBride, who has just moved to a new school after her parents get a divorce. What follows aren’t so much fantastic adventures, but small ones. The kinds that real kids have as they try to navigate a world filled with ideas and problems bigger than their minds can hold. In between bouts of pretending to be superheroes and fighting ninjas, the kids in this book deal with things like love, friendship, cancer, and parents going off to war. It does this without preaching any kind of mindset, but instead looking at the problems from where they stand. Sure, there are reasons for a person to go off to war, but forget all the politics for a little bit, and say its happening. Someone’s father is leaving, and hey, there stands a chance that he might not return. How do kids deal with that? What coping mechanisms can they use?

Everything about the book is fantastic, and what’s more, it starts a tweenage girl. Honestly, of the books that I have in the store, these ones always sell the fastest. Faster than Amulet (which is another series we should talk about one day), faster than Bone, and faster than the heaps of Archie graphic novels we have. They are amazing and delightful and perfect for all ages. (B)

Stumptown (Oni Press)
Written by Greg Rucka, art by Matthew Southworth

Dex Parios is maybe my favourite comic book character I have come across in my whole life that isn’t Spider-Man and Batman, and considering I wasn’t playing with a Dex toy while watching a Dex cartoon when I was six years old, I think that speaks volumes about her.  Do you know what else I watched, though?  Every single detective or crime show that A&E showed, from Banacek to The Rockford Files, and it’s the tradition of James Garner’s Jim Rockford that Dex follows in the pages of Stumptown.

She’s a PI who scrapes by the skin of her teeth, dragged down by her inability to learn from a Kenny Rogers song.  When the owner of the casino offers to wipe out Dex’s debts if she finds the woman’s missing granddaughter, what choice does she have but to accept?  Put into this position against her will, Dex nonetheless attacks the case with slyness that belies her ferocity.  She takes a lot of punches – hell, the first time we meet her she’s getting shot – but she keeps pushing on, both for what’s right and because if she doesn’t, she won’t be able to take care of her little brother.  She’s an incorrigible wiseass who survives in spite of that as much as she does because of it.  She’s equally tough as hide and gentle when the situation calls for it.  It’s like she stepped right out of the imagination of my youth.  She’s the best there is at what she does, which often means getting beaten up.  She’s just the best. (J)

You Read These With Your Eyes! – September 28th, 2011

Hellooooo, nurse!

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.

HABIBI GN (Pantheon)

I have no idea what this book is about, nor do I have a desire to find out before it hits my hands.

Buying a book like this can be dangerous. Not in a “that girl is” kind of way, more like in a monetary way. But here’s the thing. Even before this book was announced, this money was spent. From the strength of Blankets and Goodbye, Chunky Rice alone, I was going to drop money on this book and honestly? When you work in a comic book store, there’s very little left that can honestly surprise you. If you’re any good at this job, you know where books are going. You’ve read the solicits, you’ve been drinking in the gossip, following interviews, what-have-you, and at the end of the day, when you finally get to read some of these books, some of the wonder is gone.

So with this book and a few others, I’ve made a conscious decision to pretty much ignore all of it. The solicitation text, the interviews, the whatever. The only reason why I know the vague concept is because over the course of eight years (the amount of time between Blankets and now) you always manage hearing something.

Anyway, I can’t tell you a thing about this book, other than it was made by Craig Thompson and that it will be good. If that’s enough to sell you (and for some people, hearing the name Craig Thompson will) then awesome. Go out and buy this book! If not, you can be damn sure there will be something substantial up on this site by the end of the week.

ARCHIE #625 (Archie Comics)

No, this is not the issue where Archie and the gang meet the rock band Kiss. Nor is it the one where Kevin Keller gets married. Often times (especially when it comes to Archie Comics) we’ll get people coming into the store asking for these books way in advance because… well, it was on the news, so it must be out. Usually, it would be nice to have a few copies on hand, because most of these people never come back when the comic book actually ships… but that’s a little beside the point.

Along the same lines as those future offerings, this issue features a special story in which one of the recently introduced “new kids” to Riverdale attempts to cope when her little sister is diagnosed with cancer. Seems a little heavy for an Archie Comic, yeah? But lately, the company has been doing some great work dealing with some heavier issues, and this issue should be no exception. I usually buy pretty much every Archie product that hits the stands these days, and I’m not even kidding when I tell you that this is a book that you should watch out for tomorrow. If recent stories are any indication, they will handle this with a subtly that might surprise you. Plus, it’s always good to stop in and check on the ol’ gang every now and then.

BRILLIANT #1 (Marvel Comics/Icon)

Bendis offers a new creator owned option this week, and he’s bringing along superstar artist Mark Bagley along for the ride! As good as their mainstream books are, I’m going to go right ahead and say that this will be something special. I know that both Bendis and Bagley bring their all when they create comics, but there’s always something about creator owned work that tends to hit a bit harder. Writers and artists can take more risks and start and stop a story whenever they like to. They can introduce characters and kill them off and just go wherever the story takes them without having to follow the lines of logic within a larger shared universe. In this series, we’re gonna find out what happens when some college kids have a go at creating superpowers in a world without. Sounds crazy enough to work!

CASTLE: RICHARD CASTLE’S DEADLY STORM (Marvel Comics)

I don’t know about all of you? But we here at Comics! The Blog HQ are pretty excited about this release. Not only is it a clever tie-in to one of our favourite TV shows (starring the formerly local Nathan Fillion) but it also features writing by the extravagant and effervescent Kelly Sue DeConnick. She’s co-writing the book with Brian Michael Bendis and is a huge fan of the show, so there’s gonna’ be a lot of love in this book. Which is great! Now, is it too early for us to hope for another volume next year?

FINDER LIBRARY VOL. 2 (Dark Horse Comics)

Have you read Finder yet? Maybe you have and you didn’t notice? After all, Carla Speed McNeil has been doing some fantastic Finder stories in the page of the new Dark Horse Presents series.

If you haven’t you really need to fix that. With this volume everything that comprises of the sprawling low-key sci-fi epic is in print from Dark Horse and dammit, it’s a fantastic book that you just REALLY need to get inside your brain.

These are just five of the many great 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.

The Culture Hole, Issue 11: Fan Nolanization

The Culture Hole! For all your cultural orifice needs (logo adapted with love from http://emnla.deviantart.com/)

Issue 11: Fan Nolanization

Now Internet, I know it’s been less than two weeks since the last instalment of this site’s as-of-yet most inappropriately-titled recurring feature, and yes, I’ve been trying to space them out so the novelty doesn’t wear out, but where else but the column dedicated to my gentle tut-tutting of the internet can I go when something is deeply, horribly wrong?  That’s right, folks:

Nerds are flipping out about something on the internet.

And no, this isn’t about that whole people being offended by Red Hood and The Outlaws and Catwoman thing, though we’ll have something about all that stuff tomorrow.  This is, in fact, about something almost as contentious, even though it really shouldn’t be: The Dark Knight Rises.

Ever since Christopher Nolan decided to save the Batman film franchise from the part where people inexplicably thought Joel Schumacher‘s films were worse than Tim Burton‘s, every teaser, trailer, production still and paparazzi shot from the set of the next two movies has been under immense scrutiny.  What was already dangerously intense has become insanely so with every new bit about The Dark Knight Rises, what with the last movie in the trilogy making a billion dollars and all.  A lot of attention has gone into every new photo of either of the movie’s villains, Bane (Tom Hardy) and Catwoman (Anne Hathaway).  And yesterday, the internet exploded once again as shots of Hathaway in full cat-eared regalia made their way online:

And then all they do is kiss.

So of course, people were upset.  Some people thought the ears looked stupid.  Some people derisively compared the costume to Lee Meriwether‘s, which is a) mean and b) totally a compliment anyway because she was the greatest Catwoman ever, you will never get me to stop saying this.  Many, however, focused their ire on the fact that, in the photos, Catwoman is wearing 4″ stiletto heels, which admittedly probably aren’t very good for a lot of violent action.

I get that perspective, I really do.  I’m generally of the opinion that flat-soled or low, wide-heeled boots are best-suited for super-action in that they’re more practical.  That makes sense to me.  I was ready to agree with those people.  However, then I remembered something: we have already seen pictures of Catwoman not wearing stiletto heels on set:

SEE?

I know, I know, I am as surprised as you are!  Apparently Catwoman is like over a billion other people on Earth in that she owns more than one pair of shoes.  Here’s the kicker: these photos are from August 5th.  That’s right: in a month and a half, a good portion of nerds completely forgot the last photos they complained about so that they could complain about other ones.

Friend of C!TB and badass writer-about-New-York Kelly Thompson suggested, when I said something to this effect on Twitter, that the heel-less shots will be (digitally) replaced with heeled ones when the actual movie comes out.  That might be true; Kelly, if that happens I will absolutely admit that you were right.  That’s a promise.  However, I still think it’s also quite probable that, just like how in The Dark Knight Batman wore three different iterations of the Batsuit, Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises will wear different outfits over the course of the movie.  Either one of us could be right.

I’m generally inclined to give Nolan the benefit of the doubt, in no small part because the man hasn’t really made a bad movie over his entire career [Ed. Note: You may disagree, that’s okay.]  He has, generally, shown an ability to ground his Batman series to date in things that, while not strictly likely, are at least somewhat plausible.  Not every individual thing in these movies is something that is completely probable, but they are pretty carefully kept within the realm of suspension of disbelief.  Hell, this is a dude who, when he redesigned the Batsuit in no small part so that Christian Bale wouldn’t be as sweltering and stiff and abysmally cranky, went completely out of his way to explain why the character wanted a different suit in the actual movie.  Do you know what explanation we got in the other Batman films in this regard?  A new crotch shot.  He’s a guy who’s made his name to a large degree on thinking about the little things in movies, so I find it hard to believe that something as consistently-complained-about as high heels on superheroes is something he’s somehow missed entirely.

But why do I think that the internet is flipping out about these things in an irrational manner?  Because we’ve seen it before.  Remember how much people complained about The Dark Knight in the year before it came out, during which nobody had seen any of it?  The motorcycle was stupid.  Two Face looked like shit.  Heath Ledger was the worst Joker ever.  Yes, that’s right, the dude who ended up winning a posthumous Academy Award for his brilliant, haunting portrayal of Batman’s greatest enemy was considered to be the biggest mistake of Nolan‘s career until the two proved everybody completely and utterly wrong by just about the entire world’s consensus.  Do you know how you can tell who those people were now?  They’re the ones who still dress like Ledger‘s Joker on Halloween or ask people why they’re taking something seriously.  They’re also a good portion of the people complaining about Anne Hathaway and her costume now.  I am completely willing to bet that not only will every one of these people still see The Dark Knight Rises on the opening weekend – the if-they-care-that-much-they-won’t-risk-missing-out hypothesis – but that they’ll do it more than once and will be among the most likely to dress like Hathaway next year.  That could just be me getting exasperated, though.

Because here’s the thing: none of us know how this will turn out.  The track record says the people getting angry are probably making much ado out of a Shakespeare comedy title and even then, I could be wrong for putting my faith in Nolan.  I recently watched The Dark Knight for the first time in a long time and I could just be goofy on the fumes.  Or I could just be flat-out wrong.  At this point, anything could happen, including two and a half hours of Oldman/Bale/Caine/Hardy bro-hug orgies, and the one thing that’s not going to help at all?  Low-res paparazzi photographs from the set.  Without any kind of context, post-production, filters or editing, we might as well be looking at a bunch of production stills from my still-looking-for-a-distributor future blockbuster, Two Men and a Psychologically-Scarred Vigilante: The Batman Parsons Project.  If the alternatives are assume things will be okay or assume the worst and get impotently pissed off about something I’ll pay to see anyway, I pick the first one.  Every single time.  I’d rather be disappointed for the running time of the movie than be angry for a year and still be out the same $15.

There’s a third option, of course: don’t look at the fucking pictures.  And that’s hard!  I love Batman so much I have over twenty miniature, collectible versions of him.  I’ve paid to see Batman ’66 in three different formats, four if you count Netflix.  I own Return to the Batcave.  I am, how do you say it, the target demographic, so no matter how many times I loudly declare that I’m not going to look at any more on-set paparazzi photos from The Dark Knight Rises – three (so far) – I still find myself reflexively clicking on the link to the latest batch of them.  Regardless of which side of the collectible Bat-glass fullness debate you fall on, if you’ve got an opinion on it, you’re probably in very much the same boat.  So either we’re going to have to actually stop looking for once, or we’re going to have to start behaving rationally about it.

I’m game if you are.  Cool?

Cool.

C!TB's Best of the Week | September 26th, 2011

Seriously, these were good. And junk.

So here’s the thing about stuff. The weekend was great. The new Doctor Who was great. The new (?) movie Moneyball was great. And this evening right here? Where I’m watching various episodes of Saved by the Bell? Is great. But that has nothing to do with last week’s comics, now does it. So, without further whatever, it’s time for some swank ass rewards!

SKUNKY BREWSTER FIGHTS A CRIME

Little by little, crime comics are pulling themselves back into prominence within the medium. And thank goodness because these books? Are amazing.

Last week we were treated to the fantastic conclusion of the latest Criminal mini series – and this week, Near Death picked up the proverbial crime torch and ran with it. Hard. Part Criminal and part Stumptown, this book focuses on the life of a hitman who is suddenly struck by the urge to do good. And when I say “suddenly struck” I mean almost shot to death. The experience causes him to confront all the people that he murdered in his life and… well, let’s just say the experience is sobering.

Early on, we discover that the road to redemption will not be easy. And how could it be? You’ve watched Gross Pointe Blank, right? The fraternity of hitmen are very suspicious of people who are thinking about “calling it a day” on the whole “killing” thing. And rightfully so, what with all the king making and secret keeping that the job entails. And so it’s a bumpy road – one that should be fun (in its own way) to follow through this new ongoing. Which is why we’re giving this book the Don’t Do the Crime If You Can’t Do the Time Award for being rad! (B)

SINCE I’M HALF BLIND AM I HALF DAREDEVIL?

Brandon can attest to this: before this new series, I had never said anything nice about Daredevil, in any incarnation.  Even when it was announced, I started swearing, because I knew with this kind of talent I’d end up buying and loving a Daredevil series.  Yes, that’s right, even the idea of liking a Daredevil series made me angry.  That is what Mark Waid, Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin were up against.  Now it’s several months later and I am calling Daredevil #4 one of the best comics of the week.  Goddammit.  Look what you bastards have done to me.

Calling it one of the best of the week is even putting it mildly.  Daredevil is easily one of the best superhero series currently being published, and this week’s issue is just a prime example of why.  From what I’ve gathered (by which I mean repeatedly told), the last 20-30 years of the character’s series have basically been life continually rubbing Matt Murdock out under its boot like a cigarette butt.  Every time I’ve checked in, this has been what was happening.  The most recent time I read one of his comics, Daredevil had been possessed by a demon, forced to do horrible, unspeakable things and then beaten to a pulp by his best friends.  This was the situation where he won.  Committing suicide after his best friend tried to kill him was the best case scenario.

This comic doesn’t erase that.  Quite the opposite.  Matt is back, clawing his way along as always, except this time, when life shits on him by basically making it impossible to be a trial lawyer – you know, how he eats – instead of having a nervous breakdown and taking charge of an evil ninja organization, he smiles and figures a way around it.  This is extremely refreshing!

That’s what we get here, wrapped up in Marcos Martin‘s stupendous art.  Unable to practice law in court because of the whole “Being Daredevil” thing, Matt and his partner Foggy instead become consultants, coaching innocent clients who respectable lawyers for whatever reason won’t touch on how to represent themselves in court.  With a little surreptitious help from Daredevil, of course.  We see, courtesy of Martin, just how inundated a man with super-hearing is by cries for help when he steps out of his front door.  As set up by him and Waid, we’re able to understand in a page just why Matt is driven to be the hero he is.  For the first time in my life, it’s one I’m excited to read about.

For all this and so much more, this issue and this series have absolutely earned the inaugural Blindness! The Blog Award in Acrobatics. (J)

Better than alllll the restUsually in this area, we’re talking about a new single issue comic that came out this week – and while a lot of those were really good, I kinda’ need you to know about something incredibly rad.

Mnemovore was a mini-series that came out from Vertigo a few years back. It featured some amazing art by Mike Huddleston (you know, the Butcher Baker madman) and a fantastic script by Ray Fawkes, both relatively new to the industry at the time. The series was a taught, creepy ass horror story about a snowboarder who gets conked on the head so hard that Cthulhu brand shit starts going down – and holy shit was it crazy. Buuuuut like most mini-series from Vertigo, the thing never got collected. Until now.

IDW has been going on a tear collecting amazing things once abandoned by other publishers. A few of their most recent offerings has displayed the sizeable talents of Mike Huddleston, such as The Coffin and Deep Sleeper (written by Phil Hester) and this series. A fantastic tale of horror about a creature that seems to feed off of memories, it really breaks your brain until you wind your way to a conclusion that’s… well, to elaborate would be spoiling, but it’s one twisted ending. Of all the books that deserve your money this week, I’m showcasing this one because… well, because it’s the one you’re probably least likely to buy and you really, really need to. And also? It really was the best of all the product that shipped this week. So, what are you waiting for? Go! Buy! Do! (B)

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

You're Welcome, Internet | September 19-23, 2011

Hey, internet! Boy, it sure is Friday, isn’t it? Yep. Deeeeeeefinitely Friday.

Anyway, seeing how it’s Friday and all, what say we get to the part of the proceedings where the internet gives us gifs.

You’re welcome, internet.

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Schatz: Well chums and lady-chums and man-lady-chums, another week has come and gone. I gotta’ say, things have been pretty rad at the old digs lately. Comics are still rad as hell and you guys. YOU GUYS. Craig Thompson’s Habibi finally ships next week! Which is exciting as hell.

Now, normally this is the part where James comes in and says things (more humourous things than I) but… can I let you in on a little secret? This might not actually be Friday. I KNOW! Anyway, I’m just slapping this up today because we sort of forgot, probably. Who knows. Next week we’ll be better? Maybe?

Until then, you’re welcome to check out all of the awesome articles we have going up over this next week. Also: head the fuck back down to Submetropolitan where gentleman hobo Phil Roland has got the horrible machine up and working again. Don’t call it a reboot, motherfuckers. Enjoy.

Until next week!

Me vs. The Angry Mob | Women Be Shopping

Do you think that I'm funny?

A kid walks into the store with his mother, and begins to look through the new books. He’s one of my regulars, really enjoys Batman, and collects two ongoings at a time. Anyway, he’s looking through the news comics, and he ends up grabbing copies of Red Hood and the Outlaws and Catwoman off the shelf. In his file, there’s a copy of Detective Comics and Batman. Of these four books, I don’t quite feel comfortable selling three of them to this kid. Not because I don’t think he’s going to enjoy them – I’m just worried that the audience is a little too young for the, uh… graphic content of the book. So I do what I always do in this situation: I consult the parent in regards to the content. This woman, she’s really nice. She listens patiently when I explain some of the content issues and looks at the pages as the kid stares nervously. In the end, she shrugs and says, “Nothing he hasn’t seen in the video games or whatever, it seems fine.”

And so I sell the books, and the pair of them walk off – which is when my brain softly whispers, “You shouldn’t have done that. You just made a terrible mistake.”

But I’m a retailer. Isn’t it my job to sell comics? Even if I don’t quite agree with the content?

Hold on, kids, shit’s about to get bumpy.

Me vs. The Angry Mob:

Women Be Shopping (or) We Should Be Better By Now

01. GODDAMMIT

This week’s adventure began on Tuesday night, after the shop closed for the day. To make sure all of my customers will have a chance to grab all of the books they might like, I’ve always made it a policy to read any first issues of creative team changes before the shop opens on Wednesday. During this month, we hired James as our double secret temporary comic shop helper in order to make sure all of the DC books are read and recapped before four a.m.

Anyway, on Tuesday, we split the titles down the middle, alternating picks, and then sat down to read the books. I had Catwoman in my stack and he had Red Hood and the Outlaws in his. Once we got to those books, both of us noted that we were not impressed with the, uh… story telling choices in the books. They were clearly books intended for a very specific audience, and that audience? Was not us. Or women. Or, in my opinion, kids.

I know that as I read the Catwoman, when I opened the first page, I yelled out an exasperated, “Goddammit!” Greeting me on page one were gratuitous TnA shots, the title character’s face well hidden until blammo – she leaps out of a building with one jug flying free in the breeze. I was not a fan. Then, as I continued to read (and James can confirm this) the exasperation turned into something else. Soon enough, I had gone from an exasperated “Goddammit” to a resigned, “Goddammit, this is gonna’ sell, isn’t it?”

Which is true. I don’t think anyone out there is arguing whether or not there’s an audience for this kind of comic. There absolutely is, and that’s not the problem. No, the problem comes when you realize that this is the only audience that is currently being targeted within the superhero genre. Books like this don’t just exist, but are omnipresent in the medium, clogging up shelves with very little alternative. And that? Is wrong.

But as a retailer, what do I do about this? What do I do when a ten year old boy or girl walks into the store and wants to purchase books like this, because they’re fans of superheroes? What do I do when a new female reader wanders through and pages through the comics? Do I have a responsibility to do something? To not order shelf copies to sate my guilt or to order more to sate the tastes of my existing customers? What exactly should I do?

02. WHAT EXACTLY TO DO

With all things in comic book retail, it comes down to one thing: if you are in the business of selling comics, you have to take an active role in the store. That seems like a no brainer, but there are many retailers out there who are content with ordering what they will and doing absolutely nothing to try and affect the ebb and flow of what sells and what doesn’t. Some would argue that a retailer shouldn’t try and affect what the customers are buying. Hell, in some aspects, I’m a big proponent of just letting people buy what they like. I have never, and will never actively discourage someone from buying a book that they are going to love, even if the book does not appeal to me specifically. But, to that same effect, I won’t sit by and let people try and guess what those books will be based on a brief page through by the shelves.

A retailer should absolutely know as much as they can about the product that they are selling. It would be folly to suggest that they read/see/do everything – down that path lies some form of madness, I would guess – but a person should at least be able to give potential customers the broad strokes of certain items, either filling them in on the genre, or story telling style, or what-have-you. With that knowledge, you can and should affect what books are sold, and to whom.

And so with books like Catwoman and Red Hood and the Outlaws, I do what I always do. I make sure I’m aware of its contents – or at least the style of it’s contents – and then I sell them as applicable. And yes, those books sell, and they sell to quite a few people. But under no circumstances should I let that be the end of things. At the same time I’m making sure the audience for Catwoman can find the book, I have to make sure that the audience that will vehimately hate Catwoman have books to purchase as an alternative. Or, at the very least, I should steer them away from a thing that could potentially hobble their enjoyment of comic books for quite some time, and send them towards something that they will enjoy. As I like to stress to everyone that I meet, comics are not a genre, they are a medium and absolutely every kind of story can be told in that medium – and whenever books are published that fall in line with that way of thinking, I do whatever I can to support the effort. A recent example of this would be my support for the book Mystic – a fantastic fantasy tale set featuring a pair of teenage sister as protagonists. It’s imaginative, it’s fun and it features a rare glimpse into what the medium can accomplish when it aims for broader audiences.

Now of course, that book is not selling as much as Catwoman or Red Hood are. Which is a shame, BUT – that does not mean that the effort should not be made. In fact, it’s the gradual encouragement of books like Mystic that will possibly see the medium change its focus in the years to come. That kind of creativity and that kind of mindset absolutely needs to be rewarded when it’s attempted, and it is the job of the retailer – it is my job specifically – to affect the ebb and flow of that book. It is my job to bring it in, and to sell it to the people who are going to love it dearly, and if they aren’t coming into the shop, it is my job to go out and find them. That’s the point right? I want as many people to be reading comics as possible. It’s good for my business, it’s good for the industry, and its good for the art form in general to actively push out of its comfort zone.

But. Apparently, I’m one of just a few retailers who actually do things like this. As stated above, many are content to let the numbers be what they will. For the record, the numbers consistently spiral downwards on pretty much any given series after the first issue hits. The only comics that don’t follow this trend? Are ones that are actively sold by either positive word of mouth or stunning quality. Now, could you imagine how books would sell if more retailers took a more active roll in the way their books sell? Not in a negative way, but in a positive way? The industry would sure as hell be a different looking place, filled with books that appeal to all types. And hell, we might even get a few more tasteful superhero books out of the mix.

…what. It could happen. Just stop being so god damn lazy and make it happen.

Until then, I’ll keep on doing what I’m doing, and hope for the best, while occasionally, selling the worst to the folks who are going to enjoy it. That’ll be how I get the money to keep trying to make the industry a better place.

Recommended: Optic Nerve #12

OPTIC NERVE #12 (Drawn and Quarterly)
by Adrian Tomine

Synopsis: Finally, a book that combines my love of plant sculptures and porn stars. And shattering regret.

01. Is it pronounced Toe-Mine or Toe-Min-Aye? Toe-Mee-Nay? Some days I wish I knew everything about everything, then people would probably like me.

02. I should have finished getting that English major. About halfway through the program I ended up quitting in disgust – partly because that damn thing was costing me a lot of money, and partly because the bullshit was really starting to get me down. (And, if I’m really being honest, mostly because I was consistently on the razor’s edge of flunking.) Had I actually completed the program, I would probably be more equiped to talk about books like this. Also: grammar. I’d be more good at being more better at making grammar happen the best. Regardless, I didn’t complete my English major, and so I’m not really good at parsing things with any kind of academic style or mindset. But you know what I am good at? Enjoying the fuck out of stuff, and telling people why. And they don’t teach that shit at college, now do they.

03. Reading an issue of Optic Nerve can sometimes seem like self-harm. This is in no way a derogatory comment on it’s quality. Each issue of Optic Nerve is brimming with life. Sometimes lives. Sometimes ones that you identify with or can identify. The characters Tomine creates are filled with a sense of general unease, some well aware, some completely oblivious. All of them are bound by the common thread of just being human. Everyone longs to be happy, and more often than not, that longing overtakes whatever redeeming qualities they have. This causes them to make some pretty shitty life choices, all in the name of just finally being happy, of finally accomplishing that life goal that they’ve always had. The results are often times hard to read, because… well, the emotions are absolutely genuine. They are things that you have felt or that you will feel. This is why it feels like self harm: it causes you to recognize things in yourself that you’d rather ignore. Things that either you need to fix, or that you have fixed, but still regret. It’s like a mirror of self loathing. But dammit if it isn’t an absolutely stunning reflection.

04. This issue features three stories. The first, done in the style of a newspaper strip, complete with full colour Sunday Funnees, gives the brief history of an artform called Hortisculpture, and serves not only as a striking parody of “goofy dad” strips, but as a reminder of perspective. Mainly, that it’s an important thing to have. In the issue’s second half, is a story about a girl who bears a striking resemblance to a porn star, and how that affects how people see her, and how she thinks people see her. Then finally, there’s a two page grid of comics featuring Tomine himself pushing against the lit-comic movement away from single issues, and towards completed graphic novels from prose book publishers. Each feature is drenched with a weird gloom. I say weird, because… at least in my case, that gloom is tinged with awe. Because how the fuck does this guy know so much about these things??! Isn’t he just inventing them? Crafting them from nothing? Why do I care about these people as if they are real when they exist for such a brief span of time? Why is my heart breaking? I guess I’m trying to convey the fact that I think Tomine is a man with a lot of talent, and I am very, very jealous of him. God dammit.

05. The art remains a joy. This is the first issue of Optic Nerve to feature colour beyond it’s cover pages – and not only can Tomine use black and white to great affect, he has a solid grasp of colour, choosing palates that compliment mood, scene and characterization quite well. Also, I found myself staring at the-girl-who-would-be-Amber-Sweet, head resting in hand, sighing at her passing beauty. And she’s not real. At this moment, so far removed from my last read through, that seems a bit disturbing to me. It’s a sign of some kind of mental break, right? Falling in love with people or things that don’t exist? That are vaguely or completely inanimate? Though in the end, it’s probably just a demonstration of how good Tomine is at what he does. Through his words and line work and colours, he causes you to develop empathy for someone that is a complete fabrication. Is empathy the right word? Whatever, it is now. The man is too good at what he does, which is why the release of this series happens so infrequently. There is little to no money involved in making comics like this. Not in comparison to other gigs an artist of his talents can pull in. But thank goodness he’s still got that passion to tell stories about these people.  Despite their actions (or because of them?), I like these people. I want to meet more of them whenever I get the chance. And if that chance only comes by once a year? Well, then okay. At least it’s better than nothing, right?

06. Oh: and the dude still runs a letter column – one of the best in the business – using letters he gets from a P.O. Box. I love that. And bless him for doing that. I eagerly await the next issue.

Recommended if you like: Demo, Local, Everwood, and great comics.

This is Why: Community

Like Friends, but without the racial politics

This is Why: Community

I don’t make a secret of the odd story surrounding how I came to love Community, where I heard friends raving about it and tuned in about seven times during the first season, at which point I didn’t care for the show.  By which I mean I didn’t care for Abed.  Now, that’s probably blasphemy of a stabbable degree to some of my friends, but to their credit they didn’t murder me and leave my corpse as a message for other people, so good for them!

It’s not that I thought the show was bad, it’s just that it didn’t connect with me.  It was well done, with a cast I loved and I really wanted to love the whole show, which is why I kept watching the occasional episode, especially over summer repeats.  However, I just wasn’t laughing.  No harm, no foul, right?  Leave what I don’t love for those that do, and keep watching the shows.  Well, I don’t know if you know me, but I started reading DC Comics with Infinite Crisis despite not knowing about any of the characters, which I remedied by spending more than one evening reading as many of the relevant Wikipedia articles as I possibly could.  Stubborn is what I do, and I wanted to love Community because it seemed like I was so close to a breakthrough.  I learned why the Anti-Monitor was important, surely I could find an episode of Community that would make me laugh.

So as a result, I decided that with the beginning of a new season in September 2010, I would watch the show and see if I could learn to love it.  My eventual success would give hope for hopelessly broken marriages everywhere, but the season premiere, “Anthropology 101”, didn’t quite land me.  Now, it came close about the time Betty White drank her own urine, strangled Joel McHale and rapped Toto’s life-altering hit single “Africa”, but… not quite.  Luckily, it turns out all I needed was some chloroform.

This is probably not a recipe for success in most things, though.  Internet, don’t chloroform people.  Unless they really deserve it.

No, what happened is that the season’s second episode, “Accounting for Lawyers,” featured the character of Annie (Alison Brie) chloroforming a security guard once and immediately becoming addicted to the thrill of it.  By the end of the episode, she was compulsively soaking rags when anyone got in her way, and I found this absolutely hilarious.  So funny, in fact, that I couldn’t stop laughing and certainly rewatched those scenes and the episode itself several times before the next week’s episode.

I was in.

After a few more weeks, I bought the first season on DVD.  All of a sudden, the things that didn’t make me laugh at first were incredibly funny to me.  I understood why Abed was, in fact, hilarious, and I fell in love with the weird world that is Greendale Community College.  Now, I call it one of my favourite shows on television, and you may remember my apology for not saying it earlier.

What I love about the show, besides all the jokes, the talented actors and the theme episodes (including a stop-motion animation Christmas special and a Spaghetti Western paintball episode) is that none of it is done with any irony.  They don’t do those themes to make fun of the source material.  If they’re doing a stop motion Christmas special, it’s because those Rankin & Bass specials were awesome.  If they’re doing a Pulp Fiction episode that’s secretly a My Dinner With Andre episode, it’s because it’s fun.  They’re not snarky, though they have a couple of snarky characters, and those two are mercilessly made fun of for it.  Just like the characters love what they love (The Barenaked Ladies), the show’s crew and writers love things and aren’t afraid to show it.

It’s unbelievably refreshing to see a show that takes bizarre chances (My Dinner With Andre, a flashback clip show comprised of more than 70 entirely new “clips”), more than almost any other show on television, and does it out of love.  Well, that and Dan Harmon’s self hatred, but he’s a writer so that’s okay.

But despite all that wackiness and all those chances taken, my favourite episodes are often the smaller ones.  “Cooperative Calligraphy” is a bottle episode and calls itself a bottle episode the entire way through with such absolute glee it’s infectious.  However, my favourite episode of all doesn’t have any theme or any wackiness.

And then they kiss?

“Mixology Certification”, the second season’s tenth episode, doesn’t do anything over-the-top or special.  It’s just the story of the study group at the core of the show taking one of their members, Troy (Donald Glover, who is amazing), out to a bar on his twenty-first birthday.  After Jeff (Joel McHale) and Britta (Gillian Jacobs) settle on an inoffensive bar neither of them will insult the other for liking, Troy waits to have his first legal drink until he officially becomes of age at midnight.  While Jeff and Britta continue to bicker over bars and what the “cool” drinks are, the other characters go through identity crises and dramas of their own and, by the end of the night, Troy passes up his drink to drive all of his drunk, depressed friends home.  When he realizes that all the bickering was completely meaningless, he snaps.  These people he thought were cool?  That he’s spent two years looking up to and trying to impress?  They’re just idiots like him.  It’s the kind of heartbreaking moment that other shows would dull by overdoing the music or unnecessary camerawork, or that a lot of comedies would undercut with a joke.  “Mixology Certification” gives Troy the time to just be crushed and sad in a beautifully understated scene.  The show lets Glover sell the scene, and it lets him actually be an adult for the rest of the episode – for real – without the need for anyone’s approval.  Of course, that doesn’t mean when he actually gets some he can’t but give a little smile, in another beautiful, understated scene.

That’s why Community is one of my favourite shows on television; behind all the theme episodes and Dalmatian fetishes and campus-destroying paintball matches, it’s a show about people I like spending time with every week, whose emotions and experiences seem real.  The jokes are fantastic, but they’re only half of what a comedy show needs to be if it wants to be any good.  Jokes mean nothing if you don’t actually care what’s happening.  And Community is just about the best at that.