Sunday, October 14, 2012

THE CHEMICAL BOX Episode 20: Featuring Me

Joey and Alec invited me to join them on THE CHEMICAL BOX podcast episode #20, so I did. Actually, I may have invited myself, and they said "yes." That might have happened.

Anyway, you can go listen to opinions that I probably contradict in later columns and conversations, but at the time of the podcast I said what I meant and I meant what I said.

You probably want some annotations for the episode. So here you go!


1. Luckily for us, DC Comics has changed the historical record so that we know that Superman did NOT appear in 1938, because that would be silly. He obviously first appeared in 2011. That is a verifiable fact! DC says so.

2. Rob Liefeld left DC and people talked about it. That happened forever ago, but this podcast is timeless!

3. I say "Batman, Inc" is the "only DC comic I am an active reader of at this point" which is not only an awkward phrasing, but it's also untrue. I also read "Batman" and "Action Comics" and "Wonder Woman." But I still think "Batman, Inc." is the best monthly comic from DC, and therefore Joey's opinion is the correct one.

4. Hawkeye by Matt Fraction and David Aja is also good. On Twitter, Matt Fraction sometimes refers to the comic as "Hawkguy," which is funny, but not as funny as that time I showed a clip from Michael Mann's "Last of the Mohicans" to my American Lit class when I was teaching about American Romanticism and one of the students thought I kept calling Daniel Day Lewis's character "Hot Guy" and was a bit freaked out by my repeated emphasis on his hotness.

5. I do get paid to write about comics, but contrary to what I say in the podcast, I couldn't literally buy every comic that comes out, because a LOT of comics come out every week. Have you ever read Diamond Previews? That is like a thick magazine of bad choices. Plenty of them.

6. These sci-fi and fantasy books are so much more fun to read than 99.9% of all comics written this year: THIS ONE. AND THIS ONE. AND EVEN THIS ONE.

7. Joey alludes to The Basement Tapes at CBR, by Matt Fraction and Joe Casey. Totally worth reading, if you haven't already. It will probably change your life.

8. I became very ill a week after saying "I feel amazing" and taunting Joey and Alec and I totally deserved it.

9. Is Rick Remender the greatest Marvel writer or the greatest HUMAN BEING on the planet? I don't think we answer that question at all. I make some analogy about cool parties instead. Cool parties are the best! But another way to say it is, "after you're 30, parties always seem like something that you are unlikely to have fun attending." Unless you're that old guy who crashes the party at the Weir's house in "Freaks and Geeks." That guy has fun every day of his life, obviously.

10. I watched all of the episodes of "Freaks and Geeks" last weekend. I didn't mention it on the podcast because the podcast was recorded weeks before I watched all those episodes, and therefore it has no place in these annotations, but if DC can pull off their revisionist history then I can say "Freaks and Geeks" whenever I want.

11. My China Mieville Top 2: #1 "Perdido Steet Station." #2 "The Scar." I don't really like any of his other books all that much, but I REALLY like those two novels. You should read them someday so you can fully understand our sophisticated conversation about "Dial H." It's deep.

12. When someone writes the definitive unauthorized biography of Karen Berger, I will read it.

13. Marvel Augmented Reality is the worst thing to happen to comics. It is the chromium covers of the 2010s, but worse. The chromium covers mixed with motion comics mixed with cd-roms, all in one.

14. Joey's theory about the new DC logo may have been roundly refuted by all parties involved, but he is so enthusiastic about it that it must be true.

15. I think Phil Jimenez abandoned THIS weird and interesting comic he created to go and tackle that off-the-rails Donna Troy miniseries that was a complete mess. Whatever happened to "Otherworld"? Will it ever be completed, Phil Jimenez???

16. This is a really long podcast, I hope you love it as much as Alec Berry loves comic books!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Keith Giffen talks OMAC

I talked to Keith Giffen the other day, doing research for another project I'm working on, but later in the conversation he started recounting his experiences on OMAC, a project he clearly enjoyed, and because OMAC has absolutely nothing to do with the article I'm writing, I figured I'd share what he had to say about the series here, since it's turned into process week at old Geniusboy Firemelon productions.

Giffen talked about how he never outlines or thumbnails what he's drawing, and on OMAC, he would take Dan DiDio's plot and then, he says...
I would go through the book, and, up front, I would do the panels that I don’t want staring at me when the deadline’s tight. I call them the ‘kitchen sink’ panels, the two-page spreads, whatever. Get that out of the way. So I work out of order now, but I still don’t outline. I’ll have page 14, and page 18, and page 20, and now it’s time to put them together. 
So, without knowing what he's actually going to draw on pages 1-13, 15-17, and 19, he drew the other pages based on where he thought the big images should go. Then he filled the rest in, almost improvisationally, following DiDio's plot, unless he decided to throw something else in for fun, like when Superman appeared, just because Giffen thought he should pop into the story.
It keeps it spontaneous with me, because I can surprise myself. And I like to think it translates to the work and keeps it spontaneous for the reader, and they’re never quite sure what’s going to happen next.
OMAC's long gone as a New 52 series from DC. But it was fun while it lasted, and Giffen's energetic improvisation was the major part of its charm.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Charles Forsman: On His Process and Paper Over Digital

I wrote my upcoming "When Words Collide" column as kind of a feature article about Charles Forsman and his new microcomics publishing venture. Well, I suppose it's about more than that. It's like Forsman's comic book life story, and everything that led up to him working in Hancock, writing and drawing books for Fantagraphics, while he pumps out Risograph-printed minicomics by a bunch of talented artists. Look for it on Monday at CBR.

But our conversation led in a couple of directions that didn't end up fitting into the column, so here are some outtakes that didn't make it into my piece. First, Charles talking about his process:

It usually does start with writing, usually in the sketchbook. It starts with paragraphs of what’s going to happen, maybe. Then I break that down into chapters, with further description, and then I use that one page in a sketch book, for TEOTFW, and I work very teeny tiny in there.

A lot of cartoonists draw and redraw and do several drafts, full size…and I’ve been more laborious with my work in the past…but with this I’m more worried about just telling the story and not drawing fancy.

Even the original art is small to keep things quick.
I’ll do thumbnails so tiny no one else can read them, and I’ll put the dialogue outside. Jason Lutes shared his process when he was at CCS. He has two little boxes for a page, on one sheet of paper, and he’ll write the dialogue outside. So that’s how I’ve been working recently.
It always changes from project to project. Sometimes I’m loose, and sometimes I need more structure, but that sort of idea is what I stick to. Quick thumbnails. Because I feel it keeps the spontaneity. I don’t like to labor over it too much, because I feel it makes things too stiff.
And here's Charles responding to me when I said something like: "Most people today, if they wanted to do draw something quick and spontaneous for fun, and get it out to readers, would just do a webcomic. But you seem to reject that idea and spend all this time making small physical copies of your comics. Why not just do it all digitally?"

I personally can’t read stuff on the screen, at my computer.

The way I tell stories, I need that page. I have so much trouble just determining a trim size I’m going to use. With a computer there’s so many options. I could do full color…it just feels too unlimited. I respond to limitations a lot better. It’s almost like a challenge to tell what I want to tell and do what I want to do in eight pages.

The thing that I discovered…serialization is just -- the type of comics I do, everyone’s worried about the graphic novel, with one big story….small publishers aren’t printing them any more. Nobody’s buying them. It wasn’t something I even experimented with, until I accidentally did it with this series. All of a sudden, I was having cliffhangers, and it was really fun. And people were coming back month in and month out. I know serialization still goes on with the superhero comics, but it was something I felt like I had to rediscover for myself. It seemed like something that was gone from my comics scene. And I love it. It makes me sad that it’s not around anymore.
There’s that romantic idea of comics being a throwaway artform, that I still kind of like. I like that it’s just a dollar and that it’s on copy paper and it’s not something to really cherish. I really respond to that, that you can tell a great story without high production values.

I really like what Charles and his friends are up to, and Oily Comics is definitely worth checking out.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Heroes Con 2012! I Will Be There, Will You?

Hey! I will be at Heroes Con from Friday through Sunday this week, moderating a couple of panels over the weekend (With the Immonens! With Don Rosa! With Geof Darrow!) and selling copies of "Grant Morrison: The Early Years," "Teenagers from the Future," "Minutes to Midnight," and maybe more!

I will be set up at table AA-215. Stop by and pick up a book. Or just stop by to say hi!

See you there!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Playtesting DnDNext Part 6: Mini-Taur

Partially disoriented by the magical befuddlement of the Minotaur Maze in the Caves of Chaos, Bob the Dwarf, Lily the Halfling, Cary Cycax, and new girl Lucy battled a dozen pesky stirges, which didn't do much damage but took about ten rounds to wipe out and didn't gain them a single coin of treasure, which they didn't much enjoy.

Aimlessly wandering left, then right, then left, they chanced upon the cavern that led straight to the Minotaur's hangout. Making plenty of noise as they approached (they all rolled below 10 on Dexterity or Stealth rolls), the Minotaur came charging.

For this big battle -- likely the final combat before Television's Ryan Callahan and the heart-and-soul of Cary Cycax had to head back to New York City as the weekend drew to a close -- I decided to spring the Dwarven Forge pieces out of semi-retirement. It was a chance to test D&D Next with a tactical battlefield. The theater of the mind gave way to miniatures and 5'x5' squares. Line of sight could be clearly determined. It was new D&D, 4e style.

And it felt like it.

I like playing 4th Edition, and I've seen players of all ages pull some fun tactical combos during combat. But D&D Next, until this Dwarven-Forge-enabled session with the Minotaur, felt more wide open. Anything was possible.

The Minotaur battle, with the D&D Next rules, but the detailed 3D battlefield and miniatures felt clinical compared to the fun we'd been having with the new rules until then. Here's what happens: once you turn the game from a conversational, improvisational, imaginative game with some dice rolls to a game that has a board and tiny little figures and a specific dimensionality, the creativity turns from artistic imaginings and "yes, and..." to precise tactical moves and linear decision-making.

Let me put it this way, when you play Monopoly, you don't imagine that you are actually a giant top hat marching through Atlantic City, wheeling and dealing with renters. Once D&D takes a miniature-based focus, it becomes a game where the attention is on what's in front of the players on the game board, rather than what the players themselves are doing and saying.

And 4th Edition cannot accurately be played without miniatures and battle maps. D&D Next can. And should.

It was a good idea to test D&D Next, in this Minotaur encounter, with minis, to see what happened. But the battle was dry, almost colorless, compared to the previous battles. So now we know. Leave the Dwarven Forge in the basement. Use it to re-enact Dolph Lundgren Punisher scenes with Heroclix.

The Minotaur battle also taught us another thing about the mechanics of D&D Next. The "Disadvantage" disadvantage is devastating. The Minotaur was blinded in the first round, and though he lashed out at Bob the Dwarf and hit him a few times, he stumbled over rubble and missed far more often than he hit. And Lily and Cary Cycax blasted away from a distance, doing over 100 damage to the Minotaur in just over a handful of quick rounds.

It's worth noting that D&D Next, already accused of giving less options to characters, didn't become roll-hit/miss/damage/or-not/go until we played with the miniatures. It was the context of the game, not the rules themselves, that changed it to become more vanilla.

Luckily, the flavor returned to the game when the Minotaur was killed, Cary Cycax cut off his head as a trophy and the hidden treature horde was found. Secure in the hidden treasure room, the adventurers camped out and took their first long rest since entering either the Gallery of Death or the Minotaur Maze. And with some time on his hands, and the smithing/armoring skills of Lily the Halfling, Cary Cycax decided to customize his scale mail, by weaving the Owlbear hide into his protective gear.

By the next morning, the adventurers were ready for more, and Cary Cycax, Cleric of Pelor, had a new, intimidating look to match the brave face he wore as he prepared for further adventures in the Caves of Chaos:


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Playtesting DnDNext Part 5: Owlbear Rug

The Owlbear, as it turned out, wasn't particularly difficult to kill at all. A few well-placed blasts of holy light, some hacks from the greataxe and smashes of the warhammer, and a sneaky backstab and the Owlbear was slain before he could knock any of the good guys unconscious.

Because of the low hit point totals for the adventurers, after their Ooze troubles, I did lower the Owlbear's hit points (figuring that it would make for a more even matchup, and it made in-story sense since the creature would have just finished fighting and possibly devouring Lucy's friends just moments before).

But I didn't need to lower the hit point total. They would have easily defeated the Owlbear anyway.

They decided to take a short rest in the Owlbear's lair, and Lily noticed that her character sheet gave her a trade that she hadn't yet talked about. She decided she had a blacksmith background, and between the metal of Lucy's fallen comrades and the equipment they all had in their packs, she could repair the armor and weapons damaged by the Ooze.

Meanwhile, Cary Cycax skinned the Owlbear, taking its pelt as a trophy.

After their rest, they checked out the final section of the Gallery of Death, and decided not to mess with the remaining Ooze. They'd had enough. Bob, Lily, Cary Cycax, and their new Cleric pal Lucy (who, if not a muppet played by an 8-year-old girl, would likely have been drawn into fierce theological arguments by Cary Cycax) crept back out into the thicket outside the caves and decided to climb higher, looking for another cave entrance.

What they found was mythical. Literally. From that Perseus story. It's pretty famous.

Google maps would have placed them at 1 Minotaur Main Street, Caves of Chaos, Gygaxianville.


Monday, May 28, 2012

Playtesting DnDNext Part 4: The Ooze

Instead of returning to the Kobold-kluttered entrance to the Caves of Chaos, Bob the Dwarf, Lily that Halfling, and the legendary Cary Cycax headed deeper into the ravine straight into the Gallery of Death, where they faced one wandering monster after another, starting with the vicious Gray Ooze.

The acidic watery tendrils of the Ooze bludgeoned Bob the Dwarf, eating into the shiny new shield and the fear of metallic decay on the heavily armed-and-armored warrior led him to flee the scene and gather his thoughts alone in the thicket outside as his allies tried to tackle the Ooze, without much luck.

Cary Cycax blasted the Ooze with holy light and Lily flung rocks from her sling, but the tide didn't turn in favor the intrepid heroes until Bob remembered that he had a piece of equipment to be named later, "from a previous campaign," according to his character sheet. He declared that it was an Obsidian Sword, a normal melee weapon in all respects, but invulnerable to the Ooze's metal-destroying touch.

Awesome. He hacked it to bits.

A handful of roaming rats nibbled at their ankles as they marched onward, deeper into the Gallery of Death, their footsteps crunching over the bones of other, less able, adventurers. (Probably from the original edition, when a Magic-User would get stuck with 2 hit points and cloth armor for extra deathening.)

The noise of footsteps, clanking armor rushing toward them, echoed through the caverns.

It was Lucy, Cleric of Moradin. Played daughter's muppet.

My daughter declared, at the beginning of the day's game, before entering the Gallery of Death, that her muppet wanted to play too. So...a chance to test out the Cleric of Moradin, with the muppet rolling her dice and a tiny voice from behind the chair making decisions for the character. (Don't let my daughter know, but I could totally see her moving the muppet's arms and mouth. Shh.)

Lucy the Cleric of Moradin had lost her party in the caverns. They had been killed by the Owlbear who took the bodies back to its lair.

Bob, Lily, and Cary Cycax joined Lucy in her quest for vengeance, with Owlbear hate in their hearts, and lingering injuries from the Ooze battle. But they were not to be deterred. There was an Owlbear to kill, and how difficult could that be?


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Playtesting DnDNext Part 3: The Legend of Cary Cycax

Part Three of my family's continuing adventures in playtesting DnDNext. Read Part One and Part Two if you haven't. Both good.

Day One of playtesting, about 45 minutes total, brought Bob and Lily into wily combat with wandering Bugbears and guardians of a nasty Kobold nest. There was little role-playing, but plenty of improvisational battle moves.

Day Two of playtesting brought a different flavor, with the arrival of Television's Ryan Callahan, who joined our playtest group for the weekend, playing the righteous Cleric of Pelor, named Cary Cycax.

Television's Ryan Callahan played Cary Cycax as a declarative huckster of the sun god, proselytizing with nearly every sentence he uttered.

Bob and Lily joined forces with Cary Cycax to journey back into the CAVES OF CHAOS, but first they headed to the town of Mort, which they made up, because they said they could rest there and get some supplies.

On the way to Mort, only a few miles hike through the deforested landscape -- Mort was built using a primitive clear-cutting strategy -- they were attacked by a pair of Goblin brigands who were easily dispatched by the ray of light from Cary Cycax's staff and the vicious cleaver of Bob the Dwarf. Television's Ryan Callahan, unprompted, eloquently described the soul of a dead Goblin leaving his body, as his corpse withered under the eye of Pelor. Playing off this kind of make-up-the-details-as-you-go roleplaying, my son described the gushing blood from his Goblin victim washing over his Dwarven body, healing all his wounds with magical power.

I vetoed that one.

For everyone on the D&D forums whining about how DnDNext relies too much on DM fiat, I will say as I have always said, "any decent DM will say yes to anything, unless it is completely out of the realm of even fake-medieval-super-magical reality." So no magical healing blood spewing from Goblin bodies all of a sudden.

When they arrived at Mort, I had each player name one famous town landmark. My daughter said, "The Great Window," my son said, "The Casino," and Television's Ryan Callahan said, "The Bottomless Trough." "Is that the name of an all-you-can eat restaurant?" "No, it's just a trough, that's bottomless."

The Great Window turned out to be a platform looking out in the distance toward a simmering volcano. The Bottomless Trough turned out to be less interesting than it sounds, and it didn't even sound interesting. And the Casino -- renamed The Gaming House of Mort -- led to a rousing game of Three Dragon Ante, where Lily the Halfling used her "Luck" to win a handful of gold pieces and a Dwarven heavy shield for Bob's use -- assuming he could find a one-handed weapon to use instead of relying on his greataxe. Didn't those dead Goblins have maces? They did. Bob could run back outside of town and pick his choice of bloody Goblin mace for no money down and no easy payments of 0 gps per day.

The party slept at The Inn. Tomorrow, THE RETURN TO THE CAVES OF CHAOS, healed-up and now with a heavy shield. Of justice.

Speaking of justice, friend, have you let the divine light of Pelor into your heart?


Saturday, May 26, 2012

Playtesting DnDNext Part 2: Kobold and Run

Part Two of my family's continuing adventures in playtesting DnDNext. Read Part One if you haven't. It's good.

After defeating the Bugbears, and getting mightily bruised in the process with no healing in sight (without a Cleric around, healing doesn't much happen in DnDNext until an overnight sleepover), Bob the Fightin' Dwarf and Lily the Rogueish Halfling entered the CAVES OF CHAOS [Booming voice].


Though accustomed to balanced encounters and passive perception from 4th Edition, my son, playing Bob, was wise enough to slowly lead the procession into the nearest cave entrance, where he uncovered a dangerous pit trap before falling into it himself.

That pit trap would become the centerpiece of their entire anti-Kobold strategy soon enough, for within a round, six Kobold guards chanced upon our already-battered heroes.

Spear-flinging and responsive strategy ensued.

My daughter, playing Lily, leaped backwards over the pit and enticed the Kobolds to try to come toward her, picking them off with her sling when they tried to maneuver around the fragile edges of the ten-foot drop. Bob swung his greataxe with gusto, slamming nearby Kobolds into cavern walls and -- in a desperate move with only a few hit points remaining -- swung his axe into the spine of one last Kobold, catapulting its corpse on top of its fallen brethren in the pit below.

Two of the Kobolds had already fled deeper into the caves, presumably to get help, but our tiny wounded party didn't pursue. They staggered out of the mouth of the cave, into the sunlight, seeking help. They couldn't delve further without healing, or without assistance from the gods.

Luckily, Cary Cycax, Cleric of Pelor, was only a few hundred feet away.


Friday, May 25, 2012

Playtesting DnDNext Part 1: Bugbears Eat Meat

As you may (or may not) know, Wizards of the Coast released their public beta test of the new D&D rules yesterday. Currently called "DnDNext" or some variation of that, the rules are stripped-down and much more in tune with the simpler, earlier editions, pre-bloat, and they are a clear attempt by Wizards to engage players young and old by paring D&D back to its most essential components, while still making the system run smoothly.

The playtest rules are closer in spirit to the game I first started playing -- with the Moldvay Basic rules, 30 years ago -- than the 4th Edition rules that have been the core game for the past three years.

My daughter, the artist in the family, just discovered my Basic D&D books last week, after asking about how long I've been playing. When I showed her all the dungeon maps I created when I was 10, she busted out the old graph paper and started making her own, full of traps and secret doors and dangerous passages.

She's part of my DnDNext playtest team, definitely, with her two years of experiences (even at only age 8) with 4th Edition, and her multiple-sessions-worth-of-experience with both Gamma World and Mutants & Masterminds. She prefers Dexterity-heavy sneak-attack characters in every kind of game she plays.

The other member of my DnDNext playtest team is my son, now age 11, who has also been playing 4th Edition D&D for two years, along with Gamma World and Mutants & Masterminds. He likes to play weapons-master characters, ones that can smash stuff with axes and swords and maybe do some cool cinematic moves at the same time. He's an astute critic of these games already, and he can tell you why he likes Gamma World better than 4th Edition (more creative potential, more absurdity) and he comes to any tabletop game with hundreds of hours of video game experiences and a preference for pixels over papers and pencils.

So we busted out the DnDNext playtest packet, on my iPad, with just a character sheet printed out for each of the two players. My son chose the Dwarf Fighter and my daughter chose the Halfling Rogue. No surprises there.

I went mini-less and battle-map-less, because if there's one thing that would emphasize that DnDNext is NOT a tweaked version of 4th Edition, it's the lack of map-centric powers and abilities. Sure, we could have used a map to show positions in combat, but it wasn't necessary -- a few quick lines on a piece of paper showed where everything was in relation to one another -- and the battle in the "theater of the mind" was just as much fun for the kids than anything they'd ever played in 4th Edition or Gamma World or Mutants & Masterminds.

But I'll get to that later.

Before we started on our way, with Bob the Dwarf and Lily the Halfling on their way to explore the Caves of Chaos, my son expressed hesitation about his underpowered character. 15 AC for a fighter??? No special moves??? He declared DnDNext a terrible game, even before we started marching the characters toward their cavernous doom.

My daughter didn't care either way, she just wanted to make sure her character was named after one of her friends at school.

On the way to the Caves, they chanced upon a couple of Bugbears gnawing on an animal carcass. Bob the Dwarf charged in, greataxe blazing. Lily the Halfling tried to climb a tree and leap down on them from above. She failed her first attempt, but chose to use another action to try again, figuring that leaping from above, even delayed a turn, was better than charging in with her tiny dagger.

They dispatched the Bugbears swiftly, with Bob improvising a move to smash one of the monsters into the other, knocking down his foul compatriot, and Lily dropping down to stab the fallen Bugbear in the eye. Vicious little kids, desensitized to violence, what has this country come to, etc, etc, it was awesome.

My son's negativity lingered, but once he got to the Caves of Chaos, everything would change and his grumpy playtesting approach turned to, "hey, this was a lot more fun than I expected."

Find out why next time.


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Wednesdays: Come Out and Play

On Wednesdays, beginning on May 16th and running for the next three months, I will be running D&D Encounters at Fantasy Realms in Pittsfield, MA from 4:30-6:30 each week.

The May 16th session is for character creation, and each following week will feature a mini-installment (or encounter) of the "Web of the Spider Queen" adventure written by Logan Bonner.

The whole purpose of the D&D Encounters program is to bring in new players, and to have some regular fun for people who can come in for a week, but might miss other weeks, and everyone can still have a good time. If you don't create a character -- or bring a suitable character to play (email me for details) -- then you'll play one of the cool pre-gen characters provided by Wizards of the Coast.

Why am I running D&D Encounters locally? Well, I want to play it, and no one else is running it, so I might as well just take charge of the thing. And I've been running D&D games at home with friends and family for the past two years and a little bit after school this year, so I figured making it a formal weekly thing would be a good idea.

All my friends and family members and anyone else can swing by on Wednesday afternoons and play.

It's limited to 5 players per week, so contact me or Fantasy Realms to sign up for certain Wednesdays, and I will see you there!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Kickstarting the Image Revolution

Earlier tonight -- though I guess it would be earlier this morning by the time this is posted -- I put out a call for donations for Patrick Meaney's upcoming "Comics in Focus: The Image Revolution" documentary. I said I would match whatever donations were made within the hour, up to $500.

I was happy to do it. (As I write this now, and the clock is running down on the hour, it looks like I will end up matching $245 in donations.) Even though I have old ties with Sequart, the gang behind the documentary, and got my start in comics punditry writing for a now-defunct version of their website, I heard about the documentary the same time everyone else did when it was announced on Kickstarter (though maybe I guessed it a little earlier than most, with Mike Phillips's Andre Agassi references on Twitter, and my ability to plumb the depths of Professor Phillips's subtle mind.)

Because I know Patrick, and I was a talking head in the Grant Morrison documentary, I will likely get a chance to provide some historical context on camera for the Image doc. But that's not why I donated money to help fund the project.

I also find myself increasingly fascinated with Image Comics, and early Image comic books specifically. My interest in that era predates the current retro-enthusiasm generated by the excellent work guys like Joe Keatinge and Ross Campbell and Brandon Graham and Friends are doing on the relaunched Extreme titles. Basically, as corporate comics become more obviously manufactured products pumped out into the marketplace, it's fun to go back and look at the early Image books and see a bunch of young guys making marks on paper and churning out things to entertain themselves and their fans.

Many of the early Image comics aren't good by what I used to call my objective standards of comics criticism. But I'm less and less interested in that -- pulling myself away from doing traditional reviews has been healthy in that regard -- and more and more interested in seeing weird images and offbeat narrative choices that may not even be in the best interest of the stories being told. The imperfections, writ large, are endearing. I genuinely love them. And the fact that the Image founders shook up the industry, that's a monumental event. But that's not why I donated money to help fund the project.

I donated money to help fund the project because I know how Patrick and the guys at Sequart operate. I know Julian Darius and Mike Phillips (and friends) have constantly invested their own money into projects, before even asking for a penny from anyone else. I know for a fact that I was paid royalties on my books before those guys even made any kind of reasonable profit from the sales. They reinvested whatever money came out of those early book projects to fund other books, and, later, movies, that had no real shot of making any kind of money. They did it to get more people involved. To grow the brand, not to become rich, but because they wanted more people to say and write and direct cool, interesting things about comic books.

So, know this, if you're ever faced with donating to help a Sequart or a Patrick Meaney project: the money goes right into helping make the project happen, along with whatever personal money everyone involved can scrape together. And they will do right by you, because that's just how those guys are.

And with your help, with all of our help, they can keep producing interesting books and films and websites and whatever else they think we might like to see. And they will do it because they love it.

The Image Comics documentary Kickstarter ends in a few days. Donate if you have the chance. If not, keep your eyes peeled for whatever they have coming up next. It will be worth your time, for sure.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Jonathan Hickman = Jared Harris

Not the 1998 Film
I was flipping through the channels yesterday and I caught a minute of the 1998 Matt LeBlanc vehicle better known to cinephiles everywhere as Lost in Space. When I saw Jared Harris on screen, everything clicked into place (I actually saw the entire movie in the theater when it came out, all those years ago, because time somehow moved slower back then): Jonathan Hickman's Fantastic Four run is entirely based on the 1998 Lost in Space film.

Jared Harris plays what amounts to a time-travelling future Franklin Richards.

Cracked the code. Your move, Hickman.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Tucker Stone Destroys for Fun and Profit

If Tucker Stone only wrote his hilariously scathing reviews on a chalkboard outside of Bergen Street Comics, I would be sure to make extra trips to Brooklyn just to enjoy his prose. I have obsessively clicked on The Factual Opinion some late Sunday nights, when I'm working on some column for a deadline, hoping that his "Comics of the Weak" would miraculously update, even though  half of the comics he writes about so savagely are ones that I regularly enjoy with unrestrained enthusiasm.

But somehow, shifting his weekly take-down of "mainstream" comics to The Comics Journal site has added a weird new dimension to his words. Because now, though his tone is exactly the same as it has been for years, his biting mini-reviews have the weight of authority behind them.

Coming as a weekly (or less-than-weekly, more recently) blog post on his own faux-haughty Factual Opinion site, Tucker's snarky vitriol seemed like harmless but gut-punchingly entertaining pub talk. The sort of ultimate example of how we might all like to rant about the terribleness inside the comics that we find ourselves reading. And if you've been following Tucker's writing over the years, it's seemed that some of his exaggeratedly vicious criticism has become less and less of a pose and more and more of an acceptance that, yeah, these comics are pretty much as bad as he's been saying. At least, that's what seems to be reflected from his point of view. Increasing disillusionment from a source that was barely illusioned to begin with.

The comments, though -- and I should know not to read comments ever, sure, yes, I know -- on his second-and-most-recent TCJ column. His newly-relocated "Comics of the Weak." These comments remind me that because The Comics Journal barely covers front-half-of-Diamond-Previews comics, Tucker's words are not only seen as authoritative about the individual comics he writes about, but they're also seen as representative of an entire massive subsection of comics. Tucker indicts all of "mainstream" comics by ridiculing his particular selections on a weekly basis, to an audience that seems reassured in its bias.

"Aha!" they shout. "We knew those COMIC BOOKS were unreadable all along. Why, we gave them up years ago to focus on archiving our Ernie Bushmiller collections and waiting for the new Alison Bechdel. Thank you, Tucker Stone, for reminding us that we no longer have to waste our time on nonsense."

It reminds me of the "Little Cinema" in the lower level of the small museum here in my town. My wife and I used to go there to see independent and art house films every month or two. And the place would always be packed with retired folks, and they would laugh at all the wrong parts of every movie and applaud at the end of everything, seeming to miss the point of what they saw but yet clearly entertained by every moment. They would, haltingly, scoff at any mention of the big summer blockbuster playing at the multiplex.

I think of that crowd when I read some of the comments underneath Tucker's new column. And I think of these shambling septuagenarians (or worse, their snarling adolescent nihilist pals) interpreting a few funny, too-true reviews as some kind of blanket criticism of everything that comes out of Marvel and DC and IDW and Boom and whoever else publishes comic books that have action and punching and explosions and important conversations about whether society hates the protagonists or fears them. And I think of those readers feeling safe in their choice of sticking with The Collected Nancy Artist's Edition and I hate them in their narrowmindedness.

Then I turn and begin to celebrate all the variety and genre-smashing comics that those readers might be missing if they let Tucker turn them away from everything that the "mainstream" comic book publishers have to offer.

But, sadly, I can't even muster the energy to do that. I can't advocate for Justice League International or Dominique Laveau or X-Factor or Peter Panzerfaust or even the comics I like. I like them, these days, the way I like Chocolate-covered Peeps and the doodles of Inspector Gadget in the corners of my notes for work. But I don't advocate for them, necessarily.

Tucker may be right after all, even if he doesn't mean it. (Though he totally does.) And I'll be obsessively clicking on, waiting for more.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

I Watched This Thing Called "Game of Thrones"

Boromir is Very Sad
The place where I buy my comics is called "Fautasy Realms," according to the sign. That's no typo -- that's just an upside down, dot-matrix-printed "n" in the store name, officially.

Back when Fautasy Realms was called "Virtual Reality," the owner talked about George R. R. Martin a lot, specifically about the sense of realism in his "Song of Ice and Fire" series. That didn't make me want to read the books.

A few years ago, when rumors of an HBO "Game of Thrones" project started bubbling up, and everyone freaked out about how amazing such a thing would be, I looked into the books a bit, and then realized that George R. R. Martin was the same guy who wrote that thing in "Wild Cards" about the superhero who was also a Volkswagen Beetle or something. So I stopped looking into the books.

Then, a bit before "Game of Thrones" actually premiered on HBO, I heard Sam Humphries, who I respect greatly for his wit and wisdom (long before he was a superfamous Marvel Comics Writer Extraordinaire), say that he loved the "Song of Ice and Fire" series even though he HATES ALL THINGS WITH ELVES AND SWORDS AND WIZARDS. So I bought "Game of Thrones."

I don't have HBO.

I tried to read "Game of Thrones" on a family cruise last summer, but I couldn't remember (or care to remember) all the characters in the opening 50 pages and I decided to read every New Mutants comic instead. I think I made the right choice.

I tried reading "Game of Thrones" again over the winter, and I got 150 pages into it, and I liked that Tyrion guy well enough but, let's be's a sleazy book, isn't it? Super sleazy, with incest and underage barbarian marriage-rape and mostly just a lot of pages that are like all the boring bits of "Lord of the Rings" without all the monsters and wizards and fancy obsession with British cuisine and pipe smoking. Also, it was just about the most plodding mystery story ever. Starring a guy named Ned.

I finally watched "Game of Thrones" last week. The whole first season.

Halfway through, I still thought it was sleazy and dull and yet the performances were strong enough to keep me watching and it looked nice all wintry and fur-lined and swordy.

But by the end, I wanted to know what happens next.

So I bought "A Clash of Kings." I have read the first two chapters. I think maybe I should go read all the "Youngblood" comics instead.

Though Boromir was pretty good in all those TV episodes. Too bad how it turned out for him. He'd make a good Chapel in the big-budget Youngblood movie. Boromir for Chapel. 2012!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sean Witzke says it better than I ever could: Jean Giraud/Moebius 1938-2012.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Best Comics of 2011

Hey, I never posted the Best Comics of 2011 here at this still-not-abandoned blog. So here it is, for the ages.

I spent two weeks of "When Words Collide" over at Comic Book Resources running down my Top 30 list, so if you want the capsule explanations and/or justifications for the entire List o' Thirty for Twenty-Eleven, that's the place to go. First go to BEST COMICS OF 2011: THE RUNNERS UP then finish strong with THE TOP TEN COMICS OF 2011.

Here's the list, unadorned with comment:

10. Batman, Inc.
9. Lose
8. Xombi
7. Forming
6. Loose Ends
5. Deadpool MAX
4. Butcher Baker, The Righteous Maker
3. Casanova: Avaritia
2. Flashpoint: Batman: Knight of Vengeance
1. Scalped

A solid list, I think, even though it feels like a million years ago.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

The Annotated Chemical Box UPDATED

I recently appeared as a guest on The Chemical Box podcast to talk about comics and movies and writing about comics and not having time to watch movies.


These are the Top 10 Annotations for the episode.

1. The Golden Age spaceman comics of Basil Wolverton are good.

2. This guy doesn't like Rob Liefeld much, but he's dead wrong and you can tell just by looking at the sweet art he uses as examples. Also: Rob Liefeld drew THIS kernel of greatness.

3. Alec likes Savage Dragon comics a lot, especially this one but also all these ones.

4. Joey likes Suburbia, mostly because it was written by this guy, but also because it was directed by this guy, and stars this other guy. Tim agrees.

5. Mark Bagley used to be good. Oh wait, no he didn't.

6. We didn't talk about this movie at all.

7. Abhay didn't like this comic very much, and we wondered why the men-in-suits-shuffling-paperwork genre was popular with podcasters with bad taste.

8. Michael Deforge wrote and drew this just so Joey would have something to do for a month.

9. This is definitely NOT the best comic ever. But THIS may be!

10. There exists a demarcation in the world. On the one side, those who think they like movies but are actually quite ignorant and possibly evil. On the other side, those who actually like movies and have immense knowledge and insight. You can tell you're talking to someone in the former category because they continue to insist that this is a good movie, even though everyone else in the world knows they are wrong. I mean, yeesh!