Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Deleted Scenes: The Grant Morrison Interview

So, for my MASTER OF THE MEDIUM: GRANT MORRISON book, launching at the New York Comic-Con (see you there?), I called Grant and did a one-hour interview. The meat of the interview will be published in that book, but as the conversation drew to a close, I talked to him about a few things that aren't relevant to the contents of the book.

Here you have it--the exclusive outtakes from the exclusive Grant Morrison interview conducted, I don't know, a week ago last Sunday, I think:

Me: Besides the work I cover in the book, what stuff do you think is the most fertile for this type of in-depth analysis?

Grant: Whatever. I’ll leave it to you [laughter]. It kind of breaks into distinct phases for me. The stuff we’ve been talking about in this book was done when I’d been living with the same girl for nine years. I was really straightedge, I was, like I say, a boy in a band. But I was a really weird boy [laughter]. I was a really weird fucking mod, straightedge--didn’t take part in drugs, anything, you know? And then I got to 32 and just ran away from it after Doom Patrol. Went out there in the world and did all these things I’d never done before, so out of that period you see things like Flex Mentallo and The Invisibles, which are a lot more autobiographical and a lot more psychedelic. Because, at the time, that’s how things were going.

Me: What was after that? Do you think the JLA stuff was a distinct phase?

Grant: No, JLA was done...the whole psychedelic period laster for all of the 90s, basically. All those JLAs were written on drugs [laughter]. You can see the crossover with themes from The Invisibles. So that was the period--because it was a real psychedelic period--it was my Sgt. Pepper time, you know? That kind of stuff fascinated me, because it does seem to be at the center of which a lot of the other stuff revolves around. The Invisibles and Flex Mentallo. Then from 2000 on, there’s things, the Marvel stuff like New X-Men, and the Filth, which were really a different type of head. That’s me trying to deal with a really different world--a much harsher, unpleasant world after 9/11.

In any of these things there’s a lot of interest and underlying stuff, but I’m sure most people would be interested about The Invisibles and Flex. It was a kind of day-glow period.

Me: It really seems like you hit the mainstream once you started doing The Invisibles. That was the thing that impacted the widest amount of people.

Grant: Well, that’s the one that suddenly--I became friends with all sorts of people, you know, scientists and counter-culture people. My life actually became like the comic. It really overlapped [laughter]. Apart from the violence--but everything else--I shaved my head to look like the character, I went to kung-fu lessons. Every time the characters were in a different location, I would travel to that location, and things would happen and feed into the book and vice versa.

Me: So what’s next? What do you have on the agenda?

Grant: A bunch of new creator stuff. I’m kind of finishing up the last few years of intensive DC Universe things, and I’ll keep doing Batman for a while, I think, because I’m enjoying that. Superman will soon be finished. I’m really pleased with that one as well, but I kind of want to get on and do my own stuff again. So I’ve got four or five projects out from Vertigo next year.

We’re getting a lot more interest in movies, as well. After the We3 screenplay which I wrote. Suddenly, I’m getting lots of offers from everywhere [laughter]. All this kind of interest.

Me: Are they looking to adapt something, or are they looking for original projects?

Grant: No, basically, they liked We3. Everyone really liked the We3 screenplay, which was good news for me. People have just been coming to me with all kinds of things: Sherlock Holmes and all kinds of projects.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Here's a piece I did last year in my sketchbook based on an image from some magazine--Harper's probably. I was just playing around with geometric shapes and brushwork here, and I like the way it turned out, though when I erased the pencil lines everything smudged and blurred. Which adds a bit of humanity to the image, I guess. I tend to prefer things a little more polished and cold, and that makes a lot of my drawings lifeless, so I've tried to make an effort over recent years to loosen things up, mostly by using brushes to keep me from being to conservative with my line.

I'm going to be posting a bunch of sketchbook pages in the coming weeks, all of which come from the past two years. I've filled up 2 1/2 sketchbooks since then, but for the first three decades of my life I never kept a sketchbook at all. Instead, my doodles and illustrations were always done on random sheets of paper that I may or may not have thrown away.

It's nice to actually have my recent stuff bound together in these sketchbooks, though. I really should have started the process much earlier. That's my sage advice for the day: start a sketchbook, fill it up, then start a new one. It's fun for the whole family!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Gotham City

When I was in college, Wizard magazine (which I actually read back in those days, before the interweb), in cooperation with DC Comics, ran some kind of Batman try-out contest. The winner would get something cool--like maybe publication or something. Anyway, you had to draw this Batman sequence that they gave you the script for. The first panel described a moonlit Gotham City, and then the other panels went on to describe the Batman swooping down and I think maybe Man-Bat was in the sequence? I really don't remember the details. It was during the time of the Azrael Batman, by the way, so his costume was all Robocoppy, which definitely detracted from any kind of moody effect I wanted to achieve.

Because of this, or because I never finished anything I started back then (see Mr. Potato Head for details), I only drew the first panel for the contest. This is the result:

I wanted to amp up the gothic imagery in the cityscape, and what could be more gothic than Notre Dame cathedral? So I plopped it right down in the foreground and left the more modern buildings in the middle ground. I like how it turned out. It's certainly the most detailed architectural rendering I've ever done, and although I'm not happy with the old-school cape effect up top (looks more like Bob Kane than even I intended), or the way the right corner of the cathedral lines up with the front corner of the Natural History Museum (the cathedral should extend a bit further to the right), I think it's a cool image.

I mean, it's Gotham City! Right?

Although if I had to do it again, I'd definitely put some kind of giant dinosaur skeleton on the roof of the Natural History Museum. Nah, that would be dumb.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Recommended: The Left Bank Gang

Last week I read Jason's new graphic novel, The Left Bank Gang. This Fantagraphics edition needs more effective glue (my binding has already cracked and the cover is nearly coming off), but the book is full of quality. I've never read any of Jason's longer work before--just some short pieces here and there. I was put off by his anthropomorphic animals and his seemingly expressionless style. I was wrong to dismiss him before.

This book, which tells an alternate-reality tale of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Joyce, and Pound's self-imposed exile in France. In this version, the four are cartoonists and, running short on funds, they decide to pull a heist. After that point, the story turns into an homage of Kubrick's The Killing, complete with non-linear storytelling.

Honestly, though, the heist is only the very last part of the book. The first 2/3rds deals with the frustrations of the characters, and the naturalistic but oblique dialogue works perfectly to capture the feel of that lost generation.

It's a short book, only 64 pages, and the Kubrick homage may be a bit too faithful to the source, but it's an excellent read with clean, expressive art by Jason. I was wrong about his work before; he's a wonderfully expressive artist. I highly recommend this book to you.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Ninja Wolf in Space

In 2005, I self-published four issues of Ninja Wolf along with some other sweet minicomics. (They're all still available for a buck apiece, so if you're interested, send me an email.)

Anyway, this illustration is NOT featured in any of the Ninja Wolf issues. It was done on an oversized art board just for fun, and once I started drawing it, I knew that "Ninja Wolf in Space" had to be the title (and plot) of the first Ninja Wolf movie. So think of this as a teaser for such a film, coming your way no later than 2026.

Comic Book Scorecard: Week of 9/06/06

This week was lighter than last week, both in terms of quantity and quality. Here we go:

Uncanny X-Men #478, by Brubaker and Tan. I've seldom liked the X-Men. I enjoyed the Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne run. I loved the Morrison, Quitely, etc. run. I respect the Whedon, Cassaday work on Astonishing. I thought the second movie was pretty good. That's about it for me and the X-Men. I own a lot of X-Men comic books, but most of them are weak, incomprehensible, or dull. This new 12-part series by Brubaker and Tan is still too early to judge, honestly. Issue #478 is part 4 of the series, true, but that's still really just the beginning of Act II--I know the storyline is headed toward some huge battle between Vulcan, The X-Men, and the Shi'ar Superguardians, but it's a bit slow getting there. I like that it deals with the Shi'ar. I like that it's not mutant angst. I like that it's better than most X-Men stories already. But I hope Brubaker can pull it all together into something great. Grade: B-

52 Week Eighteen, by the usual peeps. I have been reading Shadowpact and the continuity between this series and that series has completely baffled me. Wasn't the Shadowpact team trapped in that city withing a bubble for the entire year. The same year 52 is supposed to take place? I thought so. Am I wrong about that? Then why are Shadowpact members appearing in this series all of a sudden? Will someone please help me out here? Anyway, I liked this issue, otherwise, mostly because it dealt heavily with Dr. Fate's helmet. I think Dr. Fate is one of the best, most underused characters in the DC Universe, and it's mostly because his helmet is so damn cool. Seriously, his helmet is enough to make me enjoy a comic book. That's more than a little weird, right? Grade: B

Atom #3, by Simone and Byrne. Ugh, I still HATE the "footnotes" that Simone throws in every once in a while. I think the footnotes are her awful attempt at metafiction and/or humor, but they just don't work. They are distracting, uninteresting, and unfunny. I actually emailed her after the first issue to beg her to please get rid of the horrible, horrible footnotes, and she said in her reply that she's going to continue using them, but use them less. She's just being stubborn. I'll bet you that by issue #10 the footnotes will be long gone. They are so very bad. Meanwhile, the story is not too shabby, and Byrne's art looks pretty good in this issue. We have a Lovecraftian monster, a new Giganta (is she the same Giganta from other DC comics? I have no idea), and a new villain who is a shrinking assassin called Dwarfstar. If a shrinking assassin named Dwarfstar sounds cool to you, then you are smart, because it is WICKED cool. Grade: B+ (would be an A- if not for those footnotes!)

Mystery in Space #1, by Starlin and Davis. I liked the Shane Davis artwork a lot more than I thought I would. I'm pretty much a clean-line type of guy, and the 90s Image look doesn't sit well with me. Yet, this week I bought a couple of titles that used that style quite effectively. It's too early to judge the overall storyline, but the first issue rejuvenates the old Captain Comet character and updates him TO THE EXTREME. That's actually not a joke. That's what really happens. But, still, I like swashbuckling space adventures, and Starlin is known for that sort of thing (I miss Dreadstar, don't you?). The back-up story, "The Weird," seemed just kind of pointless, though. And I always thought Starlin's "Weird" costume design was way off--he's supposed to be this alien being of immense power, yet he looks like a circus performer with a stylized ninja costume. That IS weird. Grade for the Captain Comet section: B; Grade for The Weird: D

Detective Comics #823, by Dini and Benitez. This is the other comic I bought that had 90s Image art, but yet I liked the style quite a bit. It's like Todd McFarlane had a love child with Bart Sears and Art Adams was the godfather. If that makes any sense to you, it probably doesn't sound like a pleasant sight, but it is. It works here. I particularly like the look of Batman in this story. It's a good look. Trust me. The Dini story is decent, but not brilliant. I like the savage portrayal of Poison Ivy, but the "villain," the Harvest, is not great. The ending implies that the ridiculous Harvest will inevitably return someday. I hope not. Really. Grade: B

Marvel Team-Up #24, by Kirkman and Kuhn. I have probably told you this before, but Robert Kirkman is the best old-fashioned superhero writer working today. He's not a fancy genius like Morrison or anything, but in the classic Stan Lee mode, or Claremont mode, or whatever old-school writer you like, you get Robert Kirkman. He just tells a good story and seems to have fun doing it. That's why I like this series, and I'm sad that it's ending next issue. But the story he tells this week is a great one, with the final battle between Freedom Ring and Iron Maniac (see--look at those names, they are absurd, but Kirkman doesn't care--he doesn't justify them--he knows he's writing a comic book and he just goes for it). You know what, I just like that there's a crazy alternate reality Tony Stark running around calling himself Iron Maniac. That's enough to make me happy. The excellent narrative is just icing. Grade: A

Y the Last Man #49, by Vaughan and Guerra. Yorick's quest seems to have hit a bit of a lull here. There aren't any interesting action sequences here, nor any shocking revelations, nor any charming dialogue. I think the problem is that Yorick himself doesn't seem to know what his next step will be. Since issue #1, he's been looking for his girlfriend, but now he seems puzzled about what to do next. So maybe the issue simulates his lack of direction. Either that or it's just a weak issue. I just hope that Vaughan recovers and gets us on track quickly for the series conclusion (issue #60?). Grade: C-

Agents of Atlas #2, by Parker and Kirk. Jeff Parker is coming on strong. He's making a mainstream splash on this series and his work on the Marvel Adventures: Avengers title (which I haven't read, but I've heard good things about). Agents of Atlas, though, is looking good so far. I like the premise (the actual pre-Marvel heroes reuniting in the present day to fight their old nemesis--the racist characature of evil known as Yellow Claw), and I like the characters, and I like the pace of the story. The artwork is pleasant too. Good stuff all around. Grade: A-

Battler Briton #3, by Ennis and Wilson. This is another series I'm not going to read until I get a whole bunch of issues, largely because I have no frame of reference on these old British characters, and I need to sink my teeth into a pile of the comics before I get my bearings. Grade: Incomplete

That's it for this week!

Monday, September 11, 2006

United 93

I understand the concept of catharsis, but I rarely experience it. I look at art, whether it be paintings, fiction, or movies, from an intellectual perspective. I appreciate and enjoy style and technique. I savor the moment when an artist tries something new and creates innovation. I love things on an aesthetic level. But I'm rarely moved. Emotion doesn't tend to factor into my appreciation of works of art.

United 93 is an amazing exception. This film is a work of art which not only bowled me over with its handheld aesthetic, but it also provided an emotional catharsis that I can't remember experiencing before in my life. If you asked me today about my favorite movies of all time, this one would near the top, because I can't think of many more perfect blendings of intellectual and emotional pleasure. Pleasure's the wrong word, of course, because this movie is brutal and painful. But to watch such a masterful film, even one that tears you apart as you watch it, is a pleasure of a sort. It's horrible but beautiful, and it's not beautiful in the way that most movies are beautiful--it's not bright and pretty and colorful--it's beautiful in the sense that it perfectly recreates a time and a place that we need to revisit.

The movie is surprisingly devoid of political sentiment even though, contrary to what I've read about the movie, it doesn't take place entirely within the confines of United Flight 93. In fact, the movie jumps from location to location, providing a context about what we knew and what we didn't know on this terrible day five years ago. The contextual information is part of the catharsis. We need to see that second plane strike the World Trade Center, even if we don't want to, if the full impact of the events is to be felt (not only by us, but by the characters in the movie).

(Future generations will watch this movie, and they will not feel the devastation we feel when we see that plane hit the tower--it crushes us because we experienced that day--when we see the image, we recall the feelings we had when we first heard and saw what had occurred--our children will not have that context--so I wonder what they will make of this film. Will they see it purely in intellectual terms, as I usually do when I watch movies, or is the film good enough to provide catharsis to someone born after the events of that day? I don't know, but I suspect the greatness of this movie will not last. It will become just another movie about a historical event when our children are old enough to watch it.)

United 93 has no stars and no main characters. It is not a conventional narrative. Yet it is a movie that everyone should see because of its power and truth (and I don't mean literal truth, although it apparently is based on the facts that could be pieced together--I mean emotional truth). Watch it at night, though, because you won't be very useful for the rest of the day.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Hey, Football!

In honor of the start of a new football season, I'm tossing out a treat from my old pile o' art. Here's Michigan Heisman Trophy Winner Desmond Howard as drawn by me all the way back in 1991. My brother was always a huge Michigan Wolverines fan, and this iconic image of Howard, copied from some issue of Sports Illustrated I'm sure, has always been one of my personal favorite football images ever. I love how this illustration turned out, which explains why I still have this piece in my possession and my brother has nothing. Ha, ha, sucker, too bad for you!

Maybe I'll draw a new picture for my brother's next birthday. A picture of Brian Urlacher fighting an army of ninjas! It could be like the awesome football fight in Flash Gordon! Ah, football. Good times.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

On Steve Yeowell

When I expand my Grant Morrison columns into a book, I'm going to add brief sidebar essays on the major artists Morrison collaborated with on the various comic book series and graphic novels. Although the focus of the book is a writer, I can't ignore the visual side of the stories. That would be ridiculous. So I'm going to post my thoughts on these artists on this blog from time to time to get ready for the book (which was supposed to be ready in time for Comic-Con New York, but that's not very realistic--summer 2007 is more likely). So here we go:


After working as a fill-in artist on the Zoids strip Grant Morrison was writing, Steve Yeowell soon joined Morrison to launch the pop music "superhero" strip Zenith in the weekly 2000 AD magazine. Yeowell was the only artist to work on Zenith through all four phases of the story, and Morrison was obviously pleased with the look of the series because he launched four more comic book series with Yeowell as his artistic collaborator: The New Adventures of Hitler (1990), Sebastian O (1993), The Invisibles (1994), and Skrull Kill Krew (1995). In addition, Yeowell worked as a fill-in artist during Morrison's Doom Patrol run.

The appeal of Yeowell's artwork lies in his ability to ground extraordinary characters by placing them in a solid context. He tends not to use extreme angles or dynamic perspective to tell the stories, but rather, he uses clean pen lines and solid blacks to give bold form to the proceedings. This is a particularly effective technique when working with Grant Morrison, since Morrison's scripts are full of fantastic invention and hallucinogenic narrative sequences. Yeowell's artwork adds a realistic context for Morrison's outrageous stories.

Consider this panel from Zenith: Phase 3:

The dialogue speaks of alternate dimensions and yet the poses are static and firm. There's no wild gesticulation on the part of Zenith or Robot Archie. And the background is not overly detailed--it doesn't distract from the foreground characters. In fact, Yeowell provides no background at all, save a bold black triangle around a white circle which gives a bit of graphic impact and compresses the frame to emphasize the main figures. The only dynamic aspect of the panel is the facial expression of Zenith's agent, Eddie, who looks at Robot Archie, from his position in the middle ground, with a look of complete shock. His expression underscores the dramatic nature of Archie's revelation, but because it is constrained to a relatively small space in the middle ground, his emotion doesn't overwhelm the panel.

In Zenith: Phase Four, he was granted the use of color, and although his pen and ink technique has changed, his panel compositions remain boldly understated:

Yeowell doesn't fill the panel with needless crosshatching or distracting details. Even the background, which he's actually drawn this time, is composed of simple geometric shapes which provide the illusion of dimensionality without drawing attention away from Zenith's face. Yeowell once again uses a solid black geometric shape (around the rear window) to frame the foreground figure, and the figure itself is posed naturalistically. The "camera angle" from which the scene is shown is nearly identical to the example above. The reader sees the image not from some absurdly dramatic perspective, but instead, the figures are seen head-on, and we are looking at them at about shoulder or chest level, giving them a slight appearance of superiority, but none of this is highly exaggerated. It's subtle and effective and tells the story with clarity and grace.

Even in the insane context of theDoom Patrol series, Yeowell provides clear storytelling and figures who are grounded in a simplified, but effectively rendered, reality:

His depiction of the Men from N.O.W.H.E.R.E. gave them a solidity that other artists weren't quite able to duplicate. Most other artists would obsess over the details of the costumes, distracting the reader with obsessively rendered chain-and-pocket-watch-belts, or overly ornate helmets. Yeowell suggests such detail but doesn't distract us with hundreds of tiny lines--instead, he uses blacks and negative space to add depth and texture. On this page, the lack of background information not only emphasizes the figures, but it provides a sense of disorientation for the characters as well. Flex Mentallo, in the right panel, is literally un-grounded. He is lost, emotionally, intellectually, and physically as he floats in the empty space provided by Yeowell. Notice also that the camera angle is again very similar to the two examples from the Zenith panels. We are slightly below the threatening Men from N.O.W.H.E.R.E, and slightly above Flex Mentallo and company, but not by much. In neither case are the figures shown from some extremely distorted or dynamic angle.

Steve Yeowell is the antithesis of the Jack Kirby model of comic book storytelling and the Image tradition of extreme rendering. That's why I personally disliked Yeowell's work when I first saw it as a teenager. It was so different, so apparently flat, from what I was used to seeing. But that's also why I enjoy his work so much now. I think Yeowell is one of the most interesting and effective artists working in the comic book medium, and I've only been able to appreciate his contributions now that I've matured enough to recognize his glorious subtlety.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Frank Miller and I

In addition to my ungodly love for any archive editions, I can't resist the higher-end Absolute Editions published by DC either. These things are massive, oversizes hardcover editions of the greatest works in recent comic book history, and they come complete with extra pages of commentary, or artwork, or whatever they decide would be cool. I have several of these suckers so far, and with so many new ones being released over the next year or so, I'm doomed to poverty.

The most recent one, by the way, is the Absolute Dark Knight. My recent posts may lead you to believe that I loves me some Batman. That's not exactly true. I actually prefer Superman. In fact, if I had to rank superheroes (which is stupid for me to even think about, because I buy comic books for the creators, rather than the characters), I would place Green Lantern and Flash even above Superman. So I'm not a big Batman guy. But I do love Frank Miller, so I couldn't resist this giant book, which collects The Dark Knight Returns along with The Dark Knight Strikes Again and some other supplemental sketches and original proposals, etc. I haven't actually read this volume yet, so I'll hold off on commenting upon it in more detail. I've read the stories several times in earlier printings, but it's been years since I've revisited either, so I'll let you know if my previous opinion still holds up. (For the record: my previous opinion would be that Dark Knight Returns is savage and brutal and shockingly good and Dark Knight Strikes Again is sloppy but still excellent--and I've always thought the negative criticism it received was due to expectations that were unrealistically high and inconsistent shipping dates when it was first released. But we'll see if that opinion holds.)

The point of this post is that I've always loved the stark, blocky, boldness of Frank Miller's style, and in going through my older artwork, I found an early tribute to his work. I thought this was interesting because it actually shows a bit of my process, and it shows how pathetically unoriginal I was back in those days (as opposed to today, when I'm expertly unoriginal). Here's the rough sketch I drew over a dozen years ago:

It's clearly based on Miller's Ronin, which is the story a science-fiction samurai. I might not have recognized the sketch as a Miller homage, though, if it wasn't accompanied by my finished piece:

Now this looks good, right? Except it's TOTALLY copied from a Miller illustration. But you can see that I at least improved my plagiarism between the sketch and the final, inked drawing. I can't remember exactly what I was thinking at the time, but I knew I thought of this as a "study" of Miller's drawing style, and for some reason I got the scale completely wrong when I did that first sketch. Anyway, I still love Frank Miller, but I don't copy his work anymore. Maybe I should. Maybe it would help. And, by the way, I also found other examples of times I "swiped" a pose or a design from another artist, and I will be posting them someday. For now, though, marvel at the awesomeness that is Frank Miller, as interpreted by me.

The Callahan Gallery--Bob Kane's Batman

I was reading the "Dark Knight Archives Volume 1" (which reprints the very first four issues of the "Batman" comic book) a few months ago, and I came across a panel where Batman's flying a plane, gunning down the bad guys. You just don't see that much anymore. So I was inspired to to a color illustration based on the panel design. It's not my best work, but I had fun slapping some watercolors on a piece of paper. The words Batman says, by the way, are exactly what he says in that early story. It's my tribute to Bob Kane, Bill Finger, and the great Jerry Robinson.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

An Old Drawing

I uncovered this unfinished drawing in my pile o' stuff and I can remember exactly where I was and what I was thinking when I drew it. It was the summer of 1990. I had just graduated high school, and I drew this in my bedroom in my parent's house on Greylock Estates. I'd written a partial script for a comic book story. I knew the opening sequence at least, and I began to draw. The first page was supposed to be a Mr. Potato head repeated several times. After the third or fourth static image, blood was supposed to splatter on the face of Mr. Potato head. A murder had been committed in the room. In the final panel on the page, we might see a shadowy figure walk in front of "the camera."

It was an Alan Moore-type of storytelling device. The stationary POV. The slow build. The disturbing juxtaposition of childhood innocence and brutality. I pencilled one panel. I partially inked it. I grew bored with it, and never returned to the story idea or the drawing. That's pretty much how I operate. I have pages and pages of unfinished drawings, stories, even novels. Does everyone do that, or is it just me?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

10 Reasons why The Legion of Super-Heroes RULEZ!

I resisted my love of The Legion of Super-Heroes for years. I looked at the covers, thought they were awesome, but I couldn't get past the whole "boy/lad/lass" thing in their names: "Ultra Boy, Shadow Lass, Saturn Girl, Element Lad, etc." But they did have cool powers, and they were from the FUTURE. So I was always tempted. And, of course, there were about 8 billion characters to learn about, which was intimidating. Yet there was always something alluring about those shiny 30th Century heroes.

Even before I ever succumbed and picked up my first issue of the series (which was pretty late--I bought the 4-part "Universo" story by Levitz and Laroque which was in the middle of the baxter series, and I'd been reading comics for almost a decade by then), I had purchased some Legion stuff for the DC Heroes role-playing game Mayfair produced. That was a great role-playing game, by the way. Although I don't think I ever actually played it. I just bought every book that came out and memorized the backstories of all the characters and learned their powers and abilities. It was great to walk into a bookstore at some far-away mall (we didn't have a local mall back then) and see a new DC Heroes module or sourcebook on the shelf. What a rush. It's good to be a geek!

Anyway, I finally started picking up the Legion of Super-Heroes comics in the late 1980s, and I bought a bunch of back issues at that time and read it faithfully for a few years until the 5-year gap stories which sounded good to me in theory, but bore so little resemblance to the Legion I'd grown to love that I soon lost interest.

But when I got heavily addicted to the Archive editions last year, I splurged and bought all 12 Legion Archives. And since then, I won a huge 500 comic lot on ebay (all Legion issues--for super-cheap--like 5 cents per issue) and between what I already owned, the Archives, and that ebay lot, I have about 95% of all Legion stories ever published. I still haven't read them all. I've read the 12 Archives, and clumps of stuff between then and now--but I need to set aside a few weeks to get through the rest of the issues. A few months, actually. But the early Archives stuff is so fantastic, I don't think any of the stuff since then can possibly top it.

So this list might be updated once I get totally caught up, but for now, let me present to you THE TOP 10 REASONS WHY THE LEGION RULEZ (WITH A CAPITAL "ULEZ"):

10) Jim Shooter wrote his first issues when he was 13 and he added Karate Kid to the team. Karate Kid's power: Super-Karate!

9) Lighting Lad died in an early issue. No he didn't. It was Chameleon Boy's shape-changing pet Proty who died in his place! Genius!

8) The Legion of Substitute Heroes. They made you laugh and they made you cry. But they kept coming back, didn't they?

7) Interlac. It was like English at first. Then it was like English but with letters FROM THE FUTURE!

6) Tiny little men implanted in the ankle for surveillance. If you read this issue, you will never forget it.

5) Starfinger! Who was actually a brainwashed Lighting Lad with a clamshell helmet! Yes!

4) John Forte. Stiff figures and out-of-scale backgrounds. Yet his art defined the Legion and it is my personal favorite of that era. I like the awkwardly posed figures! They're goofy teenagers from the future!

3) Edmond Hamilton. The greatest of the Legion writers. He's not nearly as famous as he should be. Plus, his wife co-wrote "The Big Sleep" and "The Empire Strikes Back." Nice score there, Edmond.

2) Computo. A giant yellow cash register on wheels (with tentacles)--a sentient computer bent on world domination!

1) Bizarro Computo! Created by Brainiac 5 to defeat Computo. It failed miserably. But how awesome was it while it lasted? As awesome as you can possibly imagine multiplied by infinity! Just take a gander:

Ah, I really do love this stuff.

Monday, September 04, 2006


I doodled this while I was waiting for something to download. I like that it's just drawn on lined paper with a Sharpie. It gives it that "drawn-by-a-little-kid" look, except it's cooler. Actually, the characters look suprised to be caught on lined paper. They're a little embarassed by it. And they should be. As my close friends know, I don't even use lined paper to write on. I write on blank paper (and draw, apparently, on lined paper). Lined paper is for suckers.

I should write a story about these two characters. I'll let the readers come up with their names. You have until September 30th to name them! Go! (I'll select the best name and write a wicked sweet illustrated story to be posted here.)

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Recommended: Rome

This DVD came out a few weeks ago, and because I was lucky enough to have nothing better to do (ankle, remember?) than lie around on the couch, I was able to watch the entire season in a 24 hour period. While it's not quite as good as Deadwood because it's a bit too constrained by actual events, it's definitely worth watching. The Caesar stuff is fascinating, of course, and the interpretation of Brutus is different from anything I've ever seen before (and MUCH more interesting), and the two female leads are wonderfully vicious, but the best parts are (a) Octavian--who is played by the brilliant young Max Pirkis, and (b) the two Rosencrantz and Guildenstern-ish characters of Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo.

I call them Rosencrantz and Guildenstern-ish not because they are ridiculous and pathetic (they are not), but because they play a central role in EVERYTHING (good and bad) that happens to Caesar. They are instrumental in winning the war againts the Gauls, they strike the first blow in the battle with Pompey, they are the ones to find the treasury gold, they find Cleopatra, etc etc etc. If I liked Forrest Gump I would say they are Gump-like as well, but since that movie is absolute crap, I'll just say that they are two wonderfully interesting characters who find themselves living inside giant historical events. Lucius Vorenus is the serious boy scout, and Titus Pullo is the unsophisticated thug, and their story is the real story of Rome.

Bottles of Colored Ink

When I was a teenager, as a Christmas present I received a set of colored ink bottles. I had been drawing a lot around that time, and I'm pretty sure the ink set was part of a larger "theme" that went along with a drawing table I also received. My mother always loved gift-giving themes. Like, she wouldn't just give one present to someone. She'd have a central present, and a lot of satellite presents that somehow went along with it. If the central present was a hockey stick, she'd get you gloves of course, but also like Gatorade or something to go with the athletic "theme." Or maybe a little chocolate goalie or something. It was never just the obvious tie-ins--she would always go above and beyond.

So I probably got some brushes and some pens and pencils to go along with the table and the ink. But I had never used colored ink before. I had given up on color illustrations sometime back in elementary school, when I moved from crayons to colored pencils. Colored pencils looked nicer, but the tint was always too soft, too pastel for me. And watercolors? Forget about it! I couldn't figure out how to keep those from making the paper all wet (I was using typing paper--what did I expect?). So I had basically stuck to black and white--pen and ink--since then.

I didn't know what to do with these colors of ink. I tried using them to color in a pen and ink drawing, but that was a disaster. It looked like paint-by-numbers, except the ink ran too much. I threw that piece away, I'm sure. But after ignoring my colored ink for a few months( I did use the bottle of black ink from the start--but the other ones stayed in their individual little boxes), I decided to play around and just "paint" something with the colors. I used one of my brothers "Zoo Books" for reference, and I came up with this:

I hated the result at the time. I may have tried one or two other small projects with the colored ink, but I basically just put it on the shelf and forgot about it. A decade later, when I moved into a new house with my wife. I unpacked all my art supplies and found the package of colored ink still nearly intact (the bottle of black ink was long gone). I opened the bottles to find that the ink had completely dried up, so I dumped the whole package in the trash. I hadn't thought about the bottles of colored ink since then, until I came across this old owl.

Today, I look at that illustration and admire what I did. I really like it now. I like how I didn't fill up the drawing board with color--I used the whiteness for effect. I like how I zoomed in on the owl's eyes, but not perfectly--they aren't centered. I like the use of purple to give a stylized look to the image. Why was I so disappointed in the way it turned out when I was younger? I'm sure there's an important life lesson here somewhere.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Comic Book Scorecard: Week of 8/30/06

I read a ton of comic books, as you've no doubt figured out. I'm going to try to give capsule reviews and grades to everything I pick up each week. (When I get my comics home, I don't just read them in random order. I stack them up so I can read what I'm most excited about first, and then I put the rest of the superhero stuff next and the non-cape stuff last--usually. The list below is the order in which I read the books.) Here goes:

Solo #12, by Brendan McCarthy. This is the last issue of the series unfortunately, because it was consistently one of my favorites. McCarthy is an astounding artist, and although not every page of this comic is a masterpiece (there are a few one-page sequences that are nonsensical, and not in a good way), the bulk of this issue is pure genius. It's worth buying just for his take on The Flash and his brilliant Batman tale. Grade: A-

All-Star Superman #5, by Morrison and Quitely. Wow. I think this is the best comic book published these days. I wish Quitely's art wasn't digitally inked (when he inks himself, the work is perfect--but I realize that he'd be unable to meet the deadline if he did), but the story's amazing. Best Superman comic book in decades. Grade: A+

52: Week Seventeen, by Morrison, Rucka, Waid, Johns etc. One of the better issues of the series. I love the Animal Man, Adam Strange, Starfire subplot, and that gains more prominence in this issue, so I'm all for that. I'm not a Lobo fan, but his appearance in the story is fun and appropriate. Good stuff this time. Grade: A-

Action Comics #842, by Busiek, Nicieza, and Woods. Pete Woods has developed into one of the best superhero artists working today. And the Dave Gibbons covers have been great on this title. Even though I looked forward to reading this issue, I was still surprised with how good it was. It's not transcendently brilliant like Morrison's Superman stuff, but it is an excellent take on the character and this story is filled with several enjoyable sequences. It had stuff I even had to show off to my son because I thought he'd find it cool. And he did. Grade: A

Young Avengers & Runaways #2, by Wells and Caselli. Another solid issue. Wells does a nice job humorously pointing out the similarities between the two teams, and the ending is a shocker. The art is a bit fuzzy for me--I like a bolder black line, but it's shaping up to be a good series overall. Grade: B+

Teen Titans #38, by Johns and Ferreira. This title has been weaker lately than it was pre-Infinite Crisis. I don't mind the new team or the new focus on solving the mystery of what happened during the gap or any of that stuff. It just feels like it's progressing slower than it should. A lot slower than the pace of earlier issues in the series. This book did feature a cool double-page spread showing the rotating cast during the one-year gap--it was fun to see, and it's another thing that my son really liked because it brought several characters from the animated series into the main title. But, other than that, not much going on. Grade: C

X-Men #190, by Carey and Bachalo. I like Carey's superhero work so far, and Bachalo is always great if he's paired with a writer who can keep him focused (which seems to be the case here). I despise Cable, but his appearance is well-written and makes sense in the context. I'm looking forward to seeing where this storyline is headed. Grade: B

The Trials of Shazam! #1, by Winick and Porter. Man, I really dislike Judd Winick's writing. He's not awful, but he's aggressively mediocre. And yet he gets to write such important characters. Captain Marvel deserves a big comeback. This isn't going to be it, I'm afraid. But I'll probably still buy the rest of the series anyway. (It's called an addiction.) Grade: C-

Superman/Batman #29, by Verheiden and Van Scriver. I really don't know what's going on in this storyline. I can't recall the previous issue. Did I miss it? Am I supposed to be confused. It's baffling to me because I feel like I should know what's happening, but there's just a lot of fighting between the superheroes and then Dark Kilowog shows up. Beats me. Grade: C+ (because I'm assuming that everything will be explained OR that I did, in fact, miss an issue)

Ultimate Fantastic Four #33, by Carey and Ferry. Yeah, now this is good. Here's a case where nobody has any idea what's going on. We know some crazy alien super-beings have shown up on Earth, but we don't know their motives and we're not supposed to. Ferry's art is slick (if a bit rushed) and Carey knows how to keep things interesting. Like his work on X-Men, it's good stuff, and it looks to be building toward something. I just hope it pays off. Grade: B+

JLA Classified #26, by Chaykin, Plunkett, and Nguyen. Ugh. This is terrible. The last storyline was really unreadable and the only reason I bought this was because Chaykin wrote this one. But it's going to be a 6-parter and I don't think I'll be able to stick around to find out what happens. The problem is that the story is too heavy-handed in its politics, and it features huge chunks of dull narration, plus it takes the JLA out of costume to send them on a covert mission. I hate to see superheroes out of costume. It doesn't make it more "realistic," it just makes it more bland. Grade: F

Justice #7, by Krueger, Ross, and Braithwaite. I'm going to have to read this all in one sitting when it finally wraps up. Two months between issues is too long to keep the narrative momentum. It's basically just one long sequence from issue 1 on, as far as I can tell, so reading each individual issue with such a gap between really makes me lose interest. I think Ross is a great artist, but Braithwaite is not, so Ross's art suffers by having to follow a weak layout. For now, I'll give it a grade, but I think my grade might be higher when I read the whole collection. Grade (for now): B-

American Virgin #6, by Seagle and Cloonan. I don't really like this series. I want to like it. I like Cloonan's artwork. I like that I have NO IDEA where it's going. I mean, I know the short-term plot, and I assume the main character is going to undergo some kind of change because he's a dick right not, but I'm not sure how long it will take for that change to occur. I think I'd like this series more if I knew it was planned as a finite series. As it stands, it seems too open-ended and I don't trust it. Grade: C-

Ultimate X-Men Annual #2, by Kirkman and Larroca. I have a serious man-crush on Robert Kirkman's writing skills. This guy is the best new superhero writer in a while. I'm sure he'll end up being Marvel's main guy within a year or two (especially after the awesomeness of "Marvel Zombies"). But this issue didn't blow me away. It was shocking though, because it actually had huge implications for three of the characters on the team. Usually Annuals don't cause any lasting impact, but this one surely did. I thought it needed another subplot or two, because it seemed a bit thin though. But it was suprising to see things develop as they did, so bonus points for that! Grade: B+

Black Panther #19, by Hudlin and Eaton. Why do I continue to buy this series? I have no idea. It's totally just a soap opera without much else to recommend it. I liked seeing Dr. Doom and all, but I hated the corny ending with the "kiss and make up" vibe and everything. But I'm going to be forced to get the next issue too because Black Panther and Storm are going to the moon to visit the Inhumans! That should be good! Except I know it won't! Grade: D

Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters #2, by Palmiotti, Gray, and Acuna. Beautiful artwork. I don't like computerized effects, but Acuna pulls it off with a unique style that makes everything look wonderfully luminous. The story is a mess, though. Are we supposed to believe that this band of government agents IMMEDIATELY rebels against the military because some old guy in a star-spangled top hat talks to them about democratic ideals? I knew they were going to rebel-I mean, look at the title of the comic--but it should have taken more convincing OR it should have been established that they were reluctantly serving their masters. This issue makes it seem like a radical change of attitude happened from one page to the next. But, the art sure is purty. Grade: B-

The Boys #2, by Ennis and Robertson. This is a bleak and brutal series. And I don't know why Robertson draws the guy to look exactly like Simon Pegg. It's distracting. So far it seems to be like Ennis's "Hitman," but without the humor and with a slower pace. I'll give it a few more issues to establish itself, but things better happen soon! Grade: C

That's a lot of stuff!

What I've Been Reading

Because of my injury, and because it's summer, and because I love reading (especially books with drawings--comics rule!), I've got quite a few books to mention. This isn't everything I've read in the past month, but it's a sample (of stuff piled next to my bed because I haven't put it away yet--I need to install built-in-bookcases in the living room if I even hope to shelve all of stuff):

1) Foul Play!, by Grant Geissman. It's subtitled "The Art and Artists of the Notorious 1950s E.C. Comics," so if you know what that means, then you have a pretty good sesne of the book. If you don't, then you should know that E.C. Comics were reknowned for their beatiful artwork (and beautifully chilling stories), as well as causing a scandal leading to the Comics Code yada yada yada. Anyway, the artists of the E.C. era were some of the greatest illustrators who ever lived, and this book gives brief biographies on the creators and a sample story of each artist. My three favorites are Harvey Kurtzman (for his design and storytelling sense), Wally Wood (for his gorgeous figures and sold-looking gadgets and spacecraft), and Graham Ingels (for his eerie brush effects). I actually received this book for my birthday, but just had a chance to read it. It only whets my appetite for the upcoming E.C. Archive editions (which should be released this fall!).

2) The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, by Vladimir Nabokov. This is another step on my journey to read all of Nabokov's work. I'm not doing them in chronological order because, frankly, I have read some of the earlier Russian novels (in translation) and I like them less than his English novels. So I'm jumping around. This one is a good one, but only if you've read some of his other works. Sebastian Knight is easy to summarize: it's about a narrator investigating his dead half-brother's life in an attempt to write a biography. But it's not really about that--that's just the narrative coat-hanger. It's about the nature of identity, and the imprecision of memory. It's about "literary movements" and Nabokov's disdain for them. It's about the fallacy of the biographic form. If that stuff sounds interesting, read it. If you're looking for a detective novel, this one won't be very satisfying.

3) T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Archive: Volume 1, by many talented artists (and some competent writers). Man, I love Archive editions. I have about 50 or 60 archive editions of various classic comic books, from The Atom to The Spirit to The X-Men (Marvel calls them "Masterworks," but they're the same basic format--glossy reprints in solid hardcovers). I picked up all SIX of these T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Archives on ebay two weeks ago. I had never read any of the original stories--my only exposure to the characters (who, by the way, are basically Silver Age superheroes combined with a 60s spy setting) was from a 1980s revision done by some now-defunct publisher. But these original stories are as much fun as I had expected. The artwork is some of the best superhero art of the Silver Age, with work by Wally Wood (he did much more than just E.C. Comics), Gil Kane, Reed Crandall, and others. I can't wait to read the rest of the volumes.

4) Dracula adapted by Gary Reed and Becky Cloonan. This is the Puffin Graphics comic book adaptation of the Stoker novel, and I bought it for the Cloonan art. She's one of my favorites out of the young crop of indie artists (although she's doing a lot of work for DC now, so she's gone mainstream), and she brings this moody story to life with flair. I have about five of these Puffin Graphics books now, and they are all pretty good. My only complaint is that sometimes the cheesy covers ruin the appeal. In this case, while Cloonan does the inside art, some airbrush cheeseball does the cover, and he makes it look like a straight-to-video movie version. Don't be fooled by the crappy cover. The art inside is MUCH BETTER.

5) Elle, by Douglas Glover. I read this book a few weeks ago in preparation for a book discussion group I was asked to join. I've never been in such a group, and I often wondered what the point of such a group was. It's not like I need help understanding what I read, and it's not like my opinion about the book's going to change just because someone has a different opinion, and I don't really care about the characters and what they would do if...or what we would do if we were the characters...blah blah. I do that stuff all day as an English teacher anyway. I don't need to do it as an extra-curricular activity. But the group was excellent, because we talked largely about artistic choices and matters of craft, and the peeps in the group were all smart and funny. So--good times. The book, though, is not one of my favorites. I like Glover's style, on the sentence and paragraph level. I like his voice. But there's too much Native American mysticism and the novel, which starts with an amazing opening, eventually just becomes numbing (until a terrific ending, which is marred by a pointless epilogue). So, yes, Vivian Dorsel loooooooves it. I kinda like it. But I don't enthusiastically recommend it.

6) The Mad Archives: Volume 1, by the usual gang of idiots (before they were called that). I told you I loved Archive editions! And guess what? This one has artwork by, you guessed it, Wally Wood! Plus, it's full of good stuff. This volume reprints the first six issues of Mad back when it was a comic book and not a magazine. I'd seen some of this stuff before, but to read each issue cover to cover was a joy. This was a time when Mad was about telling funny stories and satirizing the comic book storytelling tropes--it wasn't about just cracking corny jokes, or parodying movies by just drawing goofy looking versions of the actors. This was the good stuff. Although, Howard Cruse tells me that the post-Kurtzman era, when it first became a magazine, is amazing as well, because they actually hired read comedians to write the satirical stuff. Nowadays, the magazine is just a shell of its former self. Does anyone even read it anymore?

7) Batman: The Complete History, by Les Daniels. I've read the Superman volume, and I've read the Wonder Woman volume, both of which I enjoyed quite a bit. They are all designed by Chip Kidd, so they look great, and it was nice to see Daniels's overview of the comic books and the media appearances by these characters. The Batman volume, however, was disappointing. It's worth owning (so I can complete my set of the three, I guess), and I got it for free anyway, because my sister-in-law gave it to me (her boss gave it to her--they both work at Time-Warner HQ, and this copy was floating around the office apparently). It's just not very informative. Part of my problem with the book is that it doesn't seem to go into much detail about the interesting points of the Batman story (the much-disputed creation of the character, for example: Bob Kane got all the credit, but most sources now say that he did almost nothing on the series--a fact which Daniels glosses over quickly). Daniels does offer a comprehensive perspective, sure, but it's a bit too large-scale and doesn't provide much in the way of engaging anecdotes or critical perspective. Maybe the problem is that I know too much of this stuff already, whereas I knew a bit less about Superman and much less about Wonder Woman. But, hey, the book looks snazzy (and yes, that is the actual cover in its entirety).

Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Deadman Travesty

Here's something that I've been griping about to anyone I've bumped into in the past week or two, but nobody seems to care but me. Either they don't care enough about comic book art or they think my concern is too out-of-date to matter. The people in the second category have a good point because I am talking about a book published five years ago, but I'm going to present my case to you anyway, and you can let me know if you are as offended as I am, or if I'm just being too picky. Here goes...

In 2001, DC Comics published an extravagant hardcover collection of Neal Adams's famed Deadman run. Deadman was a character who could inhabit the body of a mortal and control that person's actions, but because Deadman was, well, dead, he had no corporeal form himself. His goal was to find out who had killed him. It was like an existential version of "The Fugitive" but with a sorta-superheroic circus performer in the lead role (he was called "Deadman" as a trapeze artist because of his death-defying stunts, and he wore red spandex while performing, and he was murdered in mid-air).

Anyway, the series was most famous because it was the first major work of artist Neal Adams, who would go on to great critical acclaim in a few short years and be regarded as perhaps the greatest comic book artist ever. But the first issue of the series was actually drawn by Silver Age great Carmine Infantino. He had to bow out after only one issue because he was promoted within DC and so Neal Adams took over and continued the series as the main artist. The reason any of this is important is because I just paid about $50 for this fancy Deadman hardcover collection:

So this collection, published in 2001, is supposed to be the definitive collection of the series. The best of the best. The first Neal Adams story (which is the second issue in the collection, Carmine Infantino's being the first) is identified in the table of contents as "newly inked especially for this edition by Neal Adams." Okay. But let's look at some samples of the work. Here's a page from the first issue in the collection, drawn by Carmine Infantino:

Here's one of the "newly inked" pages from the second issue reprinted in the collection:

And here's a page from the third story, drawn by Neal Adams but NOT "newly inked":

These issues were originally published in 1967. Issues 1 and 3 seem like they belong. Issue 2 seems wildly out of place, doesn't it? It wasn't just re-inked! It was redrawn, recolored, and even re-lettered by Neal Adams. It might be better artwork (although I personally don't prefer it), but it's jarringly OUT OF PLACE in this collection. It's so shockingly different than ALL of the other issues in the collection that, for me at least, it ruins the integrity of the entire book. For the record, here's what the second issue looked like in its earlier version BEFORE it was "newly inked," followed by the "newly inked" version to the right so you can compare for yourself and see how extremely different it became:

Which one would flow better with the pages from issues 1 and 3 above? The "newly inked" version is ridiculously different. I wouldn't have liked it if he'd redrawn and recolored the entire book, but at least it would have been consistent. As it is now, it's a horribly uneven looking collection.

I hope DC has learned from this mistake (although, Neal Adams has apparently done something similar with the Batman books reprinting his work). It literally disgusts me. I think it's far, far worse than the modifications George Lucas made to the Star Wars trilogy. Am I wrong? Am I overreacting?

Ultimate Frisbee and Why I Haven't Posted

I haven't posted on this blog much lately--except for my two posts below (you should read them first!). Even after I VOWED to post twice a week. I lied, clearly.

Anyway, I don't have a good reason for my poor showing here, and I know all of the readers out there in blog-o-land have missed me dearly, so I make a new vow: I will post EVERY DAY for one week. Let's see if I can do that! Isn't that exciting? After that, we'll see where it goes. Maybe I'll post every MINUTE! What's the record for most entries per hour? I could top that! Yes, that's what I'll do, or probably not.

So here's a tiny excuse as to why I haven't been as productive as I should have been this past month: I have been lying on the couch watching a lot of TV and movies. Not much of an excuse, right? But I HAD to lie on the couch because I couldn't walk! I was horribly injured in a frisbee tournament! The doctor wanted to perform foot-replacement surgery, but I said, "no way--I don't want a robot foot, unless the robot foot has like a drill bit for a big toe, and a switchblade for the little toe" and then I kind of went on and on like that for a while, dreaming of my ideal robot foot, when the doctor said, "I didn't say 'foot replacement surgery,' I said, 'sprained ankle' and it will heal in a few weeks, but you need to stay off of it." Oh. I misunderstood.

How did this injury occur, you ask? Well, it was a calm Sunday morning a few weeks ago...

My team, The Justice League, named thusly because of the Superman shirt I was wearing (to match my red shorts) (and because we were so friggin' awesome!) was playing against Jason Gamache's team in the first round of the tournament. After we scored a few quick points, there was a slight controversy about a foul that was called. I thought it was the correct call, but my team didn't, and so I demonstrated the rule that was violated. I showed them what you CAN'T do when you're defending a player. As I demonstrated what not to do, I leapt into the air and bumped into my teammate Trevor (showing exactly how the foul had occurred), and I landed on his foot, and my ankled turned over with a SNAP! I hopped around, swearing left and right, because I knew my tournament was over after only a few points.

I sat on the sideline, icing my ankle as it swelled to mythic proportions. But I couldn't just sit around and watch, so I told my team I'd rest a bit, tape up my ankle and wait for the finals to make my return. Yet even waiting for a few minutes, I grew bored. So I had teammate Mitch Maselli tape up my ankle so I could play in the very next game. It hurt to play on it. A lot. I couldn't really run. I could start to run, and then quickly hop on my left leg for a bit. That's about it. But I still played. And played. And played.

We made it to the finals, of course. And the finals were best-out-of-three (which we won in two), so that means I played 5 games on a badly sprained ankle. Not smart. At the end of the tournament, we recived gold medals, a team trophy, and two of us received individual trophies. They had kept stats for all the games, and they awarded Mitch with the "Most Touchdowns Caught" trophy, and I received "Most Touchdowns Thrown." That's right, even though I was barely able to walk, I was the hero of the tournament, the idol of millions. My teammates began calling me Curt Schilling. (I'll be travelling around New England with my trophy--check your local paper to see the dates and times.)

So I limped toward my car, trophy in hand, drove the 45 minutes back home, basking in my own glory, crawled to the front door of my house, and told my wife, "I need to go to the emergency room. Now."

The x-rays didn't show a break, luckily (which I knew anyway--I wasn't dumb enough to play on a BROKEN ankle), but the sprain was really bad and my entire foot (from the middle of my shin down to my toes) had swelled up enormously--it looked like a giant rubber hobbit foot. Blood had pooled below my ankle, beneath the skin on both sides. The doctor said it wasn't very smart to keep playing on it. I said, "check out my trophy, bizzatch," and she was immediately silenced.

I've had to wear an air cast since. I'm supposed to wear it for another week (although I didn't wear it when I went out yesterday, and my ankle is throbbing today), and I'm supposed to stay away from frisbee for 6-8 weeks.

So that's why I had to lie on the couch and watch all those TV shows and movies.

And that's why I couldn't blog. (Without a laptop, it's hard to blog and keep your foot elevated.)

But school is starting soon. And that means frisbee season is starting up at Drury. Can I wait two months to play? Nah. I'll just play with the air cast on! It will give me another horrible injury to blog about.

The Callahan Gallery--Samurai Squirrel

Here's a drawing I did last Spring to amuse my AP English class. I had already drawn Ninja Gerbil (co-created by Erin Floriani) and pinned it to the wall (and if I find a copy of that illustration lying around, I'll post it here someday), and we had watched Kurosawa's "Throne of Blood" earlier in the year and just finished reading Nabokov's "Pnin," so I had samurais and squirrels on my mind anyway.

If you've been in my classroom, you've seen this drawing. Most people think it's a photocopy of a coloring book page or something. But nope--it just looks that way because I outlined the figure with a Sharpie to give it a bold presence.

You can't go wrong with putting armor on a cute little furry creature.

My Lunch with Howard

I went to lunch yesterday (without wearing my air cast--I'm a rebel) with the amazing Howard Cruse. I'd asked him to make an appearance at Word Street--to show up as a "special guest" in my Graphic Novel course that was supposed to take place this summer, but that course was cancelled due to low enrollment. But he still wanted to meet me, and of course, I certainly wanted to meet him. His "Stuck Rubber Baby" graphic novel is one of the greats, and it's one of the few graphic NOVELS that actually deserves the term (it's not just a bloated short story like so many of them).

You should all buy it.

Anyway, our lunch went very well, and he was kind enough to let me browse through his bookshelves when I picked him up. Like any writer or artist, I love to see what people have on their shelves. I was glad to see Crockett Johnson's "Barnaby" visibly represented. You know Johnson from his "Harold and the Purple Crayon"--that was a huge influence on me as a kid. It was probably my favorite book for a time. I think "Barnaby" is out of print these days--but if you see a collection of it on ebay, you should snap it up.

We had a long discussion about Mad magazine, and talked about education and art and writers and on and on. Howard is a kindred spirit, and I was glad to get the chance to hang out with him. We'll definitely do it again.

He was disappointed that I didn't bring any of my artwork to show him. I was way too embarassed to show my amateur hackwork to a professional (award-winning!) artist. But maybe I'll send him some minicomics. I promised him I'd at least post some more of my work on this blog, so he could check it out (with the added bonus that the entire world can see the awesome and awesomely bad stuff I've drawn). So over the next few weeks, I'll constantly update this blog with pieces of work from the past and present.

(Actually, when I went though a pile of artwork to see what I should post, I found a few things I did over 15 years ago--and it's fun for me to think about why I decided to draw that stuff and why I chose that particular style back then. In many ways, my art was better back then, maybe because I was more serious about it--I was going to go to art school I thought--but it also reflects my interests of the time. Not that my interests have changed that much since I was like 5 years old--I liked superheroes and space ships and swordfights then, and I like that stuff just as much now.)

So, buy Howard's graphic novel, (actually, buy all of his stuff), and keep checking back here for illustrations from my pile.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

On street names

Why do street names sound so wimpy? Around our house, the streets are named girly names like "Elaine," "Leona," "Kara." A mile down the hill, they're named after American Romantic poets: "Bryant," "Longfellow," "Whittier."

I propose street names should be more badass. Next time you find yourself in charge of naming a street, why not go with "Laser-sword Blvd" or "Nunchuck Lane"?

Seriously? Who wouldn't want to live there?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Recommended for Some: The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana

I'm highly recommending this book (with some reservations). I loved it. If you're just like me, you'll love it too. Sadly, you're not just like me no matter how hard you try. You should still read the book, though. Here's why:

1) It's about an amnesiac who is trying to recapture his life by re-reading books from his youth.

2) We all love books, and so does the narrator, but the narrator is better at distilling the beauty of books into a passionate reminscence than we are. We should admire that (and celebrate the glory of books).

3) The narrator's quest allows us to recall our own love-affair with fiction and how these artifacts from our childhoods not only shaped our memories but shaped the ways in which we interacted (and continue to interact with) the world.

4) It's got a brilliantly evocative discourse on why Flash Gordon is so important.

5) It has pictures of really cool italian books that we can only dream about reading.

6) It's by Umberto Eco.

If you haven't read anything by Umberto Eco, you should. One of the first great works of literature that I actually read in high school (outside of English) assignments was his Foulcault's Pendulum which is basically an older version of The DaVinci Code but for smart people. I'm also a great admirer of his Sherlock Holmes-as-a-medieval-monk story--his masterpiece--The Name of the Rose. And I've deeply enjoyed his essays and non-fiction books on semiotics and literary theory. His last two novels have not been his best, but The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana connected with me on a personal level and excited me by presenting such a compelling case for how closely we're linked to the books we read (especially the ones we read as children).

So what are my reservations? Nothing serious, but some readers might be turned off by the ending (which I won't spoil but it's not what I expected--I personally thought it was an excellent ending, though), and others may be turned off by the very concept of a guy basically telling us about the books he's reading and how they may or may not help him remember his past. There are, for example, no ninjas. But if you love books the way I do, and if you would rather spend a weekend in the attic of an old house unpacking boxes from your childhood and re-reading your favorite stories and looking at your favorite covers than you would getting a tan on the beach, you should read this book. You will love it. If not, go waste your time on the sand.

Monday, July 10, 2006

A Movie Review: Superman Returns

Judy and I finally escaped the kids long enough to see two movies at the actual movie theater this weekend. So that means I can tell you what I liked and didn't like about two new releases! I am so excited. I could be sleeping right now, but nope--I am sacrificing sleep for the good of humanity. Anyway, I only have time for one review right now, and here it is (#2 will come shortly--by Friday at the latest, okay?):


I will be spoiling this movie for you if you haven't already seen it, but that's not really such a big deal, because it's not so good. So yeah, spoilers and stuff. Watch out. Here we go: Is this movie less cheesy than the strangely-revered Donner film? Yes, but not much. At least he doesn't reverse time at any point in this one--although, if he did, that would solve every single problem he has. Why doesn't he reverse time? The moron! Is this movie full of better-looking action sequences than Superman II? Yes, better looking because the technology has improved, but not better imagined. Zod and the Phantom Zone villains are cooler than any amount of giant crystal rock formations and/or plane/space shuttle disasters. Okay, I did love the shuttle sequence from the moment Superman arrived until the silly-but-simultaneously-AWESOME landing with applause at the baseball stadium. That was the best part of the movie, though, and the John Williams theme was there and everything, which is like cheating (as I've said to my brother, even Kangaroo Jack has a bit with the Superman theme by John Williams and it makes a part of that horrible movie into something magical--the theme is that good, but you know it is already, right?). But the scenes leading up to the shuttle catastrophe (especially the "press conference" on board the plane) were embarassingly awkward and goofy. Is this movie as great as Superman III in all its Richard Pryor glory? Well, that's a trick question. Superman III is actually my favorite of the original movies. It's terrible, I know. It has the worst villain, and it is as much about the Richard Pryor character as it is about Superman and it's just not a good film, but we owned it on VHS when we were kids and we watched it more than almost any other movie besides Star Wars just because it was one of the few things we owned. So it's a sentmental favorite. I can't imagine Superman Returns ever being anyone's sentimental favorite, but it could happen. Kids might respond well to that ugly little scraggly-haired child who is supposedly Superman's son. How could he have a son? Unless he knocked Lois up that one time they slept together in Superman II, which he made Lois forget about with his magical Kryptonian kiss at the end of that movie. In which case, isn't she thinking now, "Wtf? How could I have Superman's kid? When did we have sex?" which would be pretty alarming, because I think you'd expect to remember something like that. Is this movie better than Superman IV, the one that was unwatchably horrible and I can't even remember at all. No, it's way better than that. Even Lex Luthor's stupid plan in this movie (and it is a stupid plan--especially for a genius) is better than even the best five minutes of number IV.

So how does it compare with, let's say, Batman Begins. I say, about the same. Maybe not quite as good. I didn't love Batman Begins--I hate Katie Holmes because she acts like she's 12 in a role that needs to be stronger--I hate Christain Bale's tough-guy Batman voice and puckered lips--I hate that Ra's al Ghul is on that train at the end just so Batman has someone to punch--why would he ever be on that train???!!? That's what minions are for! But Batman Begins has a good interpretation of Scarecrow and no cackling villains and it has ninjas, so it can't be all bad. I would watch it again. Meanwhile, Superman Returns has good performances by pretty much everyone. I was surprised by how much I didn't mind Kate Bosworth and I actually liked Brandon Routh. Kevin Spacey was misguided--he was playing some variation on Lex Luthor that I didn't really like, but he played that variation well. The supporting cast was not distracting. The special effects during the action sequences were almost totally fantastic. I hated, hated, hated the sequence with the young Clark jumping around the fields--that was bad CGI--terrible!--but the stuff where Superman is flying around and saving stuff was pretty great. I liked James Marsden's character--he didn't have much to do, but I like that he was heroic and likeable and not a dick or a wimp. I didn't expect that angle on the character. I hated that Superman has a son. If Singer and company cast young people like Routh and Bosworth to leave room for lots of potential sequels, why add the burden of a son to the story? Every sequel now has to be about the son in some way. It totally changes the dynamic, and it's a bad choice--it's an interesting choice, but it's no longer Superman--it's something else entirely. Maybe I'll grow to like that choice, but the sequels will have to be way better than this movie to convince me that it was the right direction to go in.

Basically, I like Superman: The Animated Series.
I think that's the only good version of Superman available right now (besides some of the comics--obviously Superman: Man of Tomorrow Archives Volumes One and Two are unbelievably great--they reprint the Weisinger era crazy-genius Superman stories from the late 50's. All-Star Superman is also a must-read. And I'm partial to the John Byrne revamp stories--epecially the Action Comics team-up issues. And there are a few good issues here and there, but overall--Superman: The Animated Series is the best, consistently right Superman as far as I'm concerned. Superman Returns, not so much. Unless you like your Superman to be a creepy stalker guy and you like your Lex Luthor to have sex with old ladies to earn money (he's a sex machine with all the elderly chicks, apparently--is that supposed to be a funny part of the movie? It's not).

Overall, not recommended. But you probably have to see it anyway. It's Superman.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Recommended: Icelander

After reading "Atomik Aztex," I thought maybe I was just burned out on fiction--I go through that phase every once in a while--but I just finished Dustin Long's brilliant "Icelander," and I'm happy to say that I just needed to find the right book, and this one is it! It's a fun (and funny) novel that's a Nabokov homage tied in with Norse mythology and Nancy Drew and Ethan Hawke (what more could you want, seriously?). Unlike "Atomik Aztex," this novel combines disparate elements into a satisfying narrative, a parody of detective novels and metafiction that is also an enertaining detective novel and clever metafiction in itself.

I highly recommend this book. Reading it will make you a better person.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Not Recommended: Atomik Aztex

Sesshu Foster's "Atomik Aztex" is a novel about meat packing, Nazis, supernatural beings, and and alternate reality where the Aztecs kicked the crap out of Cortez and his Spanish cronies. It has relentless prose by a manic narrator. I wanted to like it, and there were a few sequences I enjoyed, but I don't recommend it. I'm sure it was carefully crafted and honed by an obviously talented author, but I just found it too excessive.

Excessive "alternate" spellings (like in the title), excessive dream-like interludes, and excessive plot moments with little characterization. Perhaps I would like it more upon re-reading. But when will I have time to re-read this? Never, probably. I'll let you know if I do.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

What I'm Currently Reading

I know I love finding out what people are reading, so I'm going to share my list of what I've recently finished and what I plan on reading over the next month or so. I hope it inspires you to read all of this stuff so I can have intelligent conversations with you instead of the normal small talk and chit chat that we call "conversation" but is actually just a facade to cover up your own insecurities and fears. Plus, you're pretty boring. Anyway, here's the list:


Here They Come by Yannick Murphy. 30% great. It's supposedly a novel, but it's not. It's an extended short story with a nice prose style but little else. It's thin and underdeveloped and disappointing. Don't bother.

In Persuasion Nation by George Saunders. 80% great. You should read the whole collection anyway, because George Saunders is easily the best short story writer in the history of the universe. Or at least one of my top five favorites, anyway. Just read the book.

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell. 45% great. The Lincoln chapter is worth the cover price. The Garfield stuff is somewhat interesting, but the McKinley section is dullsville (yes, I said dullsville because I am a beatnick all of a sudden, daddy-o). I really loved the Lincoln stuff though. Maybe you should just read that part, then return the book (perhaps use that thing they call a lie-berry).

Doom Patrol issues 19-63. 95% great. I'm writing about these issues in my Futurespective: Grant Morrison column at By the way, Sequart is sending me a contract this week so you just might see my book on the shelves in time for Christmas. (Ask Santa for it, because I ain't givin' you no free copy, sucker.)

Easy by Kerry Cohen Hoffman. 96% great. Kerry just moved to the Berkshires and I met her the other day. She'll be teaching some summer courses at Word Street and we're all definitely excited to have such an impressive writer join our crew. Her book, though, is excellent. It's marketed as a Young Adult novel, but I think it transcends that label without a doubt. You should read this book.

Solo issue 11, featuring the work of Sergio Aragones. 92% great. This series features a different comic book artist each month (actually, I think it's bi-monthly, but whatever), and collects new stories by just that one artist (hence, "Solo"). Previous issues have been fantastic, and this one is no exception. Sadly, the title has been cancelled, and it will end after issue 12. It's probably one of the consistently most entertaining and interesting comic books DC publishes, and they shouldn't cancel it. But sales suck, apparently, because people are idiots. So don't be an idiot. Buy it while it's still around.

On the video front, I also just finished the complete second season of Deadwood and the complete first season of The Venture Brothers. I HIGHLY recommend both. 95% great at least. Both series get better each episode and look so darn purty on my fancy TV. I like purty stuff.


Atomik Aztex by Sesshu Foster. This was a Believer recommendation, and it's been compared to some other book I read that I'm totally blanking on, but anyway, something made me want to read it and the title is cool, so it must be good, right? I'll let you know.

Strong Opinions by Vladimir Nabokov. I'm actually about halfway done with this. It's a collection of interviews with Nabokov and it's no good to read in one sitting because some of the interviews are kinda similar. But spaced out, it's great, because Nabokov is a genius and probably the greatest novelist of the 20th century. No lie.

The Grove Centenary Editions of Samuel Beckett Boxed Set by Samuel Beckett, obviously. This is the four-volume hardcover collection that I am totally going to order as soon as I have some more money. I think I love the idea of the collection as much as I'm excited about the collection's contents, and it will probably take me a year to pace myself and read everything (I have trouble reading plays unless I'm preparing to teach them), but how can I resist such a nice set of books? I can't.

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. I finished half of this and then got caught up in end-of-the-school-year stuff that made me set it aside. I started it because I plan on systematically reading everything that Nabokov covers in his "Lectures on Literature" book. This is just the first title he lectures on. I think Bleak House is next. That's gonna take me a while.

Uncanny X-Men Omnibus by Claremont, Cockrum, and Byrne. This thing is huge. Like 900 pages of oversized X-Men reprints from the glory days. I have probably read these stories back in the late 80's when they were reprinted in the "Classic X-Men" series, but my memory of the stories is imperfect. I can't wait to start reading them again in this much nicer format.

Alpha Flight issues 1-25, by John Byrne. I read a book of interviews with comic book creator John Byrne a month or so ago. Byrne used to be my favorite artist when I was a kid, but as he became more of a crackpot and his style loosened up, I drifted away from his work. After reading that book, I recalled why I liked him in the old days. In his prime, he was as good as anyone. I began looking on Ebay for complete runs of his various titles, and I picked up a few things like "Generations" and "Jack Kirby's Fourth World," but I was really interested in completing my run of his Alpha Flight series (which featured the one and only Canadian super-team). Well, when I stopped in Fantasy Realms to buy my comics this week, respected owner James Arlemagne (hey James) pointed out his brand new dollar comic bins, and sure enough, he just happened to have all the issues I was missing (which was a heap of issues--but getting them for a buck each was cool, especially when the average comic book is $3.00 these days). So, yeah, I'll be reading these issues soon.

For future video action, I plan on a lot more TV shows on DVD this summer. I don't really have a huge pile of movies on the agenda, though I'm sure I own plenty that I haven't seen (Malick's "The New World" and Clooney's "Good Night and Good Luck" probably top the list--I'll see them some day). I would like to catch up on my Justice League viewing. I own Seasons One and Two and I want to watch those episodes in order, and Judy and I plan on finishing up (if possible) the second half of the Buffy and Angel seasons (actually, I don't think we're quite halfway yet--we're around Season Five for Buffy, I know that). Judy loves the Whedon shows, and I haven't seen all the episodes, so that's our big geek TV project for the summer (and maybe next summer by the looks of things).

That should keep me busy for a while.

And if you have any recommendations for what else needs to be addded to my list, let me know.

Ulric by Jeff Lemire

"Lost Dogs" creator Jeff Lemire sent me this crazy sketch after I praised his work on this blog (and e-mailed him with compliments). I guess the character's name is "Ulric" although I thought he was nameless in the graphic novel (maybe I just missed the part where his name was mentioned). Anyway, "Lost Dogs"=Good Stuff.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Superhero Leg: Episode 2--The Showdown

Recommended: Lost Dogs

This is the best graphic novel I've read this year: "Lost Dogs" by Jeff Lemire (and I've read a lot of stuff this year--I like Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness a ton, but this is better). It's a haunting story about a man trying to do what's right. Just look at that cover. If that cover doesn't make you want to read the book then you won't understand the beauty of the book anyway, so don't bother. But if that cover looks intriguing, with its splashes of red and blocky composition, then you just might be cool enough to get what makes the book so special. Check out Jeff's website at to see more of his work (and a preview of his upcoming stuff).

Thursday, June 15, 2006


I bought the first issue of MOME, the Fantagraphics comic anthology last summer at Comic-Con, and I enjoyed it, but I was a bit disappointed by it as well. I guess I was hoping to see an anthology with a lot of diverse work by different artists and each issue would be full of new and different creators. I was hoping for something like that Chris Ware McSweeney's issue, published every four months. Instead, MOME uses a regular group of artists who each produce one or two new things each quarter. So even though I liked the first issue, I wasn't excited about seeing just these same creators again and again. But I was wrong. After picking up issues #2 and #3 at the MoCCA fest last weekend, I realized that MOME is much more interesting and signficant than I originally thought. First of all, they have brought in a few new artists (like David B.) and the regular artists are producing some excellent work each time. It's such a nicely packaged book too. So, I've reversed my opinion. You should buyMOME. Regularly.