Monday, December 27, 2010

Sketchblog Week 6: Nothin' Doin'

Yeah, I didn't sketch at all last week. Well, that's not exactly true. I did draw out some character sketches for a top-secret project Television's Ryan Callahan and I will be working on in 2011. But I didn't draw any Keith Giffen sketches like I wanted to.

Too much Christmasing! I'll be back next week with some studies of Giffen!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sketchblog Weeks 4-5: Alex Raymond

I bought a new sketchbook last week, not because I had filled up the old one, but because the old one was an unwieldy, sewn-binding, cloth-covered thing that wouldn't stay open very well for sketching and scanning.

The new one is wire-bound and smaller, easier to carry around and use and scan.

I did draw a few "Flash Gordon" sketches in the old book, but now I can't find it. You'd think a giant blue book would be easy to find, but I guess it's not. Especially when you have thousands of books it could be mixed in with.

So here are some images from the new book. Mostly inked with a practically dried-out brush pen. The two on the top from studies of the Checker "Flash Gordon" reprints, and the bottom two from the second volume of IDW's "Rip Kirby" hardcover series.

What struck me about trying to draw from the "Flash Gordon" strips was how hard it was to see what Alex Raymond was actually doing, through the years of degraded quality and then the imperfections of the Checker reprints. (It's like a color xerox of a color xerox, of a shoddy printing job to begin with.) Plus, I'm sure Raymond worked much, MUCH larger than print size, and the panels in "Flash Gordon" are tiny.

Another thing that struck me is that though my memory of Raymond's Flash work is that he had classical figures and imaginative scenery, when I was looking at the architectural designs I was surprised to see that his fantasy backdrops were almost Dr. Seussian. His backdrops had an organic strangeness that contrasted with the almost-Renaissance figure work. I know "cartoonish" can be a derogatory term, but in this case, Raymond's cartoonish quality helped to create a sense of wonder in his alien landscapes.

Contrast that with the bleak photorealism of "Rip Kirby," and it's as if there are two Alex Raymonds, each with a major impact on the look of comic books (and comic strips, of course). Obviously, Dave Sim has spent the better part of two years exploring the Alex Raymond photoreal style in his own study of the genre (or artistic mode), but I'm sure much more can be said about how much Raymond's "Rip Kirby" style impacted the look of late Silver Age and Bronze Age comics. That's not what I'm interested in doing here -- I'm interested in drawing and seeing what comes out of my pencil and inky tools -- but someone could tackle that topic, I'm sure. Maybe someone like you.

Me, I'm content to sketch away and leave such heady discussions for other parts of my life. Like writing Monday columns for CBR. Or arguing with Ron Marz and Dean Trippe on Twitter.

NEXT WEEK: Speaking of xeroxes of xeroxes (and after reading last month's "Doom Patrol" and "The Outsiders," and talking to Joe Casey about unpublished 1980s comics) I'm thinking that I might want to dive into some Keith Giffen. Maybe mimic some of the different phases of his career and see what it looks like filtered through my pencil. It just may be a very Ambush Bug Christmas!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sketchblog Week 4: Alex Raymond Will Wait

Each week, I spend one hour a day sketching, building up a set of skills that should, we all hope, show improvement over a one-year period. Sometimes I'll draw by copying comic book artists, sometimes I'll draw from life, sometime I'll draw from how-to books, and other times, I'll just sketch with whatever is at hand. This is WEEK FOUR of a 52 week experiment to see how well I can learn how to draw.

This week got the best of me, and I did very little sketching. I don't have anything to show off, though I did study and copy about half a dozen Alex Raymond drawings from "Flash Gordon." But since I want to spend more time with Alex Raymond, and get into his "Rip Kirby" stuff too, I will make this a two-week session with Raymond. Me and Alex Raymond for 14 days, some of which will be spent sketching! Look for some of my attempts next Monday.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Splash Page Podcast: Special Guest Joe Casey

This week's special episode of The Splash Page podcast features Chad Nevett and I talking about comics and Doc Savage and other amazing topics. And, oh yeah, Joe Casey joins us for the entire three hours.

He tells us about "Butcher Baker" and a million other things, like what it was like to work during the golden age of Wildstorm, how comics criticism is often better than actual comics, and the secret work of Bob Fleming and Keith Giffen.

Listen! Splash Page Podcast Episode 38 (The Joe Casey Episode)

Monday, December 06, 2010

Sketchblog Week 3: Tezuka

Each week, I spend one hour a day sketching, building up a set of skills that should, we all hope, show improvement over a one-year period. Sometimes I'll draw by copying comic book artists, sometimes I'll draw from life, sometime I'll draw from how-to books, and other times, I'll just sketch with whatever is at hand. This is WEEK THREE of a 52 week experiment to see how well I can learn how to draw.

Boy, I do not have an affinity for this stuff at all. I figured I would stretch myself and play around with some manga images this week, and who better to look at then Osamu Tezuka? I have had a love/not-hate-but-indifference relationship with his work over the years, with a fondness for his stranger comics but a real lack of interest in his more popular work (like "Astro Boy," which I can appreciate as a cultural institution, and as the basis for "Pluto," but I really can't read for any sustained period without completely spacing out).

But Dash Shaw's recent "Comics Comics" post on the Tezuka art book, and the documentary included, in particular, reminded me that I need to give Tezuka some more focused attention, and the documentary is a fascinating look at the grind of producing comics, even when you are a master of the form. (I picked up the book and the documentary immediately after reading Shaw's post, because I have no impulse control when it comes to awesomeness.) I also just happened to watch the brief CBR TV interview with Keith Giffen, who draws nothing like Tezuka (though I need to do a WEEK OF GIFFEN during this year of Sketchblogging, I think), and he refers to mainstream comics as "volume work," which is just about the most accurate and concise description I've ever heard for the kind of stuff pumped out by Marvel and DC. That doesn't mean that quality can't exist, but the name of the game is volume, it's about producing, feeding the fans, and that's really the point.

So, yeah, back to Tezuka. Even though I have the Tezuka art book and a variety of other work by him ("Black Jack" and, especially, "Dororo" as my two favorites, probably), I decided to focus my sketching this week on the third Dark Horse volume of "Astro Boy," just to see what happened when I took Tezuka's tiny panels and blew them up in sketch form.

I couldn't get Astro Boy right, ever. Not even close. He's just a few basic shapes, but he looked like a demented teddy bear every time I tried to draw him. And I was fascinated by the weird abstractions Tezuka would use as he cranked out these pages (if his work schedule in the documentary is to be believed). That sketch on the top left is based on a panel from the final story in the book, and that's really how Tezuka drew that guy's right arm and leg. Just these humps, these blobs of shape. His version looks more jaunty and has more movement than mine, because, as I said, I can't help but do demented versions of Tezuka. I have no sense of the fluidity of his line -- or I can't come close to replicating it -- and my ability to draw "cute" is completely nonexistent. For now at least.

(I was going back through the Gary Panter Picturebox massive book o' goodness last week, because it's amazing, and Panter talks about how he could never get away from the cuteness of his style, and he eventually just figured out that he had to embrace it. I clearly do not have an affinity for cute in my own sketchbook, even though I like it when I see it.)

Maybe I'll come back to this kind of proto-manga approach at the end of the one year experiment and see if I can pull off Tezuka's seemingly simple style with any kind of accuracy. Clearly, I have a lot of work to do.

NEXT WEEK: I don't know. Maybe I should take Guglie's advice and dig into some Alex Raymond. Guglie knows what he's talking about!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sketchblog Week 2: Moebius

Each week, I spend one hour a day sketching, building up a set of skills that should, we all hope, show improvement over a one-year period. Sometimes I'll draw by copying comic book artists, sometimes I'll draw from life, sometime I'll draw from how-to books, and other times, I'll just sketch with whatever is at hand. This is WEEK TWO of a 52 week experiment to see how well I can learn how to draw.

I'll admit that I have already broken the "one hour a day" sketching regime rule, though this week it was because of the holiday and family responsibilities, and as selfish as I can be, I can't really say, "hey kids, I'm going to ignore you during this Thanksgiving vacation because I have to copy some French guy's pictures of people wearing funny hats."

I did spend a few nights with the Moebius books cracked open in front of me and that pen and ink flowing, but it was not even close to a full hour each night.

For most of these sketches, I skipped the pencil stage entirely. Except for Arzach on the top left, I drew all these directly with a fine point marker. I wanted to focus more on texture than structure this week, and I found this week's sketches to be an interesting contrast to the bombastic anatomical contortions of the John Buscema Marvel figures.

You may be wondering why I went with Moebius this week, and I suppose I am too. "How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way" was an obvious, and sentimental, first step on this experiment of mine, but to go with Moebius second? It's not like Moebius is my favorite artist, or even an artist I necessarily had planned to emulate in the long run. It might have made more sense, from a building-from-the-ground-up approach, to go to Eisner next, and do something with his how-to books. Or even to go with Kirby, which is really at the core of the lessons Buscema was demonstrating. Or to go with someone contemporary, as a contrast to the classic superhero style. Quitely, perhaps.

Yet Moebius seemed like the perfect contrast. And though he's not my favorite artists, I do like his work a whole heck of a lot. With Moebius, particularly the work I chose to focus on, which comes from the Epic reprints from the 1980s (though I avoided Blueberry, mostly because that seemed more conventionally illustrative and less Moebius's signature style), you get the anti-Buscema in a lot of ways. His figures are reservedly posed, compared to the dynamic anatomy of Buscema. Moebius noodles around with detail and cross-hatching and stippling, while Buscema is all bold lines and masses of shadow. Moebius also goes clear line with some of his comics, and the clear line style is the antithesis of the curved, pencil-thick holding lines of a Spider-Man in action.

And, ultimately, I just wanted to try something new. Texture over form. Ink more than pencil. And see what came out.

NEXT WEEK: With America and Europe already represented, dare I make my way to manga territory so soon?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sketchblog Week 1: The Marvel Way

Each week, I spend one hour a day sketching, building up a set of skills that should, we all hope, show improvement over a one-year period. Sometimes I'll draw by copying comic book artists, sometimes I'll draw from life, sometime I'll draw from how-to books, and other times, I'll just sketch with whatever is at hand. This is WEEK ONE of a 52 week experiment to see how well I can learn how to draw.

I didn't have trouble deciding to start by working from "How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way." This Stan Lee/John Buscema joint runs deep in my veins, and as I was copying some pages from the book and relearning from Stan and John, I realized how much of my casual drawing approach (in margin-note doodles) comes directly from the lessons I learned as a 12-year-old when I first read this book.

Back then, I didn't actually do any of the exercises. I mostly just copied the face structures and the Buscema-human-form-proportions to create my own characters. I never used this book to play around with composition or shading or balance. This time, I did, and some of the results were better than others.

I certainly can't draw women at all.

But this Marvel approach of Kirby-by-way-of-Buscema does feel somewhat natural to me, and it was pretty easy to loosen up with this classic book in front of me. And though it's an out-dated drawing style, and though it has Stan Lee's hyperbole on every page, it's actually a good primer on the way to draw exciting action in the Mighty Marvel Manner. At least, the way it used to be. Fluid and dynamic and bombastic.

I'd like to revisit Buscema later in this experiment. Perhaps copy some finished sequences from the height of his first "Avengers" run, or some of his more illustrative "Silver Surfer" work. We'll see if I end up coming back to this comfort zone, once I've acquired some skills.

Also, this is probably the most images I'll scan in for one of these Sketchblog weeks. It's too tedious. So, expect maybe three or four representative drawings at most, from now on. The good, the bad, and some of the in-between.

NEXT WEEK: I will copy 20 Moebius drawings. And introduce some ink.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sketchblog Week 0: It Begins

I may one day return this blog to the comic book and pop culture commentary it once was, but since I spend my extra-curricular hours writing columns for CBR and recording Splash Page podcasts, I don't feel compelled to write about any of that stuff here. Basically, if you're a regular old-timey Geniusboy Firemelon blog reader, you probably know what I've been writing about or talking about elsewhere. If not, go check out my other projects and my Twitter feed (and honestly, a lot of what I once wrote about here, I mention, in much more succinct form, over there).

So what I've decided to do, for the next year, is to use this sort-of-dormant blog to track my progress through an experiment that I once mentioned on a Splash Page podcast a few months back. Part of my quitting-the-CBR-Review-Team was about (a) enjoying comics as a reader, but also (b) creating comics of my own. I have a few writing projects in the works, but I also have another plan: to teach myself how to draw.

I want to unlearn everything I know about drawing and relearn it. I want to spend at least one hour a day, every day, drawing. I used to draw all the time, but then, as I got busier, and my teaching and comics criticism career went into overdrive, I just stopped. I haven't really drawn anything -- other than margin doodles when I'm taking notes in a meeting -- in a couple of years. And I love to draw. Or I used to, anyway.

So I'll document this relearning how to draw experiment, as I fill up sketchbooks and improve my drawing skills week-by-week. I have a plan. I will undergo a grueling comic book training regimen. I'll draw from life, from how-to books, even from the lessons in the Famous Artists School. I'll copy pages from my favorite comics, and I'll get advice from my artist friends. Maybe I won't get any better, but I suspect I will, and I'd like to share what happens along the way.

This first little sample, above, is a one-page comic I drew for my daughter today, when she asked me to draw her something, after seeing me crack open an old sketchbook last used in 2002, well before she was born. I'm posting it here because that's what I'm starting with -- it's a quick little comic, but it shows the basic lack of skill I'm working with. This is the starting point. In one year I will redraw this same one-page story, and it will, hopefully, look like something worth reading.

Each week I'll post a collection of sketches and drawings based on my week of study and practice, and I'll provide some commentary about what I'm learning along the way. And because I'm going to start at the beginning, and unlearn what I know in order to relearn -- or really learn -- how to draw comics, I'll start with the first book, and the first artist, that I ever tried to learn from. John Buscema, and "How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way." Join me in a week, to see if I learned anything from studying the work of the late Professor Buscema. By the end of this experiment, a year from now, I suspect I'll end up pretty darn far away from "The Marvel Way," so I figure this is a good place to start.

This is about me exploring all aspects of comic book art, from the inside out, with a critical mind, but it's also about returning to the tactile experience of the creative act. I'll be copying and reflecting, drawing and redrawing, but at the end, I should be ready to start making marks for myself. Making comics, from the ground up.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Influence Map: This is the Truth

The odds of me contributing to an internet meme are slim, but this "Influence Map" thing just looks so nice and pretty when it's done, I couldn't resist. And this map shall guide me for the rest of my days. Click to explore.

I had a ton more influences to add to this, but I pared it down to the essentials. It was tough, but it needed to be done. And this map is me.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Baltimore Comic Con 2010

I will be at the Baltimore Comic Con this weekend, doing what it is that I do.

For your convenience, I have circled, in red, where I will be during the convention, so you can find me more easily:

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Hellblazer Blogathon Today

Chad Nevett is spending 24 hours writing about "Hellblazer" during his blogathon to raise money for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. As I type this, he's halfway through, and if you want to follow along (or see what you missed) go over to GraphiContent right this very minute!

I've only read about 1/3 of the stuff Chad's writing about. I read almost all of the Delano issues, and then I ended up abandoning the series in the middle of the Garth Ennis run, which is widely considered the high-mark on the series. I just didn't care about Constantine at the time, I suppose, but I should go back and reread all of that stuff, and pick up the Ennis issues I missed.

I do like the bits of the Azzarello run that I've read -- which is basically "Hard Time" -- and I bought that for the Corben art. I said it on Chad's blog and I'll say it again here: Richard Corben is the best artist to ever work on "Hellblazer," and he's had some seriously stiff competition. But he's Richard Corben. And he got to draw a Constantine-in-prison comic.

Blogathon! Go read it. And support the effort.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Rockin' the Rockwell: Got Ink Workshop

A great week of comics with a great group of students. We learned about the history of comics, the artistic stylings of Skottie Young, the act of superhero creation, and how to structure a story. And More!

Super-awesome stuff, all around. Here are some of the participants, with some samples of their work from today's character creation session (photographed in reverse, Photo Booth-style):

Thursday, July 15, 2010

FLASHBACK: Callahan and Wolk on Bendis's "New Avengers"

Here's a flashback for the faithful readers. This was a conversation between Douglas Wolk and me, scheduled to hit the old Sequart website just as Douglas's "Reading Comics" was making its debut in 2007. We focus on a single issue of Bendis's "New Avengers," and without the context of what will end up happening in "Secret Invasion" and beyond, we speculate and ponder. It's time capusule fun for the whole family!

A GeniusboyFiremelon Flashback:

Douglas Wolk: Thanks for inviting me to this little back-and-forth. I should mention for the benefit of our readers, before we get started, that I suggested we should discuss this week's issue of New Avengers--before either of us had actually seen it. And I have no idea if you've been reading New Avengers anyway; I'm curious about your reaction either way.

But--oh, why pretend? Topic A is, of course, the pair of assertions you made in your CBR interview about your Grant Morrison book that have raised the blogosphere's hackles. Here's the first one, for readers who haven't encountered it yet, in a discussion of some of Morrison's intertextual tricks and thematic schema:

I always get really frustrated with people who say "I don't get it" or "it just doesn't make any sense." I just think that people who say that are just bad readers. They just don't know how to read.

And here's the second:

I listened to an interview on Comic Geek Speak with Matt Fraction. It was about how "Casanova" has all this subtext going on but it's also just a really cool spy story, but one of the Comic Geek Speak guys was just talking about how he couldn't read "Casanova;" that he just didn't understand it. He gave it four issues and it was just over his head. And there was this whole debate about whether or not comics have a deeper meaning; whether something like "Casanova" has a deeper meaning, and this guy who hosted the Comic Geek Speak show really believes that there is no deeper meaning. He just says "no."

"No" to "Casanova" in particular?

To any comic books. His defense was, "Well, whenever you guys play up the deeper meaning of anything, I just don't think that stuff's there. I think you're reading too much into it." That's a criticism I hear a lot. "You're reading too much into it. Those meanings aren't there." As a teacher, I face that with students studying literature as well. First of all, I don't understand that philosophy. But my counter argument is, it is there, because I've just shown you it being there. And then their retort is always, "That's not what the author intended." I don't care what the author intended, that's what the effect of the writing is. It doesn't matter if the author intended it if that's what's there.

I'd like to tackle the second one first--and this will eventually get around to New Avengers, I swear. What you're talking about here is what lit-crit types over the last 60 years or so--especially the New Critics, as they had the good sense to call themselves--have usually referred to as "the intentional fallacy." (Only sort of related to the Pathetic Fallacy from Fables.) The short version, in the words of W.K. Wimsatt, is that the "poem" (for which read "work") is "detached from the author at birth"; that once it's in the world, it means whatever it means.

Now, this is a useful critical tactic--and since my first important literature instructor was Helen Vendler, who's more or less the last of the New Critics (Jim Starlin miniseries coming soon!), it's the tradition in which I learned to think about art. There are also some useful modified versions of "it doesn't matter what the author had in mind," including "what the author had in mind matters, but not necessarily more than any other interpretation," and "to the extent that the author doesn't communicate what she had in mind, she's failed." (Which speaks to your first hackle-raiser, I think; unilaterally making readers the "bad" ones in the equation suggests that authors are infallible.) I mean, it is interesting what authors (and other creators) intend; that's why people like to read afterwords and liner notes and such. If something's interesting to me, then it matters to me, Q.E.D.

But, remember, I'm the guy who's got the tattoo of the brick from "Krazy Kat": I think it's a fact of life that the message sent is not necessarily the message received. (And that, right there, is a great example of subtext in comics. The brick Ignatz throws at Krazy is a brick for sure, but it's not just a brick.)

One of my favorite rationales for text-interpretation, actually (New Avengers comin' soon! Not kidding!), is at the beginning of Christopher Ricks' Dylan's Visions of Sin, a fat and fascinating book of extremely close readings of Bob Dylan's lyrics. Dylan may not have intended to build "Not Dark Yet" out of the same set of words as Keats' "Ode to a Nightingale," or to paraphrase lines from Mother Goose again and again in the course of his Under the Red Sky album, Ricks says, but the fact is that he did; it's in there, and one of Dylan's enormous strengths as an artist is the fact that he's incredibly well-read and can process all the stuff he's read, consciously or unconsciously, into lyrics that evoke a thousand other things. He's a great transformer, which is one of the most important things that artists do.

This brings us, at last, to the SPOILERY realm of New Avengers (not New Avengers/Transformers, I'm afraid). There's one big logical flaw in this issue, which is that the team concludes on the basis of Elektra's corpse being a Skrull that there's a full-scale Skrull invasion on. And we know from all the "extratextual" stuff going on--on Newsarama and Wizard Universe and so forth--that there actually is a Skrull "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" scenario happening. (That also makes the "thought balloon" trick in Mighty Avengers make a lot of sense; the only way we can know particular characters aren't Skrulls is if we can read their minds, which through the magic of comics we can!) Still, it would've been just as reasonable for the team to conclude that a Skrull had replaced the dead Elektra half an hour before. That would invalidate this whole story's premise, of course...

For that matter, the "we can't go public about the alien invasion because everyone would think it was just a hoax" business doesn't hold water in the Marvel universe, where everybody knows about the Skrulls already and there's an alien ship shaped like a big rock hovering over Manhattan in half the comics published this month. But what Bendis is particularly good at is character work, and there's a lot of it this time. I love Luke and Danny not talking to each other, Peter dealing with his terror by wisecracking and acting on his usual responsibility trip ("I did what I could!"--why having a few pounds of something sticky on the front of the plane would be helpful isn't clear, but hey), Wolverine pointing the finger at himself along with everyone else.

My biggest reservation about this storyline is that it depends on a deep, deep knowledge of Marvel continuity to make sense, despite all the expository dialogue in the first half of this issue. (I am fairly sure that the chatter about Jessica not breastfeeding the Nameless Skrull-Baby is somehow related to the Skrulls/milk calculus in this issue from 1983, which is not exactly playing fair, even though I think it was referenced in this miniseries a mere twelve years ago.) Here's a question for you, though: should it be a baseline assumption that a New Avengers reader should be willing to do some research on the Internet to make sense of the plot of #32--not the subtext, but literally what the characters are talking about? If not, does that make her a "bad reader"?

And here's another question on "bad reading": I kind of don't get what's happening on the last few pages of this issue. From the first-page recap, I get that the EMP from Mighty Avengers knocks out the power on the jet; Dr. Strange casts some kind of a spell that... you know, does a thing. Or doesn't. After the plane crashes (and all the non-invulnerable types appear to be knocked out but conveniently not permanently injured or dead), we see: a pair of reaction shots of Spider-Woman (green eyes? does that mean she's Skrully? she's always had green eyes, I think!), Wolverine eyelessly growling at her and quickly getting beaten in a fight, and then walking off with Skrullectra's corpse, evidently to bring it to Tony. But this issue, and especially the final scene, is absolutely packed with reaction shots, and I have no idea if they're supposed to mean something, and if so what. (Bendis likes to use wordless sequences to communicate stuff with lots of emotional import, and it's easy for even very good artists to screw those up if their drawn "actors" don't get the message across. Remember Black Bolt's impenetrable gestures at the end of the Illuminati special? I loved the parody of that sequence in the Mini-Marvels story in World War Hulk Prologue...)

The upshot is that there's been some kind of breakdown between Bendis's authorial intention and my reading of this issue's final scene. Does that make me a bad reader, Bendis a bad writer, Yu a bad artist, or some combination of those?

My reply (which I'll translate into html before posting--after giving you a chance to respond) (oh, and by the way, like most Wednesday addicts, I pretty much read everything, so yeah, I'm familiar with Bendis and New Avengers):

Timothy Callahan: That's a lot to think about, but before I get into my reading of New Avengers #32 (which I do, in fact, read regularly, along with almost everything on the comic shop wall), I'll address my grand (and potentially controversial) claims about "bad readers." As a once-upon-a-time Philosophy major (before turning to the MUCH more profitable English academic track), I have a tendency to posit a philosophical stance and see how substantial the counter argument becomes. It's a technique as old as Socrates. Remember the time he debated Euthyphro about whether or not piety should be based on a literal reading of the myths? That was the good old days. Socrates, by the way, was against a literal interpretation, while Euthyphro was in favor of it. Ah, the old metaphorical vs. literal debate, whatever happened to that? Oh, wait, that's what WE'RE doing. (By the way, if Socrates had grown up in the 1980s, like I did, he would have known that the best way to settle this age-old debate is by having a breakdance battle, so what do you say, Douglas?)

If I were to elaborate on my definition of what makes a bad reader, I would say a bad reader meets at least one of the following conditions:

(1) He or she is unable or unwilling to understand the literal meaning of the words or images in a text.
(2) He or she is unable or unwilling to understand the connections between words and images in a text.
(3) He or she is unable or unwilling to recognize figurative language in a text.
(4) He or she is unable or unwilling to recognize irony in a text.

I base these conditions on the way language is acquired and the development of the skill of reading. Children, learning to read more proficiently throughout school, get better at these four conditions of readership as they become more experienced (try using irony with pre-schoolers!), and the same thing is true for second language learners (try listening to a joke told in Spanish if you've never made it past Spanish II in high school--you probably won't "get it.")

Given a complete text (whether it be a poem, novel, film, or comic book), a good reader should be able to be able to meet at least the four conditions given above. The problem rests in the case of incomplete texts, and that's what New Avengers #32 is. And it's not just incomplete because it's the thirty-second chapter of an episodic, open-ended series. It's an incomplete text because it's part of the much-larger Marvel Universe story, which has been going on for decades.

A quick note here: In his book, Reading Comics, Douglas refers to the Marvel and DC comics as part of two "grand corporate narratives." The implication being that even if you read every Spider-Man comic ever published, it's still an incomplete text, because it's just one chapter in the larger, Grand Marvel Narrative. Douglas doesn't say in his book that incomplete texts (like a given writer's run on title) cannot be read and analyzed, but I'm saying that it's problematic because an incomplete text relies far more heavily on outside knowledge for basic understanding than a complete text would.

So, let's look closely at New Avengers #32 (and your questions about the issue) with the knowledge that we're dealing with one tiny part of one tiny chapter in the Grand Marvel Narrative that has been in existence since before we were born.

Like you, I have significant problems interpreting the conclusion of the story, but, as if we're reading a fragment of Hamlet, Act II (why is that kid so bitchy?!?), we're dealing with incomplete information. I presume Spider-Woman's motivation will become clear in a future issue, but for now, we're left with the information on the page, and here's what makes interpretation so difficult:

Leinil Yu, as stylish as he is, doesn't convey literal information very clearly. Take page one: The inset image of Peter Parker saying "So no one is going to talk?" doesn't look much like other versions of Peter Parker presented in the Grand Marvel Narrative, and because we only see a slight portion of his costume in an earlier panel, it's difficult to discern, even if you are familiar with Spider-Man, who this character is supposed to be. To test this theory, I asked my wife, who knows her super-heroes but doesn't necessarily read comic books very often, to read the first few pages of New Avengers #32, and tell me who says, "So no one is going to talk?" She said: I don't know. I don't recognize him. When I pointed out that it was Peter Parker, she said, "it doesn't look like him." It's no big deal to figure out who's talking if you are a regular New Avengers reader, but this is just the first example of this incomplete text relying on significant outside knowledge (that Spider-Man has a new costume, that Yu draws people with a lot of lines on their face, etc).

Yu also violates some basic rules of visual storytelling. Take page 3, for example. The transition from panel 5 to panel 6 breaks the 180 degree rule. The "camera" jumps from in front of Spider-Girl to behind her, making the conversation unnecessarily disorienting. It doesn't help the sake of clarity that, in the very next panel, the emphasis of the panel and the context of the previous panels, indicates that Spider-Woman is saying the lines which apparently (given the later context) belong to Wolverine. And that's just one page of awkward storytelling.

So, to recap: we're dealing with an incomplete text with unclear visual storytelling, which RELIES on visual storytelling in the last few pages of the issue to convey important information. You are definitely NOT a bad reader if you're confused by New Avengers #32.

Thus, we are left to interpret meaning. And, once again, I don't care what Bendis "intended" to convey in the sequence at the end. Although I might be curious to know what he had it mind so I could compare it to the sequence as executed, I firmly believe that the intention is irrelevant if it's not conveyed in the text itself. Bendis might clarify some of the things muddled by poor storytelling choices, but if he said "Spider-Woman is revealed to be a Skrull agent at the end," I would reply, "no, she isn't!" It's unclear. She might, in fact, turn out to be a Skrull. Sure. But at the end of New Avengers #32, all we're left with is a very suspicious Spider-Woman who steals the other Skrull body and lays a breakdance-battle-caliber smackdown on the apparently rabid Wolverine.

I think Yu's storytelling is excessively unclear and Bendis's reliance on prior knowledge, assumptions, and Yu's artwork makes for a bit of a mess. But because, once again, it's an incomplete text, I wouldn't say Bendis is a bad writer because of this one issue. Nor would I say Yu is a bad artist, even with his panel-to-panel continuity problems in this particular issue. Because it's a fragment. The stuff that's unclear will most likely become clear given enough time (and enough mega-crossover issues, which will almost certainly cause their own type of unclarity).

As another thought, the Grand Marvel Narrative relies on extensive contextual knowledge, and this issue is no exception, but it also relies on that knowledge to be imperfect. For example, some of the very same characters on the New Avengers team have been, in past issues of other comics, replaced by Skrulls at one time or another. Iron Fist once turned out to be the Super-Skrull in disguise! None of this information is referred to in New Avengers #32, and the characters behave as if this whole any-of-us-might-be-a-skrull routine is something new and dangerous.

In many ways, to be an ideal reader of a Marvel comic book is to be totally aware of every comic book story ever, while simultaneously being able to forget about any individual issue that doesn't correspond to the current direction of the Grand Marvel Narrative. What a weird way to tell a story!

To be a good reader, however, you just have to be willing to read and put forth (at least in your mind) an interpretation of the text, with the knowledge that it's an incomplete part of a much larger whole. You might even recognize the paranoia-in-an-enclosed-space allusion to The Thing from Another World or the subtext of mistructs which stems from Spider-Woman's history of duplicity. But what a good reader should never do is say, "I don't get it" and leave it at that.

Douglas Wolk: Interesting take on the "bad readers" issue, but I'd like to rise to your bait, and counter it by inverting your conditions. (And, of course, you know as well as I do how loaded "bad" is. But we're stuck with it for the purposes of this discussion; let's just imagine however many sets of quotation marks you like around it.) I do think the way you're framing the issue puts the entire burden of understanding a text on the reader, and as you note, New Avengers #32 is kind of a mess as texts go. So let's think for a moment about how those conditions might shift all the blame to the creator. A bad cartoonist, let's say:

1) Is unable to create words or images that can be understood easily with their intended literal meaning. (Yes, I think intention is important here. "Unwilling" doesn't apply, though: I can imagine cartoonists who _deliberately_ obscure their work's literal meaning--the first example that jumps into my head is Robert Loren Fleming and Trevor Von Eeden's Thriller...)
2) Is unable to create comprehensible connections between words and images in a text.
3) Is unable to make potentially figurative language in a text function in a figurative way.
...And I don't know how to make the "irony" term fit this one. I considered something about being unable to create texts that resonate beyond their literal meaning, but I think I'd rather award extra credit for that ability than take points away for lacking it...

As for the incompleteness of New Avengers #32, though--well, there are different kinds of incompleteness. The "incomplete" exception you suggest gives any Marvel or DC superhero comic an out for both bad readers and bad cartoonists, since no author or reader can have read the entire Grand Marvel Narrative or Grand DC Narrative. (Insert Mark Waid joke here.)

Yes, this issue of New Avengers isn't a complete story. But it's a complete commercial unit of a piece of entertainment--I paid my $2.99, and that's what I got--and so I think it has the obligation to be comprehensible. I don't ask it to be dramatically complete, I'm just asking it to make sense. That's not a complaint of not making sense in the way that people complained that Seven Soldiers #1 didn't make sense (it did, actually--every bit of it was there for a reason, and I will personally explain any sequence of it to anyone who posts a bit that confused them and explains what didn't make sense to them about it). But I am as close to an ideal reader as Brian Michael Bendis and Leinil Yu could reasonably ask for right now, and with all the good will I can muster and a fairly strong working knowledge of Marvel continuity (including every issue of both New Avengers and Mighty Avengers), I simply couldn't parse significant chunks of this story.

Now, it's true that Yu isn't so hot at making a lot of the characters look like themselves (pg. 4, panel 1: the dialogue is the only cue I had that that was Hawkeye), but I didn't have a problem with the page 3, panels 5-6 transition--the "camera" is actually only swinging 120 degrees, and we get two good cues as to what's going one: we see Spider-Woman turning her head, and the dialogue is consistent with everyone's speech patterns. (Peter's just made one wisecrack, and he follows Spider-Woman's jab with another one; Wolverine is continuing his monologue from two panels earlier, with the "and if any of that is true" bit.) I also think it's possible to break the 180-degree rule in comics and get away with it if you do it in a smart enough way--there's actually an example of it that I reproduced in the Jaime Hernandez chapter of "Reading Comics," where Hernandez handles it so smoothly that it took me years to notice that it was a little raspberry at the 180-degree principle. (You can see it here.)

The bit of visual storytelling in that scene that raised my eyebrows, actually, is page 4, panel 4. Echo's got a mean expression on her face, but where exactly is she sitting in the plane? From going back and looking at pg. 2, it looks like she's sitting opposite Spider-Woman, to the right of Dr. Strange; nobody's sitting in the seat opposite Wolverine, to the right of Spider-Man. But Echo is deaf--she reads lips. Can she see Wolverine's face? And noticing that reminded me of some earlier issue of New Avengers--I don't remember which, and I'm a few thousand miles away from my longboxes--in which Echo-as-Ronin responds immediately to something Iron Man says, despite the fact that she can't see his face. Is that a clue? Or is it just sloppiness? If you're planting clues, you cannot afford sloppiness.

In any case, I can't agree that Bendis's intention is irrelevant, because whatever Bendis's intention was here is going to become Marvel canon; it'll be the extratextual information we'll need to understand future stories. We're going to find out what it was, one way or another; where it really should have been made clear, though, was here.

Timothy Callahan: I do place the onus of interpretation fully on the shoulders of the reader. A text has no responsibility to "be" anything. It doesn't have to be entertaining, or suspenseful, or funny, or even clear. It simply has to exist. Then it's up to the reader to figure it out. But, I think the reader should be expected to read the complete work before making a critical interpretation (as it's unfair to the work, for example, to interpret the entire text on the basis of a paragraph alone). As you point out, since nobody has read the entire Grand Marvel Narrative (although Peter Sanderson would probably be more likely to have done so than Mark Waid), no reader can ever make a fully-informed interpretation of any Marvel comic book, which absolutely lets the creators off the hook.

So, let's revise that standard of "complete work," for the sake of the practicality. Let's say the "complete work," in the case of a serialized Marvel comic, is a sequence of issues in which a main plot goes through a beginning, middle, and end. That is a much more reasonable expectation for the reader, but it still leaves us with an incomplete text in New Avengers #32, and thus, an incomplete interpretation. So I still have problems with jumping to conclusions about narrative issues which might be resolved more clearly when read in a larger, more complete context.

You say that a comic book which you purchased for $2.99 has "the obligation to be comprehensible." I don't know that it does. Why do you expect it to be comprehensible simply because you paid for it? I go back to my earlier point: a text has no responsibility to "be" anything.

But Tim, you would surely say, this is a piece of commercial entertainment, and thus the reader should be able to expect entertainment, and unclear, nonsensical storytelling is not entertaining in the case of New Avengers #32. I'm not sure I agree that it's not entertaining because it's unclear, but I do agree that it is quite unclear (with the reservation, once again, that it might be more clear in a slightly larger context).

So let's jump right out and assume it's unclear, but not intentionally. For the sake of argument, we'll say that Bendis and Yu are attempting to be a bit subtle (in the sense that this isn't a Silver Age comic book in which every line ends with an exclaimation point. She's a Skrull!!! I'm a Skrull, too!!! etc.), but overall they are trying to give us the information we need to fully understand the story.

I agree with you that they have failed by those standards, even though I can still comprehend the basic plot of the story which runs something like this: they are all paranoid that the rest of them are Skrulls, they crash, Spider-Woman zaps Wolverine and walks off with Elektra-Skrull's body.

It's not a non-sensical series of words and images, so it doesn't fail in that most basic regard, but it fails to fully justify the Spider-Woman turn-of-events at the end. It doesn't just ignore the "why is she doing this question?" which is a fair mystery to leave hanging, but it ignores the "what exactly is she doing and what do her facial expressions mean on that page when Wolverine growls at her?"

The most obvious interpretation, that she is a Skrull herself, is based on the visual emphasis on her green eyes on that page. Jessica Jones's baby had green eyes in the previous issue, and that was supposed to be a clue of some sort, though that was just as vague in its implication. But did Spider-Woman, as you point out, NOT have green eyes before? isn't that her natural eye color? (It is her eye color throughout the issue.) And if it's not her natural eye color, how is a reader, even a pretty-close-to-ideal reader like you or me supposed to know the green eye thing is important?

So that is an example of sloppy storytelling, especially considering how supposedly dramatic the final few pages seemed to be. It felt like watching the climax of a whodunit, except all of a sudden the audio went out.

The other thing that complicates interpretation of New Avengers #32 is that Bendis has a history, as you point out, of sloppiness with regard to bits of potential storytelling information. If you continually have to play the game of "is it a clue or a mistake?" then your interpretation is always going to be suspect (at least in your own mind). Then again, if you COMPLETELY ignore authorial intent: "was it a clue or a mistake? It doesn't matter!," then you can just interpret the text incorporating even the mistakes into a theory of meaning. It's actually exactly what Marvel used to encourage with the No-Prize. Interpret our mistakes as canon and win an imaginary prize!

I don't mind giving Bendis the freedom to be vague at the end of the issue, personally, as long as the Spider-Woman sequence is explained in the next issue. So, in that case, I require something from a text. I guess I don't require a complete story that makes sense just because I paid $2.99, but I require something from a text if it is part of a larger, unfinished narrative: I require it to complete the story eventually. Perhaps even that is an inappropriate expectation in the Grand Marvel Narrative (which will never, presumably, end).

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


You want updates?

I can't believe I've abandoned this blog for so long. I can't believe I've abandoned you.

I will return, shortly.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

When Words Collide: Three Digressions on GØDLAND

When Joe Casey asked me to provide the critical essay for inclusion in the second "GØDLAND Celestial Edition," I said, "hell, yes!" And I had plenty of ideas of how I would approach a retrospective/analysis of the series. Then I reread Tom Spurgeon's essay in the first volume, and he basically said most of the things I was going to say.

Then I reread issues #13-24 with a notebook by my side and my critical faculties at their most incisive and started making mad lists of whatever I noticed or felt worthy of comment in an essay. I ended up with a long list and random bits of genius dialogue and imagery that I just had to make note of. I mixed it all up in my brain and felt that the fancy hardcover collection deserved more than just a few thoughts, so I came up with my "Twelve Digressions on GØDLAND," one digression for each issue, even though they aren't tied to any strict chronology.

You'll have to buy the Celestial Edition Vol. 2 to get all twelve (and who wouldn't want the Celestial Edition, anyway? It's gonna be gorgeous), but I'm giving away the first three for free in this week's "When Words Collide" column. And maybe if you're nice and you get my blog up to 1,000 visitors per day, or get me to 666 Twitter followers by the end of the month, I'll post some more for your reading enjoyment. It's all about the give and take. Until then, think GØDLAND!

READ: Three Digressions on GØDLAND!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Absolute Absolutes

I wouldn't call "Green Lantern: Rebirth" my favorite comic book series. Not even close. I liked it well enough at the time of its release, and I thought Geoff Johns did a surprisingly good job making some kind of sense out of the Parallax ridiculousness and bringing Hal Jordan back in a way that erased the sins of the "Emerald Dawn"/Gerard Jones era without ignoring them.

But I somehow now own it in three different formats: single issues, hardcover collection, and now the Absolute edition. I bought the single issues during release, and caught up with all the Johns Lantern HCs during the "Sinestro Corps War" when my local shop had a 50% off sale, and I felt the need to own the comics in a format that I could throw at slow moving squirrels or something. And I am incapable of resisting an Absolute edition. It's by far my favorite format to read comics in. Oversized and bulky. Absolutes are immersive experiences.

Turns out, that just like so many other Absolute editions, I like "Green Lantern: Rebirth" even more reading it at this size. Ethan Van Sciver has never been one of my favorite artists. He strives for Brian Bolland but lacks the structure to hang all that rendering on. Yet at the Absolute size, his work looks great. And it helps that "Green Lantern: Rebirth" is the best work of his career. Far better than "Flash: Iron Heights," which was his previous benchmark, and far, far better than his recent work on "Flash: Rebirth."

So, yes, "Absolute Green Lantern: Rebirth." I am no sorry I own this. Not one bit.

And when I mentioned Absolute editions on Twitter, some folks asked for recommendations, so here are my Top 10 Absolute Editions, in order of ones-I-would-bring-to-a-desert-island-and-read-and-not-burn-in-a-fire-to-keep-me-warm.

#1. Absolute Watchmen. Dave Gibbons at this size is like the Mona Lisa giving you a high-five.

#2. Absolute Dark Night. Frank Miller doesn't just draw comics. He carves them.

#3. Absolute DC The New Frontier. Darwyn Cooke's finely crafted masterpiece of superhero spectacle is a bit cold and lifeless. But in this format, you can crawl around inside its sculptured majesty.

#4. Absolute Promethea. J. H. Williams III. He draws good.

#5. Absolute Crisis on Infinite Earths. The story is pretty terrible to actually read, but George Perez's art has never looked better.

#6. Absolute Ronin. Euro-manga explosion, inside Frank Miller's pen and ink.

#7. Absolute Sandman. All four volumes. Why not?

#8. Absolute League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Both volumes. Out-of-print, but classic. And Kev O'Neilly.

#9. Absolute Death. Chris Bachalo is an amazing artist, and even if this book unnecessarily reprints issues from Absolute Sandman (seriously, who buys this and not Sandman?), it's still, you know, Chris Bachalo.

#10. Absolute JLA/Avengers. Pure eye candy.

I don't own Absolute Planetary or Absolute Authority, but when they're reprinted, I'll be able to build a house with them. Alex Ross in Absolute format? Nah.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Splash Page Podcast 16: Siege, Siege, Sentry, Siege

This week's Splash Page podcast is mostly about "Siege" and Chad and I mostly disagree about everything. Except how terrible the "Sentry: Fallen Sun" comic was. That's just a fact. Nothing to disagree about there.

What else do we talk about? Pretty much everything that's important in life and/or comics.

And all in a single, extra-long episode this week. Because that's what we're all about. Quality, in a compressed dose of limited quantity.

LISTEN: Splash Page Podcast Episode 16!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Oberon Sexton REVEALED!

In the build-up to Oberon Sexton's recent reveal in "Batman and Robin," I'm sure many of us tried to see if his name was a clue. We knew Oberon was the king of the faeries and we knew Sexton was a keeper of a churchyard, and Oberon Sexton himself was called the "Gravedigger." But so what? It didn't seem to lead anywhere.

Then Oberon Sexton turned out the be the Joker, which wasn't really that much of a surprise since Morrison had mentioned Joker as a looming presence in the series in interviews. But still, why the name "Oberon Sexton"

Reader Dennis McNicholas e-mailed me and pointed out the possible joke: If Oberon is the name of the king of the faeries, he's also the "fey king." Oberon Sexton is "fey king" (or faking) being the Gravedigger. It's a joke, kids!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Iron Man Noir #2 Review

This is better than you might think, mostly because Scott Snyder knows what he's doing, even if Manuel Garcia's pencils are not well-complemented by the inks and colors on this issue.

Then again, I would probably regularly buy a series about Captain Namor and his grumpy seafaring adventures. "Captain Namor and the Giant Squid from Dimension X"? Yeah, I'd be all over that.

Oh, and everyone dies at the end of this issue. (But not really, I bet.)

Read the REVIEW.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Siege #4 Review

Yes, it's time for me to get back to linking to all my reviews, so you can keep up with the most accurate and informative and exciting and sometimes typo-laden opinion in comic books.

Today, I'll spotlight my review of "Siege" #4. It's a comic I read. It's basically Marvel's version of the final paragraph of the Gettysburg Address, covered with salsa, and thrown into the end zone into the arms of a free Plaxico Burress.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

When Words Collide: Joe Casey Says Stuff That's Fascinating

On Monday, my long-awaited interview with Joe Casey finally hit the internet: I Interview Joe Casey for When Words Collide.

Casey clearly didn't have a great time with his most recent work-for-hire experience at DC, and he even spills a whole lot o' beans about an abandoned "Justice League Academy" series that might have happened in an alternate reality where DC Comics didn't take so long to get a project off the ground.

Oh, and I'm writing the big honkin' essay on "GØDLAND" that will appear in this summer's "GØDLAND Celestial Edition, Vol. 2." I'll provide an except of that piece in next week's column, to tease and inform.

I really want to see a Damian Wayne and Offspring team-up comic. Written by Joe Casey and illustrated by Sean Murphy. I'm sure we'll see that happen a few years from never.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Moore and Morrison and Deconstruction

I received an interesting, insightful e-mail from Jason Faris a couple of weeks ago. According to Jason, he's an "autodidact, comic book enthusiast, energetic fictional advocate, moral philosopher and budding comic book author; currently posing as a mild mannered 33 year old father of twin seven year old boys and working as a cubicle jockey in the Midwest." Well, that sounds pretty good (except the cubicle jockey part, since I keep picturing a tiny little man surrounded by large gray walls covered with memos and photos of cats).

Jason had some things to say about Grant Morrison and Alan Moore, and after I responded positively to his e-mail, he revised and expanded his comments a bit, and so I present it to you now. Jason Faris's thoughts on Moore/Morrison Deconstruction, with my commentary afterward:
It is not to shocking or original to suggest that within the last 30 plus years no writer has had as great an impact on the comic book medium as have Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. These two giants have, in fact, much more in common. Both are self educated, both come from working class but liberal families, both grew up in the British Isles during a period of economic down turn, both are self professed magicians, and both of their work is shrouded in the esoteric with a suggestion of the subversive. How is it then that their work is rarely complimentary and at times directly in opposition? Both are consummate craftsman, both intellectually stimulating and brilliantly playful, but with a very different energy and affect on the reader. Both are innovators of unbridled imagination but have a completely different impact on other writers or would be imitators. How is it that these two men with so much in common could have bodies of work that are so strikingly different. I think the starkest and most telling difference between them is in their approach to the iconic figure and conversely how they use these figures to address or reflect realism.

The iconic figure is something/anything that is instantly recognizable. There are two very basic ways to interact with these figures. The first is to instill them within the bounds and boundaries of realism, to imagine them human. The second is to honor their inherent unreality as something 'other', to mythologize them.

The so called "deconstruction" of the superhero probably didn't originate with Moore. In fact a number of English books featured significantly darker heroes and anti-heroes. That period in English culture was socio-economically predisposed to mistrusting brightly clad primary color optimism. A cultural situation that America found some resonance with in the 80's, most notably with works like the Watchmen. In the long run this was essential for the medium to be elevated literarily. To show what could be done with the form. Additionally, reimagining these pure iconic figures as containing the frailties of the eras and insecurities that spawned them gives us access to them, updates them for a more cynical and more modern audience. It seems in retrospect like a no brainer, inevitable. Moore's real strength and the true evidence of his incomparable genius lie in his remarkable ability to craft a story and imbue a modern literary psychology within the medium of sequential art. Moore’s playfulness resides in this craft.

This deconstruction of iconic literary figures and archetypes is a hall mark of Moore's career; in fact it dominates almost the entirety of his work. The goal of this, one must imagine, being to use these iconic figures as a mirror into ourselves. What would getting the savior who so brilliantly sparks our cultural imagination be like? How small would we seem in his presence?

Morrison is no less interested in "realism" but to him these iconic figures are already "real". To paraphrase Morrison himself, “The real deal offers no emotional weight, no cathartic release, and no dramatic structure”. It is not necessary to "bring these figures down to our level" they are already pure expressions of ourselves, and he respects them as such in and of themselves. The superhero for instance doesn't need a human motivation to do good. The Superhero is simply the figure mankind has invented who always does good. Superman is the greatest invention of man not because he is a perfect expression of man but because he is man’s perfect expression of a savior who “loves everyone and always wins”. This is where Morrison's infamous 'weirdness' comes from. He is dealing with shiny abstract ideals and interacting with them on this mythic level as though their rules are as real as ‘the real deal’. These figures however don’t live in our world accept to the degree that we live in theirs. Neither do they necessarily abide by our rules.

I think asking for faith in the iconic figure in and of itself takes real guts and isn't as obvious a departure in today’s increasingly cynical society. This is why his work pops and crackles with energy. He is looking not to the past for where these ideas came from, or anthropologically into the dark recesses of our cultural psychology (though he does do this at times) so much as using the best tools we have for imagining our own greatest potential, looking to where we are/could be going. This is also why the apocalyptic and/or paradigm shifting event feature so prominently in his work. Morrison is asking where we are going. What is next? Morrison’s playfulness is unchecked (at times recklessly so) as his craft is subservient to the myth. He is always looking for the best ways to manipulate his work to accentuate these alien ideas. Reality is stranger than fiction so a realistic fiction must be very strange indeed.

There is much more one could explore in this exercise. I am not sure of what pragmatic value it would be beyond merely to support what is stated above. I am sure one could explore the Manichean vs Anti-Manichean relationships in their work, their very different views on adaptations and otherwise embracing or refuting the elements of a capitalist and information age. But I think the above is a succinct attempt to outline the root of these relationships.

My first thought is that it goes back to what I've said before about Moore as an ironist and Morrison as an absurdist, but by spinning his thoughts around both writers exporation of "the real," Jason looks at the differences in a fresh way. I think he's basically right when he talks about Moore exploring the psychology of the characters while Morrison explores the iconography, since the characters are, as Morrison has said, "realer than we are" already.

I also think about the development in literature in the ages since industrialization. I'm talking masterpieces of fiction and poetry here, in a simplified, Survey of Lit 101 kind of way. But, basically, as industrialization in Europe grew more oppressive, the poets and artists and novelists turned toward Romanticism, idealizing nature and purity over man-made artifice.

We get that in comics from the Golden Age through the Silver Age, even if the idealized "nature" was the nature of "super-science" more often than not. (But think of how the evils of industrialization have always been at the heart of comic book villainy, from organized crime to brainy scientists to robots.)

In literature, Realism followed Romanticism, so we get Charles Dickens exploring social class and we get Emil Zola exploring the grim working conditions of the common man.

In comics, we get the Bronze Age.

While Modernism and Postmodernism take up the entire 20th century in literary terms, as the disillusionment sets in around WWI, followed by vast influenza outbreaks and tragedy and, in America, the Great Depression. So we get T. S. Eliot and we get Ernest Hemingway and we get James Joyce. All of whom, in their Modernist ways, interested in psychological realism and the fragmentation of society.

That's Alan Moore, circa 1983-1987. Modernism in comics.

Grant Morrison, coming in at the tail end of those years, immediately brings the Postmodernism, and "Animal Man" #5 is the epitome of that, with the metafiction, with the commentary on the Modernist mode.

So I can't help but think that Moore and Morrison compressed 100 years of literary development into about five years of comic books. It took a while for comics to catch up to what literature had been doing for decades, but once they broke away from the simplistic Romanticism, they started catching up really quickly.

Of course, this ignores the influence of the underground comics and even the EC comics and anything else that's not Moore or Morrison. But that's how this game is played.

What do you think?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Splash Page Podcast 15.2: Esteem, Hellboy, Wizard!

How great is that Richard Corben cover? If you don't think it's one of the greatest images to ever grace a comic book blog and or comic book shop, then you are a person who keeps an address in crazytown, one block over from insanity house.

So. Second Splash Page episode of the week. What do Chad and I talk about? Oh, everything.

Creators who have risen or fallen in our esteem. Hellboy. Longboxes. Wizard magazine. Jack Kirby's Eternals. Very sad X-Men. Iron Fist. And more.

Done in an extra low-key, smooth grove style.

LISTEN: Splash Page Podcast Episode 15.2!

Splash Page Podcast 15.1: Beast Boy, Thor, Gods!

Brian Cronin was nice enough to devote a few days of "Greatest Stories" month at Comics Should Be Good to Chad and I, mostly based around a long-ago discussion of Warren Ellis vs. Geoff Johns.

And then I went and chose Garfield Logan as my character, and the internet shrugged its shoulders.

We also talk about "I, Zombie" #1 and plenty of other comics this week. And I mess up the intro (twice, basically) but Chad doesn't bother editing it out because he wants to show you how human we are. Or how bad I am at saying words in a row.

Listen: Splash Page Podcast Episode 15.1!

Sunday, May 09, 2010

When Words Collide: A Whole Lot O' Content

Wow. Checking back, I realize that I haven't regularly posted links to my "When Words Collide" column at CBR since June of last year. Sad, really.

I won't bombard you with a list of everything I've written for CBR since then, but here are some of the things I've written in the past few months, in reverse order (the most recent stuff first):

1. Dancing with the Destroyer: How Robert Kirkman reinvigorated a Golden Age DC character and made me weep with joy.

2. Kevin Colden, Man of Mystery, Man of Scandalous Intent: The first mature-readers Zuda series and an interview with the Eisner-nominated man behind it. Yeah, that happened.

3. A Tale of Two (Comic Book) Cities: New York's MoCCA Festival vs. the Boston Comic Con? How many winners can there be? Answer: all of them. (Plus, Jack Kirby Bronze Age goodness.)

4. Frank Miller's New Gods: I linked to this when I posted the Miller story in its entirety, but it's still something worth mentioning because it's (a) Frank Miller, and (b), Jack Kirby, and (c) Darkseid. Three of my favorite flavors.

5. Brendan McCarthy is a God of Spiders and Other Things that are Good: I ruminate on "Spider-Man: Fever" and other important topics. Mostly awesome ones involving drawings by McCarthy.

6. Retcon Reviews: My controversial ironic take-down of such critically-acclaimed masterpieces as "Secret Wars II" and "Ultimatum." Zing! Take that, people who got paid to write bad comics!

7. Jorge Molina's Marvel House (Style) Party: Here's a guy trying to carve a career in mainstream superhero comics. What is that like? I wonder. So I ask.

8. Fifteen Must-Have Collected Editions that Sort of Came Out Already, Mostly: This was basically a way to remind myself what I should buy in recent months, and let people know about the goodness inside. If you're curious, I have since bought six of the books on the list. Guess which ones, and win a prize!

9. Scott Snyder: Who is This Guy? If you don't already know, Scott Snyder is the next big thing, and I've known that for a while. Plus, he's a teacher. And that makes him doubly cool. Not as cool as "American Vampire." But close.

10. Bendis, Bendis, Bendis: I spent a month writing about Bendis, including a list of the "Bendis Top Ten," plus a Three-Part Examination of the Bendis Daredevil: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3!

If you've been reading all the WWC stuff all along, thanks! If not, it looks like you'll have plenty of fun and informative and probably mind-blowing catching up to do.

Splash Page Podcast 14.2: Who, Hickman, Legion Espionage Squad!

Chad = big fan of "Babylon 5." Yet he hasn't been watching the new "Doctor Who." I'm pretty sure "Doctor Who" > "Babylon 5." No. It's a fact, actually.

So we talk about that. And tons of comics. Tons!

Like ones starring Dash Bad Horse, even if he doesn't appear in the issue. And ones starring Superman, even if barely appears in the issue. And ones starring a whole batch of warriors who operate in secret. And a family of four, with fantastic powers.

And John Romita, Jr.

Listen: Splash Page Podcast Episode 14.2!

Splash Page Podcast 14.1: Freebies, Bendis, Arkhammy!

Free Comic Book Day happened. We talk about that. Or we talk about how it's going to happen. One or the other.

And we talk about what's going on in "Detective Comics" and "Captain America" and other things of great import. Like "New Avengers" #64. Life-altering conversations, I'm sure.

And more.

Listen: Splash Page Podcast Episode 14.1!

Splash Page Podcast 13.2: Energy, Unity, Style!

This is where Chad and I develop a four-point mapping system for discussing all comic book writers. I'll expand it into a WWC column or four at some point, but we basically quantify every major writer according to our new, completely made-up, criteria. But it guides our discussion of a few important comics of the week.

Like "Who Won't Wield the Shield" and "Joe the Barbarian" and "DV8" and "The Spirit."

Comics, all!

LISTEN: Splash Page Podcast Episode 13.2.

Splash Page Podcast 13.1: Babs, Bullets, Better Comics

This is the episode where we talk about the now-infamous "Brave and the Bold" #33, the one where Batgirl dances. Then gets shot in the spine. No thanks to her superhero pals!

I think I explain my critical approach to comics in this podcast, or say other smart things about smart topics. Or not.

I'm sure it's a good one, though, because it has a discussion of Cliff Chiang, and anything involving that man always comes out great. Unless it's "Brave and the Bold" #33. Totally not his fault.

LISTEN: Splash Page Podcast Episode 13.1!

Splash Page Podcast 12.2: Straczynski, Doc Savage, Chad Writes Comics

J. Michael Straczynski writing about Superman walking across the country to learn about himself, to learn about America? Yeah, we talk about that.

(I think. We recorded this a while ago, so maybe we talk about something completely different.)

We also probably talk about "Doc Savage" #1 and Chad's history as a writer, including his comics that are so famous, they ended up on a t-shirt.

LISTEN: Splash Page Podcast Episode 12.2!

Update Attack: A Promise to Readers Young and Old

I've been neglecting the updates here. If you were going by this blog, you'd think Chad and I stopped the Splash Page Podcast at episode 12.1. But we didn't. You'd think my When Words Collide column at CBR ended a few months back. It didn't. You'd think I'd stopped doing reviews. I Haven't.

I just need to get back into the habit of keeping everyone informed AND provide some new content for this blog on a regular basis. So here's what I promise: I will link to every podcast, column, and review I do. And I will provide at least one new-content post a week. Let's get this "Geniusboy Firemelon" train back on its magical, day-glo tracks!

Want to see me tackle something in a post? Give me a topic to talk about in the comments!