Category Archives: comics

Metapost: RIP Comics Alliance

I know I’m a little late to the party (though I did mention it on Twitter when the news broke out), but RIP Comics Alliance. I hadn’t read it in the last few months — I felt the focus had shifted more on other media rather than the comics themselves, plus the webcomic-related stuff had kinda dried up — but I still rather liked that site because they treated comics not as an academic exercise but rather what a vast majority were meant to be: fun.

I especially loved reading Chris Sims’ articles, which were full of fun and verve and crazy enthusiasm. His pieces pretty much convinced me to download the entire Starman Omnibus over at Comixology (and it’s definitely one of the best comics I’ve ever read), and for my money he had the last word on why comics in the 90’s shouldn’t be disparaged like some sort of dumb internet meme. Also, Sims did me a great honor by answering my question about Az-Bats. As you can see from just a smattering of his pieces, he was very knowledgeable, but always delivered the info with a jovial, smart-ass style that was incredibly appealing. While the Comics Alliance wasn’t necessarily the most informative comic news site (and sometimes a little late to some of comics’ most breaking news stories), it brought life and excitement to comics that you don’t see in, say, the more staid and professional sites like The Comic Journal.

The Comics Alliance gets one last hurrah at the Eisner Awards, where its been nominated for Comics Related Periodical/Journalism, but after that it once again disappears into the ether.

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Know Thy History: Aquaman

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“Aquaman’s not lame anymore!”

I have heard this refrain a thousand times. I imagine I will hear it a a thousand times more. It’s usually when writers try to “cool up” Aquaman. Oh, look, Aquaman’s badass now! Not that lame dude from the Superfriends who rode on a seahorse! Or the walking punchline from the Robot Chicken sketches!

Love him! LOVE HIM!

The first time I heard it was during Peter David’s run, where Aquaman lost a hand and replaced it with a hook. Then there was the time my favorite fantasy author, Tad Williams, wrote a bunch of Aquaman stories. And then there was the animated Justice League version. And then the Geoff Johns version where Aquaman is defying the public perception that he’s lame. I imagine it was being said when Aquaman was named leader of the all new, all different, and much maligned Justice League Detroit.

Most recently, people are saying it with regards to the Aquaman of the Injustice fighting game, where he attacks his enemies with sharks. (“Oh, man! They got eaten by sharks! Aquaman’s not lame anymore!”)

Here’s the thing, though. That phrase, “Aquaman’s not lame anymore”? It’s sorta like “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile.” Just by saying it, you’re reminding yourself that, hey, there are quite a few lame elements to the Aquaman character. And then you’re back to square one again.

This is why my favorite version of Aquaman is the guy who ruled the Seven Seas during the Silver Age.

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Poll: Compressed or Decompressed storytelling?

There seems to be two schools of thought in how to present comics these days (and these include webcomics). The first is storytelling in the most traditional approach. Explain events using little comment boxes and exposition. It paces things out so you can get a somewhat complete story in around 22 pages or so. Generally, webcomics in this category are Spacetrawler and Order of the Stick. Simpler pictures, heavy on dialogue.

On the other end, there’s the “show, don’t tell” school or comics — decompressed storytelling. These are usually the ones heavy on mood and imagery. They take their time. The joke with some recent comics, for example, is that it takes 6 issues now for comics that used to take 1. (I think Bendis’ run on the Avengers titles are good examples of this.) In this category, more contemplative comics like Ectopiary and What Birds Know.

Both have their advantages, and it usually boils down to narrative vs. visuals. There are also plenty of comics in the middle ground. However, between the two extremes, which do you prefer: compressed or decompressed storytelling?

Know Thy History: Donald Duck, Scrooge McDuck, and the Disney Ducks

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They ride tall ships to the far away,
and see the long ago.
They walk where fabled people trod,
and Yetis trod the snow.

They meet the folks who live on stars,
and find them much like us,
With food and love and happiness
the things they most discuss.

The world is full of clans and cults
abuzz as angry bees,
And Junior Woodchucks snapping jeers
at Littlest Chickadees.

The ducks show us that part of life
is to forgive a slight.
That black eyes given in revenge
keep hatred burning bright.

So when our walks in sun or shade
pass graveyards filled by wars,
It’s nice to stop and read of ducks
whose battles leave no scars.

To read of ducks who parody
our vain attempts at glory,
They don’t exist, but somehow leave
us glad we bought their story.

That poem was written by the man known by the world as the Good Duck Artist: Carl Barks. Donald Duck may have been created by the late, great Walt Disney, but it can be argued — very successfully, in fact — that he didn’t come into his own until Carl Barks wrote stories about him. More importantly, Carl Barks is the creator of Donald Duck’s wealthy uncle: a self-made duck with a top hat and tiny pince-nez glasses named Scrooge McDuck.

The world of race cars, lasers, and aeroplanes would never be the same again.

(Incidentally, much of my info for this piece  comes straight from the Wikipedia entry on Carl Barks, which is super detailed.  I have a feeling Don Rosa wrote it.)

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Know Thy History: Pogo

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Not many newspaper funnies characters have a.) campaigned for president in the real world (and not the in-universe cartoon world), and b.) actually started a student riot. I know what you’re saying. “El Santo, you silly goose. Garfield the cat and Garfield the president were two different characters! And that lasagna-inspired student riot in 1873 was totally unrelated.”

But see, I’m not talking about Garfield. I’m talking about Walt Kelly’s Pogo.
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These days, webcomic creators trying to drum up business by emblazoning T-shirts with catchphrases. For Walt Kelly, that would’ve been kid’s play. His marketing tactics were far more ambitious. Such as, say, using the 1952 American presidential elections to sell books. In those days, the candidate to beat was Dwight Eisenhower. His infamous slogan — “I Like Ike” — was printed on a ton of buttons.

Kelly followed in kind. He launched a button of his own with the phrase “I Go Pogo.” The publicity stunt was a huge success. (Hey, kids, if you think that your generation invented irony, this is what your grandparents were wearing on their jackets.) Papers gave out 2 million Pogo buttons. Kelly hit the bookstores and campuses, selling books and urging people to vote. He sold 100,000 Pogo books.

Things went a little off the rails when Kelly made a stop at Harvard, though. In an incident that somehow wasn’t written by Dan Harmon, an “I Go Pogo” rally turned into a full blown student riot. The cause? A delayed flight that prevented Kelly from showing time, and 1,600 restless students.

Even when Kelly finally did show up, his speech was interrupted by students racing each other on pogo sticks. The entire riot was masterminded by the editor of the school newspaper (The Harvard Crimson), Laurence D. Salvadore. In a rather Jeff-Winger-esque description, he is recalled as wearing “silk chartreuse socks” and his success with the ladies. Salvadore apparently picked up Kelly, but decided to hang out with him at a nearby bar, fully intending to cause the absence that would escalate things to riot levels. It’s kind of insane that the plan actually worked. Hey, remember the days when cartoonists were such rock stars that people would cause public disturbances if they didn’t show up?

Sorta makes multiple episodes about blanket forts seem tame and believable by comparison.

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Brigid Alverson gives some free advice on how not to draw manga

Over at Robot 6, Brigid Alverson wrote a very eye-opening piece on how-to draw manga books, and that you should proceed at your own caution. Ms. Alverson has an MFA in studio art and has edited how-to books, so she’s someone who definitely knows what she’s talking about.

So here’s the advice I have for all aspiring comics artists everywhere: Draw from life. You’re better off using those how-to books in an interesting still-life setup and drawing that than copying the illustrations you will find inside.

Those illustrations are the end point of a process you are just beginning. The flaw that I see in a lot of amateur manga is that artists fall in love with the stylization before they are able to create a convincing form in space. How many manga characters have you seen that have big eyes but no back to their heads? Or elaborate costumes but no three-dimensional presence? Start with what’s in front of your eyes and see where that takes you.

If you open these richly illustrated manga books, what you will find is a series of character designs. Again, they are carefully thought out and beautifully drawn, but they have a sort of generic feeling to them. If you aspire to drawing a particular genre of manga, then presumably you are already reading that genre and you don’t need someone to point out the standard features of demons, peach girls, or semes and ukes. (If you aspire to drawing a particular genre of manga and you aren’t already reading it, stop right now and either switch genres or start reading.)

The other problem is that there is a lot more to making manga than simply designing interesting characters. For some reason many artists tend to stop there — go to the Artists Alley of any convention and you will see page after page of pin-ups of manga-style characters but very few actual comics. Storytelling is a lot more than character design, it’s storyboarding and composition and pacing, and actually having a story to tell to begin with. The manga character books deal with none of this.

Ms. Alverson also offers some of her own recommendations of How To Draw Manga guides that actually are useful. But the point remains: if you’re making a comic, you’ve gotta know how to tell a story visually.

Know Thy History: Vibe

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I have a feeling that the Justice League Detroit era wouldn’t have been quite so roundly mocked if it weren’t for the fact that they were moving to Detroit. For years, the team had been opening out of a satellite from space. They consisted of an all-star super team from DC Comics, which included Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, and Green Lantern.

And then, in 1984, it was time to shake things up. Super teams staffed with the World’s Finest was suddenly out of vogue. What was cool? Tight knit teams high on the soap opera. Teams like the uncanny X-Men, and to a lesser extent the Team Titans. Team comics were for B-list characters to shine!

So… One fateful day, Aquaman exploited a loophole in the Justice League constitution. Using his power as one of the founding members to disband the team whenever he wanted, the King Of Atlantis decided that the old Justice League of America was no more… and a new one would take its place. One that wouldn’t be based in the lofty confines of space … but rather in an abandoned warehouse in Detroit.

Incidentally, it’s later revealed that Aquaman dissolved the old Justice League because he was having problems with his wife. Yup, this incarnation of the Justice League was pretty much DOA.

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Know Thy History: Puck

The modern political cartoon has its roots in two realms: ugliness and illiteracy. The “ugliness” comes from the caricature portion. The one and only Leonardo Da Vinci, star to Assassins Creed and legendary Ninja Turtle, is credited with the earliest known use of caricatures. The great artist and inventor would often hire models with deformities to study, exactly, what the difference was between that and beauty.

The other major pioneer behind political cartoons is famed Reformer Martin Luther. There were two factors in his use of cartoons: first, that people of his time couldn’t really read, and second, that the printing press (and, especially, woodcuts) made it much easier to communicate ideas to the people at large. So when Luther wanted to expose the evils behind indulgences, he drew a cartoon where Jesus was driving out moneychangers, while the next panel showed the Pope acting as a moneychanger. You didn’t have to be a Rhodes scholar — or even a graduate of the First Grade — to get to the meat and potatoes of what Luther was trying to say here.

The tradition of political cartoons continued proudly in the United States. Benjamin Franklin is credited with creating the first American cartoon, with his infamous “Join, or Die” showing a cut up snake, each segment representing a different state (or group of states). The cartoon would become one of the major propaganda pieces used by the Revolutionaries to turn public sentiments towards independence.

The apex of American political cartoons, though, would arrive more than a hundred years later. The famed Thomas Nast would start the ball rolling. His are large footsteps to follow, considering he took on Tammany Hall, popularized the elephant and the jackass as symbols of the two political parties, and invented the modern conception of Santa.

However, there were men willing to step in in shoes. AMong them was Joseph Ferdinand Keppler, founder of the the magazine Puck.

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