May 31, 2010

Top Ten Most Influential Comics Artists #10: Bill Sienkewicz

Welcome to the first installment of the top 10 most influential artists of all time! Click here for the archive!

Today's influential artist is Bill Sienkewicz!



Steve Perry and the Hero Initiative

It has now been confirmed that Stephen Perry, writer of, among other things, Thundercats, has been the victim of an apparent homicide.The Comics Cube wishes his family and friends the best.

This is very tragic news, especially since Steve had recently been trying to get his life back together, with the help of the Hero Initiative.

Folks, comics is a dirty business that doesn't take care of its own. This proves that. The Hero Initiative is an organization that attempts to provide security and safety for comics creators like Steve Perry, William Messner-Loebs, and others.

Please consider making a donation every now and then. If you can afford to buy your comics, you can definitely afford trying to keep the guys who make it safe.

The Hero Initiative's Web site is right here.

This PSA has been brought to you by the Comics Cube.

May 28, 2010

Comics Cube! Reviews: Camelot 3000


Camelot 3000, by Mike W. Barr and the incomparable Brian Bolland, is a very important tome in the history of comics. It was, among other things, the first comic book maxi-series. Mini-series (usually four-issue long comics) were quite common back then, but Camelot 3000 was the first one to run TWELVE issues long with a definitive ending, inspiring such works as Watchmen, Crisis on Infinite Earths, and more.. It was also the first mainstream comic book to be targeted directly to adults, with themes such as sex (straight, lesbian, and even transgender) dominating much of the story. And since it was such a risky venture, it is the first comic book to be sold to the direct market. For those of you for whom that means nothing, bear in mind that comics were sold on newsstands then, and printed on low quality paper.Cheap products are easy for newsstands; that means they get to buy about twice as much of the products they expect to sell, and then they return what's left to the producer. But for a riskier product like Camelot 3000 at the time, which was printed on high quality paper, they had to buy exactly how much they expected to buy, and they had to sell them all. So this comic gave way to the rise of the direct market and the proliferation of comic book stores all around the world. Whether or not this was a good thing is up for debate.

But there, due solely to what Camelot 3000 stood for, Mike Barr and Brian Bolland's work is, from a pure academic and historical standpoint, worth reading. So much so that they came out with a deluxe edition a few years back, all oversized and recolored, with Bolland drawing a new cover:


So what about the story? Camelot 3000 is also interesting in that it claims to be the first story ever that tells of the return of King Arthur Pendragon. I don't know how true that is, since it's possible that there have been stories tackling the subject in the centuries after the Arthurian Legend was popularized, but aside from this and the later episodes of Gargoyles, I sure can't remember anything else Arthur's return was portrayed in.

So in the year 3000, Arthur gets awakened by the young Tom Prentice because the world is in danger from a bunch of aliens. So he finds Merlin, re-arms himself with Excalibur, his sword, and then Merlin sends out a call to Arthur's knights, including Guinevere, who are all reincarnated in various bodies.


One thing that stands out to me looking at that pin-up is the sheer political correctness of the lineup. There's a Japanese guy, who, in the year 3000, still dresses up as a samurai, a black guy, and two women (one of whom has the soul of a man). There are a couple of fascinating reincarnations, one of them being Sir Percival's being a Neo-Man, which is year 3000-speak for brainless, violence-causing brute.

But actually, what fascinates me most is, despite the diversity of this lineup, Queen Guinevere is still a Caucasian woman (although a strong-willed one as opposed to a damsel; gotta keep up with the times, natch), and Arthur's number one knight, Lancelot, is still a white Frenchman. It's fascinating how progressiveness has to start from the fringes.

This story's also kind of hokey, in that there are aliens from a tenth planet from the sun. But once you get past that (and admittedly, it's a huge thing to try to get past), it really is worth reading.

Another thing that strikes out at me is how rushed the story feels. One has to keep in mind that this was done in 1982, well before manga invaded Western comics and popularized decompression, or the act of stretching scenes and stories out for maximum emotional effect (sometimes to a fault), so for the most part, this is a very plot-driven comic without much focus on the emotion (which is too bad, because the emotion would have been plentiful if they chose to go with it). For example, here's Guinevere and Lancelot meeting each other outside.


The story then cuts to Arthur's reactions to this everlasting affair, with Merlin dispensing some advice. This lasts about two pages. The next time we see Guinevere and Lancelot, they're already doing this:


Later on, they get punished for their adultery, and by the very next issue/chapter, they're forgiven, and the whole subplot is barely mentioned again, except a few times en passant.

As another example, the aforementioned reincarnation of Sir Percival into a Neo-Man is interesting, since Sir Percival was the purest of Arthur's knights, and was actually the one who saw the Holy Grail in the original tales. Unfortunately, there's no development on this twist, no real insight into Percival's thoughts or emotion, and so that entire subplot feels completely superfluous. A shame, really, since it had so much potential.

What ends up being the heart of the story, then, isn't the eternal love triangle of Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinevere, but the subplot of Sir Tristan, who was reincarnated as a woman. And his/her lover, Isolde, was also reincarnated as a woman, and Tristan simply can't handle it:


Bolland draws the hell out of this subplot, really packing the emotion in. Tristan and Isolde want to be together, but Tristan won't have any of it, since she can't be satisfied with Isolde getting any less than she deserves, and Tristan believes that to be a man. Isolde doesn't care.

And meanwhile, everyman Tom Prentice, who really functions as our eyes into the story, wants Tristan to accept that she's a woman, because of what he wants:


For a book that was targeted at adults, it's this subplot that really pushed the envelope. Sure, there's the adultery theme between Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinevere, but I just don't think it was all that well executed. The subplot of Sir Tristan's though is more rewarding, because of the emotion packed into it and all its implications. If Tristan goes with Isolde, we get a consensual lesbian relationship. If Tristan goes with Tom, we get a trans-gender relationship. Either way, in 1982, it was unheard of, and the torture in Tristan's face each time was perfect.

But that's not surprising, because this is, after all, Brian Bolland. Bolland, who's not known for doing interior art, is another reason for any comic collector to get this book. Renowned for his technical savvy and attention to detail, I don't think anyone can deny just how good this guy is.


In addition to expressing emotion whenever the script called for it (unfortunately, not that often), Bolland was able to convey action:

Pin-ups, without sacrificing storytelling, and money shots:



And, well, detail. Look at that grail!



Although I do think that for the most part, Camelot 3000 felt like a failure in terms of being written for adults (again, with the exception of the Tristan subplot), it was enjoyable enough and the artwork was fantastic. If you try reading it without any expectations, without any thought as to how it was "marketed for adults," you may be able to get past the 1980s syndrome in which everything looks like it was made as one big advertisement for toys:



Once you can get past that, you can enjoy it for what it is: an entertaining, adventurous romp, and a benchmark in the history of comics.

Well worth reading, for both historical and artistic purposes. And narratively, there are some brief shining moments in it as well.

Top Ten Most Influential Comics Artists of All Time!

Starting Monday, May 31, 2010, The Comics Cube began a series on the top ten most influential comics artists of all time. Not the ten best, not my ten favorite, just the ten most influential.

The criteria is simple: What was the artist's overall impact on the look of comics? How much have people built off of the work of this artist, sometimes without even realizing it? And how much did they revolutionize?

Here's the list:

10. Bill Sienkewicz
  9. George Perez
  8. Jim Steranko
  7. Neal Adams
  6. Robert Crumb
  5. George Herriman
  4. Jack Kirby
  3. Winsor McCay
  2. Will Eisner
  1. Osamu Tezuka

And that's it! Check here for my afterthoughts! And if you agree or disagree, let me know by commenting, here, on any of the posts, or on the Comics Cube's Facebook and Twitter pages!

May 27, 2010

Comics Cube! Reviews: Sachs and Violens

When there is a sale for comics, I splurge. Yes, given that this is the Philippines, chances are a sale just brings comics down to their actual retail price, but retail price is better than markup.

In lieu of David Mazzuchelli's Asterios Polyp, which I guess someone beat me to, I finally decided to purchase a copy of Peter David and George Perez's creator-owned project, Sachs and Violens. I've only ever scanned it before, but any comic that actually has perfume made in its honor must be worth reading, yes?



As any regular reader of this blog knows, I am a huge George Perez fan, and his name was the reason that I ended up buying the book. This is only his second collaboration with Peter David; the other one being Hulk: Future Imperfect, which I've never read (and would like to).


Whodunnit?

I came across this comic a few years ago.


This is Whodunnit? by Mark Evanier and Dan Spiegle. I got it from the quarter bin at a comics store in the States. It looked mighty interesting because of the Brent Anderson cover, and even though I knew I no longer qualified for the $1,000.00 prize (if anyone did, I'd like to know who it was), I thought I could find the answer on the Internet.

I was wrong. If anyone knows who shot Danny Scott, please let me know. If you so happen to run across Whodunnit #2 going for, say, 25 cents, that'd be cool too.

More detective serials like these would be great though; I wish the market could handle diversity of genre.

May 26, 2010

Addressing Ebony White -- Was Will Eisner Racist?

A friend of mine asked me if I could maybe write about Will Eisner, since he's just starting to read his stuff. The answer is, yes, I could write about Will Eisner. I don't write about Will Eisner, because it's such a gigantically daunting task and I fear I would go on longer than I already usually do. I'll have something next week, as part of a series on the most influential comics artists of all time. Unless I change my mind.

The same friend, however, asked me "What was up with the Ebony White character?" And I wanted to address it here.

For those not in the know, Will Eisner wrote and drew The Spirit, the comic that practically invented the language of the comic book medium. The Spirit is Denny Colt, a detective whom the world believes is dead.


 
Each Spirit story is about seven pages long, and is so incredibly inventive that it would be an understatement to say that Will Eisner was well ahead of his time.

Except for Ebony White. This is Ebony White.



May 25, 2010

Erro, a Modern-Day Roy Lichtenstein -- or Worse

Sorry, art critics, I really don't like Roy Lichtenstein. The man made a name out of aping hardworking comic book artists of the time, and quite frankly, not even doing it well. Deconstructing Roy Lichtenstein provides comparisons between Lichtenstein's "work" and the source materials, and I'll highlight a couple here.


Clearly, the original artist here has a much, much better working knowledge of anatomy, perspective, and foreshortening than Lichtenstein does.

Here's another, which I think speaks for itself. Seriously.


And here's a piece of his that doesn't ape anything. It's a piece that's actually a comic, because it involves a gutter (the space between panels) indicating the passage of time.


How can you tell if it's done by a professional comics artist or some pop culture hack who makes a living by ripping off hardworking artists? A professional comics artist would know that in order to open a trash can with the pedal, the foot actually has to move.

The one thing Lichtenstein actually accomplished is to really emphasize that these things look awesome when they're big. Other than that, he made a killing by swiping legitimately hardworking men, and I'll never be able to respect him.

But even Lichtenstein's shameless swiping has nothing on Icelandic artist, Erro, who actually has his own exhibit up right now. I was made aware of this particular thief due to comics artist, Gene Ha, of (among other things) Top 10 fame. Specifically, I found out through his Facebook status updates.


May 24, 2010

Hope Larson holds a survey about Girls and Comics!

Indie creator Hope Larson held an interesting survey among girls who read comics as tweens and teens, in hopes of trying to figure out how to get tween and teen girls into comics.

It's an interesting read for those of us who care about the diversification not just of the product, but of the reading audience as well. In the end, of course, you diversify the audience by diversifying your product.

While I would recommend that those interested read the survey in its entirety, I'd like to comment on a few of the findings.

Contrary to what most message boards may indicate, girls still gravitate more toward superheroes than anything else -- manga is a close second. That's just odd to me, since I just assumed that manga was not only more popular now among girls, but that it's just more popular in general. Still, just because superheroes came up on top here is no excuse for the industry to stop diversifying genres.

When asked about what made comics so appealing, the most cited answer is still the characters - girls wanted to be able to relate to the characters or experience the wish fulfillment associated with these characters. Story and art come in next, with story just edging out art. In that sense, the female demographic isn't much different from the male demographic at all, though I would hazard that for guys, the art may top story.

Of the 198 respondents, 4 had gone to author signings, 5 attended a comics-related library event, 50 have attended Free Comic Book Day, and almost half have gone to cosplay conventions as teens or tweens. Make social judgments as you will.

When asked about what comics professionals can do to draw in more female readers, the following answers were given.

More and better female characters, especially protagonists. Girls want to see strong, in-control, kick-ass women calling the shots.

Use licensed properties to lure new readers into comics.

Pink, sparkly cutesy comics about boyfriends, ponies, cupcakes and shopping are widely reviled. Condescend to female readers at your peril, writers and comic publishers.

Head... hurts... Exploding.... How does all three account for the success of this particular property??



I'm not kidding, folks, that is an official Twilight comic book. Yes, it's a licensed property, but it doesn't have a strong female lead, and it's a particularly "sparkly" story about boyfriends. So what's up? I think sales figures on the Twilight comic will be interesting, especially if we can get a demographic analysis.

The problem, also, I think, with introducing female protagonists and making a POINT to introduce female protagonists is that it "targets" the female demographic, and no matter what anyone says, people hate being targeted. Historically, that's why "comics made for kids" don't sell -- because kids hate being spoken down to. Similarly, any effort made to target females has been less than commercially successful, because the truth is girls hate being patronized. I mean, Minx, anyone?

This is a long debate, but Hope Larson's survey is a good start to what can only be better for the industry. If comics can rake in more girls, then it can't possibly be bad for business.

Thanks to Robot 6 for pointing me to this survey!

May 21, 2010

Clearing Up A Misconception About Frank Miller's Portrayal of Superman in Dark Knight Returns

I never liked Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns. Yes, I know it's critically acclaimed. Yes, I know it's technically excellent, and yes, I know it has stunning iconography and was revolutionary for the history of comics and one of its mainstay characters. Yes, I know its effect and how much we owe it. I just never liked it.

Part of the reason for my dislike of it is precisely because of its long-term effect. I don't have to go on and on about how it made Batman one-dimensional for the next twenty years; but what is oft-forgotten is his effect on that other icon, Superman. You see, in The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller portrays Superman as a government puppet, one that is happy to obey the government so long as he can do some good.


The reason I hate this is because, since Dark Knight Returns is held with such high canonical praise, it therefore gives off the wrong impression about Superman, and since Dark Knight Returns is a common "first" comic for a lot of people, it's an impression that lasts.

Because of the story's effect, too, it started off a whole trend of "Batman beating Superman" stories, all the way from Batman: Hush to Superman: Red Son. This then gets a lot of people saying - factually - that Superman will always play second fiddle to Batman. As if being made to look like a puppet isn't enough, he's also made to look incompetent. Folks, there's an adage: Dog bites man, that's not a story. Man bites dog, that's a story. There is no story when Superman beats Batman - any such scenes last about a panel.

The story is if Batman beats Superman. It worked in Dark Knight Returns not just because of the symbolism associated with each hero by the narrative, not their intrinsic concepts, but also because it was a first. At this rate, however, it's getting diluted. After all, if you have five stories where Superman gets his ass kicked by Batman, what's the point of making a sixth?

What makes this frustrating for me is that this was never what Miller actually intended. I have in front of me a copy of Wizard #64, dated December 1996, in which Frank Miller was interviewed regarding The Dark Knight Returns' tenth anniversary. In it, he says, and I quote, "The most questionable thing I did was make Superman a government agent. If this had been a Superman story, I'd never have done that - and I know that, because I have a Superman story I want to tell someday. In this story, Batman was the hero, so the world was built around him."

In other words, the portrayal of Superman is modified to fit Miller's Batman-centric story, which is completely understandable. It's something that's done often, especially in shared universes - how many times has Batman himself been made to look like a jerk just to make Hal Jordan look good? To add to that, the symbolism is so much more effective with Superman - if it had been anyone else, it wouldn't have been as powerful, and maybe Frank Miller's masterpiece, The Dark Knight Returns, might not have been as well remembered as it is... and who knows what the landscape of comics would look like in that event?

May 18, 2010

Great Back Issues: Wonder Woman #46

Most people think of George Perez only as a (rather excellent) artist, but one of the milestones of his career was relaunching Wonder Woman in 1987, updating her for a modern audience. It was also a milestone for the character, as the two years Perez spent as a writer/artist and three more years as just the book's writer are generally agreed upon as one of the best, if not the best, runs in Wonder Woman's and comics' history.

Wonder Woman #46, by Perez, Mindy Newell, Jill Thompson, and Romeo Tanghal, has never, to the best of my recollection, been reprinted. The comic is not a particular collector's item either, but it is one of Perez's favorite issues in his run. He's even said a couple of times that he wished he drew it himself, so that's how special it is.



May 13, 2010

Archie Comics Unveils Kevin Keller, Their First Ever "Openly Gay" Character

Okay, so from New Look Archie to Archie getting married to interracial dating to going back to Archie being married in two separate series to Stan Lee working for Archie, the family-friendly comic book company has been making waves not just across the comic book Web, but generally the entire entertainment field. Archie's status quo, of course, remains as static as ever it will, but these stories offer the illusion of change, and I never thought anything was wrong with an ongoing series staying static so long as the stories are well-crafted and entertaining, which I'll admit, most of these new Archies actually are.

So, anyway, the most attention-grabbing headline they've produced thus far is that in this fall's Veronica #602, Riverdale will get its first "openly gay" character, an Irish-American named Kevin Keller. Now, when I first heard this, my initial reaction was, "'Openly' gay? Does this mean one of them is currently gay?"



May 12, 2010

RIP Frank Frazetta

After a highly publicized family drama, legendary fantasy artist Frank Frazetta suffered a stroke and passed away last Sunday. He was 82 years old.

Aside from revolutionizing the fantasy genre of art, Frank Frazetta also was the definitive artist for two comics icons.


Conan the Cimmerian/Barbarian:

And Vampirella:

Rest in peace, Mr. Frazetta.

Here are a couple more Frazetta images for you folks.

May 5, 2010

JH Williams III covers Batman Beyond

Do I really need to say anything else? JH Williams III covers Batman Beyond!!! 



Granted, he's only doing the covers, but seeing Batman Beyond get his own series is great, and seeing JH's rendition makes it pretty much an instant sell.

May 3, 2010

Free Comic Book Day 2010, and the First Comic Book I Ever Bought

Yesterday was Free Comic Book Day, so I went over to a local comics shop to avail of the wonderful promos.

We could get only up to three of the FCBD-exclusive comics, so I took the Archie offering for Peachy, the DC Kids offering for my 5-year-old niece, and, for myself, I got Fractured Fables. I am firmly convinced that this is the best offering this year at FCBD, even if it was the only one I read.



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