Sep 28, 2012

DCnU Sales: An Econometric Regression

For a long while, Matt and I had been thinking of running studies to gauge the various factors that go into comic book sales: creators, characters, price, etc. Since both of us have economics backgrounds, we decided that the way to do it would be by means of an econometric regression.An econometric regression is a method by which you can enter a dependent variable and name the independent variables. The regression would then assign coefficients to each of the independent variables. The coefficients would indicate the approximate impact of those variables. In essence, it looks something like this:

Y is the dependent variable — in this case, sales — and the Xs are the independent variables, meaning various creators and characters. The Bs are the coefficients, except for that first one, which is the constant (essentially, if none of the independent variables are met, that's the one that sticks). That last term is the error term, because obviously, it's not gonna be exact.

But Matt and I had some problems with these studies. For one thing, icv2 gives the top 300 comics each month. That's great, because these things are helped out proportionally by the size of the sample, but that's 300 titles immediately just to analyze sales for that one month. In the time since, as well, DC relaunched, and the New 52 happened, and the thing is that the New 52 had so many variables that didn't apply to other titles that couldn't be accounted for, such as the amount of publicity it got. Analyzing comic book sales with the New 52 didn't seem to make much sense to us. After all, if being a DCnU book helps, it doesn't give much predictive power or help anyone because it's not like Archaia, for example, will ever produce DCnU material.

So we thought, how about just DCnU sales? When we started, it was the start of September, and there were 11 months of sales data available, with 52 titles each (we decided to just stick to the ongoings, figuring that miniseries were different beasts). That's 571 data points (BATMAN INC came later than the other second wave launches). So we decided to do it.

How did things turn out? Let's see.

Sep 27, 2012

Pop Medicine: Positions in Comics that Need to Stop

Pop Medicine is a column written by Travis Hedge Coke. Travis is the founder of Future Earth Magazine, and his writings can be found all over the place, including in Renderwrx Magazine in a column called "Pop Mechanics." He is currently a visiting professor in China, and for the next year, the Cube will be giving his columns a virtual home. Be sure to visit his personal website if you would like to read more of his work. Click here for the Pop Medicine archive!

Six Assertions in Comics that Need to Stop
by Travis Hedge Coke

I'm all for freedom of speech and acknowledging that different people have different tastes and that's okeh. I am not a fan of lazy reiteration of untruths, however, or of insistences that require false, almost bizarre-speke definitions of key terms to make the argument work. Some things get trotted out with astonishing regularity that are untrue, make no sense, or unduly devalue a good point by wording or focus. Those need to be stopped, for all our sakes.

Sep 26, 2012

Double Helix: The Unbearable Lightness of Pym: Love at First Fight

Double Helix is a new column written by Rachel Helie for The Comics Cube! Click here for the archive.

The Unbearable Lightness of Pym
Love at First Fight
by Rachel Helie

Tales to Astonish #44
Jack Kirby-Artist, Editor/Writer-Stan Lee, Writer-H.E. Huntley

The boom years of the sixties saw many characters born of Stan Lee’s utilization of the Marvel Method; Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Hulk, and the X-Men were born of those years. These characters often stand alone, and therefore withstand the test of time through a constant evolution of self as it relates to the time period in which they are written. During those tumultuous years of the American experience, Stan Lee dared to deviate from an idealized notion of the "hero" and expand more completely on the concept of the "human" in the same way American society was sloughing of idealized notions of itself, taking a hard and firm look at its own ugliness.

Nowhere has a depiction been quite so torturous to portray as it has been with Janet and Hank Pym. They, unlike many of their counterparts, began their journey together, their fates intertwined and interdependent. Their experience of exacting justice is born of the mutual experience of grief that permeates their interaction.

In Tales to Astonish #44, Dr. Henry Pym has lost his wife, Maria Trovaya, during their tour of her home country of Hungary and has undergone a series of injury and hardship in an attempt to avenge her. Set during the Cold War, as many comics were during this time period, Maria is detained due to her status as a freed political prisoner of the Soviet regime. She is murdered, set as an example. The grief stricken doctor throws himself into his research, inspired by an echoing memory of Maria who had said, "Go to the ants, thou sluggard!"

Visited by collegue, Vernon Van Dyne and his daughter Janet in his labs, he is interrupted in his work on size manipulation to inspect Van Dyne’s "Gamma Ray Beam", with which Van Dyne intends to contact other universes. Unable to assist Van Dyne, he sends the doctor and his daughter on their way. Though an initial physical attraction is present between Janet and Hank, their regard is one of mutual disdain and that struggle for power remains evident from those first moments on.

When Janet’s father is murdered as a direct result of the success of his invention by the Kosmonian criminal Pilai, Wasp and Ant Man (who introduces himself to the comic pantheon for the first time to Janet) vow to avenge Dr. Van Dyne. Very shortly after adopting the crime fighting alter-ego, Ant Man, Hank reveals himself to Janet who agrees to undergo a process to alter her biology to transform her into "sidekick" Wasp. Janet never has any intention of taking on this role quietly and has every intention of taking it lying down, so to speak.

Before their battle with the creature from Kosmos, Janet announces to Hank that she is in love with him. Hank refuses to take this seriously out of fear of being disappointed in love and loss, and in deference to her youth and immaturity. Janet, being who she continues to be from these early moments on, takes that as a direct challenge and vows to transform her partner and colleague into what she desires, namely her lover.

So mutually dependent are they as characters, to excricate them from the tangle of their initial interactions is near impossible. For you see, as love and lust so often do, it locked the players into static expectation. Just as in real human interaction those expectations are frequently and inevitably disappointed, so too are Janet and Hank’s.

There is a singular moment that everyone who has ever followed this story remembers. Indeed, plug in Hank Pym on the Google search engine and the second choice for the win is "Hank Pym wife beater", which though it may apply in the real world, seems a bit unfair to the dynamic of these characters and undermines Janet Van Dyne’s power. (Duy here, plugging my own piece on this) It is by no means an event isolated to just Hank and Janet, but it underscores so completely their insecurities and psychological discord that it stuck hard and fast. By casting Janet into the realm of the absurd object of the pity, she is neutered of her very significant role in the Avengers. In that moment, Hank becomes no more than an unhinged abuser, completely out of control. Readers can’t allow for the evolution of the characters outside of that moment. It was easier to look away than to examine that dynamic. In that way art mirrors life.

Janet and Hank engage in a kind of warped power play throughout the course of their relationship. It is fascinating that the crippling humanity and frailty that both of these characters possess falls on deaf ears; it seems to be easier to label Hank a "douche." But why? People exist within relationships like this in our own world; why not in comics?

I believe that a reticence on the part of the writers to tackle the difficult dynamic between Hank and Janet lies at the root. Hank never seems to reconcile himself to the death of his first wife, seems to exist in a constant state of crippling insecurity as an Avenger and even goes so far as to create an unstoppable robot in Ultron and adopts the name of his deceased wife. It is as if, when forced to see their heroes not for their superhuman qualities but for their very real human attributes, in all of our twisted justifications, the reader and writer alike squirm in annoyance and discomfort at. But let's pick at this for a minute, shall we?

If there were ever a time that the "human all too human" qualities of even the superhuman were going to be received by popular culture, that time would be now, when daily we examine our own motivations and frailty. Never has humanity had the luxury to be so keenly self-examining. Just sit down in front of Facebook or Twitter for a voyeuristic horrorshow that’ll curl hair. Our real-life heroes are exposed in a world where information travels faster than PR reps can keep up with and the spin is on constant. We still want to believe in heroes, in good vs. evil and the good conquering against great odds but there is an element of cynicism that has tinged stories across the board. Dr. Hank Pym is a deeply flawed character, deeply damaged by the force of uncontrollable events and Janet is either emotionally tougher than he is or just emotionally disconnected and underdeveloped as a character. Perhaps it’s time we gave Janet back her power because if there is one thing that Janet Van Dyne loved more than Hank Pym, it was the power to exert her will upon the world and the men in it. Where is that Janet Van Dyne?

Sep 25, 2012

City Tales, as Presented by the Goethe Institut

Here's an interesting project the Goethe Institut is putting out. From May this year until April of next, nine artists from nine different cities in Germany, SouthEast Asia (yes, including the Philippines!), and Australia are given a theme each month and they're asked to create a one-pager around that theme as it relates to their city.

The contrast in styles is interesting. Songsin Tiewsomboon, from Bangkok, employs a more text-heavy style, while Mandy Ord from Melbourne is more reminiscent of iconoclastic autobiographical indie artists and gets a lot of emotion through his expressionistic art style. And Lyndon Gregorio of the Philippines employs a more traditional cartooning style with more unconventional layouts!

I think it'd be a bit too much of a generalization to say that every artist perfectly represents his or her country, as surely there's diversity in style everywhere. It is interesting, however, to see how the participating artists differ from the others.

The artists are:

Songsin Tiewsomboon, Bangkok, Thailand

Mawil, Berlin, Germany

Sascha Hommer, Hamburg, Germany

Nguyen Thanh Phong, Hanoi, Vietnam

Beng Rahadian, Jakarta, Indonesia

Sidney Tan, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Lyndon Gregorio, Manila, Philippines

Mandy Ord, Melbourne, Australia

Wee Tian Beng, Singapore

Go check it out!

Sep 24, 2012

Back Issue Ben: Easter Eggs: Bug

Back Issue Ben is a column written by Ben Smith for the Comics Cube! See his archives here.

Welcome to another installment of Easter Eggs in Comics! Click here for the archive!

There are Bugs on My Easter Eggs!
by Ben Smith

I've told you before about the wonderment that is Bug, former Micronaut and Guardian of the Galaxy. Well, way back in 1997, Bug got his own one-shot comic from Marvel, written by Todd DeZago, with Derec Aucoin, Rich Faber, and Ralph Cabrera on art. I'm going to go ahead and guess that this wasn't a big seller, and that none of you have probably read this, but it is actually an enjoyable book filled with Easter Eggs, which we all love so much.

The story involves Bug being pulled from the Microverse, into conflict with Annihilus, whose cosmic control rod has gained limited power over time and space. What follows is a tussle throughout the history of the Marvel Universe (and beyond), that sees them play a part in the origin of many key characters.

First up, is a certain wall-crawling web-slinger...

...and then they find themselves on the back of a truck carrying radioactive chemicals.

Next, Bug appears outside a stately manor, on, as the caption says, "A Dark Knight."

He narrowly avoids being a snack for one Mighty frog.

Even Calvin and Hobbes make an appearance.

The two cross paths with the Hulk, Punisher, Dr. Doom, Iron Man, Wolverine, Dr. Strange, Beast, Captain America, and the Inhumans, before Bug is able to save the day. So, you see, Bug was fighting Annihilus long before Annihilation.

Fred Hembeck gives us a board game in the back, and the eagle-eyed reader might notice a familiar looking Green Lantern hidden on the page.

This joke just made me laugh.
There you have it. A fun little book that you probably never would have realized you want to read, but now I'm sure you have decided that you must. Happy hunting for this one friends.
See you in the Microverse!

Sep 21, 2012

Review: Habibi

I recently read Craig Thompson's HABIBI, which came out last year. I'd been wanting to read it since it was announced, since I very much respect Craig Thompson's skills and because GOOD-BYE CHUNKY RICE is one of my favorite comics of all time and BLANKETS meant a lot to me at one point in my life, but I only got around to it recently.

It's close to impossible for me to talk about HABIBI without talking about those other two books, so here are my thoughts on them. (In short, I like CHUNKY RICE better.)

Set in a purely fictional hybrid landscape evoking both ancient and modern Middle Eastern environments, HABIBI, derived from the Arabic word for "love," is the story of a girl named Dodola and a boy named Zam, who both fell into slavery at a young age and managed to escape. Using her body and her knowledge of men, Dodola is able to provide for her and Zam. They are eventually separated when she's taken back into slavery and he's left to fend for himself, until, of course, because this is a story, fate brings them back together. The book has a strong focus on sexual roles as well as gender roles, involves eunuchs and courtesans, and gradually shifts Dodola and Zam's relationship from somewhat-maternal to sexual (albeit one-sided) to romantic.

There's a lot to take in here. On a purely technical level, I wouldn't hesitate to call it the best thing Thompson has ever done. His art is better than it's ever been, which is saying a lot considering how good he was to begin with. HABIBI had been in the works for years, and it shows. It's full of intricate patterns, and takes great pains to make sure that Dodola, Zam, and their supporting cast are portrayed to evoke their proper ethnicities — something that a lot of artists, mainstream or indie both, tend to have trouble with (a lot of artists tend to either draw the same type of face and rely on colorists to make sure the proper race is conveyed, while a lot fall back on caricatures).

The art also feeds into the writing more than your usual comic book, because there are certain parts where the origins and strokes of Arabic words are explained to the reader. Arabic has a more pictorial quality to it than English, so the synergy between the drawings and the words really makes the book work, especially since one of the book's themes is storytelling and the power of stories. So on a purely technical level, HABIBI is a masterpiece, and if you're not convinced, here's a page.

On the other side of the equation though, it feels almost too ambitious on that artistic level, as if Thompson said after BLANKETS, "Well, I did a book about myself, so let's see how I can do with protagonists who are the exact opposite of me in every way possible." As a result, despite the many taboo and unconventional sexual scenes in the book, it still doesn't feel as intrusive as BLANKETS did, and whether or not that's good bad is your call. (I know I'm of the minority opinion in finding BLANKETS a bit too personal and intrusive.) And that's also why, despite the extensive research (detailed in the back of the book), it doesn't feel as true or as genuine as either BLANKETS or GOOD-BYE CHUNKY RICE.

But it's not for lack of trying. In fact, it's the trying too hard that may have caused that.

I'm aware that this isn't the most helpful verdict when writing a review, but all I can really say is that this book is masterfully done, but it may not be for everyone. To me, something is missing, and that something may be just a little bit of heart, something extra to really drive the message of habibi home.

Sep 20, 2012

Pop Medicine: On Worldengine

Pop Medicine is a column written by Travis Hedge Coke. Travis is the founder of Future Earth Magazine, and his writings can be found all over the place, including in Renderwrx Magazine in a column called "Pop Mechanics." He is currently a visiting professor in China, and for the next year, the Cube will be giving his columns a virtual home. Be sure to visit his personal website if you would like to read more of his work.

On Worldengine
by Travis Hedge Coke

For a few moments in the mid-Nineties there was magic in Marvel Comics' THOR ongoing. Like lightning, it struck hard and brilliant across the sky, and as happens when lightning splits the sky that way, everything was still for a moment, and then, as the after-illumination from the strike faded, everything went back to normal. The lightning, in this case, was the cumulative power and direction of Warren Ellis, Mike Deodato, Marie Javins, Matt Idleston, and Jonathan Babcock on four issues, a story called Worldengine. At some point, this got a trade paperback, most likely on the strength of Warren Ellis' name, more than anything, but it's not a story that's likely to make it in a hypothetical Reader's Top 10 Thor Stories or Best of the Nineties, not because it isn't quality – it's damned good quality, especially for Marvel at that time – but it isn't in the bounds of what the Thor-diehards insist on and at the time, I don't think too many people were willing to risk picking up a Thor comic if they weren't already a Thor-diehard.

The trade's beautiful, and it's the version I own, so I'm going to talk about that version, that artifact. To start with, the cover is gorgeous and features a massive, shirtless Thor breaking the frame with his burly arm, mighty hammer, and flowing fierce Fabio-esque hair. Thor had not been portrayed as expressly sexy in a Marvel comic since, approximately, Nineteen Sixty-Four, when the Wasp would sometimes comment on how he was the God of Beefcake or somesuch. Thor-diehards, in general, don't like a sexy Thor and the mostly-shirtless Thor of Worldengine is something they were still grumbling on message boards about when the movie hit and roughly a quarter of the entire planet flipped over shirtless Chris Hemsworth as Thor. "There's no market for flashy sexy Thor!" was the common wisdom up to the point someone marketed that concept to a demographic who'd eat it up.

Aside from our man from Asgard, there's nought on the cover but "Thor" and the title, "Worldengine," and a small logo for Marvel. It amuses me that in a comic featuring multiple typefaces, there are four separate typefaces, including the two of the logo, on this cover. But, no credit for the writer, the penciler, the colorist, editors, or letterer. Legally, Marvel is the author, so fair enough

Now, I've addressed before how I believe one of the sadder leitmotifs in contemporary American comics is a lack of organization and quality control between the writers, pencilers, letterers, et al. Worldengine does not have that problem, possibly because, as Ellis relates in his Intermission, halfway through the book, Idleston helped him instigate elements from the production and design up and, apparently, the talent were communicating with each other. So, unlike BATMAN RIP, for example, where the letterer could not write text that matched the lines of the faux notebook design he used, and the penciler failed to communicate as elegantly (as I would've liked) a few key visual elements, Worldengine features art and color in synch with each other and shifting, along with the various typefaces deployed by the letterer, to complement and further the dialogue and narrative.

Sep 19, 2012

Double Helix: Wanderlust: Catching Nathan Edmondson

Double Helix is a new column written by Rachel Helie for The Comics Cube! Click here for the archive.

The following interview was originally submitted to and published in The Writing Life through the Crossroads Writers Group. Proceeds from the sales go to a scholarship fund the help aspiring authors attend the conference and learn from seasoned professionals the skills it takes to realize their dreams. Nathan Edmondson will be in attendance and will be speaking at the conference October 5-7, 2012.

Wanderlust: Catching Nathan Edmondson
by Rachel Helie

Nathan Edmondson’s characters are often compelled to action which takes them on journeys to exotic climes and dangerous encounters. Spies and special ops, men and women acting on instinct or impulse; whatever the ride, it’s bound to be exciting. No less has the last year been for Edmondson himself, who has matched pace with his world of fiction in terms of travel and a thirst for the new. Rachel caught up with the man behind Who is Jake Ellis, Dancer, The Activity and most recently Ultimate Iron Man to hear what drives his passions and pursuits.

Rachel: You’ve been a busy man this last year! From the travel itinerary that takes you to conferences across the country to the sheer output of work you have managed, I seem to find you everywhere! What are you busy on these days?

Nathan: I’m doing a lot of scriptwriting I can’t legally talk about yet because it’s still in production. I’m developing ideas for producers and it takes up a lot of time. I hope to see that bear fruit sometime next year. I’m in the process of working on Ultimate Iron Man, which is due out October. There are going to be six of those and I just finished writing a novel. I like to tell stories about a lot of different things and fortunately my work in comics gives me a chance to move the work along fairly quickly. It’s impossible to get bored.

R: You did work with both DC and Marvel comics, the twin giants of the comic industry. What were the experiences like compared to the work you do with on your original concepts?

Nathan: Each experience is different of course but what you find is that, just like in any working relationship, you have to adapt to the unique culture of the company, and the unique editorial styles of your bosses. In the ideal working relationship they want you to write the way you already write and foster that inbuilt creative instinct. That helps you focus on developing the character while still keeping true to a distinct style that you bring to the table.

R: Your collaboration with artists seems really natural, particularly with your original work, Who is Jake Ellis and The Activity. What drives successful collaboration and what are some key points for a writer to consider when communicating his or her vision to an artist?

Nathan: It boils down to finding good, raw talent. A good artist knows where to take the work. The better you know the artist, the more effectively you can establish a chemistry and cooperation. Over time, you get to know each other's style so well that it’s almost like you don’t have to communicate. It’s an organic process and sort of grows from that chemistry.

R: You have an almost obsessive preoccupation with details, it seems. When a reader picks up a copy of The Activity or Jake Ellis, the accuracy is quite striking and it drives the excitement of your plots. A lot of the material you cover is centered around espionage and special ops which are noted for their secrecy and for many writers that research can be daunting. What should a writer expect from the process of cooperating with the U.S. military and other official channels for research purposes?

Nathan: Well, we initially contacted the U.S. Army Entertainment liason but the really interesting stories come from the people who lived it; people who have been to Iraq and Afghanistan and have served time in the trenches, so to speak. A lot of people, when they find out that you are looking for stories, want to tell their own stories. Soldiers read the comics and comment on the accuracy and offer to share their own perspectives. It’s cumulative and the stories and research is addictive. Fortunately I am limited to a certain number of pages so I am never allowed to get bogged down by it.

R: You do a LOT of travel promoting your work. Would you say that you are driven by a similar restlessness of spirit as some of your characters?

Nathan: I don’t know. I guess I never really thought about it that way, but maybe. It’s a lot of fun, going to the conventions and meeting fans of the work. It’s encouraging. I’m going to twelve this year. At the San Diego Comic Con for instance, I met television actors who are fans and everyone from academics to hard core comic enthusiasts. The cross section of people who read some of my work is amazing! I do hope to travel less as time goes on. Eventually, as the work anchors itself into the culture, you find that you have to do less promoting and I can already see that happening a little bit.

R: What is one of your favorite cons?

Nathan: Well, each one has its highs, but I really love the one in Charlotte, North Carolina HeroesCon. I was there this year and it seems to have a really good atmosphere for comics. It’s less about gimmicks and more about the love of the work. It’s a great experience.

Sep 18, 2012

Great Back Issues: Superman and Batman: World's Funnest

Sometimes I like to look at old issues with an analytical eye, then see how much of it still holds up to this day, and tell you guys whether or not it's worth tracking down. Not today, though. Today, we'll look at SUPERMAN AND BATMAN: WORLD'S FUNNEST, by Evan Dorkin and a host of artists.

The story starts off in the Silver Age, with art by Dave Gibbons. Superman and Batman have just caught Lex Luthor and the Joker, when their respective imp troublemakers, Mr. Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite, get into an argument that leads to Mxyxptlk accidentally killing Batman.

This then leads to Bat-Mite not-so-accidentally killing Superman.

The Justice League show up, and they get dispatched too. Pretty soon, that entire universe is destroyed in the course of Mxyzptlk chasing Bat-Mite, so then they hop universes. They end up on Earth-2, home of the Golden Age Heroes, drawn by Sheldon Moldoff, then on Earth-3, home of the Crime Syndicate of America, drawn by Stuart Immonen. As Myxzptlk continues to chase Bat-Mite across the multiverse, we are treated to such character-artist combinations. For example, here's Frank Cho drawing the Phantom Lady.

How about Jaime Hernandez drawing the Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel, and the rest of the Marvel Family?

Frank Miller spoofing himself, anyone?

How about Phil Jimenez homaging his idol, George Perez, for the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths world? Here's the CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS #7 cover, except instead of Superman holding the dead Supergirl, it's Captain Marvel holding a dead Mary Marvel:

Oh, also, this happens.

And that's just a small sample of what's in this book! What're you waiting for? Go to your local comic shop and hunt this baby down!

Sep 17, 2012

Back Issue Ben: X-Men: The Proteus Saga

Back Issue Ben is a column written by Ben Smith for the Comics Cube! See his archives here.

Uncanny X-Men: The Proteus Saga
The Dark Phoenix Saga's Younger, Less-Loved Brother

by Ben Smith

I think it's safe to say that Chris Claremont and John Byrne's run on the X-Men is one of the most beloved runs in Marvel comics history. You probably already know about, or have read, The Dark Phoenix Saga, the crown jewel of that run. You might not have read the story that went down right before that one, and for that you should feel great shame. More shame than you already feel reading my writing (I know you must be in a low place, reading my stuff, but I'm here for you, and I care about you). The Proteus Saga (is it called saga? I don't care, I'm going with it) was the story I remembered more as a kid (probably due to these issues being more affordable, if I were to take a guess). It was more sinister, edgier, and more grounded than Dark Phoenix (the Shi'ar kidnapping the X-Men at the end of that story is really jarring). On the negative side, there is zero Emma Frost in fetish wear in this one (I changed my mind, Dark Phoenix is better).

Claremont and Byrne were arguably the top writer and artist in the industry at that point, and it shows. They were cranking out the classics, and this story is no exception (Roger Stern probably doesn't get enough credit for being the editor during this run. I feel like he had to have contributed significantly). After much personal reflection as of late, I have concluded that Byrne is one of my all-time favorite artists (it's hard to admit with his famously abrasive personality). He was just better than most of his peers (I'm talking pre-DC Byrne here, not BLOOD OF THE DEMON Byrne) and that was on display here. Just look at those pages where reality is being warped (Terry Austin is the other unsung hero. It's no coincidence Byrne's art was so great here). Claremont isn't as bad as he would eventually get with the words (oh, so many words).

Anyway, enough of my rambling, let's ride this dinosaur (I don't know what it means either).

Sep 14, 2012

The Comics Cube Interview with Budjette Tan

Last month, Budjette Tan, co-creator and writer of the acclaimed Filipino comic book TRESE with artist Kajo Baldisimo and editor of various products from Alamat Comics, gave a talk at De La Salle-College of St. Benilde about the creative process, likening writing to a magic trick. Here's the video.

I thought he brought up some interesting points, so I contacted him for an interview. I'd intended to ask him about the creative process only, but of course, as interviews and conversations often go, we ended up talking about other stuff. Read on for an in-depth conversation with Budjette Tan! (By the way, Budjette is a hoot. If you ever have the chance to talk to him, be ready to laugh a lot.)

TRESE brings old Filipino myths into the modern urban landscape.

There's Tagalog sentences in the interview, which are immediately followed by translations in parentheses.

Sep 12, 2012

Double Helix: A Mutant at the Edge of the Apocalypse

Double Helix is a new column written by Rachel Helie for The Comics Cube! Click here for the archive.

A Mutant at the Edge of the Apocalypse
by Rachel Helie

In 1992, an unfeminine twelve-year-old girl, the sole set of ovaries in a family of men, sat on the ledge of the bottom row magazine rack in an Ingle’s grocery store. She flipped through a Fangoria magazine she had obscured behind a stack of Magic Crochet two weeks before (the churches made it a point to buy them out and burn them in barrels behind their buildings, along with whatever porn they could get their hands on). She looked at the pictures of latex gore and corn syrup blood for the millionth time. She wondered how many different ways you could find to make a throat look “tendon-y”. Long story short, the gore wasn’t doing it anymore. Horror movies had lost their allure and danger. The stories had started to bleed together.

She looked up from her perch and spotted a spinner rack, leaning crooked against the wall. Color splashed images of men with rippling muscles, gorgeous women with blue skin and hair flying; it captivated her. She sat staring like that for several minutes, each cover taking her to the edge of another world. Which one belonged to her?

During that muggy summer night in Georgia I found what I was looking for.  I found that women could be heroes. Women could be powerful villains. They could be in love and be unable to do anything about it. I found X-Men, before the Age of Apocalypse.

That was my moment. We all have them. The moment when a story or a plot pulls us in, entrances us and defines our experience and expectations of the work and those fictional worlds. I am sure that any comic book enthusiast has a story not too unlike my own. Those first sparks of interest grow into what becomes a consuming need to follow the stories beyond years, beyond the boundaries of the tales that ensnare us. Comic books, like life, cast their stories outside of the lines. Within books, or even books series, we find a story contained by those specific pages. It is a comfort to know that the story will always be housed where we can find it, to be sure, but with comic books we are tossed about on the currents and undertows of interpretation. Human beings, artists and writers, each with an independent vision of their heroes, adapt and retell, creating new experiences of the work.

Unlike books and their A-Z narratives, comics overlap and evolve over decades and it is impossible to predict their outcome. I follow my favorites, knowing that the characters will behave in audacious ways, do things I would beg them not to. They could very well end up in places far beyond their pages, in a whole other series with its own mythology and character dynamics. I follow them, I implore them to return (or not) but I diligently trace the breadcrumbs that may or may not lead them home.

I love the adventure, the quest, the journey; whatever you prefer to call it, these slender words bound in color-splashed pages draw you in and reflect the human condition as it is when at their best; full of uncertainties, doubt, misunderstandings, and hardship, but beautiful and adaptable when willed into life by a steady hand, a sense of humor, and keen curiosity.

Sep 10, 2012

Back Issue Ben: Transformers, Part 3

Back Issue Ben is a column written by Ben Smith for the Comics Cube! See his archives here.

Transformers: A Look Back at the Marvel Comics Series
Part 3: Enough With the Human Characters Already
by Ben Smith

When we left off last time, Ratchet had just "outsmarted" Megatron with the help of the Dinobots. The decapitated head of Optimus Prime is under the control of Shockwave and the Decepticons, who intends to force him to use the Creation Matrix to create new warriors. The Matrix was transferred to Buster, who is allowing O to spend all his time with this hot girlfriend Jessie. (Seriously, O is always with Jessie, and Buster never is. Makes me think they have a Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza situation where they combine their forces to be man enough to handle one woman. O puts in all the mundane work and hanging out, while Buster comes around when it's time to make-out in the front seat of the car at a drive-in, while O eats popcorn in back.)

Without further ado, let's transform your lack of knowledge about Transformers comics to full-blown expertise. (I tried being clever there, not sure if it worked. If it didn't, please email Duy.)

Sep 8, 2012

Kerry Callen: Credit Where It's Due

I've been a big fan of Kerry Callen since April 30, 2010, when I discovered his Cross Panel Comics, in which he and his son build a web of comics like a crossword puzzle.

Kerry does a lot of stuff that goes viral, and I just wanted to give him the proper credit here. Here's a few things he's done.

What if Wonder Woman forgot her costume?

What if Silver Age Marvel had Silver Age DC– type storylines?

What if Bruce Wayne's mood had been different that night?

Kerry does a lot of other stuff, like animated comic covers, remakes of old covers, and a strip called Super Antics, parodying the Superman world. He also at times provides us with comic-related artifacts such as these old DC greeting cards and vintage DC superhero valentines.

Kerry Callen deserves to get credit for these things, when they go viral. You can wait for his next piece to hit you on Facebook, or you can follow his blog. I'd suggest the latter, because even the stuff that doesn't go viral is a lot of fun. And to close it all off, here's his deleted scene from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.

Sep 6, 2012

Reclaiming History: Carl Barks May Be the Greatest of All Time

Welcome to a new installment of Reclaiming History, an ongoing series where the Comics Cube! tries to balance out what the history books say and what actually happened! Click here for the archive!

Regular readers of The Comics Cube know that I've reviewed Fantagraphics' first two installments in The Complete Carl Barks Library, DONALD DUCK: LOST IN THE ANDES and UNCLE SCROOGE: ONLY A POOR OLD MAN. You also probably know I love them, and think very highly of Barks.

Here's a couple of things you probably don't know though:
  1. Despite my extensive plugging, those posts get virtually no hits. Moreso, not a single person has bought them through my Amazon links at the bottom of those posts.
  2. Those stats are backed up by my anecdotes — no matter how much I talk about it, I have had very limited success in getting  people to read those books.

I can't speak for everyone, of course, but I think it's pretty understandable that I would attribute the reasons for this to people being of the "Well, it's Disney; just how good can it really be?" mindset. Be honest. If I say "Uncle Scrooge is one of the greatest comic characters ever created," how would you react? Most likely with an "I understand, but I'm not interested," right?

And that's the thing. It's frustrating. I've said what needs to be said! It's all there — these are great characters. Barks is a master of pacing. Barks is the first to prove that you can tell really long stories without dragging. Unlike TINTIN (for example, since Tintin stories seem to lose something after growing older), UNCLE SCROOGE still holds up the older you get. Unlike other comics, you don't need to take the time period Barks' comics were made into account — they still hold up today. They're good for kids. They're good for adults. They're entertaining, while at the same time, they say something about the human condition. So why can't I get people to read this, but I can get thousands of people either arguing with me or agreeing with me about Grant Morrison's comments being right or wrong?

Maybe I'm not authoritative enough for my opinion to be conclusive. So fine. Let's pull out some facts!

Fact 1: Disney employees worked in anonymity, and yet somehow fans still found out who Barks was.

Jim Korkis' article over here sums up this story perfectly. Barks worked on multiple titles, including WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES and UNCLE SCROOGE, along with many other ghost artists. But the fans could tell via visual cues that, much like in Archie, different stories were drawn by different people. Barks was known among the fans simply as "The Good Artist," and when two fans, Malcolm Willits and John Spicer, got together, they found him, went to his house, and published an interview with him, "outing" him to the world.

When you hear of other artists getting this kind of dedication and love from his fans, give me a call.

Fact 2: Carl Barks had free reign at Disney, when no one else did.

In COMIC BOOK COMICS by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey, it's stated that Walt Disney managed everything to the point of actually going over some of the comics. He was very protective of the final product and was difficult to work with, to the point where employees avoided other employees that had fallen out of favor with Walt.

But not when it came to the works of Carl Barks. Barks had free reign at Disney. He didn't need to be managed.

He was that good.

Fact 3: Carl Barks may have been responsible for the bestselling single issues of all time.

Okay, work with me here. COMIC BOOK COMICS states that WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES achieved the highest circulation of any comic book in history. But how much of that had to do with Barks? Here are three facts.
  • Comic Book Superheroes Unmasked says that the highest-selling period in comics history was after World War II and before the Senate Hearings in 1954.
  • Various books on comics have credited funny animals as the top-selling genre of this era.
  • UNCLE SCROOGE debuted in 1952 and was the top-selling comic in 1960, selling 1,040,543 copies . It was followed by WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES. Both were significantly ahead of the next title, and outsold the next funny animal title, MICKEY MOUSE, by almost half their sales. What did UNCLE SCROOGE and WDCS have that MICKEY MOUSE didn't? Barks.
Conclusion: The highest-selling period in comics history was most likely headlined by UNCLE SCROOGE and WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES, both of which Barks contributed to.

Fact 4: Carl Barks influenced George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.

George Lucas wrote the introduction to ONLY A POOR OLD MAN. Bark's influence on him and Barks is well documented. The opening sequence of INDIANA JONES: RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is taken from "The Seven Cities of Cibola," from UNCLE SCROOGE #7.

Fact 5: Carl Barks kickstarted manga.

As the myth goes, manga evolved in Japan completely separately from comics in the Western countries. And for the most part, that's true. But where it's not true is when it comes to manga's genesis. You see, in World War II, GIs in Japan read UNCLE SCROOGE comics. Christopher Couch, the editor-in-chief of CPM MANGA, had this to say:

Manga developed after World War II at the hands of one designer, Osamu Tezuka. He was influenced a great deal by the work of Carl Barks – the creator of Scrooge McDuck. Basically, Tezuka made an American art form Japanese by mixing Disney with sophisticated stories.

While I disagree with his implication that Barks' stories were not sophisticated (they seriously are as sophisticated as you, the reader, would like them to be), it is impressive that Barks' influence would spread out so strongly in the one country where the comics are often said to have developed completely independently of Western influence. In the gigantic roster of Western comics, Barks stands apart in this matter.

Just for fun, here's a greeting card Barks got from Osamu Tezuka one year.

Fact 6: Academics and scholars love Carl Barks.

Fantagraphics' collections come with essays from scholars, professors, and historians that talk about the Duck stories. Like I said, it really is as sophisticated as you would like them to be. Much like Bill Watterson's CALVIN AND HOBBES, Barks' stuff can be enjoyed by people all ages, different backgrounds, and different levels of intellectual involvement (you can read them as pure entertainment or look deeper).

The difference is that I bet if I were to recommend CALVIN AND HOBBES, a thousand of you would read that article, despite the fact that it has a talking tiger in it.

Fact 7: There is an asteroid named after Carl Barks.

Well, there is. And it was named after him in 1983, 30 years after UNCLE SCROOGE was outselling everything on the market.

So where does that leave us? Well, it's highly possible that Barks' legacy is hurt by the fact that he worked on Disney characters. He's often overlooked in "The Greatest of All Time" discussions, and I'll admit it, I think I even ranked him too low on this list.

Would Barks' legacy have been better off if he did his own stuff? Would he have been more renowned by fans if he had done superheroes instead? Would he have been better off doing anything other than Disney characters?

I don't know. What I do know is this: at one point in comics history, Carl Barks dominated the market with not one, but two books. He was so huge that even though he worked in anonymity, people distinguished him, and even found out who he was. Two of the most acclaimed and influential filmmakers of all time are strongly influenced by him. Walt Disney himself let him do whatever he wanted, and he, alone among his peers, stood out as having a significant effect on the comics of a country often purported to not be influenced by Western comics. His works have been enjoyed by children and university professors alike, and to top it all off, he has an asteroid named after him.

If he's not on top of the mountain, he's damn well close to it. And there's no good reason, as far as I can see, that he's not talked about more often. Recommending him shouldn't be this hard, simply because he was that good. Carl Barks may have been the greatest comic book creator who ever lived, which makes it more of a damn shame that he gets as overlooked as he is among comic book fandom.

Sep 5, 2012

Archie's Three on a Soda Throughout the Years!

One of the most iconic images from Archie Comics is "Three on a Soda," which is an image of Archie, Betty, and Veronica splitting a single soda via three straws. The image basically sums up the relationship, with Betty looking at Archie, Archie looking at Veronica, and Veronica with her eyes closed, simply enjoying the soda. The title is taken from the old superstition "Three on a Match," which is the belief that if three soldiers lit their cigarettes from the same match, one of them would die. In other words, it's bad luck. Perfect for Archie in this case!

Here are three different versions of "Three on a Soda," done by arguably the three most important Archie artists in terms of setting the house style that all succeeding them (or in between any of these two artists, anyway) would follow. The first one is from Archie's co-creator, Bob Montana:

The second one is from my personal favorite, Harry Lucey:

And the third one is from that most well-known of Archie artists, Dan DeCarlo. It was this version that got put on a postage stamp a few years ago.

Here's Dan Parent's version, from Archie 647.

And Stephanie Buscema's variant cover for Life With Archie 31.

Check out the cover to Jughead #215! Rex Lindsey does his version of "Three on a Soda"!

Here's Adam Hughes' variant cover to Life With Archie #36, the "Death of Archie" storyline!

This was drawn by Gisele for a gender-bender of a storyline.

And this, again, was drawn by Gisele, this time for the Archie/Predator crossover.

Here's a variation of the theme, with Dilton in the middle. I'm not sure who the artist is, but I think it was Bill Golliher.

From Halloween 2013, by Jeff Shultz:

Which version is your favorite?