Mar 28, 2013

Superman's Verdict: MOOB!

Just gonna share this, from "Superman in Action Comics," a small cover booklet featuring the covers from 1-300:


The word "Doom" isn't actually on the real cover; it was written in pen in my (used) copy. But I cracked up! First of all, not really how X-ray works.... but second of all, it'd say "Moob"!

Mar 27, 2013

Pop Medicine: References that Make Me Laugh

Pop Medicine is a "visiting" column by Travis Hedge Coke for the Comics Cube! Click here for the archive!

Things Like Other Things (That Made Me Laugh)
Pop Medicine

I’m a sucker for puns. Verbal puns, visual or conceptual, even the really atrocious ones can make me smile. The elegant puns, though, are obviously the best, especially if they sneak up on you and it’s ages before it finally clicks.

It’s the mix of surprise and sudden familiarity, I think, that appeals to me, but in any case, a stealthy allusion is a surefire pleaser. Except, to be fair, when it’s not even hammily bad it’s just a substitution game (Death giving someone a brush, so they can have a brush with Death; you know the score).

And, no, not because I feel smart for finally getting them if it takes time – and I don’t hate the talent for putting one over on me. This obsession some comics readers have with feeling victimized by something going over their head is sad, and I’d rather have egg on my face than contribute to that mess.

1. from Rock of Ages
The opening fight of this JLA is the Justice League against several three-dimensional replications in light and a purplish alien named Jemm. About four issues into this series, I realize, they’d been fighting Jemm and the holograms. This is funnier if you remember an Eighties cartoon about a band, Jem and the Holograms, and their better, more stylish, but completely evil and idiotic enemies, The Misfits. (Not those Misfits.)

Top left: Jemm, Son of Saturn
Top right: Evil JLA Holograms
Bottom: Jem and the Holograms


2. from Excalibur (and elsewhere)
Warren Ellis is great, and frequently funny (and heartwarming) straight in the stuff that the average internet critic will call heartless and cruel. Pete Wisdom had been created for a completely different comic. A bastard with electricity powers, based roughly on Jack Regan of The Sweeney, he was slightly modified for Excalibur, and his superpower shifted to blades of heat that shot out of his hands, called “hot knives.” Hot knives, or spots, are dabs of marijuana between knives hot enough to generate smoke.



3. from Archie Comics
Betty Cooper, aka Archie Andrews’ sometime girlfriend who’s actually good at stuff that isn’t buying things, has a mother. Like all the Archie characters, her parents’ names have changed here and there, but for at least the last decade or two, her mom’s name has been Alice.

Left: Alice Cooper, Betty's mom
Right: Alice Cooper, legendary rock star


4. from “Chasing Clay”
There are many Clayfaces in the Bat-comics. It’s just one of those things that happens in the DCU, apparently, like gamma radiation bestowing superpowers in the Marvel Universe. Two of these Clayfaces had a baby and what could they name it except… Cassius?

5. from “The Crunch Conundrum”
Larry Hama’s quite good at these, and one of my favorites to this day remains a little dive motel called The Auger Inn, from Wolverine. Wolvie doesn’t get it, himself, until someone decides to ram a jet he’s on into the ground at high speed. That is, they decide to auger in.

6. from Final Crisis
Grant Morrison likes to do these. I mean, he gave us the Jemm example above, and in Batman and Son, he gave us an art piece in a gallery show that’s clearly Piss Godzilla (in the vein of Andres Serrano’s quite beautiful, Piss Christ). And in Final Crisis he put a piggish mask on Wonder Woman with big tusks and all. Making her, visually, a Wonder Warthog. Just not Gilbert Shelton’s evil-controlled, misguided superhero, Wonder Warthog.

Left: Wonder Woman in Final CrisisRight: Wonder Warthog


7. from Impulse
And, sometimes, no matter how old a gag is, no matter how often it’s been used, in its pure form it can still reel me in. In Impulse, the title character used to often think in pictures, usually with misunderstandings. One of these was Impulse envisioning a Seal in a little white hat and uniform jacket. Navy SEAL.

Special props to GI Joe, Asterix the Gaul, and Ranma ½ for doing this every comic, constantly, and consistently well. Credit to both their original writers and to the English translators of Ranma and Asterix, for maintaining the level of punning, if not always the original puns.

(Duy here. Pearls Before Swine does these often, and they're my favorite types of strips for that series. Go check 'em out.)

Mar 26, 2013

Double Helix: Just Me and the Boys

Double Helix is a column written by Rachel Helie for the Comics Cube! See her archives here.

Rachel has left the Cube for a regular spot at CultureMass.com. Be sure to follow her there, and to check out her personal website here.
 
 Just Me and the Boys
Rachel Helie

A little over a year ago (wow, has it been that long?!) I was looking to find a regular place to write about comic books. I submitted a couple of formal applications to online sources but because I lacked a resume, it was slow going. The girls club didn’t want me. I have strong feeling about the role that women have in comic fandom.  There all of these misconceptions about it being a boy’s club and objectification blah blah blah…I have not had that experience. Here’s why.


I met the right men.  This is the beauty of our fandom.  Across differing experiences, cultures, backgrounds, lifestyles, and yes, gender, we can come together in an intelligent way to discuss the things that drive our passion. I’ve been fortunate to work with these guys. They treated me like an equal, not like a woman.  They gave me shit and I gave it right back, but it was always informed and never personal.

I never got the impression of being intimidated or “put in my place” because none of these guys do that kind of bullshit. Ben, picture below right, is U.S. military personnel. He bleeds green. But he is also a family man, father of two and married to smart-as-a-whip fan-girl Kimberly Smith, fellow Pym theorist.

Ben Smith: Obsessed with Ducks. Also, a loving husband and father,
huge comic book fan, writer of Back Issue Ben
 
Duy Tano, our fearless leader, originally found me lurking in the lair of the ICS.  He knew I could write, knew I wanted to, and came to me with the idea of a regular column at the Cube!. One member of our “society” contributed to my final decision on naming the column: Double Helix.  These folks just “got” me.  No questions asked that weren’t on topic.

 
Duy Tano: main writer and editor-in-chief at The Comics Cube! Cool guy

Travis Hedge Coke…wow. Faculty at Shandong University in Weihei, he is our scholar.  If Duy is our touchstone, and Ben is our passion, then Travis is the circuitry of synapse.  His writing is crisp and thorough, succinct and well-thought out. As one would expect from such a mind. I look forward to all of the columns at the Cube! but Travis’s Pop Medicine is one that I have referred to time and again, mainly because every time I turn around Ben is talking about Ducks. But that’s a story for another time, another place.


Travis Hedge Coke: visiting faculty Shandong Univesity,
comic lover, writer Pop Medicine!
I’m leaving the Cube! and my column, Double Helix will be archived. I have loved writing with these guys but obligations prevent me from being as involved as I would like to be.  It has been my sincere pleasure working with these men, getting to know their unique perspectives and always being treated like an equal in their company. I couldn’t have hoped for a better introduction.

To the boys of the Comics Cube! Every single one of you are a class act. It’s been fun. And Kimberly…I still stand by my position on Janet but if you didn’t get to see the test footage leak of Ant Man, I weep. You deserve that!  See you all on the other side of obsession!


Duy here. Be sure to check out Rachel's writings at CultureMass and her own website, I Protagonist. I wanna thank Rachel for all her columns and the hard work she put in. Congratulations on the new gig, and you'll always have a place at the Cube!

Mar 25, 2013

Back Issue Ben: Guarding the Galaxy, Part 7: Annihilation!

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

GUARDING THE GALAXY: EXPLORING THE MARVEL COSMIC UNIVERSE
Part Seven: Annihilus versus Nova, to the Death
by Ben Smith

Previously, Nova and his United Front have lost the war. Drax was separated from the team, and possibly killed. The heralds are missing in action. Ronan has left to take on the Kree House Fiyero, along with the Super-Skrull and Praxagora. Thanos was able to successfully defeat, capture, and weaponize the planet-devouring Galactus. Annihilus and his Annihilation Wave are the dominant force in the universe.

Nova and his friends are the only thing that stand between the Annihilation Wave and the Earth.

Mar 21, 2013

Artists in Weird Places: Harry Lucey's Sam Hill

In Artists in Weird Places, we'll look at times when artists have stepped out of their comfort zone to do something different. Click here for the archive!

Today we look at Harry Lucey's Sam Hill, Private Eye!



Harry Lucey is best known for being one of the most important Archie artists of all time, and is known for his ability to communicate without words as well as his mastery of gesture, perfect for a humor comic.


So it's a bit of a surprise to see him working on Sam Hill, a detective strip that's a little more understated in terms of physical action and gesture. Sam was a private eye with a girl Friday named Roxy, and a friend on the police force named Lieutenant Dugan. Certainly his stuff at the time wasn't anywhere near as hard-boiled as today's crime stories, but it is interesting to see MLJ (now Archie) producing relatively (to their usual output) serious comics, and also quite interesting to see Lucey handle Sam Hill, an almost Humphrey Bogart–like protagonist in the sense that he doesn't seem to be very expressive or move around so much as other actors/characters.


 
Sam Hill lasted for seven issues. A revival was mentioned in 2010, but if anything ever came of it, I didn't see it and can't find it anywhere. He did show up in Archie: Night at the Comic Shop, though.

To read a full Sam Hill story, click here. Also, all the Sam Hill issues are available, free and legal, here at ComicBookPlus.

Got a suggestion for Artists in Weird Places? Email it to comicscube@gmail.com!

Mar 20, 2013

Pop Medicine: The Value of Good Translation

Pop Medicine is a "visiting" column by Travis Hedge Coke for the Comics Cube! Click here for the archive!

And There Are Benefits: The Value of Good Translation
Pop Medicine
Travis Hedge Coke

In the shadow of Toren Smith’s death, I thought I’d ruminate a bit on translation, imports, and why professional translation that takes its time is a good thing, even in the light of the benefits of fast and dirty for the love of it pirates and scanlations or just churning it out halfassed.

There are benefits in scanlations. They’re quickly released, they happen for niche comics as much as the big stuff, and the big stuff is way faster than the legit releases. Little injokes or cultural refs are frequently caught and elaborated on. There’s little touch up to the artwork for those who like things pure. And, of course, they are usually free. But, once you’re past that, you have to look at the detriments, and I won’t lie, I like free and I like DiY and sharing as much as the next guy; the detriments are heavy, especially the longer you stay with a comic.

The big one, for me, is that the more legit your release is, the more likely it is you can contact the source publisher, the source talent, to query about tricky wording or allusions to future plot points. This used to come up too frequently in the pro world, too, back when no one spoke to one another and the world ran on fax machines and carrier pigeons. The original release of the television show, Neon Genesis Evangelion had some embarrassing translation bugs in part because they were a fledgling company just becoming pro, and because there was insufficient communication with the show’s producer, Gainax. ADV didn’t even hold onto the voice actors for recurring characters because who knew they’d be recurring?

Similarly, in the comics world, DC picked up several series for an attempt at a manga imprint and found themselves with an unwieldy mix of youth-friendly and family-unfriendly series and proceeding to make edits to pare everything down to fit a middle-ground marketing slot.

Tokyo Pop found a way around the intensity of thorough translations, such as adjusting jokes so puns stay puns but different homophones, or translating sound effects to be readable in English, by claiming veracity in keeping fx Japanese and half-translating dialogue in tone deaf direct translation. Reader’s were told they were being respected by simple concepts such as “older sister” or “idiot” being transliterated into phonetic Japanese instead of simply translated. Insular code was encouraged. In Tokyo Pop’s release of Fake, a New York cop uses “new child” in place of “new kid” or “FNG” because broken English is authentic Japanese something. Or, so is the story they sold us to be cheap. Make no mistake, all it was, is that, it’s patting the audience on the head and telling them they’re purer and special, because they accept less work from the publisher.

Nobody loved a comic for Tokyo Pop’s rendition, you just loved Tokyo Pop for releasing it. At best.

Toren Smith, Matt Thorn, these guys may not be the best translators on the face of the planet, but they worked. You could see the work. Dana Lewis. Trish Ledoux. Gerard Jones. Tom Orzechowski.

If you don’t think what Orzechowski did was translation, we have very different ideas of what that term entails. Orzechowski brought signs, prose, and dialogue to life. He resurrected it from the dramatic but otherwise contentless forms if you can’t read the Japanese, into living and vital English. (Here is another collaboration-helps story: Masamune Shirow, having done much of Ghost in the Shell 2 digitally, was able to pull the sound effects layer out of the comic as sent to Orzechowski, to make adding English effects easier. That has to beat leaving the old ones in, with a glossary in the back, or the old white out or eraser-feature technique.)

Similarly, someone doing dialogue, but not the nuts and bolts translation, they’re hopefully enlivening the material, bringing to us, the English-language reader, what the original dialogue or captions brought to the original audience. Just having the basic words transfigured to English equivalents, translated jokes by describing why they’re funny, not giving us something that makes us laugh or ever will, that’s weak. It’s sad. I don’t want to have to read a note that says “this is a joke” or “this is a kind of veiled threat; if you’d grown up on this 70s Japanese sitcom you’d understand” when I’m reading a pop story about a kid actor whose mother has a squirrel trying to set up house in her hair. These kinds of notes are not designed to carry you along in the story or to enhance and immerse, but incidentally pull you out and accidentally remind you that the translators did not try as hard as they might have.

And that, I think, is where the rise of the free scanlator, the pirate translator came in like a force. Assisted by advances in filesharing and image-manipulating technologies, the state of professional translation of foreign comics had got so comically sad that not paying for something equally awkward or slightly more competent and faster on the release likely seemed like a dream to anyone who didn’t mind it was theft. There’s back and forth negotiation with local publishers, to avoid translating for free series that are being commercially handled, and there are pros who don’t mind their work being translated by unofficial outfits, whose work may never otherwise be translated into English. It’s not a cut and dry issue, certainly, and again, it was often better or equal in quality to some of the pro work.

But I’ve never seen a scanlation as good as the good pro work. Not as solid, accurate, sensible, or with as much personality. It seems giving talented, knowledgeable people money and some lead time can result in a superior product. And all sides show there is an audience, as well. If that audience is as annoyed as I am, or even near to, by the lapses in quality, especially on rereads, who would be interested in paying for a better product, maybe the translation market, the manga market, the foreign market could be brought back solid in English-language comics. I’d like to think so.

Mar 18, 2013

Back Issue Ben: Guarding the Galaxy, Part 6: Annihilation!

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

GUARDING THE GALAXY: EXPLORING THE MARVEL COSMIC UNIVERSE
Part Six: The Annihilation Begins
by Ben Smith

Previously, we’ve explored the key characters and miniseries that led in to the cosmic epic Annihilation. First up, we met a changed Thanos that appeared to have a different agenda. Next, I covered the reintroduction and retooling of characters like Drax, Gamora, Ronan, Nova, and the Silver Surfer, while also being introduced to new characters like Cammi and Praxagora. All of this happening within the backdrop of a galactic invasion from the Negative Zone, led by a newly formidable Annihilus. The majority of the Nova Corps, Quasar, and the Super Skrull have already perished in the conflicts. The planet Xandar, the Kyln, and all of the Skrull worlds have been demolished. War reigns over the galaxy.


All the buildup is over, the pieces are in place, the moment has arrived.

Let’s not waste any more time.

Mar 15, 2013

David Hontiveros Contests: Character Design and Artist Search

A while back, I hosted an artist search for Alamat's David Hontiveros. That was successful in getting Dave not one, not two, but three artists to illustrate some of his scripts! But, he needs even more artists, and now here are two more contests for you local Filipino artists to sink your teeth into.

Heeeeere's Dave!

Contest 1: Seroks Paladin(s) Character Design

Greetings, Earthlings.

If you haven’t heard, my latest Visprint title, SEROKS Iteration 1: Mirror Man can now be found on the shelves of the country’s leading bookstores. (And if you don’t see it on the shelves, please ask for it.)

If you haven’t picked it up, please do. It features story illustrations by the mighty fine Alan Navarra, so picking up the book will make him happy too.

And if you already have a copy, have a particularly vivid imagination, and are an artist (or happen to know one), then we’ve got a contest for you.

We’re now accepting entries for a “Paladin(s) Character Design” contest.
The rules are simple: send in your costume design of either--or both--of the Paladin characters featured in SEROKS Iteration 1: Mirror Man (that would be Paladin/Roqué and Paladin Jr./Taylor), based on the descriptions given in the featured stories.

And what do you get out of it, you may ask.
Well, should you win, you’ll get bragging rights, for starters.
And, if the Queen of All Visprint is nice, she’ll also award you with an autographed copy of SEROKS Iteration 2: Once in a Lifetime, once it’s released.
You’ll be getting a personalized copy of Iteration 2 because, lo and behold, we’ll be running the winning character designs in its pages!

Think in color and submit your entry in color as well; it doesn’t have to be fancy coloring, I just need to know what the costume’s color scheme is. Remember, I’ll be taking a look at the overall design, and not how fancily you computer-colored it.
Sure, Roqué’s decked out in black leather, but Taylor’s uniform has a color scheme and that’s what I’m curious to see. I have an image in my head of what they look like, but I want to see these characters filtered through your artistic and creative sensibilities.
Take the descriptions in the text of Iteration 1, and go from there. Use them as a foundation and a jumping-off point and feel free to run wild.
Let’s see some awesome superhero spandex, people!
But also, and this is equally important, though you’re thinking in color, also execute that design as a black-and-white pin-up, which will be how your entry will appear in SEROKS Iteration 2, should it be chosen as the best.

And again, you can submit a costume design for only one, or if you prefer, both Paladins appearing in Iteration 1. (If you choose to submit designs for both, each design will be considered as a separate entry, so it’s possible that you may win for one, and not for both.)
That said, limit yourself to one costume design per character, so you really have to send in your best.

It’s preferred that all entries be submitted in 5.5 inches x 8.5 inches size (regular bond paper size, folded in half, or 1650 X 2550 in Photoshop-speak), or any proportional size thereof.

Note that there’s also a second, quasi-corollary contest, specifically for any artists out there who may be interested in collaborating on a comic book with yours truly.
If you’re interested in working on a comic book, then check the post right after this one for further details.

Now, the contest opens up as soon as this announcement goes online and will run all the way till April 27, 2013.
For further announcements as that date approaches; hit up the Visprint Facebook page or right back here.
Also, if you have any questions that I failed to address here, please hit up the Comments section of this blog post and I’ll do my best to answer them there.

While we will be accepting entries throughout the contest period via email (address appears below), we will also be accepting them at this year’s Summer Komikon (April 13 at the Bayanihan Center on Pioneer St).
Just come up to me--you should find me at either the Visprint or Alamat tables--say “Hi,” and submit your entries to me.

If you can’t make it to Summer Kon (or would be too hard-pressed to complete your entries in the time left), then email your submissions to bakemono68@yahoo.co.uk (Subject Heading: SEROKS CONTEST) on or before April 27, 2013, and you’ll get an email acknowledging receipt of your entry.
Afterwards, you’ll only receive another email should your entry be chosen as the winner.
(And keep in mind, that’s dot-co-dot-uk, not dot-com, lest your entries end up in someone else’s bewildered and befuddled Inbox.)
Please include the following information: Name; Age; Address (Real World and Email); Contact Number (Landline and Mobile); plus, any links to online galleries of your art (if you have any, like a deviantart page).

Hurm. I think that should be all for now.
Again, if you’ve got a very specific and particular image in your head as to how Iteration 1’s Paladins look, then send that image in.
We’d love to see it.
Best of luck to all the entrants, and for those of you who’ll be dropping by, see you at the Summer Kon!

you can’t drink just six,

Dave


Contest 2: Comic Book Artist Search

Greetings, Earthlings.
In case you stumbled here apropos of anything that came before, let me just say that if you’ve read my latest Visprint title, SEROKS Iteration 1: Mirror Man, then we’ve kicked off a contest involving character and costume design, and if you’d like to see the details of that, hit up the Visprint Facebook page or refer to the earlier post directly before this one.

If, however, you’re really just here for this particular post, then here it is:

If you happen to be an artist who may be interested in collaborating on a comic book with yours truly, then here’s what I’d like you to do.
Send in a 3 to 5 page comic book sequence based on any scene in any of the stories contained in SEROKS Iteration 1: Mirror Man.

I’ll be looking at not just your art style, but also your storytelling technique, how you utilize the sequential panels and their layout to best execute the scene you’ve chosen.
If you’ve also decided to enter the “Paladin(s) Character Design” contest, then preferably, you should use the character design you’re also submitting, so I can see that costume design in action as well.
The completed pages should be fully inked. You have the option of submitting, heh, Xeroxes of the pages in their pencil form as well, so as to give me a better idea as to both your penciling and inking skills.

I’d also like to see, aside from any superhero action in your pages, some quiet moments as well if possible, so I can gauge not just your fight choreography capabilities, but your ability to capture the drama of the moment as well.

Also note, if you’ve decided to join this Artist Search as well as the “Paladin(s) Character Design” contest, that passing the Artist Search does not instantly constitute a win in the Character Design contest; I may think your art style would be perfect for a comic book while not necessarily being crazy about your costume design. Or, for that matter, vice versa.
So if you’re taking part in both, be prepared for that possibility: that you win in one, but not in the other.

It’s preferred that all entries be submitted in 5.5 inches x 8.5 inches size (regular bond paper size, folded in half, or 1650 X 2550 in Photoshop-speak), or any proportional size thereof.

The Artist Search opens up as soon as this announcement goes online and will run all the way through until shortly before SEROKS Iteration 2: Once in a Lifetime will be released. (Or until we say otherwise. We’ll be making further announcements as that date approaches; come right back to the Iguana for those. And yes, just to confirm, the Artist Search does not have the same deadline as the Character Design Contest, despite the notice at the Visprint Facebook page. Sorry about that.)
At the very least, you’ve got a whole bunch of months before then, so there’s ample time to send us your entries. Note though that I will also be taking into consideration the amount of time it took you to complete the pages; the rate at which you can pencil and ink a page is also a vital consideration should you decide to be the artist on a comic book.

Additionally, I stressed this in the previous Artist Search we conducted, and I’ll say it again here: if you do decide to join the Search, keep in mind that if we do end up collaborating on a comic book, there aren’t any upfront page rates involved for any of the creative team.
No one (including myself) gets paid for the work we’ll be putting into the comic. Any possible profit will come in only from royalties once the comic has been compiled and distributed by a publisher.
Other than that, you’ll be getting co-creator credit for any important characters you may end up designing.
So if you’re joining the Search, join because of your love for the comic medium, because you believe you can make a worthwhile contribution to it, because you feel you can do excellent work and you’d like to get that work out there for people to see.

Another thing that you need to be reasonably sure of before joining the Search is, should you be chosen, that you’ll be able to balance working on a comic book with all the rest of your usual responsibilities (family, work, etc.).
Having the talent and the urge to draw a comic book is well and good, but you also need to make sure you’ll have enough time to devote to the pages.

If you have any questions that I failed to address here, please hit up the Comments section of this blog post and I’ll do my best to answer them there.

While we will be accepting entries throughout the contest period via email (address appears below), we will also be accepting them at this year’s Summer Komikon (April 13 at the Bayanihan Center on Pioneer St).
Just come up to me--you should find me at either the Visprint or Alamat tables--say “Hi,” and submit your entries to me.

If you can’t make it to Summer Kon (or would be too hard-pressed to complete your entries in the time left), then email your submissions to bakemono68@yahoo.co.uk (Subject Heading: ARTIST SEARCH) and you’ll get an email acknowledging receipt of your entry.
Afterwards, you’ll only receive another email should I have further questions regarding a possible comic book collaboration.
(And keep in mind, that’s dot-co-dot-uk, not dot-com, lest your entries end up in someone else’s bewildered and befuddled Inbox.)

Please include the following information: Name; Contact Number (Landline and Mobile); plus any links to online galleries of your art (like a deviantart page, if you’ve got one).

And that’s that.
Best of luck to all the entrants, and for those of you who’ll be dropping by, see you at the Summer Kon!

you can’t drink just six,

Dave

Mar 14, 2013

Techniques and Tricks: Windows and Doors as Panels

Welcome to another edition of Comics Techniques and Tricks, in which we showcase techniques that only comics can do! Click here for the archive!

Here's a little something for some panel variety. When you have a window or a door in a scene, you can eliminate the panel borders, or even make the door or the window the panel itself. Here's an example from Will Eisner's Comics and Sequential Art.


Scott McCloud suggests in Making Comics that we're so used to the idea of "panel as window" that simply removing the panel borders makes us feel as if we've gone through the window and into the world it contains. In the above example, Eisner twists that idea a bit and shows us the borders of the door, but the borders take on the characteristics of the setting. The technique is different, but the effect is the same. It involves the reader.

Mar 13, 2013

Pop Medicine: Challenging

Pop Medicine is a "visiting" column by Travis Hedge Coke for the Comics Cube! Click here for the archive!

Challenging
Pop Medicine
Travis Hedge Coke

I'm fairly in favor of sink or swim when it comes to entertainment. I love guidebooks, I adore annotations, dioramas or maps of fictional spaces, that Philip Farmer wold newtoning, references, shoutouts, callbacks, and response fiction. I don't like prep. I like my annotations and extrapolations after the fact. And I don't care much how challenging something is. Two of the last movies I watched were David Lynch's More Things That Happened and Penelope Spheeris' Wayne's World. The last two novels I finished were James Baldwiin's Giovanni's Room and Haunted Spouse by Heather McAllister. Yesterday, I read a review copy of James Stokoe's amazing Godzilla comic, The Half-Century War and then talked about Prince of Tennis and Batman comics (and a billion other things) for six hours of hot pot and beer. I don't want to be challenged by entertainment. I want to be interested.

I am not against being challenged by a piece of entertainment. Complexity can be entertaining. Disagreeable ideas or progressions can be intriguing. But if I need to read six other collections to understand one Green Lantern trade, I'm game to start at the beginning, but just as ready to jump off when it stops being interesting. I spent the first twenty years of my life being told by doctors I probably wouldn't live very long; the fucks I could give for the long haul are negative infinity minus two times for-ev—er (and jut as immature as that sounds). Yet, I love reveals. I love it when a plan comes together, to coin a phrase, when the scene revolves around and shows us something unanticipated, when someone throws off their face and has a new one underneath. I'm very surface that way, but thanks to information theory, we know that more than 90% of all l the information you can have can be recorded on the surface.

When we survive (and understand) something challenging, we feel as if we accomplished something more than if we read an unchallenging comic. But, in either case, what we did was read a comic and have thoughts about it. This is true of the challenging and the unchallenging. It's not a competition. No one's going to give you a prize. Alan Moore isn't playing a game of wits with you and this round is yours (but do say “You've. Won. This. Round,” in your best Moore imitation; that's rewarding). We cannot help the impulse, however, as we're trained to it most of our lives. Work ethic. If it hurts, it's good for you. If you survive, you're stronger. I used to hear this from my mom when she was still trying to avoid being an academic and longing for the fields. And sharecropping is good, serious work, don't get me wrong. My grandpa, an analytic chemist for the federal government, says to this day there's a part of him that never left being a fieldworker. But I also see both of them stooped, their bones disintegrating, joints aching, shot through with cancers and wrapped in weathered skin, and a good part of that's from the “challenging” aspect. Not to downplay carpal tunnel from sitting at a computer day in and out, but you have any friends who've picked or dug their whole life?

Intellectual labor is the inverse, because we (most of us reading this) are in classist societies, with a division between the intellectual and physical that our bodies and lives naturally deny. Thus, societies that give rise to “intellectualism” and “stoop labor” as epithets, both, and still, too, the idea that both should be heralded with personal pride, personal achievement. Pride's that tricky thing. I've seen people told not to read Preacher before they study Christian cosmogony or the Vietnam War. People have been scared off trying to crack open The Invisibles because they haven't read eight thousand other books and been personally visited by alien blob things. Not a week goes by that someone in the world isn't trying to tell people they can't read a current-day Superman or Spider-Man comic unless they first read their initial eighty appearances from decades ago. That the science and the fact it has new characters never seen elsewhere makes Global Frequency impenetrable. (Let me remind us all that Global Frequency is only, maybe two hundred pages long, and a comic about running, jumping, and blowing shit up.)

I looked at two different online forums today and saw people recommending new readers not try to read Grant Morrison's Batman or JLA without a list of prep comics and guidebooks the length of a longer arm than I have, because it could “blow their mind” or “won't mean anything.” That's pride, to quote from Pulp Fiction, “fucking with you.”

It's goddammed Batman! (And one of the bestselling comics writers in the English language, with some top flight artists and colorists.) There are people on this planet who can't be presented with the basic idea of Batman and get it, but they face greater issues in life than that. The majority of human beings in the Twenty-First Century, can get Batman. They understand the whole Batman idea. The majority of human beings in the Twenty-First Century can get a Grant Morrison comic about Batman, from Arkham Asylum, which sold like hot-selling things right from the beginning, through his JLA run, and right up to the beautiful collection Batman Inc. That does not mean you, or every reader, will enjoy (all of) them, simply that on the scale of things you could be reading, they are pretty easy to understand if you actually read them and don't just look at each page for a maximum of a half-second.

What is challenging to someone depends on a lot, and most challenging works, in general, are challenging only the first time. We need to keep in mind, when recommending or trying to dissuade someone from a comic, that what they find challenging may not be the same as what we do, that they may feel antagonized by this more or less than we, and, in general, that we are not the default of human taste, neither the base nor highest standard. We need to pull pride out of the equation. And, seriously, “I understood a Batman comic, but you probably won't,” is always going to feel like someone patting themselves on the back, to me.

Batman sells because, by and large, Batman comics are easily understood. You needn't have ever seen an Alien or Predator movie to read (Stradley, Norwood, and Warner's) Aliens Versus Predator (or the online Alien Loves Predator, either, for that matter). A map of Dublin is unnecessary to read Throwaway Horse's comics adaptation of Ulysses.

Gibbons and Moore's Watchmen sells because, again, it's easy to read and understand. It's a strong work, it's elegantly constructed, it has some powerful emotional points, but its way to be political is to give Nixon a lifelong presidency and have the US win Vietnam with a giant naked blue man; the baddies always do bad things, the good eggs rise above themselves, and Rorschach is fucked in the head and face because he had a shitty childhood and takes himself too seriously. I do find the whole Rorschach origin to be challenging, because I don't like the classist tone of it, something Moore revisited in Judgment Day, though there it was also the only strongly heroic nonwhite character in the comic, as well as having been a poor kid with a shabby life. I suppose it's a reaction against the valorizing of the poor or traumatized as diamonds in the rough or something, but I, personally, find it a bit suspect and considerably lazy. It's not a point, I believe, that many find challenging, but again, to each their own.

We all have our own territory of discomfort or of intense questioning, our own areas of ignorance or abundant knowledge. It may bother some people when they can't mentally map out the Batcave, because artists keep drawing the giant penny in different places and that's too much for them to handle, so they swear off Batman comics. You could be a person who has to struggle through a protagonist of a different gender or sexuality than your own. Telepathy, as a concept, may be too out there for you. I'm making no judgments; I'm saying that these, and many other scales and territories, are not universal.

If you feel being in black and white makes something more challenging, that does not say as much about the comic, for better or worse, as it does you. And, while it's true, many of us default to Marvel and DC being the big comics publishers, or the comics publishers, it's because we don't pay attention to Andrews McMeel as a publisher, even if we buy their Calvin and Hobbes or Pearls Before Swine collections. Many other people don't even know, appreciably, what Marvel Comics is. They know who Spider-Man is. They know what Batman looks like, that his name is Bruce Wayne. They may not care who publishes the comics. Like many comics fans, they may not fully believe someone writes them.

Don't let pride convince you to tell friends looking for a new car to try a horse and buggy first. Or, strangers. Don't let pride convince you that you've achieved more than you have, or that others cannot do as well as you. You can let pride wreck your experience, your pleasure, if you like, but don't let your pride sabotage someone else's potential entertainment just so you can feel you know Batman better than these dilettantes ever will.

Mar 12, 2013

Double Helix: Matt D. Smith and “Simon Says”...

Double Helix is a column written by Rachel Helie for the Comics Cube! See his archives here.

Matt D. Smith and Simon Says
Rachel Helie

Think back to a time when all the cool kids wore flannel and Nirvana blasted the airwaves. Dave Grohl was still a twentysomething and Winona Ryder was still considered an ingenue and not a compulsive kleptomaniac. The innocent yet incredibly cynical age of the late 1990’s. This is the tiny window we peer through when reading Simon Says, by Matt D. Smith.

For Matthew Smith and for those of us in our mid-thirties, the nineties were a strange time. We sat on the tail end of the angsty period driven by those who sat squarely within Generation X’s wretched excess, the 1980’s high school kids of yore looking a bit like burned-out loadies in their mid-twenties. We had the benefit of their hindsight. We raised the arched brow, furrowed a skeptical forehead.

The solid self-criticism of the emerging adults of that time period resonated soundly. All of our friends were still riding the highest of lows of the grunge era, goth was in it’s bleakest infancy and was not yet a true fashion statement it is today but a musical movement of mourning. Shows were everything and festivals were high points of the long hot summers. These things had happened before for youth of a bygone era, but the rust and grime was missing. We lived with a sense of loss.

Many of us were doubtful that the decisions of the adults in our lives were sound ones. They divorced, died, or dated. We watched the parade of self-fulfillment, of “I earned this”, heard the refrains of “when you’re eighteen you’re out”, or perhaps had loving parents but hateful peers who couldn’t let idiosyncrasies in a small town high school thrive.

Simon Says opens with these slices of American teen life in the late 90’s with all of it’s insecurity and self-doubt completely intact.

The protagonist, Simon, is attempting to win concert tickets. He is in no way an exalted character, just a guy. His buddies are already going to said concert and as Simon is working his job in a comic shop one afternoon, he calls in to a radio show and wins! But he is faced with a life-changing decision in the following days that alters his fate and the fates of his friends for years to come. That one concert will lead to a series of events that changes the course of each character’s life. This is what the first three comics set up.

The characters are based on amalgams of people Matt has known in his real life. Though not strictly autobiographical in any sense, the stories could easily be mistaken as such for their relatability. These stories could have happened to anyone.Simon deals with his feelings for girls and their feelings for him. Simon maneuvers disagreements with friends and his apprehensions about their advice, his resentments of the truth in that advice. But something happens at this concert. In issue #4 and subsequent issues, those things are revealed.

I haven’t read issue #4 but I read the first three. Each cover features the characters set up in the style of a 90’s era cult classic movie; Clerks for the first, Can’t Hardly Wait for the second, and Chasing Amy for the third. There is even a little tongue-in-cheek mockery of the nod to Kevin Smith in the pages of the first issue, but like it or not, there it is.

Matthew drafted these books in 2007 in steno notebooks. He even attempted to draw them himself. When confronted by his own artistic shortcomings in perfecting his vision, he sought help from artists who could do it justice. In a way, he’s like Simon. He knows when to default to the better judgement of those who have perspective. A little over twenty different artists contribute to the culmination of the Simon Says series.

“This is like my illustrated storied mix-tape to the era and to my youth. I watched my brother and sister, who were solidly Generation X and older than me like a hawk and they exposed me to a lot of the music you find in the covers of Simon Says. At the end of each issue there is a track list. When I was a teenager, I lived for that music. Life caught up with me too.”

Matthew describes himself as more of a writer than an artist but raised by his “cool mom,” he attended his first concert in utero. At seven months pregnant his mother attended the Ted Nugent Strangelhold show. She jokes with him about that now, saying that she was the reason he wrote “Curse of the Stranglehold”.

“Simon pretty much describes how I thought and felt most of the time when I was in high school. My friends and my music were my support. The character for Nathan is actually based on my best friend and he is still my friend today. He never held back. A lot of people do, but he never hesitates to just tell me like it is.”

Simon Says is about self-consciousness and self-awareness; finding what’s real in the morass of pre-adulthood and living through the decisions that alter our lives. It’s about watching our friends make the same crucial decisions, for better or worse. It’s about the bullshit we admit and the bullshit we believe, from ourselves and from everyone else. And it’s about music. “If music be the food of love, play on.”

Get Simon Says here!

Mar 11, 2013

Back Issue Ben: Guarding the Galaxy 5: Annihilation Prologue

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

GUARDING THE GALAXY: EXPLORING THE MARVEL COSMIC UNIVERSE
Part Five: Endings and Beginnings
by Ben Smith

Previously, we took extended looks at key players in the coming saga like Star-Lord, Thanos, and Drax. We also saw the beginning of a massive invasion from the Negative Zone, led by the villainous Annihilus, which decimated the Kyln and the entire Nova Corps. That was followed by four separate mini-series, focusing primarily on Nova, Super Skrull, Ronan, and the Silver Surfer, while also introducing important characters like Gamora and Praxagora.

This week, we’ll cover the end of those mini-series, all leading in to and culminating in the instant classic Annihilation.


All the pieces are being assembled…

Mar 8, 2013

Thanks to Fully Booked!

I just wanted to thank the staff of Fully Booked for letting me participate in their "What's Your Story?" campaign. They contacted me last November about it and just asked me to bring three books to talk about in order to answer a list of questions. Due to the nature of the questions, I decided on the three books being Promethea vol. 3, Asterios Polyp, and Carter Beats the Devil. I thought about bringing old favorites like Watchmen (but probably would have repeated myself), JLA/Avengers (but couldn't think of anything to say other than "IS COOL!"), and others, but there, those were my three books.

The funny thing is that if they asked me the same questions now, I'd probably bring three Disney Duck comics. Including these two.

Anywho, I got on their big collage, which adorns the exterior of every branch right now:

That's me at the top, pulling out that Spidey book.

And, I made it into three videos. Here's the full list of videos on their site.

In this one, I talk about what Promethea means to me:



In this one, about characters I relate to, in which I give off this whole monologue about how I don't really relate to characters but if I had to, it'd be Asterios Polyp, which is kind of sad because he's a jerk:



And in this one, I talk about how I relate to Jughead Jones:



Yes, I know that that third one contradicts the second one. I realized that after I gave the interview too.

Thanks, Fully Booked!

Mar 7, 2013

Artists in Weird Places: Carl Barks' Porky Pig and Bugs Bunny

In Artists in Weird Places, we'll look at times when artists have stepped out of their comfort zone to do something different. Click here for the archive!

Carl Barks, known for most of his life as "The Good Duck Artist," is, of course, known best for his work on Donald Duck. Most notably, he created Uncle Scrooge. He's one of the best and most important comic book artists of all time.


So I'd definitely consider the fact that he worked on Looney Tunes characters "weird"!  "Porky of the Mounties" tells the story of Porky Pig wearing a Mountie costume and ending up in Canada, where his girlfriend Petunia is vacationing. Bugs Bunny's in tow!



You can read the whole story here.

Barks has gone on record, however, in Carl Barks: Conversations that he couldn't draw Bugs properly.

Well, I didn't do too badly on Porky and Petunia, but my Bugs was so bad that the staff artist had to draw all new faces on him. The ones he couldn't change he drew on another piece of paper and cut it out and pasted it over the faces that I had drawn. Oh, I didn't get any praise out of it, but I was happy that it came out that way because I had no intention of ever being that much of a cartoonist that I could draw Bugs Bunny. It was over my head.

So the Bugs Bunny in the story, isn't really Barks' Bugs Bunny, but Porky is! And it's just unfortunate that Daffy Duck isn't in this story, because, you know. Barks and a Duck.

Update: I just found this oil painting by Barks featuring "Porky of the Mounties"!



Got a suggestion for Artists in Weird Places? Email it to comicscube@gmail.com!

Mar 6, 2013

Pop Medicine: Nine Little Things

Pop Medicine is a "visiting" column by Travis Hedge Coke for the Comics Cube! Click here for the archive!

Nine Little Things
Pop Medicine
Travis Hedge Coke

It’s easy to point to the big things that make a comic memorable or enjoyable, which is why there will always be countdown lists of Liefeld art climaxing with Captain Chesty America or mention of Watchmen’s success as a constrained comic. A “Perez shot” isn’t a shot of careful interpersonal dynamics or condensed emotion in a simple and direct representational style, or even a Pieta allusion; a “Perez shot” is a thousand little figures all active around a central occurrence. "Morrison-like" has come to be shorthand for any comic that throws the ball early and anticipates the audience to still be there when it comes down to be caught ten or fifteen issues later. You don’t talk about pacing in Peanuts, though there’s a great deal that could be discussed beneficially, so much as how to draw those big round heads and not lose the balance.

So, I thought, why not take a look at some of the littler things that can have great effect on a comic, on the audience? This is me, sorting out these ideas, my feelings on these techniques, as much as sharing them with you, so feel free to disagree or differently-agree. Feel free with the feedback.

Frame or Window

Every comic you have ever read had to make this decision, even the ones where the page is the frame. No exceptions. But, how often do we, as audience, take note of it? How frequently do artists pause to think it through on that level? Not often, on both counts. But it does have profound effects.

Imagery that is isolated by the frame can give us a sense of controlled environment that leads us to perceive an artist as more deliberate and artsy, to perceive the panels and their contents as more classical and direct. Imagery that is interrupted by panel borders or cropped by them, even when elegantly balanced and deliberately structured, implies a haphazardness or freedom from control that the framed and totally enclosed lacks. The cropping, thus, can add a sense of motion or chance, while the isolation of framing can imply class and permanence.

Style Shift

As someone who has lightboxed and will lightbox again, here is a simple way to tell who’s only good at slavishly copying and who has some trained sense and technical capacity of their own: can they merge disparate referenced objects into a single image in a sensible way? Can they redraw the same basic elements from a different perspective? And, can they make basic exaggerations that would save a straight copy job from a sense of stillness or posing?

Style is not simply found, appreciably, in the set of standard elements an artist reuses, but in the range they can show in those elements. Distorting image or biology to imply speed or motion, juxtaposing simplified cartoons with hyperdetailed elements in a single image or narrative, bright open imagery giving way to darker, heavy material, tight pencils to sketchy, thin lines to thick, these alterations can immediately push an audience into new territory without any objective narrative shift (yet) accompanying.

These can occur in the writing, as well, to great benefit. One character deep in depression and fear, surrounded by characters and setting of a considerably happier, carefree nature is not distracting to the reader, if executed efficaciously, but enhances the distress or happiness depending on which side is given prominence in the scene. If either is treated weakly, however, the whole scene comes apart, the same way a comedy character must continue to be funny even while a serious, and deadly gunfight is occurring around them, that gunplay, as well, treated straight and with integrity, for maximum frisson.

Constant Interrelations



To bring this back to George Perez, all characters in a modern, mature story are foils for all other characters. How individual characters relate to events or interrelate with each other reflects on all other characters in similar circumstances. A conversation that supports the dynamic of only one side is a weak conversation. A scene where everyone but one character is blindly staring off into space vacuously, is a squandered scene, unless somehow therein lies the point that is being made, but that’s such a lampoonish point I can’t imagine it would be frequently worthwhile. And, the reason I say this brings us back to Perez, is that he is a master at visualizing an array of interpersonal relations. The Morgan Conquest is brilliant for this, so that every gathering in that comic, Perez has each individual doing something idiosyncratic, often in relation to other people or objects in the scene, so that we can tell by shared reactions or shared recognitions all manner of personality traits that need not be confirmed in dialogue or indulged with full scenes.

First-Person Veracity

Studies have shown that we accept on faith first-person narratives, even those we know to be explicitly fictional, more readily than we do third person. (But we believe even fictional material framed as a sign or academic treatise more readily than anything.) Whether using narration (directly to us), external first-person narration (directly to another character), or thought balloons and internal narration (character think to themselves), we, the audience, now share something perceivably intimate with the character drives us to be more empathetic to them. More to the point, audiences rarely differentiate between thoughts we are given and narration they relay to us or to other characters.

Some people will tell you that a lying narrator is a cheat. Those people probably dislike the big shaggy dog story of The Usual Suspects and the diary excerpts that narrate “Of Living and Dying”, the New X-Men story by Grant Morrison, John Paul Leon, and Bill Sienkiewicz. But, I’d say it’s fairer to say that it’s a Use Only Once technique. You can get away with forged documents or lying narration once in a story or once as a writer, and that’s your limit before it fails for the majority of an audience and not just a few sticks in the mud.

Moe

Right now there are people around the world going a bit mad because a writer on a Batman comic won’t give them an inch to keep forgiving an elitist, mass-murdering, slave-trading terrorist and think sexy thoughts about her. You know why they want to forgive her? So she can maybe someday date Batman (this is important!) and because she’s a girl. She’s not, actually; she’s a grown woman who, since she was introduced forty-two years ago, has consistently benefited from a global crime empire built on assassination, terrorism, human trafficking, and other fun, laughable activities, and the best reason we have ever been given to be lenient with her, or that Batman should be in-story, is that she’s pretty hot, and she’s someone’s daughter.

That, ladies and gents, is the power of moe. Moe is a relationship between audience and character that is dependent on the audience wanting to protect or encourage a less-than-dependent and budding character. Which, for decades, was how we were encouraged to understand Talia al Ghul, and how many choose to continue to perceive her even as she heads many legitimate global businesses and a world-spanning criminal empire indulging in the most horrific practices. The strength of moe is such that some of the audience will still desire to perceive her as naïve or adolescent in the face of all facts, to preserve a mythic past purity and romanticized stasis of dependency.

Repeated Images

Repeated images can achieve two different, very potent effects.

When an earlier image is repeated entirely or in part, there is an immediate déjà vu or nostalgic cognitive impulse in the audience, either consciously or subconsciously. This is the echo that homage covers or appropriated scenes give us, and the strength of the learning curve of repetitious imagery of Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych. A purer remembered image is strengthened by the dissonance between the actual original and variations and even a relatively weak image or arrangement can be made iconic, imbued with the strength of familiarity, the frisson of corroborating memories.

An image, repeated with little to no variation or interpolated material, can dilate our sense of time passing more intensely than any other technique in comics. We lose the ability to distinguish how much objective time has passed between panels, and even the time on-panel will become subjectively stretched, in the same fashion as counting out seconds or minutes appears to extend their breadth.

Repeating Information

There is a rule of thumb in commercial screenwriting, that plot-significant information should be repeated three times relatively quickly, so that the audience is sure to catch it, regardless of how little they are paying attention. As much as comics can be guilty of dumbing down the delivery of information to readers, including show and tell of the exact same information (duospecific) in visual and text, comics rarely deliberately relate information more than twice per issue, especially short comics. However, serialization means that information is often related repeatedly in a succession of parts to a greater whole, so as to catch up readers who are coming in fresh with any one segment of that greater comic. If not handled in a novel fashion each successive time, this can become irritating to consistent readers, particularly once a storyline is collected to be read continually in a short period of time.

This repetition need not always be a detriment, however. If given enough novelty or subtlety to not stand out as repetition during a collective read, it can serve simply as a reminder to keep information freshly in mind until it becomes significantly pertinent to the plot. Similarly, catchphrases or catchy descriptions can be repeated as guideposts for readers, something Chris Claremont excelled at, no matter how he may be mocked for it now, a technique he used to generate a sense of familiarity and “everyone knows” regarding sometimes difficult to fully explain super powers or personalities. “The focused totality of my telepathic abilities,” “no quarter asked, none given,” “body and soul” and “nigh-invulnerable” can wave on through almost anything you need them to.

“The focused totality…” line helps us ignore that it’s a physical manifestation we’re seeing, that its effects require physical contact, and that it has a physiological effect, while nominally being a psychic attack. How? It’s the focused totality of her telepathic abilities. “Nigh-invulnerable” almost seems to cancel itself out, but keep using it, it feels sensible. It’s invulnerable (except when not). Over dozens of issues Claremont trained an audience to attend these phrases, even if that audience, today, mostly comprises people who have never read a Chris Claremont comic.

Breaking Format

We grow accustomed to format, especially enforced formats as in constrained comics. As an audience, we find strength and reassurance in systemization. Constrained comics, once we are trained to the constraints, can be easy to hold up as achievements, because they have structure, and can be rewarding to read because, again, that structure is comforting; we lock into it. To, then, break structure, enhances instantaneously whatever elements are involved in the disruption. A sudden burst of color in a black and white piece; a splash page or half-page panel after thirteen pages of six-panel grids. Unexpected disruption highlights the fist that breaks a panel when all else has been contained, or emphasizes the first and only person to speak in a so-far silent narrative.

Insets

From Peter Kuper's Metamorphosis
Inset panels correlate the imagery or artifacts inside the smaller panel with the matter of the surrounding panel in an immediate and intense manner. That inside the inset panel becomes tethered to what surrounds it (perhaps as setting or destination) and it simultaneously distinguishes the inset’s contents as outside and free from the surrounding. A person in an inset panel is understood to be mobile and independent from the static surrounding image, even if they are physically, in-world, within the parameters of that space, or even if the larger image is actually the body or form of the same character as the inset.

I have seen accusations that these were panels someone couldn’t fit separately in a layout, or criticizing them for blocking off part of the surrounding imagery, and if those are the case, yes, that’s a loss. But, I cannot offhand think of any examples of either of those. Usually, inset panels aren’t even attempted unless the artist can handle them sufficiently, as they’re virtually counterintuitive and a fairly mature form of comics-making. Layer of comics panels, however, may be more prevalent, and in any case, the nature of the overlapping and the différance of the insets and wraparound panels encourage us to pay more attention to both. We peer in at these tiny panels that perhaps have no more detail than a relative square of space in the larger image, and we do, on a variety of levels, try to understand what is behind them, where they do obscure the wraparound.

Color Communication

Colors by Tatjana Wood
Colorists are the unsung heroes of comics construction. When they fail badly, we write it off as technological or what can you expect in a cheap field. When they excel or do all the heavy lifting in a comic, we tend to champion the penciler anyway, even in the cases of the raw pencils or inked art being empty or emotionless. And, to be fair, there’s been a lot of halfassed or barely competent coloring that has occurred in comics. Not everyone is a Christie Scheele, Laura Martin, or Tatjana Wood. And, oftentimes the technologies did create the flaws, with accidentally skewed colors, poor reproductions, mismatched blacks.

Color has exceptional significance, though, and power. There are reasons some film theorists were intensely protesting color in film, because it would overpower or mute the things like motion and mise en scene. Even today, many use black and white art as some benchmark of artistic integrity as if color were solely a crutch to support commercial pap.

If an artist has control, technically and technologically, and refined sensibilities, they can use color to communicate immediately and strongly everything from physical depth to heroes and villains, danger, motion, weather, time, health, embarrassment, cold, activity, isolation… the range of what color can imply and implicate is exceptional. And, that the average reader will subconsciously ignore what is being communicated as being artificial means that communicating through color, versus representational line art or narrative text, can reach deeper and quicker into the reader and affect them without the resistance to belief that is the typical counterweight of the suspension of disbelief.

Mar 5, 2013

Double Helix: Red Sonja: The Marvel Years

Double Helix is a column written by Rachel Helie for the Comics Cube! See her archives here.

Red Sonja: The Marvel Years Introduction
(or Why Comic Books Are Better than Fashion Magazines)
By Rachel Helie
For Double Helix


There are a few reasons, quite a few reasons actually, why I prefer to read comic books over fashion magazines.

That's Rachel.
One: I rely on my imagination and sheer chutzpah to sort out how I explore myself through fashion. They’re just clothes but I have an interest in my appearance as it relates to me personally. I just don’t find it consuming a lot of my head space. I wash and iron. I choose quality materials with good seams. I search for monochrome to anchor the offerings of my closet at the least possible cost. When I buy clothes, it is with the assumption that I will be wearing those specific items for years. It’s an investment as much as anything.

Two: When I peek over to the right and start reading the headlines of this month’s issue of Cosmopolitan magazine it seriously isn’t about fashion or anything that would be of use to me. It’s about bullshit. Every single line. I get that it’s supposed to be fun and engaging and adaptable for mass consumption but c’mon. “Your hottest year ever”? Seriously? I am not going to learn how to heat my year, whatever that means, from whatever this magazine is.

If it serves as some sort of relationship/lifestyle guide for the modern twenty-something then please, readers of Cosmo, sign a disclaimer stating that you will never marry or join the work force. That may be a little harsh but if your relationship and career advice is taken from a supermarket rag, you really need to rethink your priorities.

This is where I start talking about my love of comic books, particularly the powerful heroines that splash the pages of some of my favorite stories. The stories are radical departures from an otherwise mundane reality, something that the folks at Cosmo wallow around in like skinny little piggies in…well, you know.

The women of comics are powerful and intense. They are conflicted and brilliant, strange and otherworldly. I love them for that. There are arguments that the representation of women in comics is too idealized, but if that argument is to be made, what of the magazine industry? What do we have to say about mooning after the every word, every movement, of some screen darling flavor of the month that comes into the periphery of popular culture? Yes, the women of comics are idealized, clad in skintight bustier and spandex, but they have something over any fashion hag out there. They have a story, stories that span decades. Stories that reflect the human condition and transcend it through fiction.

The idealized images of women in comics are not restricted to the women alone. The men are super-human, muscular, handsome, and often deeply flawed. Take the veil away and what you have are imperfect characters living in perfect or in some cases, imperfect bodies. This is something that no fashion magazine would approach without extreme apprehension. Their job is to create an ideal. The comic book writer’s job is to create an image of the ideal and then shatter it into a million pieces.

This being said and reiterated, let me proceed to introduce you to a postmodern Prometheus, Matthew Stephen Sunrich. Author and blogger, he specializes in Bronze Age heroes and heroines and is currently doing some interesting work with Red Sonja. Say hi; drop in…whatever it is we do.

I just saw someone buy a Cosmo at the checkout so I’ll be screaming in the shower. And not in the good way.

Mar 4, 2013

Back Issue Ben: Guarding the Galaxy 4: Annihilation Prologue

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

GUARDING THE GALAXY: EXPLORING THE MARVEL COSMIC UNIVERSE
Part Four: Gathering Storm
by Ben Smith

Previously, we took extended looks at key players in the coming saga like Star-Lord, Thanos, and Drax. We also saw the beginning of a massive invasion from the Negative Zone, led by the villainous Annihilus, which decimated the Kyln and the entire Nova Corps. Now it’s time to meet some more of the characters that would play an important role in the coming battle for the fate of the universe.

Richard Rider, much like DC’s Green Lantern, was chosen to be a member of the galactic police force, the Nova Corps. Equal parts Green Lantern and Peter Parker, Nova bounced around as a character for many years, from his own mini-series, to an appearance in Rom: Spaceknight, and as an initial member of the New Warriors team.

Silver Surfer, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, is a former herald of Galactus. Having made a deal with Galactus to save his home planet, he agreed to become his herald, and search out suitable planets for him to devour. When his travels led him to Earth, he eventually betrayed his master to save the human race, and has since spent his time exploring the cosmos, and philosophizing.


Super Skrull and Ronan the Accuser are former Fantastic Four antagonists, one a Skrull and one a Kree, respectively. Super Skrull was enhanced with all the powers of the Fantastic Four, while Ronan serves as a Kree judge, jury, and executioner.

With all that out of the way, let’s sacrifice this goat on the altar of cosmic awesome.

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