Jan 31, 2011

Asterios Polyp Annotations, Part 4

This is part 4 of ASTERIOS POLYP annotations. Naturally, spoilers follow. Click here for part 1, here for part 2, and here for part 3. Got your copy of the book handy? Good. Let's go.

Jan 27, 2011

The End of the Comics Code Authority: Archie the First In and Last Out

Well, it's official. The Comics Code Authority is dead. First Marvel Comics dropped it in 2001 and replaced it with its own rating system, then Bongo Comics dropped it a year ago, then DC Comics dropped it last week, then Archie Comics followed suit. With Archie Comics doing so, it seems that the Comics Code is now closed, and the first one in has left and turned off the lights.

The Comics Code Authority was formed in 1954 after the congressional hearings spurred by Dr. Fredric Wertham's book, Seduction of the Innocent, which, among other things, claimed that comics were the primary reason for juvenile delinquency. His arguments made no sense at all, but he had the word "Dr." in front of his name and it was in the McCarthy era, so people listened.

The CCA's rules were as follows:

  • Crimes shall never be presented in such a way as to create sympathy for the criminal, to promote distrust of the forces of law and justice, or to inspire others with a desire to imitate criminals.
    If crime is depicted it shall be as a sordid and unpleasant activity.
  •  Criminals shall not be presented so as to be rendered glamorous or to occupy a position which creates a desire for emulation. 
  • In every instance good shall triumph over evil and the criminal punished for his misdeeds.
  • Scenes of excessive violence shall be prohibited. Scenes of brutal torture, excessive and unnecessary knife and gunplay, physical agony, gory and gruesome crime shall be eliminated.
  • No comic magazine shall use the word horror or terror in its title.
  • All scenes of horror, excessive bloodshed, gory or gruesome crimes, depravity, lust, sadism, masochism shall not be permitted.
  • All lurid, unsavory, gruesome illustrations shall be eliminated.
  • Inclusion of stories dealing with evil shall be used or shall be published only where the intent is to illustrate a moral issue and in no case shall evil be presented alluringly, nor so as to injure the sensibilities of the reader.
  • Scenes dealing with, or instruments associated with walking dead, torture, vampires and vampirism, ghouls, cannibalism, and werewolfism are prohibited.
  • Profanity, obscenity, smut, vulgarity, or words or symbols which have acquired undesirable meanings are forbidden.
  • Nudity in any form is prohibited, as is indecent or undue exposure.
  • Suggestive and salacious illustration or suggestive posture is unacceptable.
  • Females shall be drawn realistically without exaggeration of any physical qualities.
  • Illicit sex relations are neither to be hinted at nor portrayed. Violent love scenes as well as sexual abnormalities are unacceptable.
  • Seduction and rape shall never be shown or suggested.
  • Sex perversion or any inference to same is strictly forbidden.
  • Nudity with meretricious purpose and salacious postures shall not be permitted in the advertising of any product; clothed figures shall never be presented in such a way as to be offensive or contrary to good taste or morals.

And as you can imagine, this really neutered the medium. And there were other things. For example, in order to prove that Batman and Robin  weren't gay, they hung out more with girls. (Remember Aunt Harriet from the Adam West show? She was created so that Wayne Manor wouldn't be all men.)

How their aversion to dating these two women proves their heterosexuality,
I'm not so sure.

No publisher was affected more than EC Comics, which tried replacing their wildly successful crime and horror books, like Crime Suspenstories:

Johnny Craig is the artist for this one.

With titles like MD and Psychoanalysis:

I'm sure these books were good for what they were, given the talent in EC's bullpen, but come on.

No publishers were required to submit to the CCA, but for a really long time, most distributors wouldn't even carry a book if it didn't have the CCA seal of approval. 

Interestingly, the CCA, the universal comics-censoring board, was brought into being behind the scenes by one of their own: Archie Comics. Although opinions on motivations vary, John Goldwater, founder and then-editor and publisher of Archie Comics, was one of the founders of the CCA and was one of the people who drew up the aforementioned guidelines.

The interesting urban legend is that Goldwater did it at least partly out of spite for Harvey Kurtzman, who, in TALES CALCULATED TO DRIVE YOU MAD #12, printed "Starchie," a hilarious spoof of Archie.

The concept of Starchie was simple: take Archie's tagline as "America's typical teenager" and treat that with honesty. The rumor is that the satire really stung Goldwater, so he reported EC to Congress (this is a bit of a stretch, if you ask me) and then helped found the CCA. Because what's the one publisher that would get really neutered by censorship? EC Comics. And what's the one publisher that would likely not get neutered at all, aside from Dell Comics which was publishing Disney? That's right, Archie Comics.

In any event, true or not, with Archie Comics dropping the CCA, it means that this censorship body's closing time has come, and the people who built it have just turned off the lights.

I feel bad for the guys at the CCA though, for no other reason than it must really suck to leave a job that actually requires you to read comics.

See also: The comics that ended the CCA!

Jan 24, 2011

Asterios Polyp Annotations, Part 3

This is part 3 of ASTERIOS POLYP annotations. Naturally, spoilers follow. Click here for part 1 and here for part 2. Got your copy of the book handy? Good. Let's go.

Jan 20, 2011


The good folks at Campfire Graphic Novels sent me a copy of Ryan Foley's LEGEND: THE LABORS OF HERACLES, an adaptation of the 12 labors of Heracles (also known as Hercules) intended for children. As I did with their adaptation of MOBY DICK, I had the Resident Kid read it, then I reviewed it (see here).

LEGEND is written by Ryan Foley and drawn by Sankha Banerjee. In 80 pages, they attempt to condense and tell (summarize is more like it) the 12 labors of Heracles for a young audience. That's a daunting task, and I have to say that they were able to do it very well.

To clarify, I'm not an expert on Heracles' 12 labors. I just know there were 12 labors, and that one of them involves cleaning stables. So basically, this was also a primer for people like me. LEGEND doesn't pretend to be a comprehensive adaptation; it's a summary intended to get people to read the source material. And it works, because there's just enough there to tell a complete story, and just enough there to let you know it's part of a larger mythology that makes you curious.

The story has a framing sequence that involves a young Greek student named Prenditus and his teacher, the lady Demiartes. Demiartes explains the story of Heracles' 12 labors to Prenditus, and in doing so, Foley bypasses the potential problem of having various myths overlapping with each other, and actually uses it to his advantage. For example, Minos of Crete was sent a bull by Poseidon to sacrifice. When the bull wasn't sacrificed, it tore up Crete and violated Minos' wife, who then gave birth to the Minotaur of the Labyrinth — which gives way to a whole other myth about the Minotaur and Theseus, who shows up later on in the story. By using the framing sequence of a kid asking his teacher about the interconnectedness of these legends, Foley is able to incite curiosity in a reader, as it certainly did for me, even moreso than it did for my Resident Kid, who thought it was interesting, but didn't think that it would lead to another story. So there's a tip for campfire — perhaps a feature on these references at the end would work in their favor. (They actually have one, but it's all the way in the back of the book behind even their "About Us" section that I now think upon further reflection that the kid missed it totally.)  If there are other Campfire books meant to tie into LEGEND, it would be good to advertise it immediately following the story. 

The art by Sankha Banerjee is solid and clear, although there are some instances of anatomical impossibilities, which wouldn't stick out so much in a cartoony style, but does like a sore thumb in a realistic style. There is a clear 90s influence in the artwork, with exaggerated muscles yet iconic faces. The coloring is also top-notch and goes a long way into setting the mood and tone of the book.

There is one major drawback to this book, and that's the lettering. For one thing, there is the fact that for some reason, they decided to use Comic Sans, quite probably the most hated font in the history of design and something that Eisner-award-winning letterer Todd Klein defines as "nothing more than a way to label yourself clueless about comics, fonts, and good design." For another thing, the narration boxes for Demiartes are colored in a fading gradient of white to light purple, while those of Prenditus are colored in a fading gradient of white to light blue, making it really difficult to tell when a speaker is changing right away. It stops being intuitive and takes you out of the story. Finally, there's the fact that the sound effects aren't rendered properly to capture timbre and nuance; rather, they're mostly just done in hollow letters and seem really rushed. They end up looking like old 1960s sound effects from the Batman TV show with Adam West, which is not appropriate to this story. (When I read "CRASH!", I should feel a crash. This book doesn't do that.) All that aside, the kid didn't have any problems with the lettering, so it's possible I'm just being snooty. But Campfire should take note of this, because it really brings their product down.

Lettering issues aside, I think Foley really does a good job in summarizing the story of Heracles' 12 labors, making Heracles a sympathetic character the younger readers can truly identify with. It gives them a hero and a good story about redemption, and just for that, I'll say that if you have a kid you want to entertain with incredible stories and a sense of wonder, LEGEND: THE LABORS OF HERACLES is recommended by the Comics Cube!

Jan 17, 2011

Asterios Polyp Annotations, Part 2

This is part 2 of ASTERIOS POLYP annotations. Naturally, spoilers follow. Click here for part 1.

Jan 12, 2011

THE WORMWORLD SAGA: Read It, Support It!

I don't really read much in the way of webcomics, mainly because for me, there's no substitute for reading on paper. But the WORMWORLD SAGA caught my eye immediately. With its iconic character designs and expressive painted artwork, it's definitely eye-catching and visually appealing, and it's something I would love for a kid to read.

This is a story about a boy named Jonas, who seems so stuck in his imagination that he can't really distinguish what's real and what's not, and wild adventures seem to be coming.

The transitions from one scene to the next are so fluid, with visual elements from one scene going straight to the next. The result is like you're reading a scroll with no page turns. I'm sure that it'll eventually be collected into a book with the proportions of the image above, but this is one of the rare occasions that I actually think the story will suffer for it, because it is so clearly a webcomic.

Take the time to read the first chapter, and if you like it, you can see how you can support the comic over here. Financial support will get you a place in the credits, but you can support by publicizing the comic as well — like I'm doing right now.

Check it out!

Jan 10, 2011

Help Out Tom Ziuko!

Greetings, folks. Brian Cronin over at Comics Should Be Good has called attention to longtime comics colorist Tom Ziuko's financial and health problems, now in his fourth week in the hospital for kidney failure. Alan Kupperberg is collecting donations for Tom at his PayPal address, kupperberg@earthlink.net.

Every little bit helps, folks, so if everyone who comes by here can donate even a dollar, it'd help Tom out a lot.

Colorists generally go unnoticed in this business, so for those of you who may be wondering what Tom Ziuko has done, well, here are some samples, including THE HISTORY OF THE DC UNIVERSE, ANGEL AND THE APE, SUPERMAN: MAN OF STEEL, and more. So much more.

Jan 9, 2011

Asterios Polyp Annotations, Part 1

I've made no secret about how much I love David Mazzucchelli's ASTERIOS POLYP. You can read my review here, but suffice it to say that I thought it was a pitch-perfect combination of words and pictures, where the formalist design work served only to enhance the story.

If you've read ASTERIOS POLYP, I can only say you should read it at least two more times, because you're bound to notice things that you clearly didn't before. But if you have read it a few times, I've decided it would be fun to write up some annotations and notes for the book.

Most of the information I didn't come up with on my own came from Scott McCloud and Rob Clough. Stumptown Reviews also has annotations up, but I didn't look at them because I wanted to see what I could come up with on my own.

I think it would be fun if people commented with bits that I didn't mention, and I can re-edit the post accordingly, giving you all proper credit, of course.

Naturally, spoilers follow. This is part 1 of ASTERIOS POLYP annotations.

Jan 6, 2011

Comics Techniques and Tricks: Brian Crane and PICKLES

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

Today's technique comes from the New Year's edition of Brian Crane's PICKLES! Check out how comics, being a combination of words and pictures, can play around with the words visually. (Click to enlarge.)

Pretty cool, huh? Additionally, Mr. Crane has just released a new collection of PICKLES material, which you can purchase here.

Also, the official Facebook Fan Page for PICKLES is right here.

Jan 3, 2011

So What Was FINAL CRISIS About?

After two years, I finally bought and read FINAL CRISIS, by Grant Morrison and a host of artists, mainly JG Jones and Doug Mahnke. I'm not going to give it a full review - you can get those from anywhere around the 'Net, and the truth is that I think it's such a love it or hate it comic that no review is really gonna do you any good.

I will, however, address the question, "What's it trying to say?" or "What was it about?" Needless to say, there will be spoilers.

Jan 1, 2011

Christmas Comics Loot!

So, what comics-related loot did I get for Christmas? Well, let's see.

Peachy got me THE ADVENTURES OF UNEMPLOYED MAN, which I said I wanted, so yay! Expect a review relatively soon.

My mom got me the AMAZING SPIDER-MAN OMNIBUS. If you folks are unaware of it, it's a hardcover that collects every single Stan Lee/Steve Ditko Spider-Man story, from AMAZING FANTASY #15 to AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #37, along with some annuals, and even a couple of stories drawn by Jack Kirby! Truly, the Marvel triumvirate was incredible!

My friend Maya got me some new copies of some old comics that I read to pieces — in some cases literally — when I was younger, which includes SILVER SURFER #64, which has everything I wanted in a comic when I was 12 — evil twins and Ron Lim art. LOOK HOW SHINY!!

Maya also got me the AVENGERS comics that were missing from my Kurt Busiek/George Perez collection, so score!

Finally, talking about completing collections, guess what else Peachy got me? Guess. Go on. You'll never guess.

HOLY CRAP, NEW TEEN TITANS #1! You have to understand, I don't have the Marv Wolfman/George Perez run — just a bunch of selected issues. And I really, really, really want to get the whole run, so I've been buying it in bits and pieces, but financial constraints would put me in a bind on whether or not I should get issues 1 and 2 when I saw them, as they were the most expensive of the entire 50-issue lot. But now I have issue 1 for nothing, and I can therefore buy issue 2. When I see it.

I got a bunch of other stuff too - including a Captain Marvel mini-action figure from Santa, NBA 2K11 for the PS3 from my brother and his family, and the Before Sunrise/Before Sunset (my favorite movies) screenplays from my friend Katherine, but this is a comics site, and we'll stick to the comics.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Happy New Year!

Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? We should ask Batman and Commissioner Gordon from the now-classic BATMAN HOLIDAY SPECIAL...

Happy New Year, everyone!