Aug 22, 2013

Roundtable 2!

Welcome to another round of the Comics Cube Roundtable, where we at the Cube give our takes on certain comics arguments. Click here for the full list. 


Duy: Any time someone makes a career out of building from someone else's work, comparisons between those two people will inevitably arise. In the case of Don Rosa and Carl Barks, I've certainly seen people on both sides. Don Rosa is simultaneously praised and criticized for taking what Barks did and drawing it with more detail, because to some people detail is cool, and to some people detail is bad, especially the Disney purists who think a minimal amount of lines is the way to go.

I myself am a big fan of detail, especially detailed architecture, and for that, Rosa gets an edge because the dude actually has a background in civil engineering and he worked with technical, fixed-width pens. He also did more in the way of shadow work than Barks did. Barks did both things, albeit more sparingly. A part of it is that that was just the difference between them, and a part of it is that Rosa's time had better production values. Rosa also had the advantage of taking Barks' model and moving from there. And that's part of the reason this is an unfair comparison, because Barks cannot compete on those grounds. He cannot. It's impossible.

On the other hand, when it comes to actual storytelling, movement between panels, and looking animated, that's Barks all the way. Rosa clearly built off of what he did, and incorporated other techniques, mostly from movies, that he freely admits to "stealing." But he built off Barks' method, and that's another thing about these cross-era comparisons that makes it unfair. Don Rosa cannot compete with how groundbreaking Carl Barks was. He cannot. It's impossible.

In terms of story content, Rosa again has the advantage in that he's able to take what Barks did and add to it. In that sense, Barks wins the points for originality, and Rosa wins the points for writing the stuff that tickles the fan itch.

Duy's Verdict: I refuse to choose, and thankfully, I'll never have to. Fantagraphics should issue a complete Don Rosa collection when they're done with Barks.

Travis: I know Barks is a huge influence on Rosa, he knows it, you know it, but I don’t think they’re really the same kind of artist, writer, or storyteller and that’s in part because Rosa, when he’s doing duck-work, is coming at it as a later-generation fan, his understanding of things, how they line up, how they are contextualized is obviously filtered through fandom. He’s the Philip J Farmer of duck comics. The Joe Lansdale. The Roy Thomas.

What’s the versus here? Which is better? Better at what?

Travis’ Verdict: Both are wonderful.

Ben: I'm going to do what I usually do in a case like this, which probably perplexes most of you, and name a basketball analogy.  (The basketball is the perplexing part, I assume, and not the concept of analogies, unless I just perplex you in general, in which case, you're right in line with my family and friends, and anyone that has ever known me.)  Kobe Bryant obviously took every move he uses from Michael Jordan.  It's possible Bryant was as competent in those moves as Jordan, while also providing an arguably better three point shot, and may end up passing Jordan on the all-time scoring list.  But at no point in history has a copy ever been as clear and as good as the original, or succeeded in not being a copy, no matter how great.

There's always a point where I purchase something published before 1980, that I remember I'm probably going to hate it (especially DC) and prepare to force myself to read it, because, a purchase is a purchase, and that societal contract must be fulfilled.  I experienced the same dread with Carl Barks, yet realized he may be the single greatest, most timeless, creator of all-time.  From dread to worship, in the span of one oversized reprint collection.

Ben's Verdict:  Barks, but Don Rosa did a free Scrooge sketch for me once, and was amazing and nice.

Matt: No Duck in this fight.

Matt's Verdict: Life is like a hurricane.

Travis: In corporate-owned superhero comics, I’m beyond caring if it is the writer’s idea, the editor’s, penciler’s, editor in chief’s sister’s kid’s idea. I’m not even sure if I care if it’s a “good idea.” Is the story the death happens in a good comic? Okeh, then. That’s all I’m judging it on anymore, because in the big corporate-owned superhero universes, resurrection is easy. Editorial mandate that a charcter no longer appear is much stronger than any dismemberment, cancer, asphyxiation, or rare Kryptonian disease.

And, of course, by “good comic” I mean simply, “a comic I like”.

Travis’ Verdict: Kill’em all, make it good, bring them back next Tuesday.

Duy: People like to get on story premises right away when they see it advertised in the news and whatnot as "cheap stunts" and "gimmicks." This is especially true of character deaths, but it could also be true of anything that involves a character leaving the book for a while or, to a lesser degree, a cliffhanger at the end of an issue.

Here's the thing: no one has ever said the words, "Let me create something that won't sell." When Jack Kirby was asked in Masters of Comic Book Art how he came up with things like Galactus and Darkseid, his response was something to the effect of "They expected me to make sales." I guarantee that if today's fans had seen Sue Storm marry Reed Richards back then, they would have complained. (Travis has actually told me that people wrote in even then, complaining that it aged the characters too much.)

And when it comes to the marketing side, looking at Superior Spider-Man as an example, would people have paid as much attention to it if it were still going on in Amazing Spider-Man? I don't think so. Some true marks would, but most people would just be waiting for Peter to come back instead of enjoying the story (I still am; I guess I'm just a bit too removed from the experience. I am enjoying it though). Would Age of Apocalypse have been the same if it hadn't been in all-new titles? I'd say no. Like it or not, there is a psychological factor to the whole thing, to pretending that these changes are permanent, even when they are not. When Marvel and DC combined for one week to produce Amalgam, they wrote the solicits to make it look like it was permanent. And I guarantee, someone out there bought it. Maybe not you, but someone. And to that person, it made a true difference.

And on the side of the media, maybe, just maybe, if they approach the companies about their "cheap stunt" and not about their other storylines, it's because they know the public will go apeshit.

Duy's Verdict: Is the story good? Did the media hype increase its readership? If both answers are yes, then it succeeded.

Ben: Cynicism is an adult trait.  As a kid (and to this day) my two favorite comics were the Death of Gwen Stacy and Crisis on Infinite Earths #8 (the death of the Barry Allen Flash).  What this tells me (other than that I was a morbid kid) is that death can be a powerful storytelling tool, and I didn't need to ever consider if it was forever to know that it was touching, and that my life was both better and sadder for having read them.  Never mind that death and resurrection has been a staple of heroic fiction forever.  (Hey there Jesus.)

Cynicism is far too prevalent a trait in the modern species of the comic fan.  It shouldn't matter if you think you know what happens next, or the permanence, or perceived lack thereof, of the story you're reading.  Does your adult knowledge that Johnny Storm will probably not remain dead indefinitely, make the story following his "death" any less moving?  The silent issue, beautifully depicting each FF member's sorrow over the loss, capped by a Franklin and Spider-Man conversation in which they've both lost an Uncle they loved dearly, is worth far more than any cynical fan's anxiety over what it is they think they know. 

Ben's Verdict:  Give me more heroic deaths, and exciting resurrections.

Matt: Death is a powerful force in life. Comics can build a character and his/her importance and give the death meaning or they can kill huge swaths of characters with disregard. Both can be effective and I think Ben (shockingly) makes a good point. Don't let adult cynicism and knowledge of past non-deaths cloud the meaning of heroic sacrifice. Deaths shouldn't just be used for shock value, since that value has a shorter half-life than a bad story. If the death works and people reading should care about this person dying, then by all means. Just killing a character because your itching to tick up sales probably isn't going to work and your story probably shows that. Rorschach's death works in Watchmen, Flash's death works in Crisis. Did Superman's death at the hands of Doomsday work? I don't know, I never read the story, but I know that Batman's death in Final Crisis didn't really work for me. It was just random.

Matt's Verdict: Don't change the story to fit the death, make the death work for the story.

Matt: Again not something I knew was a thing. I think of Stan and Jack serving different, but necessary roles in the development of Marvel and for Jack a number of DC worlds and characters. I don't think one was better at the other, except that Stan cannot draw. Who deserves more credit? Neither, anyone who knows a little comics history knows that they both played integral roles. Without Stan and Jack, we wouldn't have the Fantastic Four or the X-Men. Without Stan, no Spider-Man or the Hulk. Without Jack, no New Gods, no Darkseid, no Orion, no Captain America. The comics world would be a lot less interesting.

Matt's Verdict: In The Man vs The King, we all won

Duy: My take on this always seems to change depending on who I'm talking to, and in what year. Three years ago, I'd have taken the opposite stance as whatever you're taking, because I would have wanted to make sure we walked out of it with an overall balanced view. Now, I'd probably just take your side, because I'm sick of arguing about it.

Both men contributed to varying degrees on varying projects. Fantastic Four wouldn't have been the same without Kirby's scope, nor without Stan's voice. The unity of the entire Marvel universe rests on Stan's voice and (for the most part) Kirby's house style. It wouldn't have been what it was without either man.

And while we're at it, this debate always comes down to Stan and Jack, and sometimes it includes Steve Ditko, but it always seems to overlook the other guys who actually contributed to the creation of the Marvel Universe. So let's just get this out of the way: Don Heck (Iron Man), Bill Everett (Namor, Daredevil), Joe Simon (Captain America), Wally Wood (who gave Daredevil his iconic costume), Neal Adams (who really put the X-Men somewhere in the vicinity of the map, at the tail end of the 60s), Jim Steranko (Nick Fury), John Romita (we'll get to him later), Larry Lieber (Stan's brother that no one ever remembers, who both wrote and drew), Roy Thomas (I think we can safely say he was Stan's #2 guy), and... I'm going on too long. Let's move on.

Duy's Verdict: Can we all agree that the Marvel Universe would not be the same without either guy?

Travis: If this is “Who built Marvel?” then for better or worse, I have to say Stan Lee was still the glue, but everyone worked and I can’t judge who worked hardest or best because all I know are the end products. I do know that without Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, or Wally Wood, Stan Lee’s romance comics are about the only thing of his that really rocks me and those were drawn by superb artists too. But nobody could write hype like Stan Lee. Jack Kirby could write an essay or a letter to the readers and it was informative and emotional and I want to throw my fist in the air and shout Hell Yeah! reading them, but Stan Lee could fill up a column consistently with virtually nothing in the way of useful content and it’s just entertaining.

Who made better comics, separate from the other? Jack Kirby, for me, always.

Travis’ Verdict: Marvel should cough up some cash to Kirby’s heirs and a lot of heirs (and living talent).

Ben: I've never heard anyone argue that the vanilla was more integral than the chocolate in a swirl ice cream cone.  You can try and separate them by hand, but you'll get your hands all sticky, and the cone gets depressed.

You can also have vanilla or chocolate on its own, to varying levels of personal preference (unless one of them is served Ditko sprinkles, then it's just objectively better).

Ben's Verdict:  Now I want ice cream.

Duy: Some fans are territorial, quick to ostracize and "protect" their hobby from new fans. These people consider themselves "true fans," and cite whatever "facts" they know about the material to prove that these other fans aren't really fans. These people see fandom as a clubhouse.

What is there to be protective of? Your stuff will always be there. What you enjoy will always be there — and once you start cutting it off from other people, are you even still enjoying?

Comics are losing readers (superhero comics, anyway), and the last thing it needs it lose even more. Maybe if you think someone should know more, you should try talking to them instead of ostracizing them. Maybe if you think someone needs to read better, you can recommend instead of criticize. Or maybe you can just accept that different people like different things.

One more thing: trivia has always been fun, but ultimately pointless. The existence of the Internet has made it even more pointless. Knowledge of trivia is nothing to lord over other people. That's why it's called "trivia."

Duy's Verdict:
It'd be better if, instead of a clubhouse, we were a bar. One of those relaxed ones with awesome music in the background and we can just sit around and talk. Because comics should be fun.

Matt: A true fan is one who recognizes that comics are there for pleasure and not to beat someone over the head with knowledge you learned 10 minutes ago from Wikipedia. No one is more of a fan than someone who spends money on this stuff.

Matt's Verdict:
I learned all this 20 minutes ago on Wikipedia.

Ben: I tease my wife that she's not a true fan all the time, but only because I'm trying to goad her into reading some comic I like.  It never works, and she doesn't care what I think. 

As no one should, because fandom isn't a contest, or a badge of honor to be worn with arrogant pride, to the derision of all others.  You may feel you earned your place through multiple schoolyard beatings and dateless Saturday nights, but I hate to tell you, the only price to pay to be a fan is printed on the front of the comic.

Ben's Verdict: Get over it.

Travis: I play games to play games. Sometimes, I play to lose, because the penalties are fun. So, one night I agreed to play Star Wars Trivial Pursuit, despite not having read anything like a Star Wars technical manual or even, really, having seen the (then only three or four) movies all that often, or at least, I hadn’t watched them very closely. It’s just a fun thing to do, right? We were playing for our standard coin of the realm, Starbursts and weird dares, so not high stakes.

We’re all having fun and some people are just eating their cache instead of betting with it, when a question comes up for me, that to my brain reads: “Who is the guy in the one scene in that one movie who says that thing, one time, to no character you ever heard off, and then Han does something cool right after?” And, I just say, “I don’t know.” I’m not going to guess. It’s not worth it.

This guy, somebody’s boyfriend, smacks everything off his end of the table, cards, snacks, bottles, right off the table. And, he bellows at me some name, and how incredibly important this scene is in one of the greatest movies and he could’ve named it when he was five and…

This guy isn’t my partner in the game. He’s actually winning by my losing.

He’s what I picture every time someone pulls out that “true fan” card. The guy who slapped his beer off the table and screamed I was no longer allowed to watch Return of the Jedi until I learn to appreciate it right.

Travis’ Verdict: I like noobs and dilettantes a lot more than true fans.

Ben: At no point in my life have I ever wanted less females around, except unless I'm using the toilet at the time. I like talking to women, they have interesting things to say.  Comic knowledge and/or interest (fake or not) has only ever been a bonus.

Ben's Verdict: Pathetic.

Matt: I have heard of this! I don't know what it means! It seems basically to  fall in the same category as true fannism. If you spend time and/or money to get to know a universe, a title or even just a character, you aren't fake anything.

Matt's Verdict: Larger audiences are never bad

Duy: This is just like the "true fans" thing, but it's worse when girls are involved. Some people just believe that there's no such thing as a true geek girl.

I myself am not a fan of labels. This whole "nerd vs. geek" thing doesn't really apply to me. At most, I call myself and all you guys a fan. Labels, like "geek," "nerd," "fanboy," or "otaku," seem to just pigeonhole people right away into a specific description, and I try to avoid that, as we are all different. (I hate, for example, when people say to me that I hate The Dark Knight Rises simply because I'm a comic book fan. That has nothing to do with it — I just hate The Dark Knight Rises.) But if people want to identify themselves as that label, then why hold them back? What exactly is in it for you?

We were all newbies once. We all didn't know things, at one point in time. And we will all get into our various "things," in varying degrees.

And to take that kind of snooty behavior and amplify it when you're talking to a girl is, pardon my French, really fucking sexist. Anyone can be a fan of anything.

(And also, assuming you are a heterosexual single male, why wouldn't you want girls getting into your hobby? Not that you're going to score or anything, but I would assume you would want the company.)

Duy's Verdict: I do not know why this even resembles an "argument."

Travis: Have I ever known a woman who’d pretend to be interested in something for prospective benefits in the future? Sure. But, I also know there’s thousands of “how to feign interest during a chickflick” articles out there and dudes who’re reading them. Doesn’t mean the last time I watched 13 Going on 30 with a woman it was because I was trying to lay her. That time you saw a woman on the bus reading a manly-man-manly Green Lantern issue that she was cuing you in that she’d like to bed you and take your money.

One or even ten examples of something untoward occurring, something underhanded, does not justify a blanket condemnation of an entire gender. The moment you make it about condemning a gender and not a behavior, you’ve already stepped over into Bullshit Land.

(And on the side-subject of “they’re just in it for the cosplay,” I want to say that there’s nothing wrong with being a fan of costumes, of clothes and arrangements, by themselves. There’s nothing better or worse about being a fan of exciting clothes than there is being a fan of particular superpowers, and focusing on either of those instead of the personal history of a character doesn’t make anyone less of a fan or fakier.)

Travis’ Verdict: This is, without a doubt, fandom’s biggest “I am an Asshole” sign right now.


Matt: True confession time, I usually only notice art when it's bad. I can notice themes or exceptionally good art, but I was never one to buy something just because of the artist. That being said, I haven't read enough of the Silver Age stuff to really know which was better.

Matt's Verdict:
I need to go read some old Spider-Man. I'll be back.

Duy: John Romita drew prettier women, but Steve Ditko's Dr. Strange was just so wildly creative on an artistic level beyond anything I've ever seen Romita do. In terms of Spider-Man, I also prefer Ditko's version, who had a bit more of an edge. Ben's pointed out to me that I should like Romita's Spidey more because he's basically a superpowered version of Archie, but the flaw there is that everyone around Archie is more interesting than he is too. It's not that bad with Spidey, and Romita's Spidey is fun. It's just, at the core, less compelling.

I also think Ditko was just the better storyteller. What's the most famous Spider-Man image by Romita? It's either Mary Jane's first appearance, which is the only notable thing about that story, really, or the cover to ASM #50. In contrast, the most famous Ditko image (other than anything from the origin) is a sequence of images — Spidey lifting a bunch of machinery from himself.

Also, I have the first two ASM omnibi, and I noticed that when I was reading the first one, it just kept speeding up and speeding up. Halfway through, I couldn't put it down. The second one though, when Romita took over, started off quickly and then slowed down at the halfway point. By the end, it was a chore to finish, as if Stan and Johnny were only going through the motions. And maybe they were. I'd find out later on, and I wish I could remember who told me, that when Romita first took over the book, he was trying to be like Ditko. Then Stan told him to be himself. I think I'd have liked him better if he'd kept trying to be Ditko.

Duy's Verdict: Ditko.

Ben: Romita's aesthetically more pleasing artwork rocketed the character and book into higher sales, in much the same way a pretty person might get more attention, but have less to say.

Ditko's stories were better, but Romita's Gwen was prettier.

Ben's Verdict: Ditko, for today

Travis: John Romita draws pretty. But, Steve Ditko is a fucking monster.

Travis’ Verdict: Ditko.

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