May 29, 2014

Reviews: Donald Duck: Trail of the Unicorn

Every time I get a new Carl Barks volume, I think the same thing: "Nah, this has got to be it. There's no way it's still gonna be something I wanna read when I'm done with this. This has to be my limit. And this way I save money, 'cause I won't feel the need to get the subsequent volumes." And pretty much every time, around five or six pages in, I find myself chuckling.

There goes my money, six months from now.

The more I read Barks' long stories, you know what I'm constantly reminded of? The Simpsons. Every episode of The Simpsons has the same structure as a long Barks story: a gag kicks it off, and then a few pages or minutes later, the story has taken such a turn that it's nowhere you expected it to be given how it started. One story that starts out with a couple of pages about the insufferable luck of Gladstone Gander, just full of gags, somehow ends up in the Arctic Ocean, for example.

The whole collection is still pretty fun, and of course if you're into the whole thing from a historical perspective, it's interesting to see because Scrooge still isn't quite Scrooge yet and Gladstone isn't quite Gladstone yet either. In that sense, I can see the wisdom of releasing these volumes out of order, because at this point, we can see how those characters are supposed to be, so each volume preceding those points in time when they're fully realized gives us an indication of where they are in that evolution.

The stories in Donald Duck: Trail of the Unicorn first appeared in Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #107–112 and 114, Donald and Mickey Merry Christmas #1949, Four Color #238 and 263, and Walt Disney's Christmas Parade #1, from August 1949 to March 1950, and are listed below.

Long Stories

  • Trail of the Unicorn. Uncle has every animal he needs in his zoo, except for one: a unicorn. He sends Donald and the boys after the only one ever sighted, but Donald's obnoxiously lucky cousin Gladstone Gander has his sights set on the unicorn as well. How can Donald and Huey, Dewey, and Louie possibly get the unicorn — and what would be their very handsome fee — when they're competing with the luckiest guy in the world?
  • Letter to Santa. Huey, Dewey, and Louie ask Santa Claus for a steam shovel for Christmas, but Donald forgets to mail the letter! So he asks Uncle Scrooge for help, but Scrooge doesn't want to give a steam shovel unless he gets all the credit. So Scrooge and Donald get into a row about who gets to give them the steam shovel, which ends up breaking both steam shovels that they bought. So now they each have to pretend to be Santa Claus to tell the boys that they can't get a steam shovel this year, and of course chaos ensues, even when the real St. Nick shows up.
  • New Toys. Huey, Dewey, and Louie want new versions of their toys (a coaster wagon, tricycle, and scooter) for Christmas, but Donald tells them they can't have any new ones because their current toys are still in good shape, so they go and get part-time jobs doing deliveries so they can raise the money for the new toys themselves, but in the process, their toys get wrecked. Hey, wait a minute...
  • Luck of the North. Donald has finally had enoughof Gladstone's vaunted luck, so he decides to play a prank on him: he creates a fake treasure map that even Gladstone can't resist exploring. However, when Donald finally looks up the location he arbitrarily selected, he finds out it's in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. After an incredibly skilled page where Donald's conscience catches up to him (he tries to laugh it off until he can't take it any longer), he goes after Gladstone to rescue him. But does the luckiest man in the world really need rescuing? (The answer is no. The whole subtext of the story is about Donald wanting a clear conscience more than it is about saving Gladstone. Another example of Barks' deft storytelling.)
  • Land of the Totem Poles. The weakest story in the book, all generally revolving around making fun of Native Americans. Essentially Donald gets a job as a calliope (look it up, I guess) salesman while the boys have to peddle make-up kits. Donald gets annoyed at how much harder his job is, and switches products with the boys, but then the Native Americans all use the makeup kit wrong (harhar) and now Donald must die. A truly dated and altogether unfortunate story.

Short Stories (10-pagers)
  • Super Snooper. Donald gets on the boys' case for always reading superhero comics, but then he gets superpowers himself! What's a Donald with superpowers like? Is he going to fight for truth and justice? Nah, he's just gonna have fun! Accompanied by a pretty obnoxious essay deriding the superhero genre for being inherently not as complex and layered as Barks' stuff. Because, you know, it's apparently the genre's fault.
  • The Great Duckburg Frog-Jumping Contest. Donald wants to be fancy and have frog legs, but he can't afford it, so he sets out to catch a frog of his own. But the frog they get is an incredible jumper, just in time for the Great Duckburg Frog-Jumping Contest! Unfortunately, other contestants are determined to win...
  • Dowsing Ducks. The boys get a divining rod, and Donald decides not to crack down on them to teach them a lesson, but to play tricks on them instead... except, of course, the boys are almost always more clever than he is.
  • The Goldilocks Gambit. Donald has to pick the boys up from summer camp, but the boys don't want to go just yet, so they set their cottage up to look just like the one from Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Donald, knowing it's all a trick (I love that bit, that he somehow knows this is a 10-page story and 10-page stories mean that he and the boys are going to play tricks on each other), pulls out a blonde wig that Daisy gives him and plays along. Until real bears show up.
  • Donald's Love Letters. Donald and Daisy break up for what seems to be the eleventeenth time, and Daisy gives him back his old love letters. Completely embarrassed by them, Donald takes to hiding them, except the boys inadvertently pick up the box Donald's kept everything in and handed it over to Gladstone! Now Donald's got to get them back, or he'll never hear the end of it.
  • Rip Van Donald. Donald's sick of shoveling snow, so he decides to go south for the winter. (Get it?) Huey, Dewey, and Louie hate the idea, since they love skiing and skating and everything else to do with snow, so they play a trick on Donald when they get to their sunny vacation spot: they put a beard on him and convince him that he'd fallen asleep for 40 years, just like Rip Van Winkle! How long can the boys pull off this deceit?
  • Serum to Codfish Cove. Bragging to the boys that he was the greatest skier ever, Donald gets in trouble when he finds out that the snow-barraged town of Codfish Cove needs medical supplies right away. Donald gets into even more trouble when he's used as a carrier pigeon by a bunch of no-good anti-American spies who say "Down with America!" a lot. Good fun.
The 1-pagers. I'm not going to summarize them because, well, they're a page long, but just for the sake of cataloging them, here they are:
  • Fractious Fun
  • King-Size Cone
  • Toasty Toys
  • No Noise Is Good Noise
  • No Place to Hide
  • Tied-Down Tools
  • Noise Nullifier
  • Matinee Madness
  • A Fetching Price
I've pretty much given up on trying to rank these volumes, since at this point, I'm pretty sure that the only way to properly rank them is once they're all done. But this was a fun one. Still highly recommended.

May 26, 2014

This List Will Change Your Life

This List Will Change Your Life
Ben Smith

There are eleven things in life that I am certain of, and ten of them I’m not so sure about. The one thing that I am sure of, is that Spider-Man is, and will always be, my favorite comic book character. We’ve logged far too many miles, shared too many intimate moments, had too many great times, and I am far too old, for that to change at this point in my long existence on this happy little ball of gasses and fluids we call a planet.

What remains in doubt are the other top characters that fill the empty little void in what represents my version of the human heart. If only there were a list that could be generated. Today, that is my goal and my mission. To provide to you the most grandest of favorite character lists, that you will immediately run to the roof of whatever building or domicile you are currently occupying, raise your clenched fist to the sky in triumph, and scream “yes, that was quite the list!”

In the interest of (relative) brevity, and because ten is a common enough number in the list-making game, I will be providing you a list of my ten favorite male characters, and ten favorite female characters. I realize I’ve already broken the rule of ten by providing twenty, but I feel like we’ve all become friends here, so you’ll just have to be flexible. I am also limiting myself to DC and Marvel characters, otherwise my brain might explode from all that hard work thinking about stuff.


Honorable Mention — Black Widow, Jubilee, Rogue, Storm, Psylocke, Black Canary, Magik, Kitty Pryde, Dazzler, Emma Frost (Emma would have topped this list only a few years ago, but has been in steady decline since Grant Morrison stopped writing her)

10. Colleen Wing

Colleen came on strong during my recent re-read of the original Iron Fist series. She’s only a badass samurai bounty hunter, with a ruthless streak, and a pretty face. How can you even read that sentence and not want to find out more about her?

Recommended reading: that Shadowland tie-in series she starred in. Daughters of the Dragon? (It's Daughters of the Shadow. See what I have to deal with? -Duy)

9. The Huntress

The Helena Bertinelli version is the only version for me. You can keep the “Batman’s daughter from another dimension” crap. I like how tough, yet vulnerable she is, and she’s prone to mistakes. She’s much better as the wild card of the Black Canary and Oracle “Birds of Prey” team.

Recommended reading: Simone and Benes Birds of Prey. Shiva “pool fight.”

8. Dawnstar

My overwhelming love for the entirety of the Legion of Superheroes female characters will be represented by Dawnstar. I love her and Wildfire together, and she’s not too hard on the eyes. (Fun fact: I first became intrigued by the Legion because of an excellent episode of the Justice League Unlimited animated series.)

Recommended reading: The Great Darkness Saga, Superman & the Legion

7. Platinum

Much like my undying love for the Legion, The Metal Men are one of the few DC properties that I will always give a chance in a new book. Among all the madcap lunacy of the Metal Men, Platinum is probably the looniest, with her infatuation for their creator always a key aspect of the character. Even as a robot, she has more heart than most. (Another fun fact: I became a Metal Men fan because of the Batman: Brave and The Bold animated series.)

Recommended reading: Metal Men is the only enjoyable Silver Age DC comic.

6. Sif

Sif is a recent addition to my favorites list, following a month-long Thor binge-reading campaign leading up to the release of the second feature film. Sif is a warrior born, and capable of providing sound advice along with a steady sword.

Recommended reading: Journey Into Mystery #646–655

5. Gamora

The only woman that can top Sif and Colleen in the badass department, is “the most dangerous woman in the universe.” As sexy as she is deadly, she’ll follow up a battle to the death by finding a suitable mate for some after-battle “release.” Despite her badass persona, she’s incredibly loyal, and is one of the main reasons the Guardians of the Galaxy are the best team in comics.

Recommended reading: all of modern Guardians really, but if you want to be frugal, Guardians of the Galaxy (vol. 3) #4 (the current series).

4. U-Go Girl

On the surface, she was ruthless and ambitious. But the more you got to know the character, you realized what kind of heart she had below the hard outer exterior, and you miss her all the more for it.

Recommended reading: all of Milligan and Allred’s X-Force, X-Statix #10.

3. The Black Cat

Spider-Man’s most entertaining romantic foil, and one of the sexiest characters in comics. No comic has ever been worse from having her around.

Recommended reading: everything before and after the Spider-marriage

2. Squirrel Girl

The queen of the absurd characters. She’s always fun, whether it’s inexplicably beating much more powerful villains, or babysitting Luke Cage’s daughter. Steve Ditko’s second-best comic book creation.

Recommended reading: GLA, New Avengers (vol. 2) #15

1. Gwen Stacy

Gwen was the first girlfriend many comic book readers ever loved, and that made the pain of Spider-Man losing her all the more poignant. Yes, (barring the Ditko years) she may be more interesting as a cipher, or because of what she represents, but I’m fine with that.

Recommended reading: Marvels #4


10. Flash

When done right, Flash is one of the best characters in all of comics. If you need an example of how to do him right, refer back to Justice League Unlimited. Always willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good, but never willing to sacrifice his sense of humor or his heart.

Recommended reading: Crisis on Infinite Earths #8, The Return of Barry Allen

9. Hank Pym

It’s kind of hard to gauge my actual appreciation for this character in a vacuum, as my wife’s enthusiasm transferred to me eventually, that’s just nature. But he is a wonderfully quirky and flawed individual, and most of the books he’s been a part of since Civil War have been pretty great.

Recommended reading: Mighty Avengers by Dan Slott, Avengers A.I.

8. Hawkeye

Hawkeye was probably the original rabble-rouser and pot-stirrer on a superhero team. Hawkeye is the most arrogant guy in the room, but is usually able to back it up when it counts. He’s always the last guy to give up on a teammate too, which is a level of loyalty I always find appealing.

Recommended reading: Hawkeye by Fraction and Aja is simply brilliant.

7. Iron Fist

Iron Fist is a kung-fu billionaire with a giant dragon tattoo on his chest, and a cool yellow mask with Spider-Man eyelets. He’ll kick you in the face.

Recommended reading: all of Immortal Iron Fist, even the non-Aja stuff (Aja is so underappreciated).

6. Thor

Thor is kinda like Cap in that he’s good for the sake of being good, but what makes him even more enjoyable is that he wasn’t always that way. The flexibility of the character is what makes him so great. He can be arrogant young Thor in Viking times, grizzled old lonely Thor in some apocalyptic future, or the protective big brother of the human race in modern times. And he has some of the greatest supporting characters in all of comics around him.

Recommended reading: barring what I’ve already written about, the current Thor series by Aaron is fantastic, as well as Warren Ellis’ Worldengine, and Fraction’s run is pretty decent too.

5. Howard the Duck

Unfortunately, the stigma of a terrible movie will always follow this character around. It really shouldn’t. He’s a brilliant vehicle for satire and absurdity. The only reason he’s not higher on this list is that only Steve Gerber can write the real Howard.

Recommended reading: all of Gerber’s Howard

4. Star-Lord.

Star-Lord is the ultimate sarcastic jerk that deep down still has a good heart. For some reason I can relate to that character pretty well. Plus he hangs out with a gun-toting talking raccoon, and a walking tree.

Recommended reading: everything after Annihilation

3. Brainiac 5

Modern Brainy is much like Star-Lord in the arrogant jerk department, only with the added layer of super-genius intellect. It’s frustrating having to try and figure out a way to communicate with humans that are so much dumber than you are.

Recommended reading: Levitz and (mostly) Yildiray Cinar’s Legion of Superheroes

2. Doop

I’ve never read a Doop story I didn’t like, and every time an artist draws him in the background of a Wolverine & the X-Men comic, my heart grows three sizes bigger.

Recommended reading: Wolverine & the X-Men #17 is the single greatest issue published in the past 25 years

1. Spider-Man

No surprise here, since I told you this right at the very beginning. For all the reasons that people usually like to cite for why Spider-Man is their favorite character: he’s the everyman, he never gives up, he’s the most relateable. I think the reason I liked the character so much right from the beginning is because he’s funny. He’s always cracking jokes, being sarcastic, and making fun of the guys who are trying to punch him in the face. Like I always say, I have simple tastes.

Recommended reading: (for a change of pace) the Erik Larsen run of Spider-Man was solid fun (except Return of the Sinister Six, yeesh). (Here's REVENGE of the Sinister Six, which is much better. -Duy)

There you have it, the list of all lists. I will settle for nothing less than completely changing your entire view of life and the human experience. If I failed to do that, then…this was all a bit of a waste of time wasn’t it?

Next time, more time wasting!

May 21, 2014

For Every Action

For Every Action
Travis Hedge Coke

One thing I agree with Dr. Frederic Wertham about, is that violence in entertainment, shown without pain or consequence can, mess up a child’s understanding of how violence works in real life.

Wait! I agree with Dr. Wertham? The bogeyman of comics? The mad censor from the foul depths? The dodgy pop-psych guy? Yeah. In this instance, I do. Because, disagreeing or agreeing shouldn’t be dependent on whether you like someone, or whether or not you agree or disagree with their other points. When someone is right, it’s not even about “letting them be right.” They’re right, then they’re right.

I think Wertham was wrong in targeting crime and horror comics, there, though, and that he was on the money when he said the Comics Code’s diktats made it necessary for superhero comics to embrace this consequence-lacking pugilism. Nobody was allowed to get jacked up, anymore, and so kids read stories where things like kidnapping, torture, superhuman blows to the face are treated as something you just shrug off. Dr. Doom can be an “honorable” man, despite kidnapping innocent people, tying them up, and holding them hostage, or pressganging people into committing crimes for him. They won’t hold it against him. Doom can be punched by a guy who can lift a building, he can be set on fire, or thrown off a cliff, but dude’ll be fine, because the Code, and the commercial market, require him not to be permanently disfigured further or crippled in any significant fashion.

Even without a villain there, a standard of Fantastic Four stories since the beginning is Torch and Thing beating up on each other. Torch playfully sets his friend on fire or burns up his prized possessions, and his friend gets mad and swings at him hard enough to break a load-bearing wall when he misses contact with Torch’s face. Then they laugh and laugh. And someone hits the other guy again, and the fight continues.

And, worse, 50s and 60s Superman is just a smiling bully. He lives to fuck with Lois Lane’s head, then spank her, then not date her even though he, you know, is attracted to her. It’s insane. I like some stories from that era, don’t get me wrong, but the social interactions in those comics are insanely unhealthy and as an adult, you can tell, and it’s fiction, so fine, but for kids, they’re easily learning from those stories that this is how life works. By the late 60s, you get letters in Superman titles from women annoyed with the social aspects or blanket misogyny, but you’ve also got ostensibly grown men writing in about what shrill witches these women are who keep invading men’s privacy by being reporters and stuff. Those earlier comics got in their heads, along with everything else in society, and messed them up.

Somewhere along the way, Superman’s super powers went from being a tool to take actions for justice that a lack of powers presented. Beating up alien invaders, crooked slumlords, guys who smack around their wives, and war profiteers took a backseat to Superman asserting his powers not in aid of ethics, but to prove his ethical superiority. And there is a difference. “Might doesn’t make right” is a saying for a reason.

A thought exercise: take the ethical problem of a Superman story, and remove all of Superman’s powers or threats via power. Is his position still right? I’m not asking if everyone around him agrees with him by the end of the story, but without his ability to punish or hurt someone, is his position right?

Mark Schultz and Claudio Castellini’s The Call is a short comic in which a woman is shot by a criminal while he’s fighting with Batman, and Batman calls in Superman to save her life. Superman does save the woman, but he spends the entire time lecturing Batman on how the injury is his fault and how Batman shouldn’t call other superheroes with actual powers to save people who are hurt while he’s stopping a criminal. Batman reiterations this is only the second time he’s done so, and he’s only ever asked Superman, but Superman doesn’t care. Superman is super-fast and super-strong and has super-eyes and clearly, he has better things to do than fly down and save a gunshot victim from bleeding out. Superman also spends the entire story with hands on hips or folded across his chest. And, his penultimate words in the story? “We’re supposed to be better than this.”

Imagine this story, if Batman had called in a normal, human doctor. Or, if a police had called in a doctor. Take the super powers out of it. Does Superman have an ethical leg to stand on? In fact, Batman has to call in paramedics, anyway, because Superman, for whatever reason, can’t fly the woman to a hospital.

Compare this to Superman in Warren Ellis’ works where he’s moodier than usual, and sharper-toned, but clearly and blatantly cares so hard. In New Maps of Hell, Clark Kent is investigating a suspicious suicide and when the cops are dismissive of the death and openly going to be hands off because it’s tied to a big corporation, Clark fumes and suggests he’ll do an op-ed on police corruption and obstruction of justice. Is that nice of him? Not really, it is a threat, after all. But, it’s fair and it’s compassionate. There’s a dead guy on the street, right there next to these people talking, and Clark Kent, Superman, is the guy who seems to really grasp how bad that should make you feel.

Grant Morrison’s Superman is forever talking people into peace, or trying to talk things out with the opposing side, even if it doesn’t work. In the JLA story, Rock of Ages, a man yelling at Green Lantern about collateral damage from a giant flood the heroes just rescued people from before diverting the water, Superman steps in, and by the end of their conversation, the guy’s shaking Superman’s hand. Superman stands still and lets the US Army fire on him, point blank, in the Ultra-Marines arc, because they’re just folks doing their job earnestly, and he can take it. He can last longer than the clips in their guns, and eventually they’ll come around to reason, which they do.

In All-Star Superman, Supes tries to talk sense to Lex Luthor, another time to two time-traveling strongmen, and in those instances, he fails to get his point across to them. He also tries to reason with Lois Lane, after he reveals his secret identity to her, but she’s under the paranoia-inducing influence of an alien substance and aware that Superman has lied to her in a big way plus has a history of pranking and tricking her, so she’s not inclined to take even his sensible statements at face value for the bulk of that issue.

This, to me, is different than if Spider-Man cuts loose. The trash-talk that Spidey indulges in, or when he wails on a guy like Doc Ock, who’s just a guy, after all, except for the big metal octopus arms, that’s not ethical or heroic, but it’s not meant to be. It’s venting. Spider-Man is a geeky, gawky kid that everyone picked on, even if he doesn’t look it anymore. It’s how he thinks of himself, and it’s how he acts, especially when he was younger and still getting picked on all the time. Superman, whose powers really do put him in a whole other league, shouldn’t be that frustrated kid revenge fantasy. And, definitely, when either of them act like that, those around them, the world around them, shouldn’t reward it all the time.

The saving grace of Spider-Man’s self-indulgence, whining, and trash-talk is that virtually everyone around him would rather he shut up and act like more mature. The talent, the writers, artists, and editors don’t condone it, or shy from consequences. Dan Slott making a point of how often Spidey’s villains have been cheerfully concussed or gleefully had their jaw broken by Spider-Man’s superstrong blows, or Mark Millar writing Ultimate Captain America acting like a total teenage sex-frustration fantasy and beating up on his girlfriend’s abusive ex only for it to blow up in his face when she goes back to the other guy? Those aren’t the most pleasant or rewarding consequences, no, but they temper what would otherwise, in typical post-50s American comics, have no consequences.

In heavily licensed comics, people may bruise, but they never get new scars. And the old scars don’t impede much. Daredevil’s blindness is a plot point, rarely something that affects him incidentally. When Hawkeye was deaf, he never forgot to put his hearing aids in, he just turned deaf when the plot needed it. Barbara Gordon was kept in that wheelchair for so long primarily because no one else was. Batman was in and out of his wheelchair. The very same writer had written Black Canary shot not too long before The Killing Joke, and Canary walked it off. Spider-Man will always have the same money troubles, the same anxieties about women and old age, barring some short-term disruptions. Those are his old scars, and they stay intact. But he’ll be in and out of a broken arm or growing four extra ones. The important thing, to me, and this is for my own tastes and, again, for the kids in the audience, is that the broken arm (or the extra four) feels significant at the time, and that it has at least an emotional consequence.

When people are hurt, the audience should feel it emotionally, if not physically. We should feel the positive, the pleasurable aspect of a good guy pounding the tar out of a villain, sure, of a woman getting her revenge blow and cool oneliner off in a climactic panel, but we should also feel the negative consequences. Sure, slam a refrigerator down on top of your enemy, as the Bulleteer does in Seven Soldiers of Victory, but drive them to the hospital after, too. The best way to sedate a mentally ill person screaming nonsense and ready to flay anyone who gets in their path might not be to throw bat-shaped darts at them if you have a tranquilizer in your belt, as Batman so often, when the plot requires it, indeed does. And, if Batman needs to throw a batarang (they’re trademark for a reason) or run over and punch them in the nose, he probably shouldn’t gloat about it, or make jokes about how it’s “treatment” for their illness. That’s not heroism, it’s not blowing off steam, it’s funny maybe outside of the situation, but in-scene, he’s just being a jerk.

May 19, 2014

Comic Pros: The Correlation Between Being Cool and Making Money

Comic Pros: The Correlation Between Being Cool and Making Money
Back Issue Ben
Ben Smith

I’ve only been to a handful of comic book conventions in my lifetime, all within the past 6 years, but they’ve been a great experience. I haven’t had anything I would consider a bad experience with a professional, at worst I’ve walked away feeling like yet another face in the line. However, I have had more than a few interactions that pretty much guaranteed my undying loyalty to that creator for the rest of my comic-reading days.

It’s a pretty simple concept. If you’re great with fans, a lot of them will appreciate it, and more than likely will spend their money on any books you make in the future.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that there are lot of basement dwelling arrested development man children that are comic book fanatics too, always unappreciative, with unrealistic expectations of the generosity of professionals, and always with a hand out looking for free stuff. Always. “I know you spent an untold amount of time and hard work on this book you made, but can I get it for free?” Free is for the giver to determine, not the receiver. (The one that annoys me the most is standing in a long line to meet a comic pro, and one of the guys ahead of you pulls out a stack of fifty books he all wants signed. Be considerate!) But I’d like to believe there are a lot of us that are decent human beings, and behave in an appropriate manner.

Within the past few months, I’ve had fantastic experiences with Howard Chaykin and Dan Slott in London, and Walt Simonson via social media. I was been a big fan of all three prior to these experiences, but the interactions I had with them have guaranteed my financial support in all their future endeavors. The conversation I had with Chaykin at the London Super Comic Convention is one I will remember forever, and anyone that has met Dan Slott knows he is just a force of exuberance and generosity. (Coincidentally enough, having bought and read Howard Chaykin’s art book since meeting him, he and Walt Simonson used to share a studio together in the ‘80s. If only I could time travel back and be a fly on that wall. [Duy's note: They shared that studio with Frank Miller, and I always thought those three kind of resembled each other — Miller and Chaykin more so, but still.]) I did Walt a simple and easy favor, and he responded with a beautifully drawn Karnilla out of the goodness of his own heart. There’s no way he could have known Karnilla is by far my favorite Thor character, but that’s what he randomly did for me, because he’s Walt Simonson, and Walt Simonson is God.

To circle back around to my main point, I’ve made quite a few purchases since that time. Besides the aforementioned Chaykin art book, I got all the way caught up on Satellite Sam, his current Image series with Matt Fraction, which I recommend. I already had American Flagg (completely underrated considering how ahead of its time it was) but I checked my digital apps to see what was available, and purchased his Shadow miniseries (which I haven’t finished yet), Avengers 1959, and the recent run he had on Wolverine. (Which contained the most plausible explanation for Wolverine’s out of control healing factor I’ve heard yet, which is that it has gotten stronger the longer he’s lived.) I also picked up the infamous Black Kiss, the sexual content of which I’ll never be able to fully recover from.

There wasn’t much else to get from Dan Slott since I own pretty much everything he’s ever done. All the way back to Arkham Asylum, to She-Hulk, to Avengers Initiative, to Mighty Avengers, to Amazing Spider-Man, to Superior Spider-Man, and now Amazing Spider-Man (again) and Silver Surfer. It’s all great, go buy it from your preferred retailer or provider of products.

From Walt Simonson, I obviously already owned his legendary run on Thor, but I made sure to overpay for the out-of-print Omnibus edition, because I am a sucker for oversized hardcovers. I had already purchased his recent stints on Avengers, Legion of Super-Heroes, and Hulk. So I looked to see what else was available on the digital apps, and bought all that was available of his work on X-Factor, and started reading his Fantastic Four run on the Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited library. His FF is about as good as the FF can get for me, so I’m sure it’s great stuff to anyone else, I’ve just never had an affinity for them. A lot of this I had already gotten even before the Karnilla, but the art only solidified my resolve to buy all things Walt, because Walt is God.

Simonson has been working on his upcoming Ragnarok book from IDW, sharing progress of the pages of such on social media, and I cannot wait to get my hands on this book. It looks gorgeous. I’ll be purchasing the issues digitally, and then probably getting the hardcover collection when it is released as well.

All of this is to say, is that being a decent person can pay real dividends for you in life, just in general. I’ve never been much of a people person, to put it mildly, so that might be why I appreciate it when a professional is great with their fans, no matter the medium. It’s not an easy thing to do. You have a line of fans waiting to see you, all of various temperaments and expectations, and I am positive it can be a taxing experience. The ones that can not only weather it with a smile on their face, but also make it memorable for each and every single person, that’s where legends belong. It’s no place I could ever reach.

Simonson, Chaykin, and Slott? Check out some of their stuff here.

May 15, 2014

Let's Go Exploring! 11 Things About Calvin and Hobbes

A while back, we spoke about comics that were huge when they came out, made a huge cultural impact, and  forgotten eventually, declining further more in recognition as their time in the sun passed, until all we were left with were the iconography or what they added to our lexicon. Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes is not one of those strips. Despite only running for 10 years and having been over for almost 20, it's still discovered today and is still popular, and all on the strength of its comics, because it was never licensed into ads, toys, and animated series, among other things.

I've been saving this column for a while. It was only a matter of time before I ran something about, in my opinion, the greatest daily comic strip of all time. (Objectively, what're the choices? Using 1950 as a cutoff point, because before then, comics got a full page for Sundays so I think that's a different conversation, it's between Calvin and Hobbes and Peanuts, isn't it? Pogo would be the clear number 3 in that discussion, but there are no other contenders, right?)

So anyway, here, allow me to mention 11 of my favorite types of Calvin and Hobbes strips. Why 11? Well... you'll see.

The 11 Best Types of Calvin and Hobbes Strips
by Duy

1. The advice from Dad

There's one strip early on where Calvin asks his dad about clouds, and his dad doesn't know the answer.

July 21, 1987

Reading the whole collection in order, it seems to have been a misstep (or maybe it explains what came after), because a staple of the strip eventually was his dad's crazy advice, which would just be completely made up, and always a joy to read. My favorite is this one, about black and white pictures.

Here's one about sunsets, for good measure.

July 30, 1989

2. The actual heartfelt ones

The "norm" of the strip is Calvin being carefree, reckless, and unapologetic. So any time it breaks this convention, it takes you by surprise and gets you right there a bit, in the organ that pumps your blood. Here's Calvin getting chewed out by his dad for wrecking his binoculars.

May 24, 1988

And of course, when it's a heartfelt one with Hobbes and it takes place in the autumn, that's even better. Prettier to look at. Just beautiful imagery.

3. The animals

I love when Watterson drew animals because a lot of the time it just felt like he went "Hey, I want to draw an animal!" and just drew the hell out of those animals until it was time for a punchline. The most common, of course, was the dinosaurs.

My favorite though is the one with the dead bird. (Okay, maybe I'm morbid.)

4. The snowmen

There probably isn't one type of strip in Calvin and Hobbes that made me laugh more consistently than the ones with the snowmen.

5. Tracer Bullet

I have absolutely no factual basis to back this up, but I'm going to assume that most people's favorite alter ego for Calvin was Spaceman Spiff. But my favorite one was the one that showed up least, Tracer Bullet, private eye.

Watterson could have been doing crime comics if he'd wanted.

6. The deep but obvious

Calvin and Hobbes is often praised for being "philosophical," but if you think about it, a lot of their discussions are fairly obvious. It's just nice to see and read, and if you were a kid, they could be eye-opening and revelatory.

March 23, 1986

And most of them involve a wagon or a sled.

Then there are the times Calvin will make a deep point and undermine it at the end.

October 16, 1990

7. Christmas

The Christmas ones, aside from the snowmen, are a nice microcosm of what Calvin and Hobbes is about. There's a lot of pondering and discussion, like this one where Calvin is wondering about Santa (and God).

December 21, 1987
And he tries to be good, but he just can't resist temptation.
December 21, 1990
And of course, Christmas hits, and things are great.

I love Christmas, myself. So these always get to me.

8. The ones with the box

If there's any one specific aspect of Calvin that a young me would have agreed with, it's this: the cardboard box is the greatest toy in the world. You can make it into anything. Calvin has made his a transmogrifier, a time machine, and a cloning machine.

March 24, 1987
January 8, 1990
September 2, 1987

Action figures and video games are great, but very little can compare to the imagination of a child.

9. The ones where Watterson draws differently

This is my all-time favorite Calvin and Hobbes strip.

February 28, 1993

It's got not only one of my favorite themes (imagination), but, man, it's just beautiful.

Watterson was just a great artist. He could do any style. A lot of the time, as with the animals, it seemed he just wanted to draw a particular style and wrote a strip around that. Here are a few.

January 31, 1993

10. Susie Derkins

Have any two fictional people been so bad at hiding how much they actually like each other despite all effort? Susie and Calvin tease each other and hit each other with snowballs and water balloons, but they just can't stop trying to spend time with each other and hang out.

February 14, 1994

Every fan-made Calvin and Hobbes spinoff I've seen has set Calvin up with Susie, and why not? They clearly like each other.

January 16, 1987

11. The last one

This is the last strip that ran for Bill Watterson's 10-year masterpiece.

December 31, 1995

And it's a great way to go out. It says the world is full of possibility, and there's a lot left to do, a lot left to see. Watterson knew that, and so he left, to explore other options.

Which is why there are 11 things on this list and not 10, because I really wanted to tack that last one on. This month marks the fourth anniversary of The Comics Cube, but it also marks the end of my regularity as a writer for it, meaning I won't be doing columns on a weekly basis anymore.. I've recently taken on a new, more demanding job, and lately it hasn't left me enough time or energy to keep writing for the Cube the way I've been doing and still pursue all the other things I want to do, which is a considerable number of things, and I've always felt (and by always, I mean the last year) that Calvin and Hobbes would be the only comic to semi-go out on.

I'll still write columns; they just won't be weekly.  Ben and Travis and Matt will still be around. In the meantime, I made a tag for myself so you can check out my archives more easily. And of course, you can still find me on Facebook and Twitter.

People are always asking me for evergreen recommendations, and I usually get requests to just name what I think are the greatest comics of all time, but I never do them, because my tastes change all the time. Here now, though, gun to my head, if I were asked: the greatest comic ever is Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes. And it would be my ultimate recommendation, for anyone who's never read it. (The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, which my friend Aviva gave to me a few years ago as a gift, is beautiful, especially the Sundays. If you have the money, get it — you won't regret it.)

Let's go exploring!