Jan 15, 2017

Techniques and Tricks: The Cutout

I'm a sucker for the cutout — scene-setting panels where a wall is cut off and we can see "through" the place that is drawn. Often it tracks a foreground figure and goes throughout a setting, similar to a polyptych.

It's really helpful in taking you through a place and giving you a tour:

GI Joe, Larry Hama

Covering multiple scenes that take place in different rooms anyway:

Mockingbird, Kate Niemczyk

Economically taking you through a character's routine in a minimal number of panels (without the cutout, this would have taken more space):

Promethea, JH Williams III

Just flat-out giving a sense of place:

Seconds, Bryan Lee O'Malley

Effectively acting as a progression of scenes on its own, with a payoff at the end:

Spidey Sundays, Marcos Martin

Or simply looking pretty:

The Spirit, Will Eisner (colors I believe by Arlen Schumer)

It's one of those things that actually takes up less space than if you were to not do it, but I think it isn't done as much because it does take some thought to make it work. For one thing, you'd have to make sure you'd need a reason to go from room to room. But also, it can make mundane scenes look more exciting.

Got a favorite cutout? Let us know in the comments or on the Facebook page!

Jan 11, 2017

Arc, Story, Period: The Difference

Arc, Story, Period: The Difference
Travis Hedge Coke

So, you've got a hold on title (the name of a series), run (a selection of almost-entirely-successive releases done by an author, including writer, artist, letterer, colorist, et al), and imprint (label identifying thematically or contractually linked releases). That’s almost basic level comics stuff, these days. Got to know your Miller Daredevil or your Nocenti, your Vertigo from your Weirdoverse or Marvel UK. It’s helpful to know that while the different collections have numbers and names, the title is, in common speaking, Preacher.

Now, on to the hard stuff. The things even the thoroughgoing fans sometimes muck up and say wrong. An arc. A story. A period.

Aren’t they all stories? Can’t a period refer to both the in-story era and place and to the time and place of production? Why isn’t an arc a story? Don’t stories have arcs?

Let’s slow down and take this in chunks.


A story, for our purposes, has a clear beginning and clear end. It's intended, by the authors, to be taken apiece, to be picked up without having to read something that came before and enjoyed on its own, beginning to end. You could put it down and be done after you’ve read the final pages.

Some stories are a single issue long. Some are five issues long. Some are three panels in length. Or, one.

Family Circus, for example, is almost always a single panel story. You can read several in a row, but there’s little narrative followthrough, virtually never going to be any lead-in to the next story, and they simply aren’t designed for it.

On a serial comic like Batman or Brave and the Bold, however, there may be lead-ins for the next story or followthrough from the last, in an issue that is, still, a story in its own right.

The existence of those tune in next time scenes, or callbacks from previous stories sometimes lead fans to feeling that it is necessary to also read the next issue or to start five to five hundred issues earlier, with the idea that it all ties together and the tying together is more important than that the stories are, largely, designed to be read on their own. This sometimes manifests as treating a run as one story, and only one story, even if it is eighty issues long. Or, people asking things, like “What is the story of Batman?” or “What is the theme of Daredevil?”

“What is the theme of the story?” is a school exercise to get a student on the ball about identifying themes. It is not a lesson in the inherence of a singular theme in either a story or a title (or a character). When we get caught up in this, the consequences are like peeing in the pool; other people might have wanted to swim in there, too, but now they ain’t gonna.


An arc is made up of stories.

Okeh, let’s back up. A story has an arc, because a story has progress and we track that progress by a kind of narrative/emotional arch or squiggly graph. But, when you have serial stories, as most comics are, you inevitably develop arcs of stories, when a character progresses in a clear, linear fashion over the course of several stories, or an author gets on a particular kick and explores a theme or motif from different angles over the course of several stories.

Dick Grayson, former Robin and current-Batman, has an arc in Grant Morrison’s Batman and Robin run, even though there are several distinct stories in that run. His arc, as a character/person, is not limited to one story, nor is it, itself, necessarily a satisfactory story. But, it is a satisfactory continuum.

In Preacher, Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon have a Salvation arc, the way a television show may have a seasonal arc. You can enjoy, on their own, the individual stories, but there is a larger issue and larger progress made when those stories are taken as a whole, when the situation and setting in those stories is taken as a whole.


The Salvation arc has a period and is, in a sense, defined by that period. Period, in this sense, is not a matter solely of time, but of time and place. When we talk of the Victorian period or the Vietnam era, we are generally unconcerned with Mars or Atlantis in the years of the Vietnam War, or even Brazil or Germany during the Victorian years. These are regionally and culturally specific.

Maus or Captain Swing and the Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island, on the other hand, can and do have specific dates ascribed to their events and are period pieces in the most conventional sense, set in a relatively specific past era, complete with era-specific costumes, mores, and dialect.

But, there is a period of Batman-related stories and arcs that cannot be ascribed to a specific date, that sometimes gets treated as if it were a single story or there was a meaningfully traceable arc behind it all, commonly called No Man’s Land. NML is a setting for stories, a place and time. Similarly, Salvation, a town in Preacher, is a period, because we are experiencing it within a particular time frame, with what came before as the past, what may come later, the future.

However, Gotham City, in DC comics, is not a period. Manhattan in Fantastic Four or Chicago in all comics ever, are not periods. Too much time, too many different periods of time are encompassed in those ranges. A period, while geographically and culturally specific, is time sensitive above all else. While the earthquake and the degradation of society that follows, that we call NML cannot have a permanent date ascribed to it, it does exist within a distinct time frame, identifiably different from pre- and post-NML Batman stories.

This Is Important

Again, when we don’t keep these distinctions, just like confusing toilet and pool because they both have water in a basin, it can run off new people and make the rest of us want to get out fast. Not everybody who pees in the pool is malicious, and not everyone who says “arc” when they mean story, or “story” when they mean period is being deliberately misleading or difficult. And, to continue with the metaphor, some of it just comes from being immature or inexperienced. Maybe no one ever told them not to, or why they shouldn’t.

If you start calling a period a story, you make someone feel they need the whole thing. Telling someone that NML is a story and needs to be read all together or not at all, is like telling someone they need to rent every movie set during the Vietnam War or they shouldn’t watch any of them. Treating the actual comics in which Carol Danvers appears as an arc taking her from Colonel to Ms Marvel to Captain Marvel is misleading. And it presents an arc as both a planned and choreographed event (which it is not) and as something with a beginning and an end with a clear entry point and exit, when it has neither. With a Captain Marvel movie on the horizon, misdirection like that can be almost cruel, and at the very least, it makes things very awkward for people who don’t want to buy a thousand comics just to enjoy one two hundred page trade paperback of a specific story.

Jan 9, 2017

Top 10 Lines from Transformers: The Animated Movie

Top 10 Lines from Transformers: The Animated Movie
Ben Smith

At this point, it is unlikely that I will ever be famous. I have an outside shot at infamous, should my meds ever wear off. No, I haven’t accomplished any of the grandiose dreams of cultural domination that so many of us aspire to in our underdeveloped adolescent minds, before the reality and weight of the world crushes our dreams like an abandoned grape upon the kitchen floor. However, I have accomplished one thing of value, and that is I have memorized to nearly 100 percent accuracy, every bit of dialogue in the cult classic ‘80s film, Transformers the Animated Movie. (My favorite line to mimic word for word as the movie plays, is when Perceptor says “A cursory evaluation of Decepticon capability indicates a distinct tactical deficiency.” It’s the nerd movie trivia show-off equivalent of Scottie Pippen dunking over Patrick Ewing.)

Whatever your feelings of a 30-year-old animated movie for children might be, it cannot be denied that it has some of the greatest quotes of any movie ever created (I refuse to believe I’m biased because I’ve loved this movie since I was 8 years old). So many in fact, that it was difficult to limit it to just 10. I sought some feedback from the rest of the Comics Cube, but they’re all incompetent, and in many cases mentally deficient. Therefore, once again, I must press on alone.

Here you go, in no specific order, the 10 best quotes from Transformers the movie.

Special Mention: “You’re an idiot Starscream.”

This one is just a personal favorite, and I fully recognize that I’m probably the only one that even registers it.


Up first is a quote that is probably up for debate, as you could really pick any line from the scene between Unicron and Megatron and still be correct. Frank Welker’s iconic blustery Megatron against Orson Welles’ (after much work was done post recording) subdued but supremely confident Unicron is the most captivating exchange in the entire movie. I can’t tell you how many friends from all walks of life that I know, that can recite the entire back and forth from beginning to end from memory. That’s powerful writing.


Despite Springer being highly overrated, I cannot argue that this is probably the favorite line for most fans. In stark contrast to…


Ultra Magnus may have been a complete failure as Autobot leader, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t the coolest new Autobot introduced in the movie. Nobody likes Springer. He’s all flash and no substance. Ultra Magnus had the venerable Robert Stack voicing his iconic lines of failure, so put that in your pipe and smoke it. Look, I’d like to see you take command of the Autobots with enemies on all sides and a planet-eating unicorn threatening the galaxy. How good would you do?! That’s right, screw you.


Rumble was all about that thug life, and despite being one of the smallest Decepticons, always thought he was going to win the fight. He was wrong, but I like his confidence.


I’m just leaving this in to annoy Duy. (Ugh. - Duy)


The final fight between Optimus Prime and Megatron was absolutely everything you could have ever wanted as a youngster in 1986. I took a portable cassette player/recorder (back in olden times we had something called cassette tapes) and recorded the audio of the fight by holding the recorder up to the television speaker, so I could listen to it in bed before sleep. It was the ultimate in adolescent violence and braggadocio.


Again, Rumble was a head cracker, and he might now have understood some of the big words being thrown around, but that wasn’t going to stop him from making sure Soundwave got his proper respect. Even though it was technically true, Soundwave was boring.

At this point, I’d like to take a moment to explain why “bah weep gragnah weep nini bong” will not be making the list. It’s dumb.


Okay, that’s cheating. If you’re a stickler for rules, then just take the first line. Regardless, Starscream finally had Megatron at his mercy, and disposed of him as quickly as he could. Unfortunately, it would not last for him, as the next quote will highlight.


Even though Starscream was my favorite Decepticon and the greatest Transformer ever created, Galvatron was pretty damn cool looking to 8 year old Back Issue Ben, and he dispatched the ever deceitful and traitorous Starscream with ruthless efficiency. Plus, all hail the mighty Leonard Nimoy. Rest in peace.


I really wish I could remember the first time I watched this movie, and what I thought as I watched previously invincible Autobots being blasted to shreds by the Decepticons. Ironhide valiantly tries to fight to his last remaining circuits, but receives a blast to the face from Megatron’s cannon at point blank range. I grew up reading mangled Transformers dying all the time in the comics, so I’m pretty sure I was thrilled by it all. The lesson as always, I was a morbid kid.

(I recognize the naughty thrill that “Aw shit, what are we going to do now?” had on a generation of young Transformers fans, but outside of that context it’s not a great line.)


Nobody likes Springer. Thinks he’s so smart and clever and charismatic.

That does it. No mere list of 10 is ever going to encompass all of the great words delivered by legendary voice actors at the top of their game. Here are just a few that didn’t make the cut:

  • Megatron must be stopped... no matter the cost.
  • We can't hold out forever, Kup, but we *can* give them one *humongous* repair bill.
  • It's not hard to knock 'em down, it's getting them to stay down that's the trick!
  • Spare me this mockery of justice.
  • How do you feel, mighty Megatron?
  • This is Jazz. A ginormous weird lookin' planet just showed up in the suburbs of Cybertron.
  • I'll rip open Ultra Magnus, and every other Autobot, until the Matrix has been destroyed!

If you think I’ve egregiously excluded any quote that demands to be included, feel free to let me know in the comments. Until that day, till all are one.

Jan 2, 2017

From the Yellow Kid to Maui: Costumes That Move

Happy New Year, Comics Cube folks! We're gonna do a quick post here to get the Cube started in 2017. We're sorry about the overall lack of content in 2016, and wish we could say we'd be more active in the coming year, but blah blah blah jobs and commitments, so we'll see how it goes, all right?

So I watched Moana a couple of weeks ago, and I loved just about everything about it, from the musical numbers ("Shiny" is my favorite), the overall coming-of-age story of Moana, the visuals, and the overarching theme. I like that it's representative of an underrepresented culture (Polynesia) and that it incorporates that culture's mythology. Maui is a demigod responsible for much of the state of the world. He's got a big magical fishhook. And he's got tattoos.

Tattoos that move.

Mini Maui acts as Maui's voice of reason and conscience, and in film and animation, it's something new to see. It lets us peek into the character's mind via something we see on his body.

In comics, though, it's a device that's been around since the Yellow Kid showed up in 1895. In lieu of actual speech balloons, the Yellow Kid's dialogue would appear on his shirt.

The effect is different, simultaneously both more jarring and more subtle than in film. Where the animators, the character, and the audience have to acknowledge that Maui's tattoos move, with the Yellow Kid, it's just a thing that happens. It's not mentioned and is just a part of the entire experience.

Strangely, the only writer I've seen play off of this type of device is Alan Moore, and twice. Girl One from Moore, Gene Ha, and Zander Cannon's Top 10, one of the best, most well-written, and most well-drawn short series of all time in any medium, is naked except for pigments on her skin. These pigments change into various configurations reflecting her mood.

It's subtle most of the time, but sometimes you get something like comic book sound effects when she's getting ready for action.

The most famous play off of this (until Moana anyway) is Rorschach from Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen, whose face changes with each panel.

It seems random, but then you get something like these two panels from the first issue and the last.

The (terrible) Watchmen movie translated this into live action, but because of the constant shifting and movement in film, it does call more attention to itself.

Are there any other examples of a person's costume or body elements changing to reflect their mood in the story?