Monday, August 21, 2017

TPBs that need to be: Jamie Delano Edition

COMMENTARY
By Alex Ness
August 21, 2017

(Click on images to make them larger, they are beautiful)

As I've openly stated, I like Jamie Delano and Jamie Delano's writing.  I am not unbiased with this entry.  I have read all of the available comics by Jamie.  So, I think, I am not without a certain expertise regarding this.

These three series deserve to be captured in tpb form.


GHOSTDANCING is a vision of an outsider looking at the American history of the West, and finding it rich in racism, colonial appropriation, and mythic depth.  Divine or semi divine Native Americans enter the cryptic fifth world, one that has no flaws, one that evokes heaven.  A shaman named snake steals your attention, as does the titular drug called Ghostdancing.  We can find paradise, the fifth world, it will only cost you your soul!  The Richard Case art goes along beautifully with the powerful, provocative writing.

NARCOPOLIS 

Narcopolis is a futuristic dystopia. 
In this frightful new world, you are encouraged to use drugs and pleasure to take life's edge away.  Why worry, when you can medicate the truth away?  This work evokes Clockwork Orange, Brave New World and is better or equal to any of the best works from Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, or Neil Gaiman.  Delano creates new words, new sorts of paradigms, all the while entertaining the reader.

RAWBONE

When the popular template of a pirate appeared after Johnny Depp and company's Pirates of the Caribbean they were neither dangerous or scary.  They were exciting and naughty.  You can read this series and tell yourself, Delano clearly knows what the pirates were about, and it wasn't lark or teen adventure.  It was about human predators hunting prey in the oceans.  This work features a dangerous and beautiful lead role female, and while I would not suggest it is all ages, it is worthy of being read and critically considered.  The title, RAWBONE is so very apt, the story takes apart any happy go lucky myths you have, at the same time as making the reader uncomfortable, because he is wondering what the hell is going to happen next.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

A Past Publisher's works considered, or something

FUTURE? What the...

I wrote a couple large review columns back when this company was alive, and had three different review/interview columns on different comic book sites.  Both of those large columns never saw the light of day.  One of the columns was for a retailer.  The owner of that said no thank you.  I asked why, and it was about his belief that Future was not a publisher but a distributor and such and, by extension a competitor for the dollars.  (Rightly or wrongly...)  On the other two website hosts for columns, there were two other reactions.  On one the owner of the site said he didn't like the three creative people who formed and work through Future Comics.  On the last one the site said this comic company is similar to a basement room publishing mini comics.  And at the time I wasn't using my own site or blogspot, and had no place for those columns.

This is all said to be certain that, I've read the work, and considered it from a number of different angles.  I met the talents on the book, and decided to give them my best consideration.  But, both fate and frustration interrupted my intentions.

Bob Layton, David Michelinie and Dick Giordano formed the core of the company.  They chose to attempt to challenge the distribution domination of Diamond Distribution.  By going to this they were trying to get more money, control their production numbers, and aim at making the most bang for their buck.  That didn't work much.  I do not presume to know what worked or not, for them, but they did put out 4 works that they should be proud of, whether or not I enjoyed them, particularly.

When my reviews didn't get through editorial oversight, I sent the two sets of issues I had to people who I knew would get review offers and occasionally get in print/web.  Both sent me emails back saying "I think this stuff feels like 1980".  Neither did the reviews promised, nor did the company benefit from my efforts.  I regret that, but, I didn't keep things I didn't review, and I tried to help them otherwise.  Sadly, they did hard works, probably lost money, and kept trying, and failed to enter the world of comics as a permanent member.

METALLIX by Michelinie, Layton and Ron Lim.

This series had an interesting premise.  An adventure team who took turns using a smart metal, that could assume a variety of abilities.  But, the manner of writing and depiction did not strike me at all as much interesting as it was competent.  As such, it was hard to see the company as being "new" or the Future of comics.  However, if you'd never read anything prior to these, I think that they'd be enjoyed.  Metallix was well drawn, and well written, but didn't strike my taste button.  However, I was perhaps not the target market.


Deathmask was well written and illustrated.  The concept of a vigilante who used his powers to bring justice was enjoyable.  I liked each issue, and while I'd honestly not consider the book a favorite, it was very much worth the money per issue.  Deathmask had a gun and a secret weapon of quantum science, used to punish his enemies. I think Future tried hard to put effort and quality into their work, and it showed on each of their works.  This book was particularly fun.


I don't know the sales numbers, but my guess would be that FREEMIND was the top seller at Future Comics.  The concept was the best of all the books from Future.  The lead character was a person considered invalided by birth defects, who is able to transfer his intellect into a android form, and able to use every facet of human intellect and more. 


I've never read the work PEACEKEEPER, but I absolutely saw images from the art inside.  It was nice to look at.  It made me hope for a run that never was. 


FUTURE worked with IDW publishing to release a Graphic collection of COLONY, the final work of Dick Giordano.  It is well done and a fitting finale for such a talented industry creator.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The American, Hero, Criminal or an innocent man on the run?

Introducing THE AMERICAN.  Fresh from the US Reagan years, he kicks ass to save the day.  Oh, wait that was 30 some years ago.

Every time when I stared at the news the last 6 months, with accusations from each side, subterfuge across the globe, and dissent, I thought, wow, this world is way more F'ked up than when the American came out.  The American comic series is even more accurate now.

Reading the first issue of the series I turned, looked at my best friend, visiting from Indiana, and said, I am not sure, but that was perhaps the best comic I have ever read.  It is both artistically good, and intellectually savvy.

This interview is with two of the creative talents from the book.  First we chat with Mark Verheiden, the author and creator, followed secondly by artist Grant Miehm, who did work I rather deeply admired.


To what extent is the concept used for the series both prescient and better applied today than when it came out decades ago? I remember reading it and thinking holy shit, this makes perfect use of media inflation, government subterfuge and manufactured events, how very powerful. And yet, it doesn't even seem so fictional now, after so many years of bullshittery.

MarkV:
I have to admit, the political world has become even more absurd than even I could have imagined back in 1986. In the age of Trump I’m not sure how outlandish the idea of a manufactured hero/leader would feel today. Anyhow, it’s for others to decide if the series was prescient, but I don’t think the premise feels outdated, except maybe for some of the pop culture references. Boy George is still a thing, right?

Have you heard any fans preferring a straight forward character of The American, without the delicious curves and out of the ordinary rug pulled out? As such does it speak of the character being solid prior to the ironic tale, or does it mean the reader doesn't get the deeper levels of the story?

MarkV: I don’t think anyone ever asked for a “straight-ahead hero” version of The American. But it’s not like I was flooded with fan mail back in the day (which was pre-email). What I do hope is that The American as a character can stand on his own, and not require an intimate knowledge of other patriotic heroes. There is certainly a bit of satire in the basic set-up of the story, but I’m not satirizing any specific characters, just the idea of manufactured heroism.

Do you have any new stories for the "character" or have you finished your work with it?

MarkV: I’m a big believer in always moving forward and not looking back, so if you had asked me a month ago, I would have said I didn’t have anything planned. But I actually (and literally) just dreamed up an idea for an American mini-series, so… who knows. I’m still friends with the folks at Dark Horse and we’ve discussed bringing the big guy back from time to time, but I’ve been pretty busy on other fronts.

Did you conceive of the character thinking about characters such as Captain America, Fighting American, Star Spangled Kid, Patriot, The Eagle... or, were the characters of the day more ironic, less "patriotic" and he was more of the day? And, since Grant Miehm is a portion of this interview, what special qualities did he bring to the run?

MarkV:  I’ve always been a big fan of Captain America, so of course that was rattling somewhere in the ol’ brain pan, but honestly The American was more born from my fascination with Col. Oliver North and the then current Iran-Contra affair. That brouhaha seems almost quaint 30+ years later, but the way North was lionized by some for his illegal acts just hit a chord. I’ve also always been struck by America’s thirst for heroes, whether it’s sports, military, movie-stars or whatever. We like to build ‘em up then tear them down.

Grant was in the daunting position of following up on Chris Warner, who came up with the physical look of the character and set the visual template for the series. To his credit. Grant jumped in and grabbed the reins with enthusiasm and great skill, making it his own. Kid America never looked seedier! Anyhow, I doff my chapeau in his talented direction, we did some fun books together.

Would you be open to a movie made of the comic, and if so, a single movie, or a Netflix sort of limited series...?

MarkV:  Funny story there, we actually set The American up at Warner Bros. with producer Joel Silver way back in 1989, and that became my first studio screenplay. Unfortunately, like a lot of things, it was never made, but yes -- if the right situation came along, I think it would be fun to see Hough and Cyber-Ike and the ‘Merican on the big screen.

AND ARTIST GRANT MIEHM

When illustrating the American what is the most important aspect of that work?  Does the complicated history of The American reduce the need to make it an iconic image?  Or does the iconic aspect of the character never change?

GrantM: I’d say the iconic aspect doesn’t change, Alex.  With ‘The American’, one of my major thoughts was that while the character engages in some questionable behavior – Issue # 7 is a good example – he must still remain that same iconic hero who is making a mistake, and not one turning away from what’s good or right, no matter what happens.

Is your being Canadian helpful or not a consideration for your concept of the character?


GrantM: It’s not really a consideration for me.  Those things may be a factor from time to time in the story, but I’m interested in visualizing the actions of the characters based on the dynamics of the plot more than anything else.

Did Mark Verheiden do anything different as writer that surprised you? If you were to describe his style what would you describe it as?

GrantM:  Mark did many things I found quite engaging.  For example:  Hough’s alcohol abuse has a lasting effect, and isn’t ignored when inconvenient.  Mark incorporated that sort of idea to great effect to make the story a very real thing – he’s a realist, and creates a totally believable story. That might be an appropriate phrase for me to use in describing Mark’s writing. And of course, Mark’s work has many other excellent aspects, as well. I was really blessed to have worked with him.

Does the American stand next to Captain America, Fighting American, Star Spangled Kid, Patriot, The Eagle... or does his ironic and temporary service as a hero / tool of the Government make his less heroic?

GrantM:  I saw the American as being somewhere between those two poles.  I thought he was more the man searching for himself in complicated circumstances, and not necessarily trying to find his place in those circumstances, either.  Being a hero was something I felt he was prepared to admit he might not be in the long run, although it never came to that during my time on the book.  The American’s attempts to face himself – that’s what made him a hero to me.

Was the use of comics from the past as a commentary and way to tell the back story more fun to do than a typical story?

GrantM:  Yes.  Absolutely.  The back story of ‘The American’ was very thorough and detailed.  It fit seamlessly into the continuity.  That helped tremendously in making it a great assignment, and a great series to contribute to.  And one, I might add, that I’m very proud to have been a part of.


Thank you to Mark and Grant for their time.

Look for more work from Mark and Dark Horse comic collections with his American Omnibus, Aliens hardcovers, and Predator Omnibus editions.

Look for more from Grant, who is currently writing, designing and providing the art and color work for 'Scouts In Action' and its companion features in Boys' Life magazine as he has, since the late 90s, - seen by over 4 million readers every month.  As well, the American Omnibus, Green Arrow V5, numerous kindle editions of his comic work with DC, especially his work on Manhunter and the Impact titles.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Congratulations Erik Larsen


COMMENTARY
By Alex Ness

The comic book SAVAGE DRAGON has reached issue #225, and by such, it has arrived at its 25th anniversary of its beginnings.  As a work almost all by a single writer/artist, it is remarkable in numerous respects.  Few creative talents have such patience to devote themselves to telling the story that is there.  And, few remain as good as this when they do long runs.  I believe that it is the most readable comic on the market, due to how the stories are told.  I hope it goes onto the issue 300, but, I don't mean to enslave Erik, I just hope it does that to take the title of longest single run.  It would be an apt award and accomplishment.


I did read this issue, #225, and was quite impressed.  It is written in a fashion that you feel empathy for all those involved, and it isn't simply fighting and angst.  The art is big and evocative.  And to explain some of this, the Dragon has had a son, Malcolm, who has received the great strength and power that the father used to have.  In this issue Dragon senior is tempted to go back to the thing that would give him that power.

There are numerous other things to mention... there is partial nudity, so it should be noted it is for mature readers.  It is not porn, so mature readers means not children I guess.  This issue had a lot of stories, including a reprint of Erik's very first Dragon story, and other stories by Erik writing and other artists.  It is a worthy celebration of a title deserving credit for being constantly fun to read.


Monday, July 17, 2017

SDCC Celebrates Jack and Will

2017 would be the year Jack Kirby and Will Eisner turned 100.  Their legacies speak for themselves.

Happy Birthday great men!




Sunday, July 16, 2017

Supposed Stinkers and some real ones

COMMENTARY
By Alex Ness

WARNING this column is about rumors and perceptions, nothing is stated as fact except my own personal experiences, and I am well aware, I could be wrong.

I get asked a lot who the assholes of the comic book industry are.  The fans of comics seem to want the dirt, and the creatives want to know if there are people to avoid.  Many different people love the dark and dirty.  Reality tv is an example of such.  I am not going to encourage it.  I think some of the warning aspect is good.  But who slept with who or what, that is just blech.

Before I met Mike Grell through mutual friends, I'd heard that he was a horny old fart who was an anus to fans.  I had grown up loving his work, and particularly, the book Warlord was a smashing good 50 issue run.  After that, it fell off a bit, but, it was a favorite.  So, you are wondering, is he a stinker?  No.  He was so not a stinker.  He did interviews, both live and via email.  He answered emails about life and comics.  He gave two pages of art to the book that was my first project.  And he is a generous kind person.  I think the various rumors I heard came from a few different kinds of sources.  He was successful and wasn't a kiss ass.  I believe his ethics and success bred jealousy in the envious.   He has been married more than a couple times, and he is seen by many as a lady's man.  But looks can be deceiving.  Lastly, where creative people are involved, rumors often start from perceptions and grudges.  I can promise you he has never been anything but him.



My brother and I grew up reading comics, and the king of comics in the 1970s was not my favorite, Jack Kirby, but instead, Neal Adams.  Neal Adams has a handsome face, did great art in comics, and created opportunities for other artists.  He also changed how the comics industry dealt with artists, royalties and the return of the artist's art work.  And I know people who tell horror stories of trying to use his services and pay disputes occurred, as well as people who got in the way of his making a nickel from fan boys who simply wanted him to sign their comic.  He was a greatly talented stinker.



I have to preface this comment with my bias... I enjoyed the early years of John Byrne's art career, but never quite enjoyed the combination of his writing with his art.  Sometimes he seems to take umbrage that his work is less exciting or good now than it was.  The internet is strewn with quotes about the stupid or boorish things he has said or done.  But, I think he performs greatly on return time on commissions, remains available to chat on his message board, and he is a working artist, he has less time to chat than many people.  I know firsthand events that would present him in a bad light, but, I think he is what he is, a crusty fellow with a spectacular work ethic.  I would not say he is a stinker, even from the non public things I know, I'd say, you get all of what he is, curmudgeon with opinions as well as talent that placed him atop the industry for a decade.  He isn't a stinker, but he isn't a sweetheart either.


Colleen Doran is a special case.  I've never personally experienced anything bad with her, but I know people who think she is a witch.  Her public persona seems to me to be both engaging and disarming.  Her comments to people I've read could seem nasty, but, I think the case is something else.  She is a woman artist (a highly talented one) who is also quite lovely.   It isn't up to her to deal with fanboys of her art, along with fanboys of her looks.  But I can imagine she deals with both.  And the maturity level of some males and the sensitivity to the etiquette for more than one gender interactions, makes me say, I am sure she has been treated like shit numerous times.  When I am treated like shit I become less and less open to communication with others.  I am deeply introverted, who is to say she isn't as well?  It would make dealing with the world difficult in the beginning.  Let alone the many man hands all over women.   I don't know her at all, outside of having said hello at SDCC and enjoying her work.  So I am assuming.  I might be wrong.  But not for reasons of trying to label her.


In my previous incarnation as a full time reviewer and interviewer I took a number of polls of the talents of comics, with questions like: What books would you want to have if stranded on a desert island... or , who is the biggest asshole in comics?  There were many dozen responses.

Three people repeatedly showed up.  Todd McFarlane of Image Comics, Dave Sim of Cerebus/Aardvark Vanaheim or former EiC of Marvel, Valiant and Defiant Jim Shooter.  Todd McFarlane was a rebel against the industry's biggest company, Marvel.  I've also read and heard things about people not getting the payment they had agreed on working for.   As a person who doesn't get paid for most of his work, I find that last issue to be stinky.  And so I think Todd Mc is a stinker.


David Sim has had some public issues with or about women, and has done creative work that people referred to as misogynist.  I think Sim is a misanthrope.  But, I'll also say, many people who you might think would hate Sim have high praise for him.  So, I think he is perhaps different than the persona he plays or the work he writes.  However, I really could be wrong.

Lastly, what about Jim Shooter, is he an asshole?  I've heard that he is a vengeful, grudge holding ass.  But I've also seen him with fans, and he is kind and polite to them.  I'd even call what he is as warm.  Since I think we all battle demons, I can understand how an EiC at a company might have enemies, I think he probably had some other issues contributing to his grudge holding.  As such I think he is a highly talented creative and a power oriented Editor in Chief. 


Thursday, July 13, 2017

TPBs that need to be: Tony Isabella edition


COMMENTARY
By Alex Ness

I consider myself a friend of Tony Isabella.  And I can say, we don't agree on various things, but I surely recognize he is a bright talented fellow.  He wrote for Marvel, DC, Comico, and a number of other publishers.  And he has written about comics for nearly forever.

The three series here that I mention deserve to be reprinted.  I am of the opinion that each has a solid story, a combination of good art and writing, and each has covers worthy of being reprinted, in a format we can all afford.  Or, what the hell, do them right and make it of highest quality.

Grim Ghost by Tony and assembled talent is a reboot of a character created during the 1970s, for Atlas/Seaboard comics.  You might look at the character and realize, he is very nicely done, and he also will remind you of another character Tony did, Ghost Rider as well as a character Tony has not done, Spawn.  His origin is of a colonial America Smith and Highwayman brought back to earth for sins/crimes committed, as an agent of darkness.  Tony's version is better than the original, as it makes the character less evil (or not at all evil) and makes him a troubled soul fighting to make a better soul for himself.


The Shadow War of Hawkman was the series where Tony made me a believer.  The story is rich, interesting, true to the character, and worthy of reprint for the fact that most people don't know much about the silver or bronze age Hawkman.  This is a fun series, one that you won't be troubled finding the heroes, and is a refreshing take on the character.


The Justice Machine is a team of elite crimefighters from the future, who attempt to reform the chaotic, despotic planet earth.  I loved it, and the stories were always fun, always well done, and interesting throughout.  I truly would love to revisit this series in a giant tpb.

Tony is on Facebook, Twitter, and Here and Here

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

We've Got Relevance




Recently a Marvel executive at a big sales summit caused a stir in the fan press when he said that their declining sales was the result of the company's push to add diversity to their comics. Well, that's not exactly what he said. He noted that sales were down, and specifically that sales of some of their more “diverse” titles were down, and that according to the feedback the company has been receiving from their retailers, that diversity is to blame for it.

In the past few years, Marvel has been making some drastic changes to some of it's iconic heroes. We've seen Captain America replaced by his black former partner Falcon; Thor, Iron Man and Wolverine replaced by women; Spider-Man by a black-Hispanic teen from an alternate universe and the Hulk by a Korean-American brainiac. And some fans have complained that this is all just Politically-Correct Social Justice Affirmative Reverse-Discrimination and want to go back to the Good Ol' Days when the Avengers line-up was whiter than the Moon Knight's underwear.

Personally, I can't say any of this bothers me much. I suppose I don't have that much emotional investment in the classic Marvel heroes. I'm sure the iconic characters will come back eventually – indeed, some of them already have – because that's the nature of the Comic Book Industry. To me the important thing is if the new versions are good characters and if they will have good stories. I was somewhat annoyed when DC killed of Ted Kord, the Blue Beetle several years ago, and dubious about his replacement, a Hispanic kid in an alien battle suit. But the new Beetle proved to be a likable, engaging character and a worthy successor to Ted, so I don't begrudge him taking on the venerable Beetle legacy.

But thinking about Diversity and Super-Heroes reminded me about another time when the comics tackled Big Social Issues. I'm talking about the legendary Relevance Era in DC Comics.

The late '60s and early '70s were a turbulent time in American culture, and comic books no less. Audience tastes were changing, and DC's solid, reliable heroes like Superman and Batman were looking bland and unexciting next to the comparatively complex and more sophisticated characters coming out of Marvel. In addition, a new generation of creators was coming into the comics industry that was more willing to challenge the old formulas and gimmicks. Overall, there was a sense that instead of simply punching out super-villains, super-heroes ought to be addressing real-world social problems.

Editor Julie Schwartz was an important mover behind the push for “relevance”. He had served as the godfather of the Silver Age back in the late 1950s, re-tooling characters like the Flash, Green Lantern and Hawkman into science-based heroes. In the mid-'60s he had been charged with updating Batman and was instrumental in creating the “New Look” Batman and refocusing the comic on mysteries and crime.

By 1970, the Green Lantern he had re-envisioned as an interplanetary lawman over a decade earlier was showing his age, so Schwartz brought in a new team to shake things up. Denny O'Neil was one of the new blood writers. A couple years earlier, O'Neil and Mike Sekowsky had done a controversial re-vamp of Wonder Woman, changing her iconic star-spangled costume into a more contemporary pants suit and making her a martial arts hero. The intent was to make her like Emma Peel from the TV series THE AVENGERS, although she wound up looking more like Kung Fu Mary Tyler Moore. Neal Adams was soon to become the superstar artist of the '70s.

They added Green Arrow to the title. Previously, Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow, had always been kind of a Batman knock-off, only with arrows as his gimmick instead of bats. He was secretly a millionaire playboy, he had a sidekick who was also an archer; he drove around in an Arrow-car and had an Arrow-plane; and he operated out of an Arrow-cave. O'Neil saw the character as a modern day Robin Hood and made him passionate about helping the poor and needy. This set up a character dynamic of the iconoclastic hippie liberal Oliver vs. the law 'n' order space cop Hal Jordan.

In GREEN LANTERN #76 “No Evil Will Escape My Sight”, Green Lantern rescues a guy being attacked on a city street, but is shocked when the bystanders take the attacker's side. Hal's fellow Justice League member Green Arrow shows up and explains that the guy Hal saved is a slum landlord and the people attacking him were tenants whom he was evicting so he could raze their homes.

As Ollie and Hal debate Law vs. Justice, a poor, elderly black man comes up and confronts Hal. There follows a striking three-panel sequence which has been often reprinted and sometimes parodied. It can be regarded as the start of the Relevance Era.

“I been readin' about you... how you work for the BLUE SKINS... and how on a planet somewhere you helped out the ORANGE SKINS...” he says. “...and you done considerable for the PURPLE SKINS ! Only there's SKINS you never bothered with...!”

We get a close-up panel of the old man, his face creased by misfortune but his eyes brimming with rage, looking up fearlessly. “...the black skins! I want to know... HOW COME ?! Answer me THAT, Mr. GREEN LANTERN !”

In the third panel, Hal lowers his head in shame, avoiding the old man's eyes as he admits, “I... can't”.

Hal decides to try to get justice for the landlord's tenants, which isn't easy, partially because the landlord hasn't technically done anything illegal, but mostly because Hal's bosses, the Guardians of the Universe, (the 'Blue Skins”) call him on the carpet to warn him that his job is to patrol his sector of space and not concern himself with piddly little details like Urban Blight on his own backwater planet. Hal defies the Guardians and tells them that they have been locked up in their ivory planet of Oa for too long and that they've been pondering the Big Picture of the Universe so much that they've lost sight of the lives of all those people living on the myriad worlds they oversee. He challenges them to leave Oa and take a look at how things are at ground level.

One of the Guardians, a guy that Hal calls “The Old-Timer”, takes him up on his offer, and together the three of them, Hal, Oliver and the Old-Timer, set out on a road trip to Discover America and face the burning issues of the day: racism, poverty, pollution, drugs...

Ah, drugs.

Probably the most famous, (or infamous), stories from this run, and an issue which some critics have called the start of the “Relevance Era”, was the 1971 two-parter beginning in GREEN LANTERN #85, “Snowbirds Don't Fly”. While rounding up a bunch of street thugs, Green Arrow discovers that they are armed with some familiar-looking technology: weapons from his own personal arsenal. He does some digging and learns that his former sidekick, Speedy has been pilfering gadgets and weapons from the Arrow-cave and selling them on the street. At first Ollie thinks that Speedy is doing this as a ruse to infiltrate a drug gang, but ultimately he must face the truth: Speedy has become addicted to heroin and has been stealing Ollie's stuff to support his habit.

It had only been a year or two earlier when Marvel had challenged the Comics Code Authority by publishing a Spider-Man story with an anti-drug message without their blessing, which had led to changes in the Comics Code. Whereas the Spidey tale had one of Peter Parker's friends with a drug problem, Denny O'Neil reasoned that showing one of the heroes dealing with addiction would pack a greater punch.(Later still, Speedy would father a child out of wedlock – with a villain, no less – making him that era's go-to-guy for questionable life choices).

Green Arrow and Speedy have it out, and Speedy does manage to shake his addiction, but Ollie comes off rather poorly in this story. For all his crusading for social problems, he's been totally oblivious to one right under his nose.

Other comics DC published around this time also tried to tackle social issues, with varying success. Even the best stories tended to be a bit preachy, and at worst they could be ludicrous. Perhaps the most notable example was an issue of SUPERMAN'S GIRLFRIEND, LOIS LANE published in 1970 titled – and I would not make this up – “I Am Curious, Black”. It was pretty obviously inspired by a 1961 book, Black Like Me, about a white reporter who disguises himself as a black man to learn how things look from the other side of the racial divide. In the comic, Lois wants to do a story about racism, but feels stymied because she is an outsider. So Superman helps her out by using a piece of weird Kryptonian technology to make her black for a day or two. He keeps the dangdest stuff in the Fortress of Solitude.

DC's Relevance Era only lasted a few years. Comics historian Ron Goulart recalls dropping in on Julie Schwartz once around 1973 and asking him how relevance was doing. “Relevance is dead,” Julie replied unhappily. Viewed strictly as a gimmick to boost sales, Social Relevance” turned out to be a failure, and the Powers That Be at DC Comics decided to go back to the tried-and-true gimmicks like putting a gorilla on the cover.


But although the Age of Relevance officially died with the Nixon Administration, the impulse of comics creators to make something Important still recurs from time to time. We saw it again with the creation of Black Lightning, and with the EL DIABLO revival of the late '80s, and the special one-shots both Marvel and DC published in the 80s about African Famine Relief. These comics don't change the world, but at their best they give us some good stories and maybe change a little bit of the comic book universe.

Monday, July 3, 2017

TPBs that need to be: Dan Mishkin edition (plus Gary Cohn)

COMMENTARY
By Alex Ness
June 29, 2017

I acknowledge that artists are necessary for comics to happen.  However, while I have bought comics for the art, I rarely keep buying them for the art.  Ashley Wood is one the sole exceptions for me, I love his work, regardless of the context.  So, TPBs that need to be is a series of articles I will be writing that focus on series of comics that I enjoyed, and would like to be able to have them in book form.  I follow writers and mostly that.  Art is great, and I am by no means suggesting it is less important than the writer.  I just don't follow work for the art.


I like the writing of Dan Mishkin.  The reason I like his writing is for his ability to tell a straight forward story, without the overarching continuity, or need to read every previous issue.  He in concert with Gary Cohn wrote a comic that I think would appeal to many people who could like comics, but don't yet.  Blue Devil was/is among the most light hearted heroic comics around and it had such a feel of fun, I cannot believe that DC would not want to keep it in eternal tpb status.  Yes, it might not appeal to the uber serious, or the ultra elite.  But it would make a lot of people smile and feel satisfied for their read.


I met Dan Mishkin at SDCC through Tom Mandrake, a fantastical artist.  Their work CREEPS was out then and while I hadn't immediately picked it up, when I did it was really different than anything else on the shelves, and it was fun, and a bit "creepy".  In TPB form it would perhaps not sell a huge amount, but if aimed at the right audience, I think they'd enjoy the hell out of it. I enjoyed the art for its moodiness, and I loved the writing, it was simultaneously icky and fun.


This book, Dan Mishkin's Wonder Woman run, is a long shot.  I realize the audience for a non star tpb of a character who at the time barely mattered it seemed.  But a) the stories were fun and well done, b) Frank Miller did a cover that is considered early in his career, and c) Wonder Woman kicks ass, just go watch the film.  In the right hands, the comic Wonder Woman can be a wonderful thing.


I like other works Dan has done, and I like him as a person.  He is an evangelist for fun comics, and I think that is a wonderful thing.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Parody and Satirical Heroes

COMMENTARY
By Alex Ness
June 28, 2017 


I have heard some people say that Parody and Satire are the same, which is possible, but not always, and each are distinct.  Parody is an homage or spoof of an independent source, possibly in biting criticism or  meant in humor. Satire is a work that mocks, ridicules, or makes visible critiques of some society or individual with hyperbole.  So, parody can be satirical in its aims.  Satire might spoof, but it would have a specific goal of making a statement about a subject.  Some of the most fun comics are written with spoofs and comedy, but they become important and even more interesting when there is a layer of satire.

However, for Parody to work, it must understand and make good use of the source material.  Which means, the deeper the understanding the more rewarding the story.  The surface level only understanding results in cheap rip offs.


I am not going to describe each of the displayed works, they have qualities of their own to recommend them.  I enjoyed all of them and you should consider them if they stoke your interest.  I will say just this, the best of the bunch overall I think is Marshal Law because it is insanely fun.  The title is an obvious pun/double entendre, the character is cleaning up the world of violent heroes and villains, at the same time using even more violence.  It is perfectly over the top for anyone intelligent enough to see the themes exposed.



Thursday, June 29, 2017

THE RINGO AWARDS

The Mike Wieringo Comic Book Industry Awards is an annual celebration of the creativity, skill and fun of comics.

The awards make their debut this year as part of the fan- and pro-favorite convention, The Baltimore Comic-Con.

Unlike other professional industry awards, the Ringo Awards include fan participation in the nomination process along with an esteemed jury of comics professionals. 

More than 20 categories will be celebrated with top honors being given at an awards ceremony Saturday, September 23, 2017.
Fan and Pro Nominations

Fan and pro-jury voting are tallied independently, and the combined nomination ballot is compiled by the Ringo Awards Committee. The top two fan choices become nominees, and the jury's selections fill the remaining three slots for five total nominees per category. Ties may result in more than five nominees in a single category. Nominees will be listed on the ballot alphabetically. Nomination ballot voting will be open to the public (fans and pros) starting June 27, 2017 and will close July 18, 2017.
Final Ballot Voting

After processing by the Ringo Awards Committee and Jury, the Final Ballot will be available to pros for voting on July 26, 2017 and will be due by August 16, 2017 for final tallying. Presentation of the winners will occur at the Baltimore Comic-Con on the evening of Saturday, September 23, 2017.
Nomination Eligibility

Eligibility for creators and creative works is determined by publication in the preceding calendar year - print publication date takes precedence over electronic publication date. For electronic works, the date of publication is time-stamped with most publications and at least 3 episodes/installments of continuing works must have appeared during the eligibility period.
Fan and Pro Nomination Categories

* Best Cartoonist (Writer/Artist)
* Best Writer
* Best Artist or Penciller
* Best Inker
* Best Letterer
* Best Colorist
* Best Cover Artist
* Best Series
* Best Single Issue or Story
* Best Original Graphic Novel
* Best Anthology
* Best Humor Comic
* Best Comic Strip or Panel
* Best Webcomic
* Best Non-fiction Comic Work
* Best Presentation in Design
Jury-Only Nomination (with three bonus jurors)

* The Mike Wieringo Spirit Award
Fan-Only Favorite Categories

* Favorite Hero
* Favorite Villain
* Favorite New Series
* Favorite New Talent
Hero Initiative Award (selected by the Hero Initiative)

* The Hero Initiative Lifetime Achievement Award
* The Dick Giordano Humanitarian Award
Mike Wieringo photo
"Mike loved comics," said Todd Dezago, co-conspirator with Wieringo on their creator-owned title Tellos. "He loved the pure escapism of them. He loved the imagination that went into them and the inspiration he got out of them. He loved the talent and skill that went into them; the innate abilities of the artists and the writers as well as the learned and developed facility that came with study and experience. He loved the storytelling of comics, he appreciated when it was done well. Mike loved the diversity of comics; the incredible array of styles that ran the spectrum and gave each creation its own unique flavor. And he loved fun comics. Not that Mike didn't appreciate the grim and the gritty, the deeper, more adult, more thought-provoking comics of the day. But he was drawn more to the more light-hearted, sometimes fanciful-and we called them 'overly-coincidental'-stories that reminded you that comics were fun.
"Mike liked comics that were fun," said Matt Wieringo, artist and brother to Mike. "That's pretty subjective and covers a lot of ground, right? He liked art that was expressive. Some people think that means 'cartoony' but that's not it. For instance, he loved Juanjo Guarnido's Blacksad art, and that's hardly cartoony, but it's expressive as hell. He loved the artists that could build a believable world and could tell a compelling story in that world with characters that were gestural and fun to look at. He loved artists who made their characters act. He also loved discovering new artists that didn't draw like anyone else because he loved learning from them. He had a huge collection of European comics that he couldn't even read, but he could study the artwork. He got excited about new artists and wanted to know who their influences were and what they read and how they worked. He read a lot of indie comics to see what was going on outside the mainstream. He was on board with Hellboy and Love & Rockets and Hate before they were "cool." Mike also loved Kirby before it was considered a badge of honor to proclaim it. He loved how innovative and energetic he was and that he was this Brooklyn bruiser with the heart of a hippy poet (a close approximation of how Mike once described him to me). And it wasn't just the art. He liked reading stories by writers who could keep things moving and exciting. Nothing bored him more than page after page of talking heads with quippy dialogue. He wanted STORY. He wanted ADVENTURE. And CONSISTENT CHARACTERIZATION. He liked working with Mark Waid because he loved how Mark can always find a new way to spin a familiar story and write characters you care about, relate to, and have their own voice. He loved working with Todd because they shared similar sensibilities and Todd always finds a way to inject FUN into the story. For Mike, "fun" didn't just mean light-hearted either. He enjoyed horror and noir and crime stories as much as anyone. As a kid, he devoured Miller's Daredevil and Sin City because the stories were compelling and well told. He loved Starlin's Warlock and Captain Marvel because they were epic and groundbreaking. He loved Wrightson and Ploog and Colan because they could set a mood. Most of all, Mike thought good comics were entertaining and innovative. If you could hold his attention and delight and intrigue his artistic sensibilities at the same time, he'd shout your name from the rooftops. And, if it turned out you were a decent, nice person to boot, he'd be your friend for life."
"We really miss Mike Wieringo," said Marc Nathan, Baltimore Comic-Con promoter. "Ringo was a great friend to the show, a great artist and creator, and a great person. It has been 10 years since his passing, and we wanted to do something to honor his spirit. These awards represent the creativity and positive attitude he brought to his work, and when we started floating the idea with his family and industry friends, everyone immediately loved it as much as we did. Having had some experience running a large industry awards show in the past, we had some great insights as to what the industry (and fans!) wanted, and we're trying to give it to them. This has all come together very quickly, and we know we're going to continue to adjust and adapt as we grow, but we are absolutely thrilled to have already heard from so many fans and pros alike, in addition to his family and friends, about how excited they are. Please spread the word. Please vote. And thank you for helping us celebrate Mike's memory!"
About Mike Wieringo

Fantastic Four BCC Exclusive Cover
Michael Lance "Mike" Wieringo was known to fans and friends as "Ringo", which is how he signed his artwork. His comics artist graced the pages of DC Comics' The Flash, Adventures of Superman, Batman, and Robin, Marvel Comics' Fantastic Four, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, Sensational Spider-Man, and Rogue, and his co-creation Tellos. He passed away on August 12, 2007 at the young age of 44 from an apparent heart attack.
About the Ringo Awards

The Mike Wieringo Comic Book Industry Awards is an annual celebration of the creativity, skill and fun of comics. The Ringo Awards recognize outstanding achievements in over 20 categories, and are the only industry awards nominated by fans and pros alike, with final voting by the comic professional community. Launched in 2017, the awards ceremony is held annually at the Baltimore Comic-Con. Further details are available at www.ringoawards.com.
About the Baltimore Comic-Con

The Baltimore Comic-Con is celebrating its 18th year of bringing the comic book industry to the Baltimore and Washington D.C. area. For more information, please visit www.baltimorecomiccon.com