Archive for March, 2009

on Swamp Thing

I’m kind of stunned at Steve Bissette’s account of SWAMP THING abuses, inspired by some production errors in the latest edition of that title.

I was (pleasantly) surprised when visiting Neil Gaiman’s home last November that they were sending page proofs of The Absolute Sandman to Neil — to proof color, too, if I recall correctly. Nothing like that has ever, ever been asked of any of us connected to Swamp Thing. This shows where we sit in the DC/Vertigo universe pretty clearly — I’m just glad the generation after us (Neil, Grant, etc.) are afforded more caring and better treatment.

On the one hand, DC doesn’t consult Bissette or Totleben regarding reproductions of their work (despite the presence of multiple known problems with DC’s files, which the artists have offered to help correct). On the other hand, they not only run the new Sandman pages past Gaiman but also pay Todd Klein to completely re-letter Absolute Death, including 8 hours to design a totally new font for a single character. I have nothing but admiration for Todd (who’s done a bang-up job on our new League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), and bravo to him for convincing DC to let him make the project everything he always intended it to be. And I realize that Absolute Death is going to sell huge quantities and generate revenue that easily dwarfs the expense of Todd’s time. With the amount of money DC has made from Neil Gaiman books, they could well employ a full-time Gaiman Liason who stays in touch with Neil and makes sure he approves their every move (by my understanding, Scott Dunbier played something close to this role for Alan Moore for a while, though there was considerably less “approving” going on). Very few creators sell in those kind of numbers, and publishers unfortunately can’t afford to give everybody the full VIP treatment. But is not making your creators hate you really such an impossible task?

Oddly enough, Scott Nybakken seems to be the editor for both Absolute Sandman and the Swamp Thing hardcovers. Here’s him and Gaiman in 2006 calling for original art buyers who could help them reconstruct early Sandman pages. And the results were well worth it: Absolute Sandman is a revelation on par with the best film restorations, making Sandman (especially the Sam Kieth pages) a completely new, more beautiful book, thanks to Daniel Vozzo’s recoloring. The Kirby Fourth World restoration by Dave Tanguay and Drew R. Moore, edited by Anton Kawasaki, is flat-out incredible. When the budget and passion are there — even if the original creator is not — it’s clear that DC can produce outstanding editions. On Swamp Thing they seem to have had neither budget nor creator cooperation (though original series creator Len Wein contributes a helpful new introduction).

As a fan, I’m sorry to see that no recoloring has been done — Tatjana Wood made some great, bold choices, but many of them have become extremely dated, not to mention the color separations which were inaccurately placed to begin with:

swamp-thing-244(Note the sloppiness of the green along the bottom third of the page, the extra orange under Woodrue’s crotch, the arbitrary swaths of pastel painted across the detailed dead guys in the middleground, and the total washout of the background in screaming red. I guess Totleben’s inking style (with delicately inked shading and textures instead of bold Kirby outlines) simply didn’t lend itself to 1984’s color-separation techniques… By 1987 colorist Sam Parsons was making Totleben look gorgeous in Miracleman at Eclipse, I’m not sure by what process. And I confess I don’t remember the later Totleben/Wood Swamp Things from 1986; maybe they’re great?)

The linework beneath is stunning, from page one onward, but I’ve personally watched new readers pick up Swamp Thing and immediately put it down because “it looks bad.” If you’ve come straight from Fables and Y: The Last Man, exactly as Vertigo hopes you will, or if you saw the Watchmen film and have picked up another title from the same author and publisher, exactly as DC has paid money to suggest you do, you’ll have a really hard time getting over the hump of these colors. Again, I have seen it happen. Would the book sell better with a modern coloring job? Definitely. Enough to cover the expense of reconstruction? With the additional publicity, more enthusiastic endorsements, stronger word-of-mouth, and the possibility of paperback sales, quite possibly. While I’m at it, I also wish they hadn’t used this weird sticky semi-reflective ink/paper. Also, I want a pony.

More importantly, as a member of the industry, I’m even more frustrated that Moore, Bissette, and Totleben have become so estranged from their own work. It’s as though they were “grandfathered in” to the company with a certain level of respect written into their contracts, and while the industry has grown around them, DC is determined to keep them at that (low) level.

The Best Little Comics Scene in Australia

The irrepressible Jessica McLeod and Edward J Grug III (who have contributed a ton of great stories to Top Shelf 2.0) sent over the most amazing care package last week. Check this out!

Grug & Jess haul

One of the buttons (with the Bad Yeti on it) is missing because my girlfriend already nabbed it for herself! But otherwise, they say, this is everything they have in print! So go yell at them via Livejournal (Jess and Grug) and or possibly this online store URL make them sell you these amazing comics!

The fine wares include:
Bad Yeti by Jess
Yeti Party by Jess
A Big Fish in a Little Pond by David Garrett & Grug
The Bug That Inherited a Spooky Mansion and the Crazy Stuff That Happened in It!: A Choose Your Own Adventure Comic by Grug
Crushes Forever by Grug
Henry & Gil vs. the Infinity Engine #1 by Grant Watson & Grug
Henry & Gil vs. the Infinity Engine #2 by Grant Watson & Grug
The Indefatigable Miss Manners by Jess
Intrepid by Grug
Love Puppets #1 by Jess & Grug
Love Puppets #2 by Jess & Grug
Mungo Bean by Jess
Plague by Grug
Two-Fer: Osborn & Reynard / Mr. Churchill by Grug

Thanks, guys! You’re the best! And an easy lock for Most Adorable Soon-to-be-Married Comics Couple in Australia!

Art by Ainsley Seago

Have you ever been struck by lightning? It hurts.

My brother pointed out something today that I had never thought of but fully agree with.

We already had a fantastic film adaptation of Watchmen. It was called Magnolia.

Shadows in the fog: WATCHMEN

Like everyone else remotely connected with comics, I’ve been considering the Watchmen film all week. My reactions to it (in the aftermath of a Wednesday night advance screening, thanks to some very kind local connections) are kind of strewn around the internet, largely on my Twitter feed, but also commenting on posts by Sean Collins and Pádraig Ó Méalóid.

[Edited to add: for the sake of preservation, here are those comments:

  • leighwalton accepts that Zach Snyder probably made the best movie he could 1:18 PM Mar 5th from web
  • leighwalton do I just love movies less than most people? Guess I don't see why a pretty-good WATCHMEN film is so fulfilling (aside from book sales bump) 11:42 PM Mar 5th from web
  • leighwalton for my personal take, I'm somewhere between Walter Chaw (http://is.gd/m3og) and Tasha Robinson (http://is.gd/m3oG) 11:54 PM Mar 5th from web
  • leighwalton "he would ejaculate only energy": I'm not sure how to feel, seeing Roger Ebert encounter WATCHMEN for the first time http://is.gd/lVIJ 8:53 PM Mar 6th from web
  • leighwalton Ebert is working SO HARD to reconstruct the graphic novel from the movie - seriously, dude, it's a $20 book. DC will send you a free copy. 9:03 PM Mar 6th from web
  • leighwalton Ebert:300 was empty. but WMEN, "maybe it's the material, maybe it's a growing discernment on Snyder's part, but there's substance here" ARGH 9:06 PM Mar 6th from web

reply to Pádraig:

Aside from some big-picture considerations (e.g. the tone wandered all over the place), I was frustrated by a lot of stilted line-readings. Oddly enough, a lot of the unconvincing lines were actually Moore's -- in WATCHMEN as in much of his writing, he often leans upon a line to carry double or triple meanings, so of course it's going to sound unnatural if you take it "straight."

It was most obvious to me during the Chapter III scenes -- did the screenwriters really not understand why the TV man says "that's certainly dark enough for my purposes"? Or that when Laurie says "shadows in the fog" she is hidden behind the steam from a teakettle? Without that double meaning, it's an idiotic line (especially delivered by Malin Akerman, but let's not go there). Snyder kept holding these long interpersonal scenes, which are not his forte -- look, man, you're an MTV-style director; make an MTV-style film! The book shows you how to do it! Cut rapidly between scenes, with lines bleeding over from one to the next! If you're going to use the book as storyboard, friggin' do it!

Your point about wasting time with the opening fight scene when so many important things were left out is right on. Why the hell was there so much emphasis on the Gunga Diner (and its Pink Floydian floating elephant blimp)? It's a pun that Moore and Gibbons tossed off in a single panel, and it's not even particularly relevant thematically. Meanwhile, where was the Gordian Knot Lock Company? Veidt's decision makes less sense without the model of Alexander's legend. Why include Bubastis at all? And why, in God's name, change "I did it thirty-five minutes ago"?

It's certainly a better film than most crews would have made. But I guess it's just good enough to fall into the uncanny valley where we take its virtues for granted and see only its flaws.

Reply to Sean:

I thought it was cold when it needed to be flashy (no alternating jump-cuts between scenes? did they READ the book?) and flashy when it needed to be cold (fight in Blake's penthouse, fight in Antarctica, bone-protrusions).]

The task of writing a full review of the film is daunting, and I’m afraid the perfect may be the enemy of the good in this case.

watchmen-1227-veidt

What it ultimately boils down to, where I’m sitting right now, is that Snyder et al adapted Watchmen more or less exactly as they would have adapted Kraven’s Last Hunt or Emerald Twilight or Secret Wars II. “Here’s a great comic book story, and we’ll bring it to life on the big screen.” But Watchmen is fundamentally unlike those other stories — there’s a reason Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo put it on their 100 Novels list (as you’ve heard ad nauseam), but declined to include Crisis on Infinite Earths. Spelling out what sets Watchmen apart could take a year, but broadly it’s 1) the self-conscious ambivalence of its thematic approach and 2) the Byzantine grandeur of its storytelling. Both are missing in Snyder’s film.

This is Watchmen without the irony and without the technique, which is still pretty fun, but it’s not the Watchmen that I read anymore.

Nate Powell’s SWALLOW ME WHOLE nominated for LA Times Book Prize!

Well, this is one of the most exciting press releases I’ve had the opportunity to write.

swallow-me-whole

NATE POWELL’S SWALLOW ME WHOLE NOMINATED FOR LA TIMES BOOK PRIZE
–First graphic novel since 1992’s MAUS to make the list–

Top Shelf Productions is bursting with pride to announce that Nate Powell’s graphic novel Swallow Me Whole has been nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize!

Swallow Me Whole is one of five official finalists in the category of Young Adult Fiction, making it the first graphic novel to be nominated for this prize, in any category, since Art Spiegelman’s Maus won the Fiction category in 1992! “I’m honored just to be considered,” says Powell, “and feel dizzy having my book even placed in the same sentence as Maus.”

Although Swallow Me Whole was not created exclusively for young adult readers, it is fundamentally a story about the dark, quiet corners of adolescence. The book follows two teenage stepsiblings, Ruth and Perry, through the ups and downs of school, family, and suburban restlessness — all complicated by the insect armies, swirling visions, and haunting voices that no one else can perceive.

“To be a young person is to be surrounded at all times by frightening transition and the terror of losing touch with a safe and familiar world,” says Powell. “Sometimes the only salvation from that terror is in what a teenager can create for themselves.”

Full press release, with more juicy quotes and a special mail-order deal, over at the Top Shelf site.

smw-pg1041I actually never realized it until just now, but Swallow Me Whole reminds me of a book from my youth, Neal Shusterman’s 1992 YA novel The Eyes of Kid Midas, which I discovered around age 10. Midas started out incredibly familiar — not just presenting a realistic world that resembled my own life, but incorporating fantastical ideas and events that felt exactly right. Yes, that’s what I would do if I found a pair of sunglasses that made my wishes come true. Since I spent so much of my youth thinking about the fantastical, it was actually a more accurate portrayal of my world than a straight-up realistic novel would have been.

And then it got creepy. And then it got terrifying. It completely messed with my head. And I loved it. It’s still somewhere in my head to this day. “You know, Josh, the worst part is that I don’t even get into trouble for it.”

Swallow Me Whole is more challenging than Kid Midas… but it’s also more real. I love thinking about what it might do for young people. It might screw them up, in the good way. It might even help them put themselves together.


Leigh Walton talks comics and maybe other arts. (RSS)
He also works for the very excellent publisher Top Shelf Productions (which does not necessarily endorse the views and opinions, etc, herein).

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Header by me. Contains an interpolation of the final panel from All-Star Superman #1 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. Speaking of which.

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