Archive for the 'dc' Category

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.

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.

on the death of MINX

[edit: Heidi is picking up the same trend.]

The urge to armchair-quarterback is irresistable here, and I know it’s presumptuous and annoying, but I just want to point out:

EVERY discussion I have EVER seen of ANY Minx title contains some variation of the phrase “I know they’re not aimed at me, but…”

Yes, that is partially a consequence of my choice of reading material. But it’s not just that nobody on my RSS feed is a 13-year-old girl. It’s that nobody on my RSS feed appears to know any 13-year-old girls, or if so it never occurred to talk to them about Minx (no guestblogs? no focus groups?). And I worry that the same is true for DC. I’ve never worked there; I’ve had a total of one brief conversation with Shelly Bond at MoCCA last year, and I’m sure everyone involved had the very best of intentions. I understand why they dropped a quarter-mil to partner with Alloy, which was an admission that they were entering uncharted territory but a declaration that they were serious about it.

But this is getting jumbled up. Basically there are a few separate categories that we should be careful not to confuse:

  • Content. Were the books good? Also, was there anybody who read them and thought “yes. this book is for me”? How widespread was the reaction that I’ve seen in a few places, that most of the books felt condescending and idealized an urbane hipster girl to whom readers couldn’t relate (as counterexample or point of contrast, I suggest Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, a charming book about impossibly hip urban teens that seems to have been fairly successful and is about to get a $9m movie, not to mention Gossip Girl etc)? Alternatively, was Bond’s determined mandate to stick to realistic fiction over fantasy misguided (as I heard one 18ish girl politely tell her at MoCCA)? Perhaps a more fantastical teen-girl line would have been able to snag more of the existing manga audience (who would probably be less interested in Fruits Basket if nobody turned into animals) in addition to the millions of readers who, it turns out, are very interested in sexy teenage vampire makeouts. Minx deliberately positioned itself as an “alternative to manga,” and moreover an “alternative” to basically every kind of existing product, which essentially meant it needed to build an audience from scratch.
  • Marketing. Here Tom is exactly right — no amount of marketing can ever be enough, and comics people tend to treat it as a magic bullet. Spending an unprecedented sum on “the country’s largest provider of nontraditional media and marketing services” sounds like a respectable effort to me. By its nature, outside marketing isn’t going to be perceptible to most of the comics community, so this may have been invisible to most commentators. The novelty of the whole program certainly attracted plenty of discussion within the community anyway…
  • Logistics. The early analysis that I’ve seen suggests that this was a key problem: convincing the big chains to stock confidently and shelve appropriately. It may well come down to having the books shelved in one section vs. another, and communicating effectively with the chains to make the best decisions there (Kurt Hassler, anybody?). It was already unclear to what extent direct-market stores were expected to support Minx, since it was explicitly aimed at the demographic least likely to visit a comic shop; if the Minx line really was ghettoized in bookstores among the Green Lantern TPBs or among the Naruto tankoubon, then that’s just a recreation of the same problem: expecting your target audience to find you in a place they have no incentive to visit. If this chatter is true, it’s possible that The New York Four ended up selling to a bunch of preexisting Brian Wood fans. And that’s not what Minx was supposed to be about.

The most interesting next question: who’s buying Chiggers?

what the world needs now is Dark Superman

I totally called this:

Like the recent Batman sequel — which has become the highest-grossing film of the year thus far — Mr. Robinov wants his next pack of superhero movies to be bathed in the same brooding tone as “The Dark Knight.” Creatively, he sees exploring the evil side to characters as the key to unlocking some of Warner Bros.’ DC properties. “We’re going to try to go dark to the extent that the characters allow it,” he says. That goes for the company’s Superman franchise as well.

If Dark Knight has already convinced the suits that “darker=better,” Watchmen is going to seal the deal.

Oh goody. Now, far be it from me to begrudge anyone his or her own personal “aha” moment:

Snyder remembers screening some Watchmen footage for an unnamed studio executive. Afterward, Snyder says, the exec turned to him and said, ”This makes Superman look stupid.”

To get grumpy about the mass audience discovering something that hip comic fans discovered years ago would just be elitism, and as tempting as it is, I recognize that it’s not fair.

What I’m honestly not looking forward to is the deluge of misguided imitations of the Dark Knight/Watchmen vibe, as the broader entertainment industry tries to digest this pill that the comics industry first swallowed 20 years ago and is finally, gradually, starting to metabolize. Sure, some of the influence will be good — we’re not likely to see Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze again — but as the AV Club put it, “the immediate impact of Watchmen was a wave of violent, ugly, and stupid superhero comics.” We’re about to see that unfold all over again, writ large.

Hopefully it won’t last too long and the next big Hollywood trend will arrive soon. Cowboy musicals or something.

this isn’t fun anymore

Wait. Seriously?

“Bigger fish to fry”

panel from This American Strife by J. Longo

Abhay is tearing apart most of the launch titles of DC’s webcomic experiment Zuda. I’m still forming my own reactions, but poking around has turned over one interesting new piece of the story:

One of the more common complaints I’ve seen so far (aside from the amount of T&A midriff exposure) has been about J. Longo’s This American Strife, a “random gag” strip that people are finding unfunny. Like most commentators, I don’t think the strip is “ready for prime time,” but I noticed in the comment section (unfortunately, Zuda’s emulation of YouTube extends to this feature as well) that Longo posted a link to his blog “to advertise, explain and promote This American Strife.” The blog contains an entry which reveals that This American Strife got chopped up a fair amount by Zuda editorial: requiring changes for inappropriate content, cutting one screen into two (and rather clumsily — the “skeleton” panel and the “car crash” panel were apparently two halves of a single screen) and completely omitting the third page of the “J & Jesus” story. The first time Longo saw his work in its final form? On the web, at the NYC release party, after the site had gone public.

THEY OMITTED THE LAST AND FINAL PAGE OF THE JESUS COMIC. In the comic, I’m being handed a towel by the Savior and then—nothing. It’s bad enough that already complaint-comments are coming in about how disjointed ‘This American Strife’ is when it’s meant to have no continuity (particularly compared to all the other competitors). That page gave finality and resolution to what can otherwise be interpreted as offensive and I really feel that I should have been informed that the final page wouldn’t make the final cut.

Feels like a lot of balls got dropped here, by several parties:

  • a “random gag” just random I guess strip nestled amongst fantasy serials and insufficiently distinguished from them
  • a few head-scratchingly obtuse oblique gags (see above, and below too I guess)
  • the confusing decision to include both single-panel gags and multi-page gags
  • and Zuda’s clumsy editorial hackjob (both cutting up one page into two, and cutting the last page out of a three-page strip — all, apparently, without consulting the artist).

Longo again: “To clarify, I did get an explanation which said the last Jesus page [of the Jesus story] was taken out upon the request of the higher-ups and god knows everyone below was scrambling to get Zuda off the ground with much bigger fish to fry.”

another panel from This American Strife by J. Longo
And what’s up with the pixels along the bottom here? Just more image noise from the Flash interface, or signs of a hastily-executed reformatting?

Left to my own devices, I ramble

Greg Burgas has an interesting take on Darwyn Cooke‘s new series Will Eisner’s The Spirit. The comment section includes this idea from David Wynne:

“If DC really wanted to honor Will Eisner, they’d start some sort of graphic novel imprint in his name and use it to showcase books like Fun Home. The new Spirit book strikes me as a blatant example of milking Eisner’s most famous property for a few more bucks … especially since as far as I know, the last thing Eisner himself was interested in doing was reviving the Spirit.”

I think David is right on the money here, actually. Warren Ellis, Paul O’Brien and others have been pointing out for years that because Marvel and DC cannot own creators — they can only own characters — they approach everything from the perspective of character.

From the CEO’s chair, the big money comes from movies and toys and underpants featuring the characters, and publishing comics allows them to keep those characters alive. Here’s Marvel in 2000: “The Company’s strategy is to increase the media exposure of the Marvel characters through its media and promotional licensing activities, which it believes will create revenue opportunities for the Company through sales of toys and other licensed merchandise. In particular, the Company plans to focus its future toy business on marketing and distributing toys based on the Marvel characters, which provide the Company with higher margins because no license fees are required to be paid to third parties and, because of media exposure, require less promotion and advertising support than the Company’s other toy categories. The Company intends to use comic book publishing to support consumer awareness of the Marvel characters and to develop new characters and storylines.

A rung down on the corporate ladder, the perspective is different, but conveniently works toward the same end. At the editorial level, it’s an affection for the characters that drives every decision. Decades ago, Marvel and DC encouraged a fanbase to think about comic books in a character-based model, and the fans swallowed it. And then those fans grew up to be editors. So now the comic book company (a small subsidiary of a larger entertainment/media corporation, remember) is run by people like Quesada and DiDio who honestly believe they are undertaking a sacred trust — to do their duty to Spider-Man and Green Lantern. They owe it to these characters to ensure that they are featured in cool and popular stories.

And the vast majority of the remaining readers feel the same way (because everyone who does not feel this way has been DRIVEN OUT). The “shared universe” concept — the promise that all of these characters live in the same world and interact with each other — is a brilliant strategy for encouraging character-based (and company-based) thinking. According to this concept, every comic book is an artifact from another world, depicting events that actually happened in that world. Everything that has ever been depicted in a Spider-Man comic book has actually happened to Spider-Man.

Consequences:

  • The remaining fanbase is extremely emotionally invested in the characters. If you put out a Batman comic book I don’t like, you are insulting my friend Batman. If you write a comic book in which Sue Dibny is raped, then you have caused my friend Sue Dibny (or worse, my reader-avatar Sue Dibny) to be raped, and I am understandably hurt and furious.
  • Creators’ rights are never a priority. Who the hell cares how you treat Bill Finger? What’s important is how you treat Batman. Who created this story? Who cares? It’s a “Marvel legend.”
  • Non-fans are never welcome. Sorry, kid, Green Lantern and I have been friends for twenty years, and you can’t just expect to barge in here and become a part of the relationship that we share.
  • The stories must be “realistic.” I must take pains to carefully sort each story as “canonical” or “noncanonical” — and which “universe” it belongs to — and maintain an exact chronology of how all the stories interlock with each other.
  • Thanks to inept emulation of Watchmen and Dark Knight, “realistic” now also means “cynical,” or possibly “miserable.” Getting a reputation as a “fun” comic book will hurt your sales. No. Seriously.
  • Story ideas that contradict the established facts or tone of the Universe are rejected as impossible.
  • Story ideas that do not take place within the Universe are rejected as irrelevant.
  • The incredible schizophrenia which characterizes the modern superhero concept. 50 million people saw the first Spider-Man movie in US theaters, and millions more beyond that — the concept is obviously tremendously popular. Millions of kids have the toothbrushes and the T-shirts and watch the TV shows. But the Spider-Man comics, none of which sell more than 50,000 issues, are full of juvenile attempts at “sophistication” and radical changes which are inevitably reset to the status quo within 6 months. Devin Grayson complains that she can’t do anything interesting with Batman because at the end of the day Batman has to appear on Underoos, but nobody under the age of 16 is reading the fucking comics.

Oddly enough, the experience is remarkably similar when you try to read the Bible with the assumption that its separate parts cohere into a perfectly unified and consistent truth.

Anyway, I need to contextualize all this:

  • DC is more than just the backwards-looking nostalgia-rape cesspool called the “DC Universe.” Thankfully, it has other branches: the theoretically-interesting but currently-lost “alt-superhero” line Wildstorm, the excellent and undercapitalized “nonsuperhero comics for grownups” line Vertigo, the very promising but not-linked-from-the-main-site teen-chick-lit line Minx, the screwed-up-once-but-came-back-better manga line CMX, and the I’m-told-they-exist-but-I’ve-never-seen-them DC Kids or possibly Johnny DC, it’s unclear. Marvel, meanwhile, maintains a kids’ line, Marvel Adventures, and the bizarre little imprint Icon, which you can only get into if Joe Quesada wants to make you happy — i.e. you are a topselling creator on Marvel’s superhero books or you have known Joe since old times.
  • Superheroes, while an appealing concept, are so poorly executed these days that I generally avoid focusing attention on them. The best superhero comic coming out today is Robert Kirkman’s Invincible.
  • The comic industry is much, much bigger than just these two irritating companies, and they’re probably going to be increasingly marginalized as the industry continues to evolve. I guess I’m just trying to more fully lay out what’s so irritating about them, and why they are this way.
  • There are bigger concerns facing the industry, largely concerning distribution. The mechanisms aren’t in place to get comics in front of people in a location and format that suits them. The infrastructure isn’t in place to support creators while they create. There aren’t enough comic stores in place that don’t suck, and there are hardly any stores with enough cash to buck trends. There aren’t enouch publishers who understand how to deal with bookstores. And so on, ad infinitum.
  • As always, Warren and Dirk have already said it.

Also, here are some Grant Morrison quotes, because it pleases me to quote them. I don’t actually like many of his comics, but he sure as hell knows how to work a sound byte:

“My ideal comic is the one which perfectly expresses its moment and makes you want to dance like your favourite records do. The ideal comic is a holographic condensation out of pure zeitgeist. Pop is my god and goddess, Warren, and I believe comics should strive to be popper yet than Pop itself. I particularly despise the cynically perfect, utterly barren, ultimately charmless retro-pastiche of OTHER PEOPLE’S IDEAS which has come to characterize so much of the output of tired creators who should have had the dignity to move on when they ran out of words of their own.”

“I’m doing MARVEL BOY and whatever else in a Utopian 21st century spirit – I’ll aim the comics at a wide, media-literate mainstream audience and slowly but surely help generate that audience, just like you. I’ll continue to act as if being a comic book writer is the same as being a pop star. I’ll continue to learn from stuff I think breaks new ground. If at the moment I think comics aren’t being sexy enough or FuturePop enough or incendiary enough, I’ll attempt to fill the gap with the sort of thing I want to read. Whatever happens, I know I’ll sell more comics than the crawling half-men who believe we’re all doomed in a ‘shrinking market’. Look out of the window at the planet you live on, morons! There are billions of those bipeds and they keep making more of them! How much bigger does the market have to get before we’re eating Soylent fucking Green? Get out and sell comics to these people!”


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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