Archive for the 'bitching' Category

[Bat-Manga part 3] How Jiro Got Fingered, or, If This Is a Teapot, Call Me Helen Hunt

How cruel of Portland’s Wordstock Festival to have taken up my time last weekend, while the Bat-Manga thing suddenly became a slightly bigger deal! Slow news day, I guess. Luckily Chris Butcher already posted Kidd’s response, so the party continued without me.

Better beat a dead horse late than never, right?

As often, Dirk Deppey at Journalista! has a fine summary, and his editorial reaction mirrors my own. (John Jakala’s is also decent, but more on that later.)

Essentially, this has all been blown way out of proportion. Bat-Manga! The Secret History of Batman in Japan is an incoherently-conceptualized book, imperfectly presented, and accidentally thrown into an crowd which is sensitive about these things — an audience for which the book isn’t actually intended! But its core is awesome, the mangaka is pleased and compensated, and we can now read some great comics that we couldn’t read before.

Untangling this mess is kind of fascinating and kind of tedious. Some notes, for the hell of it:

  • The book’s existence is a good thing, the contents are fascinating, the photography and design are excellent, the fact that Kuwata is getting some money out of it is fantastic, and DC still owes Bill Finger an apology (at the least). Also, people who want the book should totally buy it, and nobody’s calling for a boycott (sheesh).
  • As I said last time, I don’t see any malice here. The full aphorism, of course, is “never attribute to malice what can adequately be explained by stupidity.” I left off the second half because I think “stupidity” is too strong, but “accident” isn’t strong enough.
  • Kidd’s silly opening (“where were YOU”) has already been roundly dismissed, even by most of the folks defending him.
  • Chris Butcher’s 4:30am rant has some good points and a lot of swearing, but I’m not sure who he’s talking to (I guess this Hipster Dad guy?). For the record, I’m 23, I had never heard of Kuwata prior to Kidd’s heroic act of appropriation, and I’ve spent the last 15 months employed by a small-but-prominent publisher which, for all our shortcomings, is not in the habit of claiming copyrights. I’ve not only read Box Office Poison,* I’ve hand-sold it at a dozen conventions. I confess to a comic education partially from TCJ University. I have a thin-but-existent record of blogging on the topic of appropriation in comics, and yes, I think this cover is more outrageous than whatever happened with Bat-Manga.
  • I suggest I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets! (Fantagraphics) and Walt and Skeezix (Drawn & Quarterly) as worthwhile examples of alternative ways to present author credit — even in extensively curated editions.
  • As Laura and Abhay and Dirk have pointed out, Kidd has offered a stirring defense of a book — just not the book he produced. Kidd: “Bat-Manga is not just about the work of Mr. Kuwata, although that of course makes up the bulk of the book. Rather, it is about chronicling the phenomenon—however short-lived—of Batman in Japan in 1966. To that end, the book itself as an act of pop-culture reconnaissance is entirely the product of Saul Ferris, Geoff Spear, and myself.” I confess I’ve only spent about two minutes with the thing in my hands, but it’s clear from all reports that this description is a stretch. There are 10 pages of Kuwata for every page of non-Kuwata. There are approximately 2.5 pages of text (two half-pages about the book, one page of Kuwata interview, half a page of production notes). If this is a “chronicle” of a “phenomenon,” it is not a very sophisticated one.
  • I’ll admit the possibility of bias in that judgment. Pro-text anti-image bias, to be precise. Coming from a world of lectures and dissertations rather than exhibitions — hailing from a college where even theater and art majors are required to write a lengthy analysis of their thesis show — I have a hard time considering a dozen scans of toy packaging to comprise a genuine study of anything. But, you know, the fine art world has made more of less.
  • John Jakala has a similar perspective, as do most bloggers (English majors) and hardcore nerds (detail freaks; vide Wikipedia). Jakala goes overboard in his suggestions, though — “what episodes of the Batman TV show were broadcast in Japan; who the voice actors were; what the ratings were; what toys were the best-selling”? Come on, dude. They do actually want to sell some copies of this thing.
  • A serious question for someone with a copy: is there actually “tons of information about the Japanese Batman phenomenon” (as Ishii says)? I don’t need to know where the toys were manufactured, but if there was a wave of Bat-mania in Japan, however brief, some numbers or timelines or personal anecdotes from aged fans would not be inappropriate…
  • The book’s editorial approach seems to be a consequence of its origins. Again, not to slander Chip Kidd by comparing him to a cartoon cat with a bong, but it’s definitely a “look at these craaazy eBay finds” kind of book — or at least started that way. I echo Dirk in suspecting that the project evolved into something more serious during the long hours Kidd spent photoshopping dialogue, but (A) it never fully crystallized into this other thing, and (B) Sales & Marketing may have been more excited about a kitschy art book than a comprehensive reprint project (which is totally understandable), which likely created some inertia around the superficial approach. For better or for worse, the ever-expanding Kuwata material seems to have crowded out all the other pages (that might have given us a more rounded look at Batman-in-Japan), resulting in a book too single-minded for its title but not single-minded enough for its ambitions. Kidd turned into a full-on Kuwata fan, but the book didn’t catch up with him.
  • The always awesome Anne Ishii didn’t get a front cover credit either, but (speaking as a fellow translator, sort of) I don’t think she needs one. She did give a thoughtful response to Laura’s post, and she remains awesome.
  • There may well be other (e.g. legal) reasons to leave Kuwata’s name off the cover, and if so, nobody is obligated to detail them. But “we were sadly unable to include Mr. Kuwata’s name for reasons which we cannot discuss” is not the explanation we got.
  • The blog chain reaction to all this is bizarre. It’s weirdly appropriate that a book described as “a very long, cross-cultural game of Telephone” should turn out this way. I think most people were using pretty restrained language (“this is weird,” “I’m surprised”) at first; Laura then went with “for shame, Pantheon” and Heidi said “that is more than a little lame, Pantheon and Chip Kidd.” In these somewhat mild rebukes, Kidd and friends saw themselves being attacked for a project they’d launched with the best of intentions and which had turned into a heroic rescue mission involving some sacrifice and philanthropy on their part. Kidd fired back with a fairly heated response curated by Chris, which put a few folks on the defensive, including this guy whose “I won’t make that mistake again with Kidd” led to Johanna’s headline of “Boycotting Chip Kidd?” (seriously, I think internet controversies would be cut in half if Johanna never used headlines on her blog). Graeme smelled blood in the water and hyperbolically announced “Bat-Manga Ignites Online War Of Words Between Fans And Author.” Newsarama posters responded with their usual sensitivity. People continued to weigh in to the “controversy” because suddenly we had one, and that’s what you do. Then Chris got online in the wee hours, responding with a cannon to a burst of machinegun fire that didn’t exist. Yay internet!
  • Let’s hope the cynicism and weariness created by this latest blogtroversy don’t make it more difficult to address creators’ rights in the future, in the way that hyperbole allowed feminist superhero fans to be dismissed as “those crazy man-hating feminists” so that their valid concerns never had to be addressed.
  • Here’s an angle that I haven’t seen explored much: Kidd & co were unconsciously playing with fire, at least in the comics blogosphere, for a few reasons:
    • Publishing an incomplete assortment of the Japanese Batman comics (even leaving some multi-part stories with an unresolved cliffhanger!) when the contemporary comics industry has very much moved to Complete and Unabridged and Omnibus collections. This is partially due to fandom’s nerdly tendency toward semi-autistic attention to detail and fetishization of continuity, which is one of those things I would write a book on someday if I wrote books.
    • I mean, this is the industry where Bob Greenberger got fired because five pages of Golden Age Hawkman Archives were printed out of order — or at least, that’s the rumor that stuck.
    • This is also an industry that’s extremely sensitive about creator rights and attribution, at least in many circles. Especially when Batman‘s involved.
    • This also taps into the resentment that many fans still harbor, suspicious of any treatment of comics as kitschy or trashy rather than Serious Business. This is actually why a lot of Serious Fans hate the Adam West Batman to begin with, so it’s interesting that it emerges in the defense of Kuwata’s adaptation of West-inspired Batmania.
    • Apparently a few people (mostly in comment sections) had an aesthetic axe to grind against Kidd already — for his “cookie-cutter” approach to design, whatever that means, or maybe backlash against his minimalist (not minimal) contribution to the covers of Final Crisis? Whatever.
  • All that said, the comics blogosphere is not the world, and the book isn’t really aimed at us anyway.

*a key subplot in this outstanding graphic novel features an aging superhero artist encouraged to seek compensation from the giant publishing company who have made millions from his creations. Alex Robinson’s complex treatment of this grumpy, admirable, and cowardly character is one of the many reasons that he is one of my favorite comic writers.

EDITED TO ADD: In the end, I think the best take on the book is the publisher’s official description:

The two hottest genres in comics gleefully collide head-on, as the most beloved American superhero gets the coolest Japanese manga makeover ever.

In 1966, during the height of the first Batman craze, a weekly Japanese manga anthology for boys, Shonen King, licensed the rights to commission its own Batman and Robin stories. A year later, the stories stopped. They were never collected in Japan, and never translated into English. Now, in this gorgeously produced book, hundreds of pages of Batman-manga comics more than four decades old are translated for the first time, appearing alongside stunning photographs of the world’s most comprehensive collection of vintage Japanese Batman toys.

This is The Dynamic Duo as you’ve never seen them: with a distinctly Japanese, atomic-age twist as they battle aliens, mutated dinosaurs, and villains who won’t stay dead. And as a bonus: Jiro Kuwata, the manga master who originally wrote and drew this material, has given an exclusive interview for our book.

More than just a dazzling novelty, Bat-Manga! is an invaluable, long-lost chapter in the history of one of the most beloved and timeless figures in comics.

But see, that’s not “chronicling the phenomenon” at all. It’s not “entirely the product of Saul Ferris, Geoff Spear, and [Kidd].” That clearly names “Jiro Kuwata, the manga master who originally wrote and drew this material.” Kuwata’s name should appear alongside the others.

[Bat-Manga part 2] Never attribute to malice…

Follow-up to my last post on Bat-Manga:

This interview with Kidd makes the whole project sound less malicious and more haphazard. It’s not even clear whether they contacted the Japanese publisher!

Bolton: So, DC gave you its blessing. Did you go back to Shonen King to access the archives Mazzucchelli told you about?

Kidd: We did not. There are several reasons for that. First of all, at that point we had enough for a book anyway, in our own possession.

Bolton: Just from eBay purchases?

Kidd: eBay purchases, contacts from Japan… By the way, this stuff is rare over there. On several business trips to Japan I would go to manga shops with color Xeroxes to show them and ask if they had any more, and they would look at me like I was nuts. “No, of course we don’t have that. Where’d you get that?” [Laughter] To be quite honest, first of all, if we were going to access the Shonen King archive, it’s like, do we go over there? You get these instant expenses. So, the photographer and I are gonna fly over to Japan to photograph this — that’s gonna add up real quick, in terms of money. And I couldn’t imagine in a million years that they would just send them over, willy-nilly, to us. … These are the sorts of considerations, because it’s a perfectly logical question, and as far as I know Shonen King did have everything in their archives.

I don’t want to be too hard on these guys since I don’t know the story, and we at Top Shelf are having our own adventures preparing to publish a book of manga… but Random House has approximately a billion times the budget of Top Shelf. Declining to visit the publisher because a plane ticket to Japan costs too much?! That makes no sense to me.

achewood-ebay-crop

But then, I don’t think “hey, check out these craaaazy comics I found on eBay” is a good idea for a book — not when the artist and publisher are still around and accessible. When you think about the care and dignity with which Tomine and D&Q have treated Tatsumi… it’s not a flattering comparison.

[Bat-Manga part 1] Not a real post, but something that’s been bothering me

Am I the only one disappointed that Jiro Kuwata‘s name appears nowhere on the cover of Bat-Manga! The Secret History of Batman in Japan, in either paperback or hardcover edition?

bat-manga

Okay, fine, Kidd is sort of famous. But there’s room for photographer Geoff Spear and co-compiler Saul Ferris, and no room for the creator of the actual content? Kidd is the most acclaimed book designer in the world. I think he could have made it work.

I haven’t looked at the book closely, but Jog has:

Please don’t be misled by the “secret history” language in the title; save for a context-setting Introduction, four paragraphs of Production Notes and a one-page interview with the artist, there’s isn’t even any text in this thing beyond the occasional illustration caption. That is, no text beyond that of Kuwata’s comics…

Jog observes that Kidd & Co see this as a collection of artifacts rather than stories. It’s a reasonable perspective to take, considering that a lot of Kuwata’s material is apparently lost.

But you wouldn’t publish a book of “photographed” Chick tracts, include a one-page interview with Chick, call it Holy Panels! The Secret World of Tiny Disposable Evangelical Comics, and leave his name off the friggin’ cover.

I am the Pedant. I speak for spondees.

What a rotten idea to spend millions destroying
This masterful tale kids spent decades enjoying!

The Onion has a nice tribute to the greatest versifier of the 20th century — although they inadvertently highlight his genius by making some pretty clumsy errors in rhythm. Writing that stuff’s not as easy as it looks, folks.

Seuss is a joy to read. Here’s one of my favorite bits:

What’s more, snapped the Lorax (his dander was up),
Let me say a few words about Gluppity-Glupp.
Your machinery chugs on, day and night without stop
making Gluppity-Glup. Also Schloppity-Schlopp.
And what do you do with this leftover goo?…
I’ll show you. You dirty old Once-ler man, you!

Now that’s tasty.

An early draft of my undergraduate thesis contained a bizarre little digression on the nature of free verse vs. rhyming couplets:

It’s the difference between a Japanese sword routine and a juggling act. A free verse performance may be forceful and affecting, but ultimately it consists of waving words about in the air with no resistance. The couplet form is fundamentally different, incorporating countless small crescendoes and denouements, risks, recoveries, tensions and releases. The inevitability of rhyme, like gravity, can lend force and weight to one’s statements. A couplet, nicely put, is stunning in its audacity: a clever phrase seems more clever, almost inhumanly clever, when executed within such a restricted format.

Ah, I see some similarly-snooty editor at Wikipedia is with me: “Geisel generally maintained this meter quite strictly, until late in his career, when he no longer maintained strict rhythm in all lines. The consistency of his meter was one of his hallmarks; the many imitators and parodists of Geisel are often unable to write in strict anapestic tetrameter, or are unaware that they should, and thus sound clumsy in comparison with the original.”

It’s an outrage, I tell you! A horrible shame!
That these trite, tacky tentpoles should taint his good name!
Might the sacks of cash raked in by film adaptations
At least fund improvements in verse education?

this isn’t fun anymore

Wait. Seriously?

I guess this isn’t really news to most folks

In case it was unclear: the distribution and retail network for comics is broken like whoa.

I can’t argue with anything this guy says (except his particular taste in comics). Really, it’s a wonder the system hasn’t collapsed already.

In my opinion what needs to be fixed first is the entire market and how comics are ordered. I’ll use myself as why I am absolutely frustrated with comic book stores. I have been going to the same store since I was 15. It is now 10 years later and my once weekly pilgrimages have turned into once a month if lucky. What has caused this you asked? Many things. The first being is that the comics I want to read are always delayed or just due to creator’s laziness canceled, (see. Ultimates 2, Soul Saga, Battle Chasers etc..). So what does that make me do? Second guess whether I should pick up that number 1 or wait for the trade.

Next due to the low runs of some books they are canned faster than the newest Fox drama. I now invested all this time, money and emotional attachment to a story which doesn’t even end properly. Now what does any reasonable man do? Well he sits there and waits for the trade. Also need I also mention that on Amazon trades are usually 30% off the cover price and they ship to your door.

Now that pretty much sums up why I don’t even bother going to my comic book store. There are times when I do want the actual issues just to own a piece of comic history. Like when Buffy S8 came out I did my proper duty. I pre ordered from Previews. Told my comic book lady to make sure you get me all the issues. All of them I will come and pick them up. So when I go what happens, “oh sorry I sold out already.” Oh you did… Okay no biggie when #2 comes out make sure you get me my #1 2nd printing. Time passes, “Oh I got your #1, but sold out of #2.” Well needless to say you can see where this is going.

Another thing because of how screwed up Diamond is, if my comic book store doesn’t have the TPB, which in most cases it doesn’t, the ordering time from Diamond to the store is like one month. If the item is in stock at Amazon we are only looking at 3 or 4 days to get to my door.

I don’t know if I have sworn off comic book stores forever. I do walk every now and then but I rarely find myself buying anything. The thing about comic book stores is that they are supposed to sell comic books. If they can’t even do that properly then transforming them all into Internet cafes won’t even save them.

I want to support the comic industry as much as anyone. But you can’t ask people to put up with this aggravation purely out of a sense of duty. It’s frustrating that the market hasn’t already been forced to grow in a more customer-friendly direction.

[edit: I should add that I think adding cafés to comic shops is a good idea. The problems afflicting the system can’t be fixed that easily, but anything that makes a shop more welcoming can’t hurt.]

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.