The National Hockey League’s All-Star Weekend has come and gone, generally creating a positive buzz for professional hockey in North America.
The All-Star Fantasy Draft, where captains Eric Staal and Nicklas Lidstrom selected their superstar teams schoolyard style, was a huge success, averaging 600,000 viewers in the United States.
Unfortunately, the lingering product from the gala event in Raleigh N.C. is the Guardian Project, the NHL’s misguided attempt at drawing in today’s youth.
The Guardian Project is a marketing campaign where legendary comic book creator Stan Lee designs super heroes based off the names of all 30 NHL franchises.
Sounds good in theory, but in practice the idea plays out like a super villain’s hare-brained scheme. Stan Lee + comic books + hockey teams + ???? = world domination.
In other words, it’s not very well thought out.
The NHL Guardians are problematic from their very conception. First, Stan Lee simply doesn’t have as much cultural cache as he once did. After all, he hasn’t had a monthly title since Ravage 2009 in the early 1990s. You know, when the Guardian Project’s target demographic was still years away from being born.
Second, the characters themselves are lame. Witness Chris Sims of ComicsAlliance epic takedown: The Ten Most Insane Characters From Stan Lee's 'NHL Guardians'.
Many of the characters seem to be based on a brief skimming of each franchise’s Wikipedia page. Important details like the military heritage of the Chicago Blackhawks and Toronto Maple Leafs aren’t touched on at all.
Most importantly, the NHL’s marketing department is once again playing away from the game’s strengths.
Hockey is one of North America’s oldest sports, with the NHL’s Original Six predating any National Basketball Association franchise, only a handful of National Football League teams and most Major League Baseball clubs.
It’s a disgrace that the Montreal Canadiens, a franchise that is over 100 years old and a cornerstone of Quebecois society, is being represented by the likes of this:
But campaigns like Project Guardians relies on trendy thinking that makes the NHL seem newer than the Arena Football League or other shaky niche sports.
Seriously – the Tampa Bay Storm of the Arena Football League predate the Tampa Bay Lightning by five years. The Charlotte Rage were created and folded before the Carolina Hurricanes moved from Hartford, Conn. The list goes on and on.
Commissioner Gary Bettman and the rest of the powers that be at the NHL have to learn that if they really want to make inroads in the Sun Belt, they need to educate and inform their new fanbase about the rich history and tradition of the game, not disregard it.
Otherwise, the NHL comes off as just the latest in a long line of failed sporting enterprises.
That’s why innovations like the All-Star Fantasy Draft and the Winter Classic have been so successful: because they are reminiscent of the history and tradition of hockey.
It’s also why the NHL’s Guardians Project was a dreadful misfire: it glosses over one of the most appealing aspects of hockey.
Although I hadn’t bought the magazine in years or read it in months, I’m sorry to see it go. It was a big part of my adolescence – I still have a stack of issues sitting at my dad’s – and helped shape me as both a writer and as a person.
Since 1991 Wizard has been the go-to source for most comic book fans. The monthly magazine featured news items, interviews, how-to articles, reviews, previews and just about anything else you can imagine involving comics, all in an irreverent and fun package.
It was that flippancy and sense of humour that has informed my personal and professional style. Although journalism is rarely an appropriate venue for sarcasm, it certainly has its place on this blog, on my Twitter feed, on Facebook and most especially in person.
Every so often I’m reminded of one of Wizard’s jokes or particularly funny turns of phrase and I still laugh.
For example, like the Marvel Comics of the 1980s and early 1990s, Wizard always had a page dedicated to the antics of its bullpen of staff.
In that space they often discussed the escalating prank war amongst the magazine’s different departments, including a gag where three staff members took thousands of photocopies of their faces and plastered them all over their rival’s offices. Into file folders, on computer screens, covering phones, cut into slices and taped to the individual slats of venetian blinds. Everywhere.
Years later, when my friends Wes and Ruben wanted to prank our friends Kate and Hannah, I knew just what to do. Nearly $150 at Kinko’s and hours in the girl’s apartment later, and we’d covered every square inch with black and white copies of our faces, all with the staff of Wizard as our inspiration.
But the slick magazine’s reach extended far beyond its sophomoric humour.
As Matt Demers of NerdGirlPinups.com points out “Wizard showed me that a person could take something that he/she enjoyed and make a living at it. The articles were written with passion and flair, and exposed me to the deeper side of comics' fandom.”
Basically, being a writer for Wizard was what I aspired – really, still hope - to be. It helped show me that it’s possible to make a living being creative and doing what you love.
But as much as Wizard was a positive influence on me and my work, it also served as a cautionary tale in two respects.
First, it was often criticized by comic fans and professionals alike for essentially becoming a catalogue for the industry’s two biggest publishers - Marvel Comics and DC Comics - and generally ignoring smaller or independent printing houses.
Obviously, this underscored the need not just for journalistic integrity, but to have diversity in your coverage. If you’re going to develop a beat and report on something like the comics industry, you should not neglect any corner, no matter how insignificant it may seem.
Second, despite its decidedly nerdy demographics, Wizard never really expanded on to the internet. Yes, they had a website but it never had any news or really any content beside subscription information or the details on their series of conventions.
I think this was their ultimate undoing. Wizard was in a position to get in on the ground floor of the Internet boom with a hardcore audience that would presumably be web savvy. WizardUniverse.com could’ve been ComicsAlliance nearly a decade before there was a ComicsAlliance.
Instead, publisher Gareb Shamus stuck with Wizard’s out-dated print-only business model. Ironically, they plan to launch WizardWorld.com, an online comics magazine in February, but it’s obvious to everyone that the cat is out of the bag with several competitors already well-established online.
Farewell Wizard, it’s been fun. You taught me a lot about comics, writing and journalism both in life and in death, but your time had come.
As many long-time readers of this blog know, I am a fan of comic books.
I’m particularly drawn to more realistic characters like the Question, Batman and especially the Punisher. I appreciate the fact that it’s just a small leap of faith to imagine a world where these guys really exist.
That gritty realism also increases the dramatic tension since, ultimately, the hero is mortal. Unlike Superman, Thor or Wonder Woman, the stakes are higher because, if not for the hero’s skills, he’d be dead.
Recently, I bought a little piece of comic book blogosphere history when I purchased the first 68 issues of the Punisher ongoing monthly series from Chris Sims of the Invincible Super-Blog, War Rocket Ajax and Comics Alliance fame.
These magazines – the entirety of Mike Baron’s run as writer on the title – were part of Chris’ infamous Box of Punishment when he read every book and comic starring Frank Castle he could get his hands on.
Now, I haven’t made my way through all these just yet, but something is striking about them.
Namely, these covers are fantastically bad. They’re not just unrealistic – diminishing the book’s charm – they’re laughably over the top.
Here are the five worst, in chronological order:
Never mind that missile launchers are probably too heavy to hold with just one arm, the real concern is that when Frank Castle pulls the trigger on that bad boy the kick will send him flying off his precarious perch on the fire escape.
Should the Punisher somehow manage to hold on, he’ll undoubtedly be killed by the explosion and ensuing shrapnel from the incinerated corpse of his victim and the building itself.
This is the tactical genius that strikes fear in the hearts of the Marvel Universe’s criminal brotherhood? Also, please note his all white boots and gloves, ideal for sneaking around in the dark alleys of New York City.
The Punisher #11 - For the next 10 issues the Punisher’s covers were limited to pretty standard fare. Indiscriminantly shooting off rounds at unseen targets… Cavalierly tossing grenades at the reader… You know, reasonable stuff.
But then comes issue #11 (“Second Sight”) where our hero travels to Mexico to exercise his vengeance on human smugglers who left their cargo to die of dehydration in the desert wastelands of west Texas.
After drinking some mescal and going on a vision quest of sorts, Frank and the local brujo dispatch the people traffickers with a variety of weapons including a pitchfork and an antique cannon, apparently from the time of the Conquistadores.
You can see the cannon right there on the cover: the Punisher has ripped it off its moorings with his bare hands and is apparently going to fire it from his hip like an automatic rifle.
Again, it’s a physically impossible feat. The cannon, presumably made of cast iron, would easily weight a thousand pounds. When one of these cannons fires it rolls several feet and has to be pushed back into position by an entire crew of gunners. So, allowing that Frank was able to hold it up long enough for it to fire, he and his Mexican lady-friend would be sent flying by the recoil.
The Punisher #34 – After two years of reasonably sane covers, including growing a beard to infiltrate a gang of bikers, attacking a correspondence school for ninjas and flipping some punks in Las Vegas (for real) the Punisher had to tangle with his toughest foes yet – the Reavers, the mutant-hunting cyborgs who had (briefly) killed the X-Men.
Their first battle didn’t go so well for Frank, resulting in him apparently becoming a cyborg himself. I particularly appreciate the fact that by the next issue he’s all better again. Because being turned into a cyborg is totally reversible. Just takes a quick overnight surgery and you’ll be flesh and blood again.
Also, for reasons beyond my understanding, all cyborgs and robots in the late 1980s and 1990s were depicted as being a deep green or purple. I really don’t remember metals turning that colour… ever… even in the Neon Nineties.
The Punisher #42 – Somewhere around issue #35 the editors at Marvel Comics decided to add some dark humour to the Punisher, edging the books toward self-parody or even camp. For example, puns and pop-culture references were littered throughout the six-part Jigsaw Puzzle storyline the preceded this issue.
When the title returned to one-and-done stories the Punisher’s covers used that dark humour to try and grab the reader’s attention.
Issue #42 is a perfect example of this as Beachhead from G.I. Joe - okay, not really him, but it’s the same style of balaclava as the cynical Joe trainer - holds a gun to a hostage’s head and screams “DROP IT PUNISHER… OR THE KID’S DEAD!” to which Frank Castle, bereaved husband and father, replies “What do I care? My kid is already dead!”
There’s so much to enjoy here: the Punisher’s shockingly unconcerned approach to the safety of innocent victims of violent crime, the hostage’s panicked expression as they realize they’re totally screwed, the background completely devoid of any scenery. It’s all a rich tapestry.
But what I like best is that it’s firmly established in the Punisher canon that Frank Castle had two children. Apparently, in the heat of the moment he’s realized that he really only ever loved one of them.
The Punisher #52 – Skipping over a few covers that see Castle strapped to the muzzle of a giant gun, standing on the roof of a cab before shooting the passenger and fighting neo-Nazis, we leave on a high note: “Maternity Ward”.
Excuse me, “Maternity War”. You see, a bullet hole has obscured the “d”.
Yes, the Punisher has gotten into a gunfight in the midst of a hospital’s maternity ward and he’s either trying to rescue four babies from the marauding baddies or maybe add on to his body armour.
I truly admire the editor’s dedication to the cover’s theme, from the wan smiley faces on either side of the issue’s title, to the bullet-riddled “Baby on Board” sign in the postmark box. Even the publisher’s logo has a small child draped in the Punisher’s uniform and brandishing an Uzi. Such an impressive eye for detail!
It’s amazing how damn goofy these covers are, especially since this is supposed to be one of the most realistic characters in comics history.
Hello. My name is John and I’m a male comic book fan from Toronto.... and, um, I don’t really like the Scott Pilgrim series of graphic novels.
I know, that’s total heresy to some people, but it’s true. I do not enjoy the series. Although I enjoyed the film starring local hipster hunk Michael Cera, I just can’t get into the graphic novels, try as I might. They’re just not my bag.
For the uninitiated: Scott Pilgrim is about the blossoming relationship between the titular hero and his American sweetheart Ramona Flowers. To win the day and the girl, all Scott needs to do is get a job, mature as a person and, oh yeah, defeat her seven evil exes in fights to the death.
The books are heavily influenced by anime, comic books and especially video games. Scott’s band is called “Sex Bob-omb”, combining Tom Jones with one of the more obscure villains from the Super Mario games. There’s a lot to like in that concept, but it just never clicked for me.
This isn’t about going against the grain either. I’m not saying I dislike it just to fly in the face of indy scenesters everywhere. I was actually on board with the series pretty early on. In fact, when I was in undergrad I worked at a very large bookstore in downtown Toronto one of my co-workers was wild about Scott Pilgrim.
When she learned that I was a fellow comic book nerd she insisted I catch up on the series - at that point only three of the six books had come out – and so I dutifully bought the first volume (Scott Pilgrim’s Previous Little Life) and demolished it in about 30 minutes of dock-side reading at a cottage.
There was certainly a lot to like about the book. It had its funny moments, particularly the climactic battle with Matthew Patel, and the characters had some charm. As a young man in Toronto working in a mind-numbing retail job, I had some sympathy for Scott.
Unfortunately, it was also crowded with too many of Scott’s friends and peers, and O’Malley’s artwork wasn’t sophisticated enough to make it clear who was who. Characters bled together on the page and in my mind.
Also, although I could I identify with some aspects of his life, Scott is the kind of person I’ve got little patience for in real life. He’s directionless, insensitive and oblivious to his surroundings. His friends are huffy and prone to inexplicable bouts of anger while hating their dead-end jobs.
If they were real people, I’d go out of my way to avoid them.
So after that first book I gave up on the series and moved on. When inevitably confronted by a hysteric Pilgrim-fan - they are legion in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood - I’d politely shy away from the subject and explain I was really behind on my reading.
But the film trailers grabbed my attention and I went to see the Edgar Wright-directed movie on opening weekend. After all, it’s a movie that prominently features my hometown and I’m a sucker for all things Toronto.
It was smart, fun and moved quickly. The acting, particularly Cera in the title role and Kieran Culkin as his roommate Wallace Wells, was sharp and witty. I loved it.
That experience, coupled with reports from many friends that the art and writing improved with each book made me think I should give the series a second chance. I borrowed the remaining volumes from the library -Wychwood Branch, a prominent location in the series - and see if the books could redeem themselves.
Well, they didn’t. I still didn’t really like any of the books.
Although I got a better handle on who all the characters were, many were still incredibly whiny. There were too many throwaway scenes, too many pages of Scott lying around on his couch in a sulk. Characters fly into rages for no apparent reason, storming off dramatically to prove their invisble point.
I hated that kind of histrionics when I was in my early 20s, and I’m not keen to re-live it in graphic novel form.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some positives in these books. As far as a coming-of-age story, Scott Pilgrim is very good. There is a real sense of maturation in our hero and he really does develop into a more sensitive and thoughtful person. His complex relationship with Ramona is handled by O’Malley with a deft touch and there is much to be learned from both of them.
The books are also occasionally entertaining. There are pages and scenes that are legitimately funny and seeing stores, restaurants and clubs that I’m intimately familiar with printed on the page never really got old. But all that isn’t enough to overcome some of the deep flaws in this series.
Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series is a fine entry point to the world of graphic novels, but there are at least a dozen other books that a neophyte fan could start with that would be more satisfying. It’s probably best to just watch the Michael Cera movie and then seek out recommendations that are like the books.
Sometimes it’s hard to articulate your feelings about a book or movie. Other times it just comes to you, like when I recently finished reading The Rocketeer: the Complete Adventures, a reprinting of Dave Stevens’ seminal series that was originally published n 1982.
I found myself saying: “Really? That’s it?”
Not that it was a knock on the content of the book. The artwork is gorgeous and really pops thanks to the re-colouring done for this edition by Laura Martin. Stevens’ stories are good too, with some decent action as stunt pilot Cliff Secord learns to use a stolen jetpack and win back his best girl, Betty.
Stevens does an excellent job of building a sense of suspense, particularly in the second story “Cliff’s New York Adventure”. It’s a nice touch that he incorporated his hero into the Wold Newton Universe, having him work alongside the Shadow and with associates of Doc Savage.
But that’s the final story. There’s only two.
This was not what I was expecting, at all. As I made my way through the book I was waiting a third and final act that would match up with the ending of the 1991 film adaptation starring Billy Campbell and Jennifer Connelly. That climax never comes.
Instead, the Complete Adventures end with Secord leaving New York City for Los Angeles, with the expectation that he’ll be reunited with his girlfriend Betty. There should be another third to this book, but it just ends on that note. It’s an anti-climactic end to an otherwise enjoyable book.
I guess that’s the rub: those first two stories really are great. They’re fun and pulpy and in many ways are like Alan Moore’s Tom Strong.
But with any of the Tom Strong books there’s a sense that these are just a few of hundreds if not thousands of stories, and theyère much more detailed and fulfilling. The Rocketeer leaves you hanging.
It’s a shame that there wasn’t more to the series, and even worse, there never will be since Stevens passed away in 2008.
All in all, The Rocketeer: the Complete Adventures is a fun read and it has gorgeous artwork, but it’s disappointing that it’s so short and, ultimately, feels incomplete. It's a great concept, I just wish there was more of it.
If you’d like to read a second opinion, I’d recommend Chris Sims’ review of the Complete Adventures from December 2009.
For example, it is rare for a movie to have a plot that unfolds in real time. Television shows are limited in length by half-hour increments, allowing, of course, for commercials. You may see a program that’s 15 minutes long, but never 45 minutes.
It’s theoretically possible to have a show be 20 minutes long or a movie that is in real time, but it’s rarely if ever done in practice.
Comic books are no different. They have their own rules and standards that creators are obliged to follow.
One of the most peculiar things about sequential art as a medium is that it is largely devoted to a single genre – superhero action/adventure.
There are certainly lots of comics that do not involve capes or tights. But the vast majority of the comics produced in this medium prominently feature superheroes.
It wasn’t always this way. In the aftermath of the Second World War, superhero titles began to disappear off the rack. Only Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman survived in any form. Titles like Captain America, Captain Marvel and Green Lantern were replaced by Westerns, Romances and especially horror books.
However, as the Silver Age dawned with Showcase #4 and Fantastic Four #1, superheroes came back in to vogue. DC and Marvel plunged into producing cape and tights stories almost whole hog. Even characters that were of other genres like Nick Fury, Jonah Hex, Mille the Model, Patsy Walker and the Two-Gun Kid were folded into their mainstream continuity.
Since then, the medium and the genre have been inexorably linked. Sure, there are still some comics that do not feature superheroes, but they are few and far between.
It would be like if CBS and NBC’s programming was almost entirely police procedural dramas.
All this serves a lengthy preamble to talk about Alan Moore’s America’s Best Comics, an attempt by the famed author to break free from the superhero genre. He introduced books like Top 10, Promethea and Greyshirt that were departures from the usual comic book fare.
The most prominent work in the ABC line was Tom Strong, an analog of Doc Savage, Tarzan, Tom Swift and other pulp-styled heroes of the early 20th century.
Although still definitely an action-adventure story, Tom Strong is not a crime fighter or vigilante of any sort. His primary interest is science and education. He’s constantly inventing Swiftian devices that, predictably, become useful in his latest adventure. He is a utopianist devoted to improving his world.
Of course, Strong is often beset by villains who want to destroy his hometown of Millennium City or kill him to avenge an earlier defeat. Enemies like Nazi air pirate Ingrid Weiss, technological plague the Modular Man and Strong’s arch-nemesis Paul Saveen plague the hero and his family.
They’re all fun, off-beat characters that can make you laugh while remaining threatening to the safety of Tom Strong and his extended family.
As always, Moore does a fantastic job of developing characters quickly and creating entertaining traps for Strong to unravel, all while maintaining the traditional sense of fun inherent in all pulp fiction.
Chris Sprouse’s artwork shines. It’s crisp, clean and expressive, while being remarkably detailed where required. He’s a master illustrator who can communicate emotions to his readers in a single, textless panel. It’s some of the best artwork I’ve ever seen in a comic.
Sprouse isn’t the only penciler on this series though. Other acclaimed artists like Arthur Adams, Gary Frank, Dave Gibbons and Jerry Ordway lend a hand. Their inclusion in the project was done in a very clever way – they draw all the flashback scenes. Because these looks into Tom Strong’s past are presented as older issues of the series, the different styles aren’t jarring and, if anything, add to the whole piece.
I would recommend Alan Moore’s Tom Strong to anyone who enjoys comics, but especially to those who want a break from the more mainstream and mundane superhero books that clutter shelves at your local shop. He remains one of the few creators in the medium that can shed the cloak of superheroes.
FCBD is an ingenious promotion that publishers and stores across the continent have developed to encourage new readers to try out comics and graphic novels.
It’s a simple concept: on the first Saturday in May most major comic book publishers release free copies of comics which the stores hand out to any and all customers. The idea is to get new patrons into the stores and to introduce older fans to new titles or creators.
Although I’m a big-time comic book nerd, this was my first experience with FCBD. I went to Paradise Comics, my Local Comic Store, and dragged my girlfriend Katy along.
Between the two of us we picked up six comics:
Boom! Studios – Irredeemable/Incorruptible double-sided: This was actually the last comic I picked from the spread. It just so happened that the Incorruptible cover was the one facing up on the table, and that’s what drew me in. Of course, Mark Waid’s story is great and as these are reprints of both series’ first issues, this was a perfect jump-on for new readers.
I’d read Irredeemable before, and think its concept of superhero-turned-ultimate-villain is fine. Certainly, Waid does an excellent job of building a sense of dread and terror as Superman-analog the Plutonian rampages around the world.
The only problem is that it’s been done before. Watchmen, the Dark Knight Returns, Rising Stars and the Squadron Supreme, amongst others, have broached these themes before. It’s not that Waid does it better or worse than these other titles, it’s just well-tred territory.
Incorruptible, however, is brilliant. It chronicles the reaction of supervillain Max Damage to the Plutonian’s berserker rage and his decision to prepare to fight the hero. I am hooked. I want more, and that’s what Free Comic Book Day is all about.
IDW – G.I. Joe #155 ½: I’m definitely a fan of G.I. Joe but this comic did nothing for me. The Joes themselves are only mentioned in one panel of the comic. Although there’s a great deal of action, the plot relies heavily on past storylines from earlier G.I. Joe comics.
I can see that some people might be intrigued by Cobra Commander’s scheme to take over the United States, but it seems like a very continuity-heavy book that could turn off new fans drawn in by the recent live-action movie.
As usual, Chris Sims and Eugene Ahn didn’t lead me astray. It was a fun, light-hearted read about the newly-married Crusader and his wife Abby as they adjust to their new life together.
The humorous vignettes of what it’d be like to be a married superhero were good for some laughs and Zahler’s artwork is clean and expressive.
Archie Comics - Archie’s Summer Splash #1: Written and illustrated by Dan Parent, this comic is exactly what you’d expect from the good folks at Archie. It’s a fun, one-and-done book centred around a minor social conflict between average American teenagers.
I appreciate that Archie Comics put out a brand new story for FCBD and one that can be easily understood by any new reader. I’m just sorry that it doesn’t really focus on the main four Riverdalians (Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica). Sure, they’re there, but they could have been anyone.
That said, that’s my only complaint. Parent strikes again, doing a solid job of writing and illustrating this story.
Marvel Comics - Iron Man/Nova: Along with the Incorruptible half of Boom’s efforts, this was the best comic I read on Saturday.
Specifically labelled as “Great for all ages”, this book is fun and easy for any fan to understand. Craig Rousseau’s artwork is very detailed while remaining light and easy on the eyes. Writer Paul Tobin squeezes a lot of exposition into the dialogue between Nova, Iron Man and Kate McMillan but manages to keep the plot moving.
I like the choice of heroes as well. Obviously, Iron Man’s inclusion serves as a tie-in to Iron Man 2 which comes out in just one week. Nova is an odder choice as he’s got a lower profile than most characters, but since he is going to be a member of the new Secret Avengers book coming out this month his inclusion also makes sense. Nova is also more accessible for younger readers, since he’s a college student, an everyman in the vein of Spider-Man.
Also, it features monkeys and apes. Who doesn’t love simians?
Marvel Comics - Iron Man/Thor: Inversely, this is the worst comic I picked up on Saturday.
In theory, it should’ve been great. As mentioned above, Iron Man has starred in a wildly popular movie with another one coming out in a few days. Thor’s movie is in production and is a cornerstone of the Marvel Universe. There’s a lot of buzz surrounding the characters.
Matt Fraction is one of the hottest scribes in the industry right now, writing the monthly Iron Man and Thor titles. Penciler John Romita Jr. is one of the best comic book artists ever, and a mainstay of Marvel comics. Again, you’d think a creative team like that would be a slam dunk.
Unfortunately, this story is confusing as all hell. Both characters are kind of jerks, not just to the villains but to each other as well. It’s hard to place when in continuity this happens and it ends on a puzzling note with Thor flying over a wrecked supertanker in the green fields surrounding Ayer’s Rock in Australia and Iron Man standing on the moon before a bunch of wreckage that includes a sign for Stark technology.
Not the kind of gateway to two monthly titles that Marvel was probably hoping for and a disappointment to fans familiar with the characters or creators of this issue.
Growing up I was fortunate to have access to my dad’s wonderful Silver Age collection of comics. Also, since I grew up in the 90s, I could pick up relatively cheap back issues from the medium’s second golden age, the 1980s.
As a result I’ve been exposed to some of the real magic of Marvel Comics. Obviously, the stories and artwork is the major draw of their library, but one of the really attractive things about these eras was the infamous Bullpen Bulletins.
In short, the Bulletins were a newsletter inserted into all of Marvel’s monthly titles that talked about the comings and goings of their roster of writers, artists and editors.
Really, it was an invention of editor-in-chief Stan Lee to promote new titles and new talent. The Bullpen Bulletins were always over-the-top and Barnum-esque but it was also entertaining and made you feel like you were right there with your favourite creators.
Marvel discontinued the feature in 2001, and I can’t say that I blame them. After all, the Bullpen itself had been dispersed by the advent of digital technology allowing a lot of freelancers to work from home.
Further, today’s creators are able to float between DC Comics, Marvel, Image, Dark Horse and other publishers, meaning that the esprit de corps that was at the heart of the Bulletins was seemingly at an end.
Twitter has rekindled that sense of camaraderie and taken it to the next level. Instead of getting to read monthly highlights of Bullpen sessions, comic book fans can now follow the jabs, jokes and work of all their favourite creators on a minute-by-minute basis.
The queen of the comics Twitter-verse has to be Gail Simone, the writer of Secret Six and Birds of Prey. She is one of the most active Tweeters out there. One of her regular “features” is to antagonize her fellow comic creators and hilarity often ensues.
Warren Ellis is the author of many books and magazine articles, but is also known for his comics work including Transmetropolitan, Nextwave, Planetary and Hellblazer. His Tweets are jovially cantankerous as he playfully abuses his followers.
A more light-hearted creator is Dan Slott, the current scribe of Spider-Man. He also penned a tragically short-lived run on the Mighty Avengers which recently concluded. He often discusses his writing process and things he loves about his job. It’s a fun read.
One of my favourite comic book writers is Kurt Busiek, the author of the brilliant creator-owned Astro City. He’s done a ton of other work for just about every comic publisher you can name. If you’ve never read it, his run on the Avengers with master illustrator George Perez is some of the best comics work ever.
Brubaker just finished an incredibly strong run on Daredevil and continues to pen Captain America. Fraction is the current mind behind the X-Men, Thor and the Invincible Iron Man. The two collaborated on the Immortal Iron Fist, a joy to read that ended too soon.
There are myriad other creators on Twitter, but these are a few of my preferred feeds. It’s fun and exciting to see the Bullpen continue on, at least in spirit, in the digital age. If you’re a fan of comics, you should try looking up your favourite writer and artist and get to know them just as Stan Lee once envisioned.
Last August I attended the Canadian National Comic Book Exposition on behalf of Alternavox, an online magazine based in Toronto. I did several interviews that, for a variety of reasons, didn’t make it on to the site. The other day I was going through my digital recorder and found a bunch of these chats and figured that I would put them up here.
First up? Dan Parent, veteran Archie Comics artist.
The past five years have been tumultuous in the world of Archie Comics: new artistic styles were introduced for the monthly Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Betty and Veronica titles as well as some controversial storylines that created an uproar in fandom.
Dan Parent has been a house artist, writer and co-editor with Archie Comics, but now works freelance on America’s favourite redhead. He knows Riverdale from the inside-out and sees many of the latest changes to the line as healthy.
“I think it’s a good experiment,” said Parent at the Canadian National Comic Book Expo on Aug. 29. “I still prefer the classic look myself , but I think it’s always good to try new things. I thought it worked for what it was.”
After graduating from of the Joe Kubert School of Cartooning and Graphic Art in 1987, Parent became a house artist at Archie Comics, working on comic book production work before moving to the licensing department.
He began to do freelance work in 1996, although maintained close ties to the Archie gang, occasionally doing work for the company. Parents has his favourites amongst the ‘new look’ titles.
“I really like the manga Sabrina,” said Parent. “The girl who does it, Tania Del Rio, did a really good job on it.”
Archie Comics made waves on May 15, 2009 when they announced that Archie Andrews would be proposing to the raven-haired Veronica Lodge over the wholesome girl-next door, Betty Cooper in the 600th issue of his monthly series.
Fans on both side of the blonde vs. brunette debate were inflamed, with comic book store owner David Luebke going so far as selling Archie #1 comic for $30,000 USD in protest.
However, Parent shrugs at the controversy.
“It’s interesting, it stirs things up,” said Parent. “People have a lot of passion for the characters; people have grown up on them and they’re sort of like they’re your friends at this point.”
“I think it’s good, it’s what keeps us in business.”
Parent was quick to defend the plot, for some personal reasons.
“I’m a bigger fan of Veronica, so, you know, it works out fine for me,” he said with a laugh. “As far as the story goes, it’s a really well written story, and I didn’t write it so I’m not just saying that.”
A veteran of the comics industry for 23 years, Parent still has some dream projects that he’d like to work on before calling it a career.
“I would like to do the Archie superheroes. They are going to be bringing them back – I’m not sure if I’m going to be working on them or not, probably not,” he said. “I like Li’l Archie a lot too. I’d really like to do some work with Li’l Archie.”
Having worked on several children’s comic books like Felix the Cat, Barbie and Disney Adventures, Parent knows what it takes to create an accessible kid’s title.
“First of all, good artwork , of course,” said Parent. “A good story that doesn’t talk down to kids, which is kind of difficult. Sometimes the stories do in other books. Kids are smarter than we give them credit for, and if it’s funny, it’s funny.”
“Even if you have an obscure reference that you think a kid might not understand it’s usually okay because if it’s funny they’ll go along with it.”
A recent strip from Let’s Be Friends Again by Chris Haley and Curt Franklin perfectly sums up how I feel about Marvel and DC Comics. Basically, I think that the two major purveyors of sequential art are in a creative malaise largely of their own making.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about an exercise - the Superhero Originality Game – that highlights that stagnation. The rules are explained at length in my previous post but, in short, the idea is to try and think of completely original characters that were created in the past thirty years that could (or have) carried their own monthly titles for Marvel or DC Comics.
I had gotten the ball rolling with a list of 10 characters who met the criteria:
6.Venom (Eddie Brock or Angelo Fortunato but not Mac Gargan)
I had invited my readers to try and add to the list, and they came up with an additional 14 characters:
12. Night Thrasher (Dwayne Taylor, not his brother Donyell Taylor, aka Bandit)
13. Amadeus Cho
14. War Machine
18. Beta Ray Bill
20. Cloak and Dagger *
24. Silver Sable
The point of the game was to try and highlight the fact that, to a large extent, the Big Two comic book publishers have produced less than one new marketable character per year. It’s not just that they’re no longer creating new series, there aren’t many original characters being created, period.
Instead, comic book fans are being treated to Spider-Man fighting the Vulture. Again. Or another Teen Titan dying. Rehashing and re-telling seems to be the name of the game.
It’s a disappointing trend.
Imagine if two major television networks like ABC and NBC only introduced a total of 24 new television shows over the course of three decades? Advertising revenue would quickly dry up and they’d be out of business. The stagnation would have killed them.
One thing I’ll say about these 24 characters is that they are an impressively diverse group. Six and a half (Cloak being one half of an entry)are visible minorities. Five and a half are women. One is a space horse.
They also have diverse origins and motivations, with at least 12 of them being spanning from “morally ambiguous” to “ethically reprehensible”. Whether they are mercenaries, assassins, exceptionally greedy or intelligence operatives for the government, they’re a surprisingly complex group of protagonists.
Unfortunately, only five are currently starring in a book, either in a solo title (Booster Gold, War Machine, Amadeus Cho, Deadpool) or a team book (the Sentry). Even in that group, War Machine’s book is being cancelled and there are rumours that the Sentry is going to be killed as part of the Siege.
This lack of creativity is particularly stunning when you think of all the characters that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created for both companies between 1960 and 1975. Together and separately they produced dozens of enduring characters. Why can’t their success be replicated even a little?
I think the big problem is that Marvel and DC Comics are incredibly risk averse and reluctant to try anything new. Instead, they’d rather play it safe and go back to the well time and time again, appeasing a hardcore group of fans rather than reach out and try out new characters that could appeal to a broader base of readers.
It’s a crying shame that in the long run will hurt the comics business.
*I looked into Cloak and Dagger and it’s kind of up in the air as to whether or not they’re mutants. They’ve been described as having powers that were activated by the experiments they were subjected to. To keep it simple, we’ll just assume that they’re not mutants.