Friday, November 21, 2008

Fangirl Fridays: The Knitty Gritty of Comics Today

Hi there,

This is just going to be a jumble of thoughts and links that have come up while surfing this fine Internet-thing --

Bring Out Your Dead?
A commentary on all the DC comic books that have been canceled as of late, plus speculation as to whether the end is near for Jonah Hex and Simon Dark.
This brings me back to what I have posted earlier about how many comics in the future might be put out in mini-series or "volumes" rather than be ongoing. After having the read the last three months worth of Amazing Spider-Man, I definitely see that dynamic in play, though within the banner of one title.
Jonah Hex is a perfectly good title with consistent quality. I think, however, its biggest strength lies in the collected editions.

Did you ever want a list of all the female comic book characters who have *not* been raped?
If roughly 80% of female characters have not been raped, does this debunk the "rape myth" of comics that says female characters are often raped?
I think it's not a question of bean-counting but of how the rapes that do occur are presented in the comic books.
Of course, these sorts of posts run the danger of discounting all concern over the rape of women in comics, since it is "only 20%."

I'm noticing more and more blogs are posting entire old stories that are in public domain, assumed to be in public domain, or that nobody really cares anyway what domain they're in.
I'm enjoying these stories immensely, here are two I've read recently:
"The Head Of The Family"
"The Cadmus Seed"
both by Jack Kirby, whose ability to draw really freaky disturbing shit should not be under-estimated.

I found this Comics Reporter post, "I Can't Even Bring Myself To Open This," rather amusing. It refers to an issue of DC/Wildstorm's X-Files. Having opened up the issue in the comic store, I did note the standard static art resembling various photo stills. This phenomena of so heavily using photo reference reminds me, of all things, of the work of Henry Darger. Darger's story is long and sad, but basically all you have no know for now is that part of his art consisted using the same source material as tracing templates over and over again. So when you look at Darger's art, you keep recognizing the same figures & faces. This is what a lot of comic book TV and movie adaptations look like to me, especially the ones with either uninspired art and/or ultra-strict approval requirements from the studios.

As a contrast, check out Charlie Adlard's work on X-Files for Topps. I think I heard something like his lack of on-model photo-referency art drove 20th Century Fox crazy. But at any rate, what Adlard did was how I think you really should adapt TV to comics. By realizing it ain't TV, it's comics.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't highlight John Rogers' thoughts the cancellation of Blue Beetle:

"Wow. It's almost as if basing your entire business model around a series of must-buy big event crossovers in a market with limited purchasing resources hurts your midlist."


"Let's put it this way -- stripping out distribution costs and our share of the rent for those nice DC offices in Mahattan, Blue Beetle could have cost fifty cents an issue at its worst sales level, and still paid Rafael and myself more than we made on the run of the book."

At this point, I can't see why any high-level person within the comics industry wouldn't be encouraging the development of their company's digital comics program. Webcomics may not a replacement for paper (well, in about 20 year they might be, at least for mass consumption), but they are going to play a bigger and bigger role in a publisher's total output.

The trends regarding this and other things are all around us. We can spend day after day ignoring them, thinking the clock will turn back. Or we could do our research and prepare, and get ahead of the curve. Even in a recession, those who diligently take the latter approach will find themselves not only better off -- but in a vastly better place once things improve.

And on that note, enjoy the start of your weekend, all!


  1. I loved the Topps X-Files books. And every time someone leafs through my comics and finds them, they're all tee hee what do we have here, and then I school them on how, damn it, they were beautiful once.

  2. Didn't something like 92 percent of Gears Of War's 450 000 copies sold come from outside the direct sales market?

    But what the hell - DC are making millions of dollars in profit, beating Marvel, and the comics industry just grows with every passing year under Diamond's illegal monopoly (but it's only a monopoly on comic-books and not 'real' books, so that's okay) so there's no need to change the winning DC formula at this stage, right?

  3. Well, maybe if the comics DID cost 50 cents, people would be more encouraged to take a look at it. >_< I'm so agitated that companies are considering raising the price AGAIN. With the current economic situation, gas prices in Minnesota have fallen to less than $2.00 It now costs less to get a gallon of gas than it does to buy a single comic book, and only fifteen years ago comics cost around $1.50. Did none of these people study economics? If you RAISE the price, demand goes down and less items are sold! Lower the price and use cheaper paper (or heck, figure out why I can sell a magazine with 200 pages of content, including roughly an equal share of advertisements and content at $3.00 while a comic book with only 22 pages of content ALSO sells at $3.00) if you have to!

    Bah, I'm still mad that Blue Beetle's been canceled. :(

  4. Anonymous1:20 PM

    2 things...

    1. Rape in comics... disgusting and no place for it, at least in the superhero realm. Most may argue that they use of rape and more 'adult' material is to bring a sense of realism to comics. If I want realism, I'll go for a fucking walk. BRING BACK THE FUN and leave the 'adult' stuff to Frank Miller.

    If I wanted to see rape, i'd turn on a news cast.

    2.Webcomics... for the foreseable future, the business model
    (from a small publishing standpoint) that makes most sense to me would be to offer the content online for free and integrate it into a more fan friendly community type atmosphere. The profit will come if the fans are there and feel like they have more 'buy in' into what is being published. Site Ad revenue will not be a viable source of cash, but merchandising and TPB prints (hooray for P.O.D.) will be... At least from a small press point of view.

    The key will be the consistency in quality and output of content. But that's a problem for just about any industry in existence.

    Val... you write a great blog... I think Cloak and Dagger (as characters) suck but because of this blog will buy and enjoy any issue you work on (while wiping the brown stuff off my nose).

  5. Well, if there is talk of a Jonah Hex movie then DC will of course cancel the comic. The last thing they would ever want is to have a comic on the shelves that might catch some extra sales from a hit movie.

  6. Comic books in print have their days numbered. Prices have grown from expensive to ridiculous and, at this rate, prices might do what nothing has done so far: to kill the industry.

    Going digital seems to be only reasonable way out of the current mess. Will piracy grow? Probably, this doesn't mean it isn't quite big as it is. But going digital would also mean to finally have a worldwide distribution without the hyper inflated prices that already affect the shipping of the dead tree format.

  7. To be honest, I thought Jonah Hex was already cancelled. And, I'm liking Simon Dark, it's fun, but I figured it would get cancelled. I'm gonna guess it won't make it to summer. I think somewhere in spring it'll bite it. Kinda symbolic with the whole season of spring being rebirth and Simon Dark, a seemingly undeaded character, being put to a literary "death". Like a dawning sun to the original lore of the vampyr is what actually kills them. Ah, well. If they ever come out with another Shadowpact-esque title that'd be sweet. Maybe Simon could join. After Reign in Hell, they could have a book like that. A Sentinels of Magic book, or some deal. I'd get it.

  8. Floppies will die, trades will live on. For a while. Then prestige format will live on, probably for a long, long time.


  10. The direct market only titles which Marvel produced in the 1980s (Ka-Zar, Moon Knight) were primarily done because the non-returnable economics allowed Marvel to profit.

    A similar model can be done for digital comics. Not only does the cost of production get paid at a lower cost, but it also negates the "waiting for the trade" syndrome that effects comics. Some fans buy the comic, then don't want to buy the trade again. Others don't buy the comic, waiting for the trade, but a trade might not be marketed if sales are poor.

    With digital comics, the trade is the first paper edition. The resolution is better. It's easier to read. The author can sign it.

    Re: Diamond Comics Distribution...
    a monopoly is not illegal unless the government declares it illegal. That probably won't happen. Now, if DC exercises the agreement it signed when it went exclusive with Diamond after Marvel shot themselves in the kneecaps, then DC might once again hold a monopoly on distribution, like they once held with Marvel in the early Sixties.

  11. Charlie Adlard is my gold standard for how to do a comics adaptation of a Hollywood property. He got the essence of the characters and used them properly in the comic book medium, rather than relying on photo reference.

    Those DC Star Trek books are the opposite... every couple of panels there'd be this over-rendered, badly realized, drawn from a publicity still portrait of Picard gazing straight at the reader... YUCK. It'd throw you right out of the story.

  12. I've been reading the collected BRAVE AND THE BOLD stories, and what I noticed was...people were getting iced left and right in early Batman stories. The difference is, they didn't *linger* or dwell on the deaths the way they do now. Someone died "off-camera" or they got shot with no visible blood. Now it's all blood n gore and viscera.

    Rape isn't something you should see in comics, but it's still part of reality, unfortunately. I think it could be done "off-camera" or hinted at, but not done the way DC or Marvel (but more DC lately) choose to do it.

    But yeah, keep it off the funny pages.

  13. Is that a real statistic with the 20%? If...what's up with that? That's like, 10's of thousands of characters possibly. I can't think of any female characters that've been raped off the top of my head. I do on the other hand can think of two male characters. Invisible Man from Alan Moore's L.o.E.G. and...Jack Knight.

    It wouldn't surprise me. If you look at all these crime-drama shows: CSI, NYPD, Law & Order, the countless spin-offs and copies. I find that 9 outta 10 of the opening scene victims will be a woman. Usually a young woman and it always has horrible details added on later: two kinds of dna evidence, vaginal tearing, and other miscellaneous appalling details that these shows on tv constantly push down the publics throats. I love horror movies, but these kinda shows need to not be on cable, at least not mid-day. Hell, I see 'em in the morning.

  14. 'bout the rape thing,

    I don't know about saying that it shouldn't be allowed in superhero comics, or comics in general because well it is -horribly- a part of life. Writers use life to tell stories.

    Now, should it be used the way it is used currently? No. ("Hey let's just have her be raped! Yeah, that'll get 'em talkin'!")
    But the same could be said about murder, robbery, and all other bad parts of life.

    When used as a cheap plot device it loses its power and impact, and we become calloused to it. I would argue that having people become calloused and dull to rape is a horrible thing.

  15. Funny how things come back...

    The possibility of Rogue having ben raped in the Genosha storyline that very image comes from was hotly debated a few years back on one of the USENET groups. It wasn't until I emailed Chris Claremont and got the definitive answer that it was settled. Can't remember where I got his address though...

    Interestingly enough, it was only a four word email response "Rogue was not raped" as Chris had a Compuserve email address at the time (now THAT dates it) and they had to pay PER WORD for Internet email.

  16. You've got it slightly backwards, Lewis. It's not, "They're raising the price, so they're selling fewer copies," it's "they're selling fewer copies, so they have to raise the price." Marvel and DC are both aware at this point that their remaining market is addicted fanboys with deep pockets. :)

    Not sure that digital is the answer, either; DC might have been able to pay John Rogers at fifty cents a copy, but they have a lot of other mouths to feed there, and I don't think anyone working at DC wants to slash their staff anymore than any other business ever does. Plus, digital has the same problem as direct market--you're trading economy for visibility. It's cheaper to run a website than a publishing company, but what kind of traffic can you get?

  17. Anonymous10:53 AM

    Having drawn a licensed comic (ST:TNG), I'd side with the notion that the heavy photo reference of the X-Files comic is due to the studio/actor reps having their say about the art.

    We often got last minute changes--sometimes requiring the inker to make the adjustments.

    As a result, the comic often appeared as a hodgepodge of two artists' interpretations.

  18. Anonymous4:59 PM

    Maybe this is a case of 20% doing 80% of the work. Consider any group of women. Two out of ten? That's huge.

    Rape is so overused in comics that it's almost cliche, like bowling ball sized breasts. This medium really has to start showing women more respect.

  19. This is a fun 'n informatvie blog, keep up the good work. And thanks for the plug/link to my Kirby story.

  20. I'd love to see canceled books like Blue Beetle, Manhunter, and Spider-Girl live on in digital form.

  21. It isn't crossovers that are bad, its when they are mishandled.

    DC screwed with fan's pocketbooks with Countdown, then pretended that they were keeping FC "focused" by not having any of its books deal with Darkseid's reign...which would have been awesome and made it feel like FC mattered more.

  22. First of all, if the guy at the site that inspired the comments was able to do math, he would recognize that approximately 5 to 1 is 83.3% not 80%. Second, That was hardly an exhaustive list of women in Marvel and DC comics.

    If the question is motivation for the character's behavior or attitude, then I am not sure how much being assaulted would turn a woman into a crimefighter.

    Also, if we are counting any form of sexual assault, isn't the number in reality close to 20% anyway? Of course, the question can and has been asked whether comics should reflect reality to that extent.

  23. The tone of that post about rape in comics really bothered me. There's something quite smug and dickish about it, like the guy just wants to be all "Rape! Psssh! No biggie!"