Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Springboards For Controversy

I thought I would just lob a few opinions out there that might be controversial, or not, we'll see. Some have already been field-tested. :-)

1. I really really really enjoy the Mark Millar/Bryan Hitch Fantastic Four.
I do. The book looks beautiful. It presents the characters is a way that I can relate to and enjoy. This is the first time I've really felt motivated to keep up with the book as a monthly. And the interior artist also draws the cover -- bonus! And I even like the way the logo is composed on the cover. Sold.

2. Vertigo comics & trade paperbacks are printed on shit paper.
Yes. It's true. Why go through all the trouble of producing something like Northlanders only to print it on shit paper? Are the trades for Northlanders printed on shit paper too? The key is not so much the paper itself -- rough, one step up from newsprint -- but the color palettes used. Books like Scalped, Northlanders, and Hellblazer usually have darker, moodier palettes. These are rich palettes. You can't have these palettes on crap paper, because the paper can't "hold" that richness. Rich color on crap paper looks like murk. Now, I can understand if you are doing it for the monthlies. But the trades too? Read a trade for Scalped -- shit paper. Surely these better-selling Vertigo titles deserve something better? Yeah, I know that keeps the price-point down -- but at the cost of making the book look like a murky smear?

3. Gender might impact one's creative output.
Certainly not in all cases! But there might be general trends. I just don't buy that gender has zero impact on creative output. I mean -- zero impact? Really? I'm just the same as a man? That's bullshit, I'm not the same as a man. My "wiring" is not the same as a man's. My hormones are not the same as a man's. The immediate, everyday details of life that I instinctively observe are different. I'll say it: I care more about emotions and feelings. And I'm saying this as someone who considers herself a bit more "mannish" than the average woman. Does denying these differences really help me? It's like some corporate chick when I was working in advertising, she told me to never admit you menstruate. Fuck -- I menstruate! I'm not going to mention it at the board meeting. But I fucking bleed, and I get bloated and feel shitty and emotional too.

The problem comes when the idea I have outlined gets interpreted as meaning (for example) "women don't write as good as men." Obviously, this is not the case. JK Rowling, Patricia Cornwell, Anne Rice. That chick who wrote "Twilight." Multi-billion dollar authors. But my point is: why is this not yet translating to the comic book market in the numbers that it should? How does a female writer work with a comic publisher to maximize her strengths and audience potential? Does she do it by positioning herself as "another Geoff Johns/Brian Michael Bendis?" Or does she do it by saying: "Yeah, I'm different. Different and awesome. And it's exactly my difference that's going to sell this book." That's the key -- how do we use this natural difference in a way to sell the product?

4. I think the direction of Amazing Spider-Man post-"Brand New Day" has worked.
I tried to approach the Spider-Man comics several years ago and gave up. That "Other" storyline? I couldn't follow that. The continuity had become impenetrable for me. As a new reader, I was turned off. But now, I feel I have been given an even platform onto which to begin my re-involvement with Spidey. And buying the weekly books has just become a habit. I might not read all of them right away. I read the arcs in chunks. But it works for me. I guess it becomes a question of, should comic book companies try to grab new readers on longtime titles? Can we streamline the continuity a bit? Like in Invincible Iron Man. And I think you periodically need to do that.


  1. 3. Gender might impact one's creative output.

    I agree completely, with the caveat that race and religion should be thrown in as well. To me it's the biggest reason why there needs to be more diversity in the "workplace" in general, but especially in one where creativity is stressed, i.e. comics. Also, I'm not 100% sure I used the word caveat correctly in that sentence.

  2. I totally agree with you on 1, 3, and 4. (Especially on FF and Amazing - I'm loving them both.) I don't read any Vertigo books so I have no opinion on that one.

  3. Actually, rather than controversy, I think you bring up excellent points.

    Millar/Hitch FF was at first pretty crappy, but after the first couple of issues it really did start to resonate. The book is gorgeous and Millar is really doing a great job with these characters that can be challenging.

    Vertigo books are absolutely printed on shit paper. I was never big on Vertigo books until last year, and a lot of what they've been putting out is excellent. Shit like Trinity and Final Crisis should be printed on the crap paper. The Vertigo books are actually engaging and not confusing.

    I definitely see your point about gender/creative output. I think that gender affects not just creative output, but basic day to day activities, aside from the aforementioned "time of month." Living with my g/f for the past few years has taught me more about the opposite sex than I could ever imagine and there are days when I am ready to be active or write or just go out and do things and she doesn't want to for any "logical" reason. I think that's an interesting argument.

    Spider-Man post-"Brand New Day" has been pretty good. I did a Marvel Top 10 2008 Moments list at Comics Bulletin and "Brand New Day is actually pretty damn good" was #7. I prefer Peter and MJ together, but the Spidey brain trust is doing a great job.

  4. Stephanie Meyer wrote Twilight...and frankly it's crap writing. Interesting plot, characters, location, etc. But I'll be darned if it was good writing. J.K. Rowling however...excellent writer.

    I actually do enjoy and love Gail Simone's writing. She makes the women more in depth and the men more...set in personality (best way I could describe it).

  5. INDIVIDUALS have their own unique way of looking at the universe and their own unique writing style and what they focus on. Being a woman doesn't alter that (though it does mean you think about menstruation more than a guy probably will XD), it's who you are that shapes the writing. I suppose if your gender plays a huge part in your identity then it probably will affect your writing, but then again I'm not a psychologist so I should probably just stop babbling. ^^;

  6. I'll say it: I care more about emotions and feelings.

    Good to know. There's not enough of that outside of the manga aisle.

    Ours is an industry where people declare Superman to be emo whenever he sheds a tear.

    I think people in general (and men in particular) are just really uncomfortable with emotions. Emotions are a sign of weakness. But the truth is we all have them and we all have to deal with them. So it makes sense that superheroes would be the same.

    Until then, there's always manga.

  7. I actually do enjoy and love Gail Simone's writing. She makes the women more in depth and the men more...set in personality (best way I could describe it).

    Gail Simone makes superheroes sexy. Man... woman... doesn't matter. All sexy.

    Or extremely disturbing.

  8. I've noticed the crap paper with Vertigo. Fables is the worst. And their trades are designed like paper airplanes. I have Wildstorm trade paperbacks (Authority) from 6or 7 years ago that look like I bought them last week. I have Vertigo trades (Fables) that fell apart if I turned the pages too fast. What's THAT about?

    I really should like the new FF. It really isn't bad. I think I'm just biased against Millar.

  9. That chick who wrote "Twilight."

    Do you mind if I get all offended on your behalf for such horrible sexist language?

    You do?

    Then I won't bother then.

    Have a good day :)

  10. They aren't controversial in my opinion.

    1 - I am not reading it, but it looks compelling and I may go back to it at some point. I have zero issue with it.

    2 - Yep. They always have been. I love cheap trades enough to forgive it a little, but even the trades are printed on crap and your observations are spot on. I do like reading Scalped on the crap paper as it makes it feel gritty and pulpy, but I would probably like seeing the art as it was intended as well.

    3 - Lewis beat me to the observation on this one. Individuals write differently based on all of the things that make them an individual. I hate when people say traits are male or female. I am a sensitive and emotional guy. That is one part of my personality and my perspective, etc. I mean all of ones experiences happen in their own skin, through their own eyes. Every variable could be analyzed and shown to contribute to what makes a good writer vs a bad one. In addition, opinions about what makes writing good or bad, enjoyable or not, vary according to all the same sort of things.

    4. I don't think they needed the reset to put things back on course. I think they needed talent and vision and a return to some of the core ideas that make Spidey Spidey. I don't think this means they had to do the Mephisto thing to get there, but that's fine. I don't care and am not bothered by what went on before, as long as they are feeding me good, and occasionally great, comics.

  11. The Millar book has been OK, but with some diversions that have soured me. I like it but I'm not 100% on it.

  12. Thanks, I'll check out the new FF.
    I wanted a professional opinion, and you are the first I'll trust.

    I like ASM's new run as well. Light and fun, and short and sweet!

    Dude, chicks are good at everything, and they're prettier, and smell better. Case closed.

  13. I 100% agree with your basic point about male/female creative differences. They exist.

    As far as Vertigo titles being printed on shit paper, I would be fine as long as the trades were printed on better paper.

  14. "That chick who wrote "Twilight.""

    I find this to be one of the most controversial claims you have made. I have not read any of this woman's books, but my understanding from everyone of my halfway to fully literate friends and associates who have read it, that the writing is absolutely horrible. Strictly for the uncritical "training bra set" I read somewhere.

  15. I haven't read her, but by the accounts I have heard, Stephanie Meyer is a bad writer with bad dialog, only the training bra set could enjoy (and their mothers who have been ruined by years of crappy romantic comedies/dramas)

  16. Hi! I really like your blog. Big supporter of female comic book fans here. My sister, who is a good listener when I ramble on for hours about comics, is unfortunately the slowest reader ive ever met. she can get through a novel faster than a TPB. Also she tends not to know which direction to follow panels, which i thought was an innate sense we all were born with. Do you find those traits ever? Or am i just using her as a stereotype?

  17. Well, I agree with 2, 3 and 4, and I was waiting on the trade for #1 until I got laid off. Now it's gonna have to wait a while before I have an opinion on that.

    As for the marketing potential behind #3, it seemed to me that Devin Grayson was just about on the cusp of doing that. I remember her Titans -- and her Batman book, come to think of it -- as being more engaging and somewhat different than what came before, as if flavors that were always there were coming to the surface. Then, somewhere along the line, these new flavors started dominating the overall taste, and I became much less interested in those books.

    I don't know if that experience can be applied as a rule -- and heck, I don't know if anyone else but me feels that way about those runs. But something about her run was connecting with me, and then suddenly I found it wasn't.

    I know I'd like to read something more recent by her, since it's been years since I've sampled her work.

  18. Jamie, the last thing as a woman I want is some suck-up crybaby like you "defending" my gender by saying you are offended by the word "chick."

    Wow, what a brave person you are, taking a stand for my gender like that. We are forever in your debt (vomits in hand)

  19. Sorry for the double post. I thought I had fucked up for the umpteenth time and not entered my blogger info below.

  20. As a big scalped fan I would rather it be printed on old timey paper. Glossy paper sucks, I hate the way light reflects off the pages, the colors may look better but I think overall they're harder to read.

    Plus anything that helps keep prices down helps me buy more comics.

  21. I agree wholeheartedly about the cruddy quality of Vertigo paper. I've never quite understood it, although I'd imagine there are cost-savings concerns, which may be especially attractive on a creator-owned work. Still, it just doesn't look good. I was hoping that the recent Vertigo hardcovers would improve on this, but the first Y: The Last Man hardcover is printed on the same poor paper, on top of a really awful dust jacket that I just don't see holding up. I mean, really, the dust jacket can't even be glossy? I'm still holding out for Absolute editions of various Vertigo books other than Sandman, but individuals that I have talked to that know of such things say that is unlikely.

  22. Regarding the Vertigo paper issue --

    There was a time where the majority of the comics DC put out were on a similar grade of paper. To get the books on a more glossy stock took a long time, many meetings. It was like -- we are spending a fortune in coloring for a book like JLA, then we put it out on shitty paper that can't properly absorb the palette and color FX.

    Good paper -- like good coloring -- cost lots of money. I think there is definitely a cost-cutting thing going on where Vertigo is getting the short end of the stick.

    But tpbs like Scalped, Northlanders, etc -- with such a potential of big sales in both the bookstores as well as the DM -- would be better served by better paper.

    Because the truth is -- maybe Northlanders or Scalped will never be put out in an Absolute edition. But surely they have the same (if not slightly more) right to be put out in nice editions as some of the stuff that's greenlit for *hardcover* at DC proper?

  23. Listened to an episode on This American Life about Testosterone. Was a fascinating insight into how hormones can affect people's personalities.

    They did two stories: one about a strongly feminist woman going through testosterone hormone injections, and another about a man who suffered from an ailment that halted his testosterone production. It was fascinating how their whole outlook changed as a result.

    We all believe ourselves to be so above the chemical/neurological/biological idiosyncracies that make up our bodies. It's a sort of egocentric outlook that says "eh, a chemical imbalance wouldn't change MY personality." We think of ourselves as existing as two distinct entities: one of body and one of mind. The truth is that these are not different. Hormones and biology do affect our outlooks.

    I can completely be affected by the male hormones coursing around in my body, just as you can be completely affected by the female ones coursing around in yours.

    Bringing it around to marketing, fighting the weird sales trends in books written by female authors is tough. I think you're approach is pretty spot-on, though. Just show how your content is a proven winner, and how your writing holds up--not regardless of gender, but because of it.


  24. I am 100% in favor of shit paper. GNs cost way to freaking much. WAY too much. If they can bring down the cost anywhere, do it. Sweet paper doesn't really change my enjoyment. It's 75% about the story and 25% about the art and I know the artists can get whiny about the stock their work shows up on,
    as a consumer,
    I'm fine with it.

  25. Also, I like the "matte" look of the DC reprints for the Omnibuses (Omnibi?) and the archives -- but that paper tends to subtly yellow around the edges. Fine for the Omnibus format, but for archives I want more.

  26. Isn't "chick" sorta like the ladies' equivalent of "dude" at this point. Not exactly flattering but sorta universal and meaningless and vaguely annoying but also comfortable at the same time?

    I feel like "chick" is the female "dude."

    Is some other lingo the female equivalent of "dude"?

  27. 1. I haven't read this because I just flat-out think Millar is a poor writer. Of everything he's written/had his hands in, the only thing I've enjoyed was Aztek the Ultimate Man, and that was mainly Morrison, I suspect. I did look at a couple issues of his FF but I thought they were terrible. Granted, they were earlier issues, but if a writer can't grab you right out of the gate, especially a guy who's supposed to be at the top of the game, I don't see why I should check back x number of issues later to see if he's "gotten it" yet. I may look at a trade down the road, but I doubt it.

    2. I honestly have never noticed paper quality, short of when they've made a big deal out if it like the "Baxter Editions" back in the day. I'm a writer, so I focus on story more than art, which is where the paper quality has an impact. I can see where it would bother someone more art-centric, but that ain't me.

    3. I absolutely think gender plays a role in your output as a writer. I mean, your gender and all the good and ills that go with it, both from without and within, is a HUGE part of your life experience and life experience is ultimately what we draw upon, either directly or indirectly, when writing. To assume it doesn't play a role just shows a staggering lack of understanding on the actual process of writing.

    4. I didn't really read Spider-Man before BND, I'm not reading him now. I liked him and MJ being married and I thought the way they dealt with the marriage smacked of some corny Silver Age device, but ultimately I'm not concerned one way or another. I may check out the new stories in trade, due to the names working on the book now. I would almost say the bigger issue is whether the book is doing better or worse as three issues of Amazing Spider-Man vs. three separate monthly titles.

  28. I might be alone on this, but I like the fact that Vertigo's titles are printed on old-school paper.
    The glossy titles of the new monthlies make things look so slick, and frankly, kind of soul-less.
    If anything, I think the gritty look of these titles only contributes to the mysterious and "alt" vibe of them. I always figured it was part of the mystique.

  29. On Vertigo: Are the "Preacher" trades an exception? I don't have them in front of me at the moment, but I don't remember any problems with the paper quality.

    On gender: For sure there's an impact, and I'd say in all cases, even if not perceptible to someone not looking for it in the text. Even without considering biology, society works in a way that causes people to experience the world differently based on their gender (or perceived gender... I'm sure transgendered individuals could attest to the differences between when they functioned as a male as opposed to when they passed for female, or vice versa). What we create is filtered through what we have experienced.

  30. "Dude" is applicable to both sexes. There's no need for "chick" anymore than there's one for "actress" or "stewardess." It is sexist and pointless.

  31. Dear Valerie, it was a joke. Did you not notice the smiley?

    I'm honestly not offended by you using the word chick.

    Thanks for the assumptions and name calling though.

  32. I like the word chick and I think it's a perfectly valid word for a chick to use. I don't see it as derogatory, it makes me think of a girl with spunk. But, I'm on the other side of the planet, everything is upside down here.

    As for point 3; there is a definite difference, actual and perceived. When I started out my style was a little more like Terry Dodson, not the cheese cake factor, more the clean style. I was told it was a little girly (not by editors). So I butched it up a little.
    I still think I bring something different though. The title I currently work on is meant to be pretty sexy and I think it is but I think that sexiness would have been handled very differently by a guy. There are other things but these would be the most obvious currently.

  33. "Thanks for the assumptions and name calling though."

    Are you being sarcastic? I didn't see a smiley face, so I can't tell.

  34. I swear, I should just put out an ad for my blog on Craigslist offering interested people a quick, inexpensive way to be publicly castigated. I'd be more popular than the woman who crushes hamsters with her feet.

  35. There's a woman who crushes hamsters with her feet? I am heartbroken for the world.

  36. Anonymous6:22 PM

    Spider-Man has lost me as a reader. It's crap.

  37. See now isn't that interesting. I mean really. Clearly what one person holds in their mind as the "true" interpetation (or right or what ever term you like) can be very very different from another persons. For example I gave up on Millar's FF feeling that he has totally missed the point of the title (he's not alone to be fair). As for Spidey, well there was this very narrow window in recent times where I gave a crap. That was when JMS actually jettisoned the whole, "Aunt May is so fricking fragile she'd just keel over and die if she ever found out her precious Petey was that nasty Spiderman" and actually started treating her like an intelligent and interesting person. After that my attention drifted, I checked in to see Gwen Stacy getting her freak on with Norman fark barking Osborne, checked out until One More Retcon and Brand New Retcon debuted and checked right back out when somehow my LCS is only getting issues of Spiderman from the seventies.

    hmm. On the paper issue, well I'll have to take a closer look at Vertigo books. I always thought the paper was rather decent but I'm not an expert by any means whereas I imagine you've got a good deal more knowledge. But I'll definitely give it a closer look.

    As for gender an creative output. Yeah I can see it. But I think in some ways it's kind of a meaningless thing to say. I mean okay so a woman's having her monthly and can't concentrate for shit. Well frankly some days I sit down to write and all I can manage to do is play video games and look at porn.

    Oh and sense you were looking for controversy (and I hate to disappoint) Your mama dresses you funny.



  38. Just on the subject of Gender re: creative output.

    US comics are dominated by superhero action adventure, a genre appealing to male power fantasies. For the last decade, it's specifically catered to 30-50 year old men's power fantasies. If that doesn't describe your fantasy life, it'll be hard for you to write it.

    I think you're in better shape knowing what you're good at and doing it. If you're good at it and word gets out the readers will find you. That's better odds than being part of the herd, all marketing to the same fetishists.

  39. As to point four, gender undoubtedly affects the way you perceive the world and the way you approach your art.

    On the other hand, your ethnicity, upbringing, education, life experience, and, for all I know, your gluten allergy also affect your worldview, and therefore, your approach to your art.

    And naturally, there's a difference between men and women. That's what makes life interesting.

    The question is this: Are all or any of these variables determinative when it comes to your creativity, or does good art stand or fall on its own merits?

    For me, it's all about the story (and in comics, the pictures).

    I get as much joy,for instance, out of G. Willow Wilson's "Air" title as I do from Geoff Johns on JSA.

    Whether they're written by a man, woman or iguana is kind of irrelevant.

    But that's just my 2p.

  40. Although I think the BND stories have generally been well-executed, there's nothing in them that strikes me as having required the dissolution of the Peter/MJ relationship. (At least, up to this point; the door is, after all, always open for that decision to be revisited.)

    As a reader, I'm also a little disturbed that the steps taken to make Peter "relatable" include him working at a comic-book shop and scrambling for money month-in and month-out.

    To be fair, I also agree that placing him and the family at Chez Stark during the New Avengers days wasn't all that relatable, either. I thought the JMS stories where he went back to teach at his old high school kept Peter grounded enough as a character for new readers while reflecting the fact that he'd grown up a bit.

  41. Irony and sarcasm are often difficult to convey in print unless the recipient is familiar with the sender.

    I am generally sickened by emoticons or internet acronyms, but they are useful for letting a recipient know something is a joke.

  42. Anonymous10:13 PM

    I agree with #4. I've only been a reader since the "Until the Stars Turn Cold" arc with Straczynski and JRJr back in '04 or '03, but I loathed the way JMS ended his run with One More Day. However, everything post-OMD has worked for me.

  43. Do you think the #3 would apply to race/ethnicity as well?

  44. Valerie D'Orazio said...
    Regarding the Vertigo paper issue --
    Good paper -- like good coloring -- cost lots of money. I think there is definitely a cost-cutting thing going on where Vertigo is getting the short end of the stick.

    So here's your million dollar question. Which helps sell more comics, lower prices or fancy digital coloring?

    honest question. no sarcasm.

  45. Personally I try to avoid the word "chick" if only for the sexist connotations it's had in the past. Now, "Dame" is a word I'd like to recover, though. Hurray for female knighthood!

  46. ad 1.
    No springboard for controversy there, just a matter of personal taste. So you like Millar's FF, but you really give no reason for me to try it out (I mean honestly, because the interior art and covers are done by the same artist and because of the way the logo on the cover is composed?)
    Of course I may be biased after reading this:

    ad 2.
    Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer good stories and art printed on bad paper (heck, my personal golden age of superhero comics was the 1980s, when Marvel had those terrible experimental water-based colours on several books) than bad stories and traced art done up with fancy computer colouring on expensive paper (the situation with far too many titles now).

    ad 3.
    Since it is phrased so cautiously (gender "might" impact creative output), that does not seem terrible controversial to me either.

    ad 4.
    I honestly don't see what was so impenetrable about Spider-Man continuity a few years ago, it really was no worse than it had been in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s (speaking of times when you had more than one monthly title). And in particular "The Other" was actually structurally very similar to "Brand New Day", a continuing storyline told by revolving writers and artists which only loosely connected to past continuity. I have to wonder how much of the "impenetrability" arose from the discrepancies between the status quo in the Spider-books at the time and what you remembered from Spider-Man stories you may have read much earlier or knew from other versions, like the movies or animated series (e.g. Spider-Man being a member of the Avengers, them knowing his secret ID, references to the Spider-Totem etc.)

    And I'd say BND so far really has merely ignored past Spider-continuity, not streamlined it. Actually it has made things more complicated because now for events in Spidey's past going back to 1987 at least you have 1. the printed version, 2. what must have happened taking into account the changes effected by Mephisto's spell and other rewrites of the past (e.g. those used to bring Harry Osborn back), and 3. what people in the Marvel Universe remember under the influence of the spell that made Spider-Man's identity a secret again.

  47. Anonymous4:47 AM

    Hell, Val, I'd be all for cutting this overbearing computer coloring crap out entirely and putting all the books on the "lesser" paper, if it meant comics didn't cost an asinine $4 an issue.

  48. >>>
    So here's your million dollar question. Which helps sell more comics, lower prices or fancy digital coloring?

    I know I'm old fashioned: I hate the fancy coloring. It adds nothing to me.

    Remember when Cap had that weird see through shield that was only possible to do with computer effects? Eff that.

    Hated it.

    Bring back 80s formats with 00's writing talent.

  49. 3. Gender or Sex? (Sure they're interrelated concepts, but it's still a useful distinction.) Gender works with race or religion as to the environment you've grown up in, what is expected of you, and how that affects your outlook on life and what you perceive as important. Plumbing and hormone levels however? I wouldn't deny that they affect things, but at that point I think individual variance is much more significant.

    Regarding the various bestselling authors you mentioned, popular != good. :) (Yeah, I'm one of those curmudgeons who believes there is an objective standard apart from financial success.) But, hey. I'm not about to analyze the comparative awfulness of Stephenie Meyer vs. Dan Brown. That would require reading more of them than I could stand.

    But, yes. Yay for different and awesome!

    4. As a relative newbie to comics . . . what's wrong with having a finite story? All the continuity issues, resets, alternate universes and characters who just won't stay dead may keep may keep a profitable franchise going, but I think they're turning a lot of potential readers off of the medium before they can discover the different and wonderful things.

    Captain Elias,
    Reading panels is definitely learned, not innate. I'd say it's also much harder for someone who is a very fast reader of text to learn because skimming the text a certain way is such an ingrained habit. It's something I had to consciously learn, and sometimes I still get tripped up. That being said, some artists are much clearer than others.

  50. Fantastic Four has had spotty writing for years. I wouldn't blame Millar for that.

    However, people can Byrne-bash all they want, but his run on the FF is the only one I enjoy reading after the Lee-Kirby run (ok, some of Simonsons' run was kickass, but most of it seemed like Simonson writing about Marvel characters and not a "true" FF book).

  51. Anonymous4:50 PM

    True idea