Wednesday, 31 October 2012

So I Read Mesmo Delivery

A 250 word (or less) review of the Mesmo Delivery graphic novel
By Rafael Grampa, Dark Horse Books

Mesmo Delivery is, plot wise, a very simple book. In it delivery truck drivers Rufo, a retired boxer, and Sangrecco, a sometime Elvis impersonator, visit a truck stop and get into a street fight with some locals with violent and eerie results. But in all honesty, this isn’t a comic you read for the script. Mesmo Delivery exists to showcase Grampa's incredible artwork because holy shit is he talented. Grampa’s art has this exquisitely grotesque quality to it: everything is at once beautifully designed and kind of elegant but also brutal and careworn and abstractly ugly. The characters, backgrounds, and objects in the book are all endlessly fascinating to look at, but it’s the choreography of the book that makes it exceptional to me. The more conventional brawls are stylistic, well posed, and impactful, but as things spiral out of control, some truly amazing and horrifying examples of composition occur. There are things in this book that Rafael Grampa masterfully pulls off that I have never seen anyone even approach trying. At a certain point in the story it's just new thing after new thing after new thing. All pulled off with an effortlessly flair. I can't express how shockingly great and terrible the artwork in this book is. If you give
Mesmo delivery a try I promise that you will see new things and that you'll have a new appreciation for the kinds of visual storytelling that are possible.

Word count: 240

Monday, 29 October 2012

Atoll Comics: Round 3

Or Changes to My Top-Ten Comics

Due to poverty and an urge to buy better comics, I have decided to be super-selective about which superhero comics I read. Harnessing the Awesome Power of Maths, I have determined that I can afford to read 10 ongoing titles. So I get to read 10, and only 10, titles published by either Marvel or DC as well as one trade paperback a week of my choosing.

A complication of this is that I am forced to drop an on-going title if I want to try reading a new on-going title, an act of very tough love. Being financially responsible is the worst.

I will be adding Uncanny Avengers to my ten comic list and dropping Ultimate Spider-Man.

Why after the cut:

Friday, 26 October 2012

My Two Marvels

Or a case study in the effects of fill-in artists.

This age of double shipping each comic every month at Marvel puts a terrible strain on the wrists of artists. As a result, most titles are going to see multiple rotating artists. As often as not this switch is done in a way to maintain the visual tone of the book: a noiry artist filling in for a noiry artist for instance. Sometimes, though, you get artists with radically different styles which produces  radically different issues of the same comic series.

Captain Marvel recently had such a radical shift when Emma Rios filled in for series regular Dexter Soy.

For those of you who aren't reading Captain Marvel, it's a great comic focusing on Marvel's it's-stupid-she-isn't-a-bigger-deal superhero Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel. She flies, is super strong and durable, and can absorb and project energy blasts. She is also a former airforce fighter pilot with her share of demons and a connection to Cosmic Marvel. Under the writing duties of Kelly Sue DeConnick we see her defined by her strength of character and by her identity as an aviator. Actually, these first several issues of the series sees DeConnick kind of create a retroactive origin for Danvers that ties her to the history of women in aviation. It's a great hook, a great way to contextualize and ground the character, and honestly a pretty great story in itself. I highly recommend this book on the merits of the writing alone.

Captain Marvel #1: Art Dexter Soy, Words Kelly Sue DeConnick

The book has a great regular artist in Dexter Soy. He has this epicly-epic painted style that punctuates the strength, power, and majesty of the superhero genre. If being a geek becomes a religion this is the guy who needs to paint the ceiling frescos (also Fiona Staples). I guess what I'm saying is Soy renders some pretty amazing fight scenes and does a pretty solid job dealing with kind of surreal/horror and cosmic themes as well. Under his brush Captain Marvel just feels, well, EPIC. The comic is brash and... expansive, I guess, and seems to play to his ability to render naked power. It's a distinctive look that is integral to the identity of Captain Marvel.

(At the end of Captain Marvel 4 another fill-in artist pencilled the final few pages and it felt... not like Captain Marvel.)

Captain Marvel #2: Art Emma Rios, Words Kelly Sue DeConnick
Which is why when Emma Rios fills in it feels like a very different comic book. Emma Rios is another stupidly talented artist, but one with a radically different style than Dexter Soy. I'd describe her as a "cartoonist"... in that she uses pencils and inks instead of painting and she doesn't focus on the photorealism of a more traditional "illustrator". The result is this super charming and frenetically animated style. Her characters pop with emotion  (wry looks, sly grins) and seem to careen around the page with movement... until all of a sudden brutal, terrible violence is carried out. Rios' expressive characters can act and emote with the best of them, as well as bring the amazing action. (I mean look at the example). Under Rios, Captain Marvel is a bit more playful and whimsical without sacrificing tension and action. It feels like a much more character driven experience when compared to Soy's Captain Marvel.

So between these two amazing artists we get two very different captain marvels. With Soy we get this darker feeling, epic adventure driven book and with Rios we get a more manic and character centric feeling book. And this is with the same writer (who I'm assuming writes tonally similar scripts for each artist). 

I think this Soy/Rios switch is a perfect example of both the strengths and weaknesses of using fill-in artists. 

This artistic switch can be a weakness because it disturbs the visual tone of the book (especially when the artists have radically different styles) which can alter the overall feel of the book. In this case Rios' artwork is almost a 180 degree shift from Soy's which changes the book from epic adventure to a more expressive, character driven story. The result is two comics that, despite a common writer and protagonist, feel like they come from different series. Being a fan of one does not necessarily make one a fan of both and can really mess with the consistency of a title.

But then again altering artists and styles can also be a strength in comics storytelling as artists with distinct visual styles can be matched to scripts with complimentary tones. For instance a fun, cartoony artist could draw a comedic story arc, and a creepy, disturbing artist could be matched to a horror story arc without the shift feeling inorganic or merely the result of production limitations. To some extent, the Soy/Rios switch is a good example of this.Soy's epically-epic art was a perfect fit for a Sci-fi and Horror infused World War 2 adventure comic (Issues 2-4). Similarly, I can't picture the story of Carol Danvers competing and working with a young Helen Cobb (as seen in issue 5) drawn by anyone other than Rios: she just brings so much moxie to a story defined by it. So maybe these comics were better for the artistic switch.

So I guess what I'm saying is that fill-in artists, while still not my favourite practice since it messes with consistency, can actually be a boon to story telling. Especially if their names are Dexter Soy and Emma Rios.

Also, everyone should give Captain Marvel a try: there are at least two great versions now for you to choose from.
(Also, also: holy crap am I excited for Pretty Deadly by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios. If it is anything like Captain Marvel #5, it's going to be fantastic!)

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

So I Read Transhuman

A 250 word (or less) review of the Transhuman graphic novel
By Jonathan Hickman and JM Ringuet, Image Comics.

Do not go into this book expecting a revolutionary and well researched treaties on genetic engineering and cybernetics. Transhuman is NOT the Nighty News II, and if you’re expecting it to be you're going to be disappointed by it. This isn't to say Transhuman isn't a good book; it's very good for what it is. And what it is, is a largely satirical portrayal of the business of innovation and invention. Transhuman’s crunchy intellectual centre isn't about the science of tomorrow but is instead about the crazy-assed way private research is financed and the insane, wildly loathsome people involved in monetizing ideas. It shows how the business end of things takes revolutionary ideas like improving the human condition and makes them subservient to creating a marketable commodity. This satirical core of Transhuman is then liberally coated with a farcical view of the path of synthetic human evolution including mutant monkeys, demented metahumans and ridiculous cybernetic enhancements that is played largely for laughs. This serves to make the book fairly entertaining, but also adds to the atmosphere of absurdity that makes the more satirical elements so biting. Transhuman, then, is really a solid criticism of the business of innovation and a comedy of inanity. When approached as a satire/comedy, Transhuman is a pretty enjoyable read that is unlikely to disappoint.

Word count: 219

So I Read The Nightly News
So I Read The Red Wing

Monday, 22 October 2012

Eye On Hawkeye #3

Or my apparently regular feature gushing about Matt Fraction and David Aja's Hawkeye because this book is perfect.

Okay, so many *SPOILERS* to follow.

The boomerang arrow bookend gag was amazing, the use of (and draftsmanship of) Hawkeye's trick arrows was great, and the choice of vintage cars for the main action sequence (Dodge challenger, numbered Minis, and Volkswagen beetle) were inspired. Oh, and Hawkblocking.

But what I want to highlight is some of the panel layouts used during the car chase scenes.

Chase Layout. Aja, Fraction, Hollingsworth.
Pretty much every page in the main car chase used the same panel structure (above): five page-wide panels stacked down the page with a few small square panels superimposed with arrow diagrams or close ups of key action moments. These represent 5 pages out of 20 story pages, and occupy 5 of 8 car chase pages (one of the exceptions is the book open semi-splash and one I'll talk about). Only the car chase scenes use this layout and all the static parts (below) have panels that split the page horizontally and follow a more "normal" grid.

Static Layout. Hawkblocking. Aja, Fraction, Hollingsworth.
This is a ridiculously smart use of page layout. The wide panels instantly imply horizontal distance and movement, and the lower panel count stops visual breaks and makes for a quicker, more kinetic read. But it's even smarter than that. You'll notice the details are spread out across the panel, with word/narration balloons scrunched at the edges. This forces the readers eyes to swing across  each panel which imparts ACTUAL MOVEMENT to the readers experience of the car chase. Not only that, but the page-wide swings feel like careening across the page, like cars weaving through traffic, barely in control around the street. Compared to the conventional layouts of the static scenes the reader just experiences these pages as fast and dangerous and car-chasey.

But wait! There's more.

So we have this established, repetitive layout for the car base that FEELS fast, and since the reader sees it over and over, begins to feel faster.

And then Clint jumps onto another car...

Chase layout. Aja, Fraction, Hollingsworth.
... And things get chaotic and the whole established car chase structure breaks apart in a crash...

Breaking the layout. Aja, Fraction, Hollingsworth
... That feels, due to the break with layout, like a flurry of random motion and an abrupt, bone-crunching stop.

David Aja is fanatastic and I absolutely love this book.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Show me your funny papers

Or the ridiculous idea of geek cred.

I've come to the conclusion that the whole idea of geek cred is deeply flawed. (Yes, I'm still banging on the sexist and counterproductive ad on the back of a Batman comic.)

As far as I can tell the only formative norms of being a geek are enthusiasm for and consumption of certain types of media and products. And yet, we act like geek culture is somehow stratified in some sort of formal hierarchy where some are geekier than others and some are casual or even false geeks. Worse, we act like this matters.

But how do we judge this? How do we measure a person's degree of geekyness? How do we judge the sincerity of their geekyness?

Come to think of it, am I geeky enough? Do I pass judgement? It's hard to know. It's not as if there are degrees in geek offered from the institute of geek technology.

I think I'm a fairly geeky person. I read and consume a wide variety of comic books and am enthusiastic enough to blog about them on a regular basis. Hell, I made comics (that weren't very good) for a few years. I read science fiction and fantasy novels, love Star Trek, and enjoy a subset of Star Wars culture. My favourite movies include The Fifth Element, Monty Python's Holy Grail, and Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back. Firefly was absolutely fucking brilliant. I'm a professional scientist with published research. I wear novelty t-shirts with Science, Sci-fi, or webcomic references. I enjoy single-player, story-intensive video games when I can find the time. 

Does this make me nerdy enough? Am I a level five geek? Can I use the Morningstar of geek imposter smiting? Have I reached the inner circle?

What about all of the not-so-geeky things about me? I play soccer twice a week and am a fanatical fan of ice hockey (go Canucks!). I love to cook and am obsessed with making artisanal bread. I seldom play video games anymore and don't buy toys/collectables/action figures. I find Battlestar Galactica gratingly tense and sexually problematic and immature. I lack the free time or interest to get into Dr Who. I don't understand what the deal with Adventure Time is and find the Venture Brothers not especially funny. I think Star Wars fandom is kind of out of control and I think that while indulging our inner children is great, some geeks would be served by growing up a bit. I don't understand how being a "Gamer" has become a cultural identity.

So am I geek enough for you now? Does not checking every single nerd box on the check list make me a not-very-authentic geek? A poser?

Or does it matter?

I think the whole idea of judging a persons geekyness is ultimately doomed to failure. There is no accepted canon for necessary geek media or any universal metric by which to judge how nerdy a person is and until we invent brain scanning devices there is no way to measure someones sincerity. Moreover, there is just too much damn geek content out there for everyone to stay abreast of all of it. Not only is there too much geek media, it's far too varied to be universally appealing to every person (I'd argue this is a stength). Expecting people to try the whole menu of geek culture and rigorously study it is clearly insane. 

So yeah, we should just accept geeks, even "casual" ones, for who they are and not worry about their status in the hierarchy. 

Or you know, start a geek religion and formalise some rules.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

So I Read Daytripper

A 250 word (or less) review of the Daytripper graphic novel
By Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba, Vertigo Comics

I have this idea that the "truly" literary artistic comics of the world are about reducing life down to its mundanity and depressing reality to reveal something transcendental. When done well it's impactful and transformative and really… a bit of a downer. Daytripper tackles the subject matter of mortality, the relationship between life and death, in a quiet-moments-of-life way that manages to be poignant, artistically powerful, and hugely uplifting. It's a highbrow comic about death that makes me feel better about life. The comic is about Bras de Oliva Domingos, an obituary writer, and the story fills in the details of his life and his many deaths. Structurally each chapter tells a story about an important moment in Bras’ life, when he meets the love of his life or his son is born or when he visited his grandparents’ ranch as a child, and ends in his death. Thematically this seems to say savor these important moments because each one could be your last. Or maybe it's a bit more metaphorical than that and it's saying these moments change you so that the person you were dies and a new you is born. Regardless, the book states that death is an important part of life because it adds finality to our stories and fosters change. It's a beautiful book both in its message but also, with art by Fabio Moon, in its execution. If you want a poignant and artistic book that improves your life outlook check out Daytripper.

Monday, 15 October 2012

The Imposter Imposition

Or why geek exclusivity is stupid.

While looking over this weeks comics purchases I noticed a perplexing advertisement on the back of my issue of batman. It depicts one of "The greatest villains of nerd culture" called "The imposter". You see, she is one of those ladies who have jumped on the geek bandwagon, but isn't really a nerd at all. She is a POSER, not a real geek like you are me. You can tell this because she likes lolcats (because there aren't any geeks who like cats or the Internet) and because she is a girl, I guess.

Frankly this joke is profoundly sexist and stupid. We live in 2012 where the visible examples of geeky women in our culture are legion; we can stop doubting they exist and interrogating them as to the veracity of their geekyness. Also: as a culture that years and years ago was a collection of awkward dudes, aren't we glad that there are women out there with common interests who we might be able to meet at geek events? Also also: geek media companies, don't you want to sell things to the 50% OF HUMANITY that is female? I seriously don't grok this kind of sexist resistance to lady geeks.

But I have issues with the add beyond the rampant sexism (which others are far more qualified to write about). Specifically, I have issue with the idea that being a geek is/should be exclusive.

I get that we all want to be special: to be unique and different from all those non-squares with their sports and dancing. And I get that self identity is important, even if it is just being a geek, and, depending on when you decided/discovered you were a geek, that it might not have been cool and came with a stigma. (Hell, I get it, I went to a high school that was a rampant football jockocracy .... which is weird since I'm Canadian.) But here's the thing, being a geek is COOL now and, along with increased social cache and annoying sitcoms, people WANT to be geeks now which means that there are going to be more geeks. And since being a geek is really just weird enthusiasm for the consumption of certain kinds of media and products and not dependent on any sort of geek formal hierarchy it's not as if you can stop them.

And why would you? What possible effects on your enjoyment do self identified geeks who haven't attended the four year diploma program at the institute of geek technology have? How does being inclusive hurt you?

I'd argue it doesn't. Geek media needs an audience to make money and needs to make money to be made in the first place. The bigger the potential audience for this kind of media (self identified geeks) the more of this media can and will be made. All of these new geeks are buying the things we love which is supporting our favourite creators, media properties, and the corporations who make our geeky consumables which just ensures MORE of what we love. And even if some of these geeks are just pretending to be geeks they are still paying for geek media which STILL supports the production of our favourite media. Even "The Imposter" helps geek culture.

I guess a potential worry is that an influx of new geeks might change geek culture. Maybe a bunch of wishy-washy not-geeks might create a powerful block of consumers and geek media might change to better accommodate them. Maybe corporations will water down our geek interests to appeal to even MORE people and make something unrecognizable to what we love. To this I would suggest that corporations have ALWAYS been trying to make media that appeals to a wider audience (re The Avengers) and that while new and different media might be made to appeal to  new geeks, we aren't going to suddenly lose what we have been enjoying. Rather, its just going to be MORE media that is made which just adds to the menu of options for all of us to enjoy. More geek consumers equates to more media and more options, not the loss of existing options.

And if you don't like some of this media, fine, just don't read/watch/buy it. Seriously.

So, can we forget all of this boys club exclusivity nonsense already and just go about enjoying what we like and encouraging other people to do the same?

Friday, 12 October 2012

Starship Troopers vs Starship Troopers

Or a comparison between source and adaptation

One of the interesting consequences of having so many different flavours of media these days is that things have a tendency to be adapted between formats. Comics become movies which are adapted to novels which inspire TV shows which spin into new comics. Each media transition often involves different people with different objectives, goals, and creative tastes. Each flavour of media has its own individual strengths and weaknesses. While the core story can never really be completely divorced from its creators or media, I think it's a fun game to compare different versions of the same story and see which I like best.

Today I will discuss and compare the classic Robert A Heinlein novel Starship Troopers with the Paul Verhoeven action film adaptation Starship Troopers.

There will be many *SPOILERS* in this article.

My analysis after the cut:

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

So I Read Fell: Feral City

A 250 word (or less) review of the first Fell trade paperback.
By Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith, Image Comics

Fell is the fever dream of a deranged mind. In the book disgraced police detective Richard Fell is sent to the hellish urban landscape of Snowtown: a lawless and moldering city apparently populated by twisted psychotics and policed by a department with only three and a half detectives. The book is essentially a police procedural in the most fucked up city imaginable and where every crime is an extreme example of brutal and deviant behaviour. And yet, this is still a book with tremendous humanity. Warren Ellis refuses to let the reader forget that all the horrible shit in this book is happening to human beings who matter which gives the book some serious gravitas and emapthy. The artwork, by Ben Templesmith, is absolutely perfect for this book. The characters are thin and knobby and sickly and the colors are muted and have this hazy, muddy quality that really fits the books mood of isolation and horror. The final product is simply an awesome and awful creation that is poignant and beautiful and ugly and sick and leaves me flushed and shaking after every chapter. It’s the perfect articulation of modern nightmares, and if that is something fascinating to you, I'd say this is a comic you should definitely read. Just not in a public park at night.

Word count: 218

So I Read Ignition City

Monday, 8 October 2012

Keeper Is A Good Book

Or why you should read Keeper by Greg Rucka

Since this is mosty a comics blog, I'm sure you're all aware that Greg Rucka is a comics writer of some renown and considerable skill. He is also, incidentally, a novelist of mystery/thriller  books. Since I enjoy his comics I thought I'd give his novels a spin. I started with his first: Keeper.

Now, I feel like I should lay out an aside here: I seldom  read Mystery/Suspense novels. I'm pretty much happy reading Sci-fi novels forever, spiced with the odd excellent Fantasy novel and occasional Literary Classic. So I'm not what you would call well versed in the Mystery/Suspense genre. I did go through a brief Tom Clancy and Robert Ludlum phase in high school which to this day leaves me with certain perceptions about the genre that involves vaguely jingoistic patriotism and might-makes-right attitudes... which are not-so-much for me. (Hurrah for America may lose some of it's kick when translated into Canadian.)  What I'm saying is this was an unusual voice of reading for me.

Keeper follows professional body guard, and flamboyantly named, Atticus Kodiak, as he provides personal security to a women's health provider (a doctor who provides, among numerous  health services, abortions) and her daughter (who is afflicted with Downe Syndrome)  from death threats leveled at her by anti-abortionist extremists. It's a properly thrilling book with smart pacing, some good mystery elements, and a great deal of maturity. Keeper was a difficult book to put down.

Keeper is also progressive as hell.

The hero of the story is protecting an abortion provider from a villainous Pro-life movement populated by charlatans, mysogynists, and thugs who are just awful people. As someone with a liberal bent, it's pretty refreshing to read a mystery thriller that I don't find politically problematic. If you're anything like me and trepidatious about Mystery/Thrillers, this one is okay.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who likes Rucka's comics work: a lot of his best qualities are on display in this book.  Conversely, if you like this book, I'd suggest you give Rucka's comics a shot since his creator ownederish comics share a lot with Keeper. I'd also suggest this book to anyone interested in finding a smart, liberal-friendly airplane or commute book.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Atoll Comics Industry

Or the Darwinistic practices of DC and Marvel Comics

The original premise of this blog was to save money by only reading ten ongoing comics and four graphic novels/trade paperbacks a month. Setting these rules forced me to drop a lot of books and focus on my favourites. As a result I read fewer comics (at least Marvel and DC comics) but greatly enjoy every comic I read. It's like my reading habits have undergone a comic book evolution.

Something I've realized recently is that Marvel and DC are conducting similar experiments in Comics Darwinism.

A core tenant in the Theory of Evolution (not a theory) is that species adapt through time in response to selective pressures. Which is fancy Science talk for saying that living things compete with each other for resources and, well, survival. This can be as simple plants fighting one another for light or animals trying to avoid being eaten or animals attempting to eat those other aforementioned animals. Individual organisms that are able to outcomplete other members of their species for resources will tend to outlive, and therefore, outbreed their relatives. They have more offspring and then their offspring have more offspring, and so on, until eventually the entire species more closely resembles that first successful organism. This is "Evolution". The same process happens on a species level: species that are well adapted to a particular environment can get more resources and therefore outcompete other species and take their spot. The species that are not very good at competing decline and in extreme situations  may eventually go extinct. This process of competing for resources is "Natural Selection".

DC Comic's New 52 is a a sales gimmick, a reboot, a simplification, and I would argue an example of comics Natural Selection. As part of their current publishing strategy DC is committed to publishing 52 titles; no more, no less. Nested in this approach is that whenever DC wants to lunch a new title they have to give another, underperforming ongoing series the ax  Which is to say, comics are allowed, or even encouraged to fail. DC comics has therefore created selective pressure for their books to succeed or be replaced by newer, faster, younger premises that are then given a chance to find an audience. DC has essentially enacted the publishing equivalent of natural selection by only allowing comics with a stable or growing audience (resources) to survive. In theory such a Darwinistic approach should ensure that DC only publishes the best comics (as judged by market forces).

But natural selection isn't the only process by which species adapt and change over generations. Survival of the fittest selects for survivors and breeders and not any of the numerous other things that might be desirable to humans. For instance people enjoy things like giant cows that contain a lot of meat. Such cows tend to be slower than smaller cows and therefore much more susceptible to, say, wolves and wouldn't occur naturally. Similarly people want to have ginormous tomatoes which require more resources to grow and seed than normal tomato plants and also wouldn't do particularly well in a natural setting. The solution for people who want this ungainly organisms is another Evolutionary process called Positive Selection. This is essentially taking two remarkable individuals who exemplify some desirable thing and mating them. For instance ranchers wanting huge cows would take two really big cows and breed them, and then breed their largest babies, and their largest babies and so on. Eventually they would get a weirdly big cow. This process of positive selection underlies pretty much all of the food we eat and why we have so many breeds of dogs.

Marvel Comics seems intent on exploring Positive Selection in its publishing strategy. Marvel is pursuing a publishing strategy where they ship fewer titles, but ship each ongoing series about twice as often. This means that instead of replacing its weakest books with new titles, Marvel is reinvesting its creative resources into its most successful books as a way to increase sales. In this way, it seems like Marvel is trying to positively select for popular intellectual properties or titles/characters that have cross media appeal. Taken to an extreme, this approach would let Marvel maximize the value of any given property and, in the process, create a streamlined lineup of its best possible titles.

To a certain extent I think both approaches have merit. DC's 52 book natural selection approach certainly encourages commercial success and Marvels positive selection for popular books provides hungry fans with more of their favourite content and ensures increased sales for Marvel. In an ideal world where comics consumption is limited only by interest (people would buy more books if only there were more that interested them), these strategies would globally increase sales by either increasing the overall quality of comics or by catering to existing interests.

Trouble is, I don't think we are living in this ideal world.

I figure comics are facing a scarcity of resources:the amount of comics a person consumes is generally limited by their own finances rather than their interest in comics. That is to say, people have a comics budget and that defines the number of comics they buy. I can't imagine that even if ALL of DC's 52 comics were dynamite that anyone would buy every series. Similarly, if Marvel put out four outstanding titles every day, no one would follow even a single title completely. And honestly, Marvel's double publishing strategy does nothing to address the limited resources of consumers... it just places readers in a position of awkwardly trying to raise their budget or to drop half their Marvel reading list. Basically, I think that although these Darwinist strategies are sound for creating better/commercially viable comics, they fail to address the real issue facing comics: a scarcity of consumers.

I think a more apt strategy for DC and Marvel to increase revenues is to attract new readers. I think the biggest problem facing comics is how inaccessible they are: you have to go to a comic store or website to get them, and you'll only do that if you are already actively interested in purchasing comics. People who have no experience with comics don't know they want them will never get them. Besides trying to sell comics outside the direct market, I think DC and Marvel have to find an effective way to advertise to new audiences. I'm convinced part of the solution is to put some big chunk of content online for free (whether it be old and good or newly created for such a purpose). The other solution, as I see it, is to diversify. One of the tenets of evolutionary biology is that success can be attained by niche filling. A pigeon is successful as a species for very different reasons than a mosquito, a rat, or a human. This is because these organisms are all radically different and occupy very different environments. DC and Marvel, for all of the very talented people who work at each, are ultimately publishing variations of masked vigilante punches villain. While this is awesome and fun and appeals to a great many people, perhaps more people could be attracted by telling all kinds of different stories in the comics medium. For instance, I think the diversity of storytelling at Image Comics is one of its greatest strengths (and maybe why Image finds audiences outside of comics). So yeah, I'd recommend that the Big Two diversify and come up with an effective strategy to attract more readers and therefore money/resources.

Otherwise, it'll just a be a desert with Batman in it.

(Also, prices could be dropped a touch to make comics more competitive with other types of media. Just sayin'.)

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

So I Read The Nightly News

A 250 word (or less) review of The Nightly News Graphic Novel,

By Jonathan Hickman, Image Comics

 As an aspiring Scientist I read a lot of Research articles. Occasionally I'll read about an experiment that is just exceptionally elegant, insightful, and brilliant. You know, the kind of brilliant that's just "wow... fuck me that's smart". The kind of brilliant that, as much as it's a showcase of great Science, is also a challenge to everyone else to do better. I can't help but wonder if The Nightly News has that effect on other comic book creators. Regardless, I think it’s one revolutionary book. The Nightly News is a book about a pseudo-cult who, directed by The VOICE, commit acts of vengeance/terrorism against members of the news media. It's brutal and unflinching but also darkly funny and very very smart. It's also disorienting, with A LOT of information, misinformation, and much between the two. Visually The Nightly News is very unconventional. Instead of a normal approach of sequential pictures arranged in some variation of grid, The Nightly News is this glaring white canvas overlayed with story artwork, graphic design elements, iconography, and infographics. The visual and written information onslaught plays to the thematic discussion about propaganda, the news media and education, by appropriating their methodology. The Nightly News is a book with a message: beware the media (it's power, corporatisation, and abuses), be wary of education, be aware that, as a member of the public, you are being constantly conditioned to behave in certain ways. The Nightly News, in no uncertain terms, cries THINK FOR YOURSELF. Read it.

Word count: 250

So I Read The Red Wing

Monday, 1 October 2012

Utility Belts And You

Or the fashion accessory that is just begging to happen.

I recently wrote a thing about mainstream geek popularity, geek consumerism, and hypothetical pro-geek corporate manipulation. While thinking about the relationship between pop culture and fashion and geekyness, I observed one of my coworkers using the stretchy fabric belt on her empire-waisted-frock to hold her iPhone. It occurred to me that what she really needed was a utility belt.

A complaint that women in my life frequently make is that the majority of their clothing lack pockets with any sort of capacity. Not to say that there aren't pocketed options, but it seems the majority of dresses, skirts, and fashionable trousers tend to eschew storage capacity in favour of tightness and aesthetics. As a result many women are forced to rely on purses or jamming there phones/media players under belts, into undersized pockets, or, in the case of one my coworkers, inside their bras. A utility belt could be a solution to this problem with its many pockets and possible applicability to a number of looks/outfits.

Of course, for a female garment to become widely adopted by mainstream consumers it has to fashionable. Fortunately, I think conditions are brewing where this may be possible. Geek culture is going mainstream with an increase in self identifying geeks and the accumulation of cultural cache. This means that there are more openly geeky women who are willing to use fashion to express their geekyness. Pair this with a growing interest in cosplay, which shares a Ven diagram with lady geeks and utility belts and I think you have the potential for utility belts to be worn in regular life by female geeks (if it isn't happening already).

This represents at best a cultural beachhead, but I think it's an important one. As geekyness becomes more and more mainstream, comic books and fashion forward cosplayers could become trendsetters. What they wear could be what everyone wears the next year (and what Hipsters wear a decade later). And to a certain extent geeks already are informing fashion: designers are already mining comics and Sci-fi for inspiration.

There's another consideration: utility belts actually look GOOD. When my lovely coworker agreed to rock my army surplus pouch belt (bought for an Orson Randall Ironfist Halloween costume) I thought the result would look funny instead of awesome... but throw in a Han-Solo-roguish-angle and IT WORKS. Imagine how good it could look after a fashion designer got a hold of the idea and made some more minimalist and chique utility belts in black. I think this could actually happen, and if it did the idea could catch on in the mainstream.

So there it is, utility belts are a highly functional fashion accessory that can/does look good and with the trendiness of geekdom has the potential to break through to the mainstream. 

Let's make this happen.

(And then maybe my lab manager can turn off her phone's infuriatingly obnoxious ringtone and put it on vibrate.)