Tuesday, November 04, 2003


Happy Birthday to Me!

For what it's worth, I'm 39 today. Whoopee.

I kind of took the weekend off and wasn't feeling well yesterday, so I'm behind on blogging. I'll start catching up right now and continue tomorrow. Tonight, Keith's taking me to dinner, so I might not get a chance to do any blogging.


Catching Up

Just a couple of items I wanted to mention:

First off, in the better I talk about it late than never department, James Kochalka had a cute little "Halloween treat" published at the Pulse.

And in a more serious note, a couple of releases from CBLDF about their latest doings: protesting the Patriot Act and joining the Media Coalition. I'm especially glad to see them joining forces with the Media Coalition. I think it's a good move on CBLDF's part, one which could really benefit them.


Look Ma!

I got a huge thrill Friday, when Journalista! mentioned Eddie-torial Comments. Dirk Deppey is one of my blogging heroes, so the thought that he's actually read some of my babbling still stuns me a little. That mention led to a mention and nice email from Shawn Fumo, which led to a nice email from John Jakala. John and Shawn also offered a couple of helpful pointers. Thanks for reading everyone! I appreciate it.


Look Ma!

I got a huge thrill Friday when Eddie-torial Comments got mentioned in Journalista! Dirk Deppey is one of my blogging heroes, so I was a little stunned that he's been reading some of my babbling. That mention led to a nice email from Shawn Fumo and a mention in his blog, which led to a nice email from Jaihn

Get Out the Vote!

Today is also election day. Be sure to get out and do your civic duty. I know things are in a mess right now, but the only way to change that is to turn out and vote. Yes, I'm one of those who still believes that my vote actually matters. I have to. It's the only was I can keep from packing up Keith, comics, computer, and kitties and becoming an expatriate.

It doesn't look good here in Kentucky. We're voting for the new governor, and our choices are a centrist Democrat who keeps trying to paint himself as a conservative and a Republican congressman who has done nothing in Washington but toe the BushCo. line of bull.

In the meantime, we're in a budget crisis brought on in large part by a Republican-controlled legislature who thinks it's more important to fight with the Democratic governor than actually do anything about falling revenues.

The Republicans took over the state legislature a couple of years ago, and everything has been going to hell ever since. If they gain control of the governor's office too, there's no telling what could happen. I picture rolling back the few laws that keep the coal companies from blasting every mountain in Eastern Kentucky to rubble, and that's just for starters.

They've already managed to start weakening the historic educational reform in the state and eliminate the vehicle emissions program here in Louisville that was actually making a difference for cleaner air. That smart move, by the way, is going to put us out of compliance with EPA regulations and will wind up costing us federal highway dollars.

There's a lot at stake, in other words. But it doesn't look good for the Dems. Our sitting governor was involved in a sex scandal of Clintonesque proportions last year, and it's sloshed over on to the Democratic candidate, who is the current Attorney General. The campaign has been ugly, with a lot of outside Republican special interest groups running nasty, inaccurate ads that manage to skirt the boundaries of Kentucky campaign finance laws. They can't give that money directly to the candidate, but they can use it to run inaccurate, deceitful advertising until the cows come home.

As if that weren't bad enough, the Republican party here in Louisville is placing "election challengers" in black precincts in the city to "prevent election fraud." Believe it or not, we have a state law here that allows these challengers, who can basically intimidate people into not voting. The ACLU sued to try and stop this return to the days of the poll tax, but was rebuffed by a judge who didn't see any racial bias in the plan, despite the fact that only largely black precincts are targeted. If the Republicans are that concerned about vote fraud, why aren't they placing challengers in all the precincts? The whole thing is the most blatant attempt to disenfranchise minority voters since the days of the civil rights movement.

It doesn't look good. The Democrats are trailing in the polls. Kentucky is not a wealthy state. We've been reeling from Bush's disastrous handling of the economy. We don't need one of his cronies driving nails in our coffin.

Republicans tend to win elections that are held on my birthday. It's a cruel, twisted irony, but it's true. For my 16th birthday, the American people gave me Ronald Reagan. I still haven't forgiven them. Now it looks like my fellow Kentuckians are about to give me another tacky, ill-fitting present that I won't be able to exchange for four years. Thanks a lot.


Friday, October 31, 2003


More on Bookstores

Other comic blog sites have already noted this and passed on to other things, but I just got around to reading it yesterday. So I'm behind the times a little. Sue me.

Publisher's Weekly (October 20) did a really nice series of articles about graphic novels in bookstores. What impresses me most is the scope of the articles: small publishers, big publishers, manga, alternative titles, comics distributors working in the book market, book distributors branching out to carry graphic novels, book publishers putting out graphic novels, and even self-publishers!

PW has managed to create a fairly accurate picture of the vast array of diversity that exists within comics and hone in on works that would appeal to adult readers without resorting to the tired "Zap! Pow! Comics Ain't Just for Kids No More, Bobby Jean" cliches?s that have plagued so many articles about comics in the mainstream press.

Some quick thoughts:

At least two of the issues I raised in my other post about book stores are coming to the surface: appropriate shelving and attracting readers unfamiliar with this sort of material. Unfortunately, no one seemed to have any solutions to offer, but at least they are grappling with it. There seems to be an implication that a little more time will help the problems, which is true, but only as long as there's someone persistently chipping away at the issues. I'm not totally convinced yet that there's anything in place to do this.

The sales everyone is reporting are impressive, when you compare them to the comics shop sales for the same material. The big winners, far and away, are the manga publishers. Poor Marvel didn't have a single title on the top seller list, and DC only had two. I take a really perverse sort of delight in seeing the little guys blazing the trail and reaping the benefits, while the big guys scramble to play catch up.

I'm as annoyed with the phrase "manga format" as I am with "manga style art."

Is there anyone at DC or Marvel that doesn't think or speak of comics in terms of movie tie-ins?

There is a bunch of really interesting stuff coming up: More Persepolis! Rabbi's Cat! Mark Beyer! New Drawn and Quarterly stuff! I hate to sound like a Pollyanna, but maybe it's not such a bad time to be a comic reader.

I really think the Sandman Endless Nights thing is a fluke attributable more to Gaiman's status as a best-selling author than anything else. It's a little early to be trumpeting it as a watershed moment. Let's land some stuff without built in bookstore recognition in the New York Times Bestseller list first. I'll be really surprised if the inevitable 1602 collection enjoys a repeat performance.

I thought the religious comics article was especially cool for reaching beyond the Christian perspective to include Jewish-themed comics, Buddha, and even stuff dealing with the nature of faith without embracing a particular path.

It sounds like Diamond has someone working the bookstore trade who knows what they're doing. I just wonder if they rep their smaller clients with the same fervor that they do Image and Marvel? Their recent history in the comics market makes me skeptical. I'm assuming that they have to deal with bookstores on their terms and take returns.

I like Carla Speed McNeil's description of her wonderful series Finder: "aboriginal science fiction." It's the only short descriptive phrase I've ever heard for the series that fits. It's sad that the bookstore market is as hard a nut for self-publishers to crack as the comic market is. I wonder why Cold Cut doesn't take up bookstore distribution on behalf of folks like McNeil and Donna Barr?

Tokyopop's Stuart Levy engages in a bit of historical revisionism. They may have really pushed the right to left format and the standard size they're using, but they were hardly the first to do either. And they didn't blast out of the gate with that format either. Their first offering was an anthology called Mixxzine, followed by regularly published pamphlets featuring characters like Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura, which were aimed at the comic market. They started off following the long-established comic publisher routine: Put out a bunch of single issues, then publish the collected version. Needless to say, they weren't quite the success story in those days that they are now. It took them a few years to get their groove going in terms of format, style, and market focus. It's paid off for them, but they came from much humbler beginnings.

As far as the right-to-left format goes, that's a cost-saving measure as much as anything else. If they don't flip the art to read in the Western order, they save money on touch-ups that flipping requires.

All in all, it was a welcome and well-done set of articles. I can't shake the feeling though that we've got a long ways to go and some challenging hurdles to overcome before the bookstore market turns into the Promised Land. The goal has got to be creating new, long term readers as much as it is short term sales increases. The latter doesn't automatically lead to the former, and I still don't see anybody really talking about growing this market from any perspective other than dollars and cents. Still, it's encouraging to see so many publishers looking beyond the pamphlet format and the moribund comics market and, for the most part, doing it in a thoughtful, deliberate way with quality, diverse material.


Thursday, October 30, 2003


Bookstores: The Great White Hope?

Dirk Deppey and Brian Hibbs had a discussion on Journalista last week about the bookstore market. It was an interesting discussion, and both sides raised some good points, but I tend to agree with Deppey. I think it's past time for companies like Fantagraphics to stop wasting energy trying to talk sense to a comic store market system that's made it clear time and again that it doesn't want them.

The direct market is dominated by myopic retailers serving readers with tunnel-vision. Neither are going to change and it's time to stop expecting them to. Fantagraphics can use the DM to access and support that small core of stores and readers found there, but it's not a market that's going to grow, at least not the way things stand right now.

While I do think the bookstore market offers more opportunity, especially the independent bookseller market Eric Reynolds refers to in his response to the debate, there are some key issues that need to be worked out. Unfortunately, neither Hibbs nor Deppey addresses any of them. If anyone else has, I've not seen it.

RETURNS: One of the differences in the bookstore and comic shop distribution systems is returnability. Bookstores can return unsold books to the distributor, a privilege comic shops don't enjoy. I've got nagging doubts about the ability of most comic publishers, especially the smaller ones, to handle a huge amount of returns.

Has anyone had to deal with returns yet? I have to confess that I don't know enough about the bookstore system and the way returns work, but I assume that it's on some sort of cycle. It seems to me like the manga publishers have been working the bookstores long enough that they've surely had to handle some returns, but that's also not something they're talking about. It may be that folks are prepared for them and it's not really that big of a deal, but it would be nice to hear someone talk say so.

It could be disastrous to be expecting a check and get a crate of unsold books instead.

SHELVING: Most bookstores I've been in have no idea how to handle graphic novels, especially those that don't involve people in long underwear throwing cars at each other. While the science fiction section seems to be the typical place to look for them, I've seen them in the humor and children's sections as well. Even stores that designate a section for graphic novels tend to locate that section adjacent to (or within) the sci fi section. That may seem logical for Star Wars and even Spider-Man, but it doesn't work for James Kochalka and Dan Clowes. The kind of readers that would be interested in the newest Joe Sacco book aren't likely to wander into the sci fi section after it. I admit I've seen both the Larry Gonick books and Maus in the history section of a couple of stores, but that's the exception rather than the rule.

Essentially, bookstores need to be educated about graphic novels, but who's going to do it? And follow up on it?

MARKET/STORES: The small, locally-owned independent booksellers that Reynolds praises are a dying breed. The chains and the internet are killing them, slowly but surely. Here in Louisville, one local store was just bought out by Borders. In just a few weeks, selection and service have gone down the tubes to the point that I can hardly stand to shop there any more.

I agree wholeheartedly with Eric Reynolds that, for a publisher like Fantagraphics, these kinds of stores are logical markets. The last remaining local store here has been slowly cultivating a graphic novel shelf over the past two or three years. It started with Jimmy Corrigan, David Boring, and Palestine and has grown to the point that there's a whole shelf dedicated to them now, carrying nothing but stuff from Fantagraphics, Drawn and Quarterly and the like.

Borders, Barnes and Noble and their competitors do carry those kinds of titles, but they are much more strongly oriented to the DC/Marvel slugfest material and the rising tide of manga. Is there enough of a viable market for the alternative comics publishers or are they going to be stuck with a small and shrinking core of bookstores to match their small and shrinking core of comics shops?

MARKET/READERS: One of the failures of the American comics market is its inability to allow readers' tastes to mature. The mainstream is so rooted in juvenalia and the bulk of the stores are so locked into selling nothing but the mainstream that when a reader reaches the point where he/she feels they've outgrown the material, there's seemingly nowhere to turn. And we lose a comics reader.

There's nothing that helps that reader transition to comics that don't rely on stories designed to entertain 12 year olds. Retailers don't encourage it, because they won't carry non-mainstream comics. Even if that reader finds information about other kinds of comics, on the internet for example, if their local shop doesn't carry it, then they can't get it. I'm convinced we lose readers every year this way.

So I'm wondering what's going to happen when this teenage crop of manga-reading girls starts to feel they're outgrowing the material. How do they get directed to other stuff that might appeal to them?

I appreciate the sales that are being generated right now, but we need long-term readers as well. We've lost an awful lot of them in the past ten years.

PR: This is kind of a silly question, but how does the general public who doesn't read book trade publications or Previews find out about the range of gn's at their local bookstore? Are publishers ready and willing to do book promo tours and signings and all the other things that are required to really push titles into the public eye?

DISTRIBUTION: Fantagraphics is lucky enough to have a real book distributor who knows their material. An awful lot of other publishers are using Diamond as their bookstore distributor, having jumped on in the wake of other distributors going under last year. Does Diamond know how to distribute to the book market? And are they going to rep the small publishers any better than they do in the comic market? It was amazing to me how many of the smaller publishers signed with Diamond to be their bookstore distributor. I can only imagine how that sales meeting went. "Hi there. You know us. We screw you over in the comic market every month and we'd like for you to give us the opportunity to do it in the book market too."

Don't get me wrong. I'd like to see comics thrive in both the direct market and the bookstore trade, especially the smaller publishers who put out the bulk of the stuff I read. I've even altered my buying habits so I can support our remaining local bookstore for carrying graphic novels. The direct market is so fraught with deeply entrenched problems, some of them deeply rooted in the stunted tastes of most mainstream comic fans, that I think it's slowly but surely dying. I'm not at all sure how to go about fixing it. So it makes sense to look for other avenues, such as bookstores. And it looks like, for some publishers at least, turning to bookstores has been a good move. I'd hate for it to turn out to be replacing one problem-plagued market for another. I'd feel better about that if someone was talking about some of the things on the list above. (Returns at the very least.)


Wednesday, October 29, 2003


Couple of Quick Notes

I've not been hitting the blog the way I should lately, so I've let a few comics bits pass by. Consider this to be playing catch up.

A couple of days ago, the Pulse reported that DC was cracking down on staff who sold their comp comics to local comic shops. The whole thing is a bit silly actually, but I did have a few thoughts:

If the dude that got fired had all this stuff in his office related to his ebay selling, then he must have been running the operation on company time. Maybe that's the reason he got canned? I certainly wouldn't blame DC for being upset about that.

Doesn't it bother DC that the people who work for them don't want their comics, even when they're free?

I don't know which is more pathetic: staff coming to depend on the income from selling their freebies or a store coming to depend on the freebies as stock.

The saddest part of the whole story: Now DC staff won't be picking up any more alternative/independent titles, since they can't get them for free. Maybe I need to stop grousing about the limited vision of mainstream comics fans and start grousing about the limited vision of mainstream comics staff!

I guess that will put an end to the practice of randomly plucking up alt creators and offering them super-hero slots, huh? Maybe now Dylan Horrocks can get back to working on Atlas!

The Pulse also has a quick press release from NBM about their upcoming release from Christophe Blain. It's full of the typical hype and hyperbole of your averge comics-related press release, but it's still worth reading, as it connects Blain with Trondheim, Sfar, and others in this generation of French cartoonists whose work is slowly but surely trickling into this country, thanks to the efforts of NBM and Fantagraphics.

Plus, this line:

"The art might take a little getting used to. Deceptively simple and possibly even scratchy. Like life."

makes it sound too cool to resist. NBM has samples upon their web page. Looks great!

Newsarama gives me another name to add to my list of comics reviewers to avoid or else read only when I'm in the mood for a good laugh: Mike Sangiacomo. I'd never read his stuff before, but checked this one out because of the What's Michael? review. Apparently Michael is a "chick comic," but that's okay, Mike likes it anyway and is "secure enough" in his masculinity to say so. Seems to me that guys who are really secure in their masculinity (whatever the hell that's supposed to mean) don't find it necessary to trumpet the fact.

Augie De Blieck returns to the fray about Marvel's no overprint policy with an explanation and clarification. I can buy part of what he's saying, especially that retailers may be relying on DC a bit much to cover their reorders, but he still can't seem to grasp the situation retailers are in these days. If I had to order comics sight unseen months in advance based on the pitiful amount of info you get in Previews and hope to sell them to a shrinking customer base in a depressed economy knowing the whole time that unsold copies are non-returnable, I think I'd order conservatively too.

Beyond that, he's ignored all the speculation talk ("If the book is hot, you can mark up the back issues you over ordered and make a fortune.") that formed the basis of Jemas' early justification for the policy. Yes, it makes sense for Marvel to make a move that benefits their sales, but not if it destroys the market in the long run. How many more retailers can we stand to lose before the whole thing caves in?

Finally, back at Newsarama, there was a nice interview with Ho Che Anderson about his three-volume biography of Martin Luther King, followed by reader commentary trashing the books because they're "arty." Sigh!

According to the New Comics Release List, the first volume of Tezuka?s Buddha is supposed to come out today. Yay!


Concert Review: John Prine at the Victory Theatre, Evansville, IN
October 24, 2003

It’s tempting to give into the urge to rank the John Prine concert we saw in Evansville according to the songs on the set list. His 30+-year career, combined with his quirky songwriting and his cult-like following, make it inevitable that people come to his shows with expectations. About an hour before the performance, Keith and I were developing our laundry list of the songs Prine would have to do for it to be a “good show.” Judging from the constant thunder of song titles being shouted from the audience at any quiet moment, I’d say we weren’t the only ones. Prine seemed to take it all in stride; after one particularly long and noisy round of requests, he grinned and said, “I know ‘em all.”

The October 24th show at the Victory Theatre in Evansville brought the paradox of Prine to life. On the one hand, he’s got a knack for writing silly, catchy tunes that stick in your brain. On the other, he’s produced profound and personal songs about social issues, love, the perils of relationships, and the struggles of every day living. He’s also got quite a few songs that actually combine the comedic and the personal. On the one hand, he’s an obscure performer, unknown to the public at large and shunned by major labels. On the other, he packed the theatre with fans, ranging from the twenty-something frat boys who sat in front of us to the aging hippies across the aisle, all screaming with enthusiasm and singing along with nearly every song.

Prine’s voice has gotten rougher over the years, but he’s still got the stamina to pull off a set that was over two and a half hours long, including a four-song encore and an extended solo acoustic set in the middle of the show. And he’s certainly not afraid to let people know where he stands either, changing the judge’s name in “Illegal Smile” to Ashcroft, and joking about paranoid patriotism after singing “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven.”

If we were to judge the show solely based on our wish lists, we’d both have to say it was a good show. Between the two of us, there was only one “must play” song that didn’t get performed. But to leave it at that would be an injustice, since it would ignore the many other wonderful parts of the set: unexpected treats (“Speed of the Sound of Loneliness”); forgotten favorites (“Dear Abby”); a Carter Family cover; and a song from the album in progress. From the opening strains of “Spanish Pipe Dream” to the rousing version of “Paradise” (with special guest appearance by Prine’s brother Billy) that closed the show, every song hit home, resonating with the audience and usually sparking a passionate sing-along.

Opening act Todd Snider, another artist on Prine’s Oh Boy! label, was new to us, but not for long. His short, enthusiastic set was enough to convince us both that he’s another talent unjustly overlooked by the music business. I have a feeling there will be several Todd Snider CD’s making their way into the house in the very near future.


Thursday, October 23, 2003


Consternation Abounds

Everyone is on a diet in my house. And some of them aren't happy about it.

Our vet has insisted that our cats are too fat for some time now. Her main concern is diabetes, as cats who weigh over 15 pounds are at higher risk. As luck would have it Basil is right on the borderline of 15 lbs. Kosh and Bennnie are in the 13 pound range, which means that 15 is right around the corner for them.

Since our choices were give cats insulin shots twice a day sometime in the near future or restrict their feeding now, we opted to try the diet. For all of their lives Bennie and Basil have been on open feeding. If the dish was empty, we would fill it. As you can imagine, this has been quite a shock to them.

We're now feeding them a mixture of Science Diet Hair Ball Control Lite and Science Diet Lite dry food. We put out 3/4 cup in the morning and 3/4 cup in the evening, the vet-recommended amount. It's been going on for about a month now, and I'm beginning to doubt they're ever going to get used to it.

Sitting and staring at the empty food dish has become a common pastime now. I've even seen Basil licking the bottom of the dish! And the looks! Basil can go from a pathetic pleading stare to an icy "you don't love me any more" glare in a matter of seconds. The worst has got to be the early mornings. Sometime between four and five, Basil will start trying to wake me up. Some mornings, she'll try once and give up, which is fine. However, the mornings where she comes back every 20 minutes to try again are a little bit much.

They don't seem to be following our line of reasoning very well at all. Apparently, cats just don't grasp the concept of "It's for your own good." Bennie's started sleeping on top of my computer monitor, so I've started turning it off whenever I leave, just in case she's harboring thoughts of emailing the ASPCA.

Basil has a vet appointment next month, and we'll see if this is working at all. I truly hope so. It might make those four o'clock wake up calls a little more bearable.


Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Comics News

A Couple of Quickies

I'm running late this morning, so I don't have time to do some of the things I had planned on doing. But over the last couple of days, there have been some things at various comics news sites that have caught my attention. Here's a look at a few of them:

Ninth Art has a nice overview of Lewis Trondheim and his work. Trondheim is probably my favorite cartoonist these days. (And has been for quite a while.) While you're there, check out the archives for other articles from Castrillon, who has been doing a series about comics from places other than America. His first one was a really good look at Alberto Breccia's work and tragic death.

The Ganzfeld has a sweet tribute to William Steig featuring various cartoonists. (I cribbed this one from Journalista!)

Alternative Comics has put out a press release for their February books. Some nice looking stuff, especially the second volume of Rosetta. The first was one of the few recent comics anthologies with a strong hit-to-miss ratio. With the second volume featuring work from folks like Edmond Baudoin, Santiago Cohen, Martin Tom Dieck, Anke Feuchtenberger, and Jason, it's hard to imagine it won't be phenomenal as well. Although it looks really cheesy for the first comment after their press release to come from Alternative's publisher. I know stories about alternative stuff tend to be ignored by people who go to the comics news sites, but this just smacks of desperation to me.

Lastly, Newsarama has a nice interview with the company that's releasing Tezuka's Buddha in English. Turns out they're not a comic publisher at all. Nice! I hope this works out for them, because I want to get all eight volumes.


Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Web pages

Silly fun

I've got a new place to go for time killing and stress relief:


Apparently, it's the site for another kids' show from the folks who created Teletubbies. Like the Tubbies, it's pretty trippy. Follow the "enter" link and play some of the activities. There aren't any explanations, so just move your cursor over the various shapes, click, and see what happens.

Obviously, with all the color and silly sounds, this is a site for young kids to play around with, but I've found it to be the perfect antidote for a stress-filled day. It never fails to make me smile or laugh when I really need to.

Give it a whirl.



Why Review?

There's an interesting pair of articles on reviewing comics at the Pulse page right now. They've got me to thinking about my motivations for wanting to use this blog to review comics.

Online reviews are a dime a dozen these days. They're everywhere, running the gamut from excellent to good to mediocre to flat out awful. So what makes me think I have anything to add to the mix? Why do I want to do this?

Part of my motivation stems from the desire to write about anything. I love to write. It's something I do fairly well, for the most part. I do a lot of writing at work, but, until this blog came along, I didn't have an outlet for more personal writing.

Wanting to promote good comics is another motivating factor. With so many comics coming out, there's a lot that gets overlooked. I'm not sure what kind of effect that an obscure blog nobody reads can have, but I feel like I'm doing my part to help. If somebody some day actually happens to stumble across this bog and read something here that prompts them to pick up a new comic, that's great. If it never happens, then at least I tried.

So what can you expect from reviews in this blog? I think it's going to be a mixed bag, ranging from a few short comments to longer, in depth pieces. I want to talk about comics that are important to me and tell why I feel that way about them. Some stories resonate deeply, and it takes a while to explain that. Others don't require such intensive commentary and exploration.

Some of the reviews will be about new material; others will be about older stuff. I'm not going to push myself to read a stack of comics every week to have something to review here. Usually, I don't get to my comics shop more than once a month, and it takes a while to work through that kind of backlog. But I am reading almost constantly, so I should have something to talk about on a pretty regular basis.

There won't be a lot of straight plot synopsis. I believe the story for most comics can be summed up in three or four sentences. I want to talk about what makes a comic good (or not so good), not rehash the plot.

I'll be focusing on stuff from the smaller companies, because that's what I read most. Like I said earlier, there's a lot of stuff that gets overlooked. I'd like this blog to be a forum for that material.

Well that's enough talking about reviewing for one post. I'll try to get some actual reviews up this week.


Friday, October 17, 2003


LCR-watch Update

I emailed Log Cabin Republicans this morning to tell them about LCR-watch and send them a link to this blog. I'll probably end up hacked or something now.

I really don't expect to have any effect. It's not like some little-bitty, brand new blog that no one's heard of and no one reads is going to make them quake with fear. It's just that they really need to hear from real people exactly how their silence reflects poorly on them and exposes the whole meaningless facade of their organization.

This is LCR-watch Day 3.


The sleep of the unstressed

Yesterday the project that was the major source of my stress and insomnia went off beautifully. Last night, I got the first full night's sleep I've had all week. Today, I'm not working. Yay!

I'm planning on setting up shop in a local coffee house and reading graphic novels all day, which means there might be some reviews later on.


Wednesday, October 15, 2003


Where's LCR?

I've always been amazed at the lengths the Log Cabin Republicans will go in order to justifiy to themselves and others that the Republican Party really is good for gays and lesbians. It seems that no logic is too twisted for them.

So I am amazed that there has been no public comment from them on Bush's declaration of support for "Marriage Protection Week," which is happening even as I type. I mean they did manage to speak out when Bush expressed active support for a constitutional amendment to ban same gender marriage. Of course, their key point was for Bush to look to Cheney as a role model on the issue. One of Bush's problems is that he looks to Cheney as a role model waaay too often! And they're making way too much out of a three year old comment of Cheney's that, as far as I know, he's neither repeated nor taken any action to back up.

Beyond that, they never have taken Bush to task for publicly speaking out in support of an amendment that would codify discrimination against an entire act of people. When something becomes an amendment, it's the law of the land. The amendment to outlaw same sex marriage would be the first time the constitution has been amended for discriminatory purposes, a fact the Log Cabin doesn't seem to notice as it holds up Cheney as a role model. (If he's such a role model, why hasn't he spoken out against this Marriage Protection Week stuff?)

Truth is, Bush's rating with the hard-core right wing is slipping. He's "not conservative enough" for them. So to make up, he's throwing LGBT people to the wolves, in time-honored GOP fashion.

Marriage Protection Week is a full on right wing week of lobbying to push for this amendment. And Bush has endorsed it! In fact, he issued a proclamation about it! The man who said he didn't want to publicize people's private lives when he refused to issue a Gay Pride Proclamation has issued a proclamation aimed at tearing people's private lives apart!

And not a peep out of the Log Cabin Republicans. Maybe they've finally realized that they've been walking around with GOP knives in their backs for years. Maybe they've realized how futile it is to even try and justify this action. Maybe they've finally been thrown something that they can't process through their mental gymnastics. Who knows? Because they've said not one word.

Let me say that again. Not. One. Word. So much for "Inclusion wins."

Ever since the news broke, I've been going to the LCR web page looking for a statement every few days. This week (Marriage Protection Week, remember) I've gone every single day. No response. None. Someone please tell me what this group's purpose is, if they're not going to take an active, vocal advocacy role in the party they claim they're trying to change?

So I'm starting my own private little LCR-watch tonight. I'm going to keep checking in on LCR until they respond. From time to time, I'll post an update here. This is LCR-watch day one.

I emailed them a few days ago and got no response. I'm going to send them a link to this post. Someone's got to hold these folks accountable for their lack of action. I guess I'm going to give it a try.


Write me!

Okay, so I'm still new at this. If there really is anyone out there reading my babble, and you're possessed with a burning desire to tell me what an idiot I am, here's an email link:


I'll be including this in every post from now on.

Eventually, I'll get through the instructions for setting up a comment area.
Updates (Comics-related)

Links Added

I just edited my Previews post to add some links to stuff. I didn't have time to do that yesterday. The Junko Mizuno link goes to one of her older works. I couldn't find any art from her new one on Viz' site.

But they do have the first chapter of Alice 19th up to be read. I haven't had a chance to go through it, but at a glance, it looks like it might be a more traditional magical girls tale. Something more akin to Cardcaptor Sakura than Fushigi Yuugi, which doesn't change my interest in the book. I like Yu Watase's work to begin with, and Viz hasn't done much magical girls stuff. Except for the always fun Wedding Peach and the weird but wonderful Utena, I cannot think of anything else in that genre they've published.

By the way, take some time to check out the new Top Shelf site if you follow the link in the previous post. (Or the one in this post, for that matter.) It's been redesigned and they've got some special sales going on to celebrate.

There's an interview about The Chosen with Peter Gross at Newsarama. The
dialogue in the art samples doesn't fill me with a lot of confidence that Millar is going to rise above his usual level of shock for shock's sake. Sigh! Describing the book as the "Ultimate Jesus" doesn't help either.

Still, the cover to issue 2 is really cool!

A couple more comments about Previews and then I'll shut up.

I don't get the hard copy. It's just too bulky, unwieldy, and depressing. I look through the text version at Comic Book Resources. It's easier to deal with and I can create a pull list using copy and paste. I figure that if a book description doesn't grab me, then having pages of promo art probably wouldn't help its case.

The only drawback is that sometimes CBR takes a week or two to get the catalog up. If that happens, I go to Westfield for their abbreviated version. I miss some stuff that way, but I still don't have to mess with the actual catalog.

If something sounds intriguing, but I'm not totally convinced, then I'll hit Google and see what turns up. These days, just about every aspiring small press comics cartoonist has a web page.

Other Previews Commentary on the Web:

Comics Worth Reading: Johanna Draper Carlson does a Previews run through at her review site, complete with snarky comments. She tends to stick to the tried and true with her selections, rarely looking at anything new or experimental. It's a bit too cautious for my taste.

Ninth Art: Chris Ekman does a nice run down each month that's fairly reflective of my own tastes. His knowledge base is broader than mine, so he will often turn up something I missed.

Pipeline: Augie De Blieck Jr. does a Previews review as part of his column at Comic Book Resources (link above). It's worth reading, if only to see what truly good stuff he manages to ignore every time out. He tends to make a big deal about the wealth of stuff to be found outside the premiere publishers and then proceed to ignore everything but Crossgen and Oni (and only certain Oni genre books at that). The only reason to read Pipeline is for the laughs.

CWR and Ninth Art both have announcement lists that will let you know when the sites have been updated. Makes waiting for the Previews run through pretty painless.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003


Previews Review October 2003

Yes, I'm going to join the parade of online folks who post their thoughts about Previews each month. This is not a complete list of books I'm thinking about ordering, and it doesn't contain any of my regular titles. These are just things I thought were worth commenting about.

For starters, DC's latest "Lost Annual" features Plastic Man. I think they're starting to stretch the concept a bit, but I do like that they're continuing to make these affordable reprints available. It'll be an odd book, though, with Jack Cole stories mixed with later incarnations. Kyle Baker's new Plastic Man series is listed too. I've got mixed feelings about that one.

The best Vertigo can seem to do this time out is an oddly formatted book called Vertical. I wonder if the time may have come to retire Vertigo as an ongoing imprint and just use it for special publications, like the Gaiman hardcover. Or at least shrink the line down to a few core titles and concentrate on doing them right.

I don't at all care for Mark Millar. He goes for broad shocks, usually without anything substantial backing them up. There seems to be no reason for doing anything he does other than to draw attention to himself and his work. That said, I'll probably check out The Chosen from Dark Horse. His take on the modern day return of Christ is sure to ruffle some fundamentalist feathers, which sounds like a recommendation to me. He's got the chance here to develop a meaty story that delves into dark areas and asks hard questions. Will he live up to the potential or be satisfied with showing his teen Jesus as he loses his virginity? We'll see.

SLG collects the first several issues of Halo and Sprocket, and Oni starts a new Courtney Crumrin mini-series. More Courtney is always a good thing.

Fantagraphics is soliciting a collection of 50's romance comics. Titled Romance without Tears, it's an unlikely offering from them. If they're getting into oddball reprints, I'd love to see a collection of those Red Scare comics put out by various Catholic and right wing organizations in the 50's. They've also got new books from Richard Sala (Maniac Killer Strikes Again) and Carol Swain (Foodboy).

In manga, Viz has another volume from Junko Mizuno, featuring her Hello-Kitty-on-acid take on mermaid tales. Anyone who thinks all manga look alike should check out Mizuno's work. In addition, they've got a new series from Yu Watase (creator or Fushigi Yuugi), Alice 19th. From the description, it seems like it will deal with some of the same themes as FY: learning to handle great power, accepting responsibility for one's actions, loyalty, dealing with the dark side. Fushigi Yuugi was an interesting take on the magical girls subgenre of manga. I'm betting this will be too.

Finally, the highlight of this month's Previews for me comes from Top Shelf, which is releasing the long-awaited Mirror of Love. With gorgeous art from Jose Villarrubia, this adaptation of a poem by Alan Moore gets my vote for book of the year! Moore's work was originally written as part of a protest against homophobic legislation in Britain in the 80's. He deals with the history of same-gender love and the impact that queer people have had throughout history. It's going to be a beautiful book, and I hope it gets wide distribution in the bookstore trade, particularly the gay bookstores. Or, at least the few that are left these days. I won't be pre-ordering this one, but I'll be getting it. This is the kind of work that I want to support through locally-owned bookstores, both because it comes from a comic publisher and because it deals with LGBT themes.
Comics Commentary


Lying in the Gutters yesterday had some buzz on the post-Jemas Marvel. While it is a rumor column, Johnson is on target or close to it fairly often.
In amongst the news is this tidbit:

"This is the thing. How will the new appointment affect Marvel? Most of the policies will remain, as will creative approaches. This is a change made by the same people who've been in the top spots for over a decade. Isaac Perlmutter is still reluctant to expand the publishing budget. The sales and marketing department is still suffering, it will still be business as usual.

As for creative freedom in the books, despite complaints about editorial interference, expect it to get a lot worse with mandates from the likes of Ike Perlmutter and Avid Arad coming down thick and fast with less of a filter."

The driving interest at Marvel today isn't the comics, that's for sure.

Also, today's Pipeline features Augie De Blieck ruminating on the move away from pamphlets and towards trades. Among the advantages for Augie is this little gem:

"There's a financial advantage to moving your reading to trades that you might not recognize today, also. Take a title that's on your list of iffier reads. Maybe you like it, but you're not looking forward to it every month. Maybe there was a recent creator change and you're unsure about the new team. Try switching to the trade. Wait six months or a year for the book to come out. When you see it on the store shelf, are you excited for it? If not, skip the trade and you've effectively dropped a marginal title from your reading list."

Making decisions about dropping titles is so hard! Thank god for trade paperbacks!

I am definitely biased towards books with spines that sit on shelves and can be read and reread easily, but I don't think the industry is going to wholesale ditch the pamphlet format any time soon, at least in the mainstream. Fans there are too entrenched in their buying habits and resistant to any sort of change, however beneficial it might be.

Augie also offers his take on the Jemas deal, including this note:

"I don't disagree with a number of things he said, particularly when it came to retailers. The problem is, insulting your customers isn't gong to win you many awards. The policy of not overprinting comics should have acted as a great wake up call to retailers to show them that many of their practices are misguided, and that their business habits need to be broken. Instead, the result of that decision was just a groundswell of sympathy for those shoddy practices."

Sometimes I have to wonder what comics industry De Blieck is looking at. I wonder just what business habits are the ones he thinks need to be broken. Not getting stuck with a ton of over-hyped, unsold, non-returnable books that you can't move? Ordering cautiously in an unstable market and uncertain economy? Trying to keep one's head above water?

What's broken is a distribution system that favors the big publishers at the expense of the retailers, who have to walk the tightrope of meeting the needs of an ever-shrinking customer base. Marvel's no overprint policy looked good for Marvel sales, as De Blieck points out. But how many of those books made it into the hands of readers and how many are rotting in back rooms because a retailer made a bad guess about the interest in a title?

DC's overprint policy doesn't encourage retailer shoddiness, it helps ensure retailer viability. At least until we get a better way of doing things.

And now, after two days of babbling about a company who puts out comics I don't read, I am declaring a Marvel moratorium. For the moment, anyway.

Comics News


Fantagraphics has released information about their Peanuts reprint series. All I can say is: "Oh yeah!"

I can remember first stumbling on the Peanuts paperbacks as a kid and spending hours reading them. It is so awesome to see them coming in a format that is so beautifully designed.

Hopefully, this will make a big splash in the bookstore market.

Thank god for Fantagraphics!

By the way, if you follow the link above to the Pulse story, scroll down for the comments. There are some good links in them, including one to the very
Peanuts strip.


Insomnia Again

Up again. Way too early. Ugh! I made it an hour longer than last night though.

I'm going to edit last night's post for spelling and clarity. And I guess redo a
post from yesterday that didn't show up.

Patty Griffin's supposed to have a new CD coming out today.

Monday, October 13, 2003

Comics Commentary (Continued)

Other Takes

Maybe I shouldn't post when I've been up half the night with insomnia. Or maybe I'm just not a coherent writer. Regardless, there are a couple of commentaries on the Jemas-Marvel situation that put things so much better than I did this morning.

First, Dirk Deppey weighs in at the indispensable Journalista, the blog for The Comics Journal. Journalista is one of my must-visit blogs, by the way. I rarely miss a day.

Next, some commentary by another comics web site that's also high on my list of Must-reads: Ninth Art. Paul O'Brien looks at the situation from a different perspective than mine, but his thoughts about traditionalism get at what I was trying to say.

I'm going to try and get some sleep tonight and see if I can come up with something better next time out.

Can't win 'em all, I guess.

Here's where I start to get pathetic...

This is a cat household. A three-cat household, in fact. And we are those kind of annoying cat people who spoil their animals rotten and refer to them as children. Just wanted you to know what you're dealing with here.

You can see our sweet little darlings here.

Oooo...my first link. I'm starting to get the hang of this.

Comics Commentary

The More Things Change.....

I wouldn't normally write anything about Marvel Comics, let alone make them the subject of my first blog entry, but these are interesting times for the comics industry.

News started hitting The Pulse and Newsarama late last week about the rumored ouster of Bill Jemas, the head honcho of Marvel's comics division. At this writing, the bulk of the details have yet to be confirmed, but fan reactions are popping up all over the place.

I don't care for 99.9% of Marvel's output these days. X-Statix is the only Marvel comic I regularly read. And I don't much care for Bill Jemas either. I tired pretty quickly of reading about his schoolboy antics all over the place. I found him to be rude and childish and annoying as hell. Nevertheless, there's a dimension to all of this that fascinates me: the fan comments.

The fan commentary on this turn of events manages to somehow completely overlook the most critical element of the story, while at the same time unintentionally spelling out some of the reasons why the comics market is in such sad shape.

Many of the comments I'm reading about this story are focusing on the things that Jemas did that upset the fans and the retailers: no overprints, price hikes, rude behavior, changes to titles and characters. There's an underlying sentiment that somehow our dissatisfaction led to his downfall, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth.

Jemas was done in by corporate politics because he threatened the bottom line. He was endangering not the publishing profits, but the movie profits, which are far more important to Marvel. Ike Perlmutter may have gotten a letter from an upset retailer, but it was the complaints from Avi Arad that carried the weight. If anything, the incident really should underscore just how little the fans, the retailers, and even the comics matter to Marvel.

In the last few financial reports, the publishing division has been responsible for 25% or less of Marvel's profits. The bulk of their money these days comes from licensing, particularly for movies. And Jemas, through his personality and (more importantly) some of the things he was doing with the comics, was hindering Arad's ability to close deals.

While the publishing revenue is a significant part of Marvel's income, it's still a minority. And comics fans are notorious for continuing to buy comics, even when they hate what's in them. And Marvel has retained its dominant position in the tiny pool that is the comics industry, despite fan grumbling and retailer complaints about Jemas. In other words, what any of us may have had to say really didn't count for much.

But when it looked like he was going to be threatening the major sources of income, then the corporate machine swung into action to minimize the risk, and him. It's pretty clear where the priorities are and what's important. And it ain't the comics. (To underscore the point, the rumored replacement for Jemas is a total comics outsider.)

And what was Jemas doing that made troubles for the movie deals? Primarily, trying to innovate. He was spearheading things in comics that major studios were leery of being associated with. Publicity is one thing; controversy is another. And many of the headlines Jemas was grabbing in the mainstream press were controversial: gay-themed westerns and resurrected royalty, among others.

(I'm laying aside Jemas' brash personality and reported difficulties with Arad as reasons for his ouster. His conflicts with Arad may have motivated Arad to get rid of him, but it was the negative publicity whirling around Jemas that gave Arad the ammo he needed.)

To boil it down: Jemas tried to push the envelope a bit in the comics, which made the movie moguls nervous and threatened the high dollar deals. In response, he's been pushed aside because what really matters in comics these days is the money they generate in licensing, which, in turn, depends on the comics staying well within the bounds of the status quo.

And that's the point that the comments on the message boards are missing. This isn't about the fans. We don't matter. It isn't even about our money because it pales in comparison to the really big money. And it sure as heck isn't about the comics, because they're just licensing fodder. All they need to do is stay "safe" and not make anybody nervous.

Yet, what comics most need right now is innovation! Jemas' WWF Smackdown hypester personality didn't help his cause. And we can pick apart the flaws in things like Tsunami, Epic, Rawhide Kid, and the Ultimate line until the cows come home. But that's not the point.

He did have way more misses than hits. And most of the misses could not have been further off target, but at least he tried to do something new and different within the bounds of mainstream comics. When he did hit the target, the results were among the best comics Marvel has put out in ages. X-Statix is one example. The Truth is another. It's just a shame there weren't more.

In these days of an ever-shrinking market and an increasingly stagnant pool of mainstream talent, we need all the innovators we can get. Bill Jemas may not have had the skill or the people skills to pull everything off, but he did have some sense of a vision. I don't believe for one second that he was motivated by a desire to do anything other than make Marvel money. He didn't see comics as anything other than a commodity. But at least he realized that there can be a broader market for that commodity and tried to begin creating it. In the corporate comics world, though, vision can be a liability.

And not just in the mind of the executives. One recurrent theme that has popped up on the message boards is the possibility of a return to the "old" Marvel. Apparently mainstream comics fans aren't wild about innovation either. Which is sad, because the safe status quo that produces blockbuster movies doesn't do diddly for the comics market. But that's what the fans seem to want as much as the suits do. They just want it for different reasons. Which doesn't help the mess the comic market is in, but it sure goes a long way towards explaining it.

Well, I guess the first thing I should say is welcome! I'm having a hard time believing I'm actually doing this, after all the time I've spent talking about starting a blog and doing nothing about it. But what else is there to do in the middle of the night when you can't sleep?

I'm not pretentious enough to think that anything I have to say about anything really matters or that the world will beat a path to my door to hang on my words of wisdom. I'm just looking for a means of self-expression and something to do when insomnia strikes. (Maybe I should have called this thing "The Midnight Ramble.") If someone else reads it and agrees or disagrees, that's cool. If not, that's cool too.

If I can keep this up regularly, maybe it will prompt me to try and do more with my writing, which has always been one of my dreams. And maybe it'll prompt me to get off my ass and build that web page I'm always talking about. Just what I need, more excuses to play around on the computer....

Anyway, if you are reading this and haven't been totally bored with my self-obsessed ramblings, here's what you can expect from my little spot in the blogosphere: more self-obsessed ramblings!

Seriously, I intend to review comics I've read (both old and new), movies I've
seen, concerts and CD's, and more. I may also spout off about news related to any of the above, as well as news not related to any of the above. I'll probably go on from time to time about my job, life, and cats. And I'll toss in an odd link or two to sites I find exciting or interesting.

So check back from time to time and see what's going on!