Book Con!: Librarians Celebrate Geeky Fun in Chicago! [updated]

ALA_2013_Chicago_Logo_FINAL_CLR_0Every summer, thousands of librarians congregate at the American Library Association’s annual conference.  All sorts of topics are discussed, presented, and taught, and, believe it or not, librarians love books with a geeky passion!  There is something for everyone, and as the geek diaspora filters into libraries, libraries are becoming more than just a place to take a nap or read a book! [Read more…]

Editorial: The DC Movie Universe is not as bleak as you think

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By Mark E. Johnson

In the post-Clooney world of 2005 we were all more than happy to accept a grimmer, more ‘realistic’ Batman. It was already five years since the first X-Men film brought on-screen superheroes closer to Earth. And… you know, Batman’s Batman. The dark(ish) tone of Man of Steel, however, has proved to be more of a sticking point. A lot of people are unhappy with the fit.

In a thoughtful and well constructed piece over on CBR, Jim McLauchlin argues that the superhero films of DC/Warner Bros have a much more pessimistic outlook than those of Marvel. Further, he argues, they fail to reflect the worldview of that all-important 18-34 demographic that they’re kinda-sorta catering for. While I’ve greatly enjoyed output from both camps, I’m here to disagree.

The DC films are, of course, darker in tone than their Marvel counterparts (Green Lantern seems to be getting locked in a yellow wooden box and buried for the purposes of this discourse, which suits me just fine). You could be forgiven, after a viewing the final battle of Man of Steel, for crawling into a Pikachu onesie and refusing to come out until Adventure Time came on the telly. Personally, I would certainly have appreciated a lighter touch in the film—a gentle smattering of a few additional humorous moments would easily have done it. The Marvel films, by comparison, make you feel like you’re already wearing your bright yellow onesie and it’s OK because Ryan Gosling has one too.

It’s a mistake, however, to mistake darkness for pessimism.

McLauchlin discusses optimism among today’s 18-34s in terms of their belief in their ability to mold the future, in a sense of agency. He makes an example of the recent strides towards equal marriage rights in the US. I’d be tempted to argue that we actually feel that we have some agency in civil rights-related issues, but feel largely powerless on issues which involve the cold hard realities of cash, such as global warming and income disparity. However, McLaughlin and I are writing from different sides of the Atlantic (I’m in the UK) and I’m sure that we could trade contradictory anecdotal evidence all day. So, accepting the notion that we’re basically an optimistic bunch with a sense of agency, how does that bear up in the films?

I’d have to say: better in the recent examples of DC films than of those from Marvel. So… SPOILER WARNING.

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In The Avengers, New York City is attacked by a raging alien horde and the average-Joe-policemen look on, helpless, until a man in a superhero costume rocks up and suggests in a steely voice that they might get some civilians to safety. In Man of Steel, it’s actually an average-Joe-soldier who deals the decisive blow against the raging alien horde, saving the world. Similarly Lois, while she still needs rescuing a couple of times, manages to be a lot more useful than any of the un-super-folk we see in Marvel’s films.

In The Dark Knight Rises, Bats wouldn’t have got very far without the ordinary, heroic men and women of the GCPD stepping up for that final battle.

‘But,’ you might argue, ‘up until that point the GCPD are a bit rubbish. And Superman trashes the military’s drone because he doesn’t really trust them.’ Yes. There’s definitely an air of distrust whirling round the DC movieverse when it comes to powerful institutions. There wouldn’t even be a Batman if he trusted the police to do their job.

Individually, though, ordinary folk are frequently stepping up. Jim Gordon is an obvious example. Perry White refuses to abandon Jenny (whoever the hell she is – ‘Jenny Olsen’?). The chaps on the boat in Dark Knight decide not to blow up the other chaps. While the machinery of the GCPD fails Gotham, the men and women of the force come forward to fight Talia and Bane. According to David Goyer, there are numerous people in Smallville presumably keeping Clark’s secret, even as the military tries to spy on him. (And by the way, doesn’t smashing up that spy drone look like a good idea right now?)

Over in the Marvel movieverse our heroes have a vaguely more positive relationship with public institutions. SHIELD seems to exist as part networking tool, part superhero cover-up operation, part shady weapons manufacturer to be disregarded once it becomes apparent they’re shady. Oh, and they wanted to nuke NY. On balance, I suppose you’re getting a watered-down version of the negativity towards state authority without the faith in the man on the ground. The man on the ground, for the most part, is there to bungle things so the superheroes look more impressive when they show up to see off the aliens/save the president/punch Loki.

You could actually frame the entirety of Man of Steel as a tug of war between pessimism and optimism. Clark, fuelled by the fear that mankind will reject him and/or do something stupid to itself should it discover his true nature, has to decide whether he can trust humanity to accept him and step forward with him into the future. And, frankly, they do. Arguably, it’s the graver threats that throw the heroism of all those average-Joes into greater relief.

Over in the Mighty (film) World of Marvel, however, the question is ‘can some super-people swoop down and save us, absolving us of responsibility for dealing with this mess ourselves?’ The answer, of course, is yes.

Sure, the movie world of Marvel is a brighter-looking place than the DC equivalent. I’m sure many of us would agree we’d rather go for shawarma with the Avengers than nomadically wander the Earth with Bruce or Clark. But surely, when you get down to it, the more optimistic outlook is the one in which ordinary folk stand up and take some responsibility for saving themselves, rather than just waiting for a caped messiah to turn up and do it for them?

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[Mark E. Johnson is a writer and professional nerd. He tweets from @Spinface. Copyright © 2013 Mark E. Johnson. All Rights Reserved.]

SDCC ’13: Thursday Program Schedule

The official Comic-Con website posted the Thursday programing schedule. [Read more…]

May The Fourth Be With You!

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“You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!”

Pics from the Vader Project..

vader USAFor some reason, the Brits do not celebrate the Fourth of July (or the Third of September), so our London office is on watchtower duty while we party hard here in the States (and recharge our batteries in preparation for San Diego). [Read more…]

On the Scene: Indie Publisher Confronts Amazon Exec at Litquake’s digi.lit Conference

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Photo via LITQUAKE. Left to right: Brad Stone (Bloomberg Businessweek), Charlie Winton (Soft Skull), Isaac Fitzgerald (McSweeney’s), and Jon Fine (Amazon).

by Bob Calhoun

The mood was tense in the fourth floor conference room of the SPUR Urban Center in San Francisco on Saturday—especially for a panel with the dry title of “The Future of Publishing,” but this was far from your usually dry panel. At one end of a folding table sat Charlie Winton, CEO of Counterpoint and Soft Skull, a pair of conjoined indie publishing companies that has survived the massive and continuous upheavals in the business of bookselling.

At the other end of the table was Jon Fine, Director of Author and Publishing Relations for Amazon.com, the entity most responsible for all those massive upheavals. This early afternoon panel at the first ever digi-lit (for digital lit) publishing conference promised not only a meeting of the minds, but a clash of ideas.

However, collegiality almost ruled the day with Winton and Fine agreeing they weren’t in competition with each other until Bloomberg Businessweek reporter Brad Stone, the panel moderator and the author of an upcoming book on Amazon, decided to break it up.

“Are you comfortable living in Amazon’s world?” Stone asked, directing the question at Winton. “Can they be a benevolent dictator?”

Winton appeared to be holding back through the first half of the panel, but with this little bit of prodding he finally let loose on the online retail giant, calling Amazon “thug like,” and saying that negotiating with the company was “absolutely gruesome.”

Winton then went so far as to say he agreed with News Corp founder Rupert Murdoch about “widget-makers like Amazon” and how they have “a devaluing effect on intellectual property.”

“I’m sorry you agree with Rupert,” Fine shot back, referring to the chairman of all things Fox by his first name.

“We’re building a business on the publishing side that’s really focused on the authors,” Fine continued, before declaring that “meta-data is the new cover image,” meaning that more readers were finding books through search-engine-optimization than they were through face-out book cover displays in actual stores.

The man in the middle of all of this was Isaac Fitzgerald, co-owner of The Rumpus and Director of Publicity of McSweeney’s, the indie publishing house founded by author Dave Eggers.

“Amazon’s the evil empire,” Fitzgerald blurted, adding to the tension. “But the little guys are going to exist. As human beings, I don’t think we’re going to live under just one thing. There’s going to be people who stir up shit just to stir up shit.”

“I just love the human heart and I think that wins, but then again I don’t have tons of money or a legal background,” Fitzgerald said causing the crowd to erupt with laughter.

“We’re at the beginning of a long evolutionary path that was kicked off with a revolution,” Fine said, after the laughs died down.”I really do think more is better. It’s an amazing time to be a writer.”

“The Future of Publishing” was one of several panels at the one day digi-lit conference. Digi-lit also featured talks by authors Neal Pollack (“Alternadad” and “Jewball”) and Ransom Stevens (“The God Project”) as well as Salon.com book critic Laura Miller. The conference was organized by the creators of Litquake, the literary arts festival that overtakes San Francisco’s bars and arts spaces every October.

“We started digi.lit just to answer all of the questions about publishing that we keep getting,” Litquake co-founder Jack Boulware explained in between panels.

“This is the first conference we’ve ever put together,” he said, surveying the crowd. “It’s a lot different than organizing a festival. It’s like putting on one day of public school.”

There is no word if there will be a second digi-lit conference next year.

[Bob Calhoun is the author of “Shattering Conventions: Commerce, Cosplay and Conflict on the Expo Floor” (Obscuria Press, 2013). You can follow him on Twitter at @bob_calhoun.]

DC Thomson Confirm The Dandy is Ending; Deny The Dandy is Over

In a message left on their Facebook page, The Dandy’s publishers DC Thomson have denied that the series is over for good – although confirm that the digital Dandy IS over for the time being. Stating problems with the technology used in the comics app, their press release states that they’re looking to get back to publishing Dandy storylines at some point in the future.

[Read more…]

MUST-READ: Jamie Smart on Developing All-Ages Comics

Here’s a post written by cartoonist Jamie Smart, whose work is seen regularly in comics including The Beano, The Phoenix and the now-departed Dandy. Following the wake of the latter’s cancellation, Smart’s written a piece about the need for there to be accessible all-ages comics available for every generation. It’s considered, on-point, and definitely worth reading.

[Read more…]

Happy Fourth of July, everyone!

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Here are some comics to get you in the mood for hot dogs and fireworks.

And some videos.



Five Weapons Has Been Bumped up into an Ongoing Series

The last issue of Jimmie Robinson’s five-issue miniseries Five Weapons – which is fantastic – was published this week. And it came with the welcome news that the mini has been pushed up into an ongoing, restarting in January next year!

[Read more…]