2014 Happy New Year, Everyone!

2014 Happy New Year, Everyone!http://ift.tt/1clbK2t

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Well the minutes are ticking down in this timezone, and as is tradition we see out 2013 with the JC Leyendecker Saturday Evening Post cover from 100 years ago. While 2013 wasn’t as profoundly crappy a year as 2012, it had its…challenges. But The Beat sailed on through. And you all made it here. Thanks for going on the trip.

First off, a huge huge thanks to Steve Morris, Todd Allen, Zainab Akhtar, Laura Sneddon, Henry Barajas, Jeff Trexler, Dre Grigoripol, Jessica Lee, Serhend Sirkecioglu, Amy Chu, Bruce Lidl, Brett Schenker, Hannah Means-Shannon, Todd Alcott, Synsidar and the one and only Torsten for all the great writing that they contributed to the Beat in 2013. There was a plethora of great comics coming out this year, and I hope the Beatniks helped people find more of them.

A huge thank you to the ground crew as always, although crazy travel meant not as much time with them: Amy, Zena, Elim, Charlene, Sara, Nisha, Kai Ming, Josh, Mike, Charles, Jimmy and Alex, the More to Come gang of Calvin and Kate, Matt at PW, Ryan at Modiv. who is the Scotty of the Beat keeping the databases going when I can’t.

A big bow to the great sponsors who made this site possible: Comic-Con International, Valiant, NBM, Papercutz, Dynamite and Top Shelf. PLEASE CHECK OUT THESE FINE PUBLISHERS.

AN ENORMOUS HAT TIP to the may comics professional in every level of the business who took time to be interviewed, share art, comment, give us news and in general support The Beat and its aims. Too many to name to count, and I’m incredibly grateful for that.

And of course, all my love to Ben, Charlie and Lucy.

Most of all thank YOU for coming here, being cool (most of the time) and caring about comics. I couldn’t do it without you. 2014 will be The Beat’s 10th Anniversary, and there wall be all kinds of special stuff that will make it a year to remember. In the meantime, to everyone out there, have a safe, happy New Year and here’s to kicking every kind of ass in 2014.

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2014 Happy New Year, Everyone!

9140103.jpg
Well the minutes are ticking down in this timezone, and as is tradition we see out 2013 with the JC Leyendecker Saturday Evening Post cover from 100 years ago. While 2013 wasn’t as profoundly crappy a year as 2012, it had its…challenges. But The Beat sailed on through. And you all made it here. Thanks for going on the trip.

First off, a huge huge thanks to Steve Morris, Todd Allen, Zainab Akhtar, Laura Sneddon, Henry Barajas, Jeff Trexler, Dre Grigoripol, Jessica Lee, Serhend Sirkecioglu, Amy Chu, Bruce Lidl, Jeffrey Gustafson, Brett Schenker, Hannah Means-Shannon, Todd Alcott, Synsidar and the one and only Torsten for all the great writing that they contributed to the Beat in 2013. There was a plethora of great comics coming out this year, and I hope the Beatniks helped people find more of them.

A huge thank you to the ground crew as always, although crazy travel meant not as much time with them: Amy, Zena, Elim, Charlene, Sara, Nisha, Kai Ming, Josh, Mike, Charles, Jimmy and Alex, the More to Come gang of Calvin and Kate, Matt at PW, Ryan at Modiv. who is the Scotty of the Beat keeping the databases going when I can’t.

A big bow to the great sponsors who made this site possible: Comic-Con International, Valiant, NBM, Papercutz, Dynamite and Top Shelf. PLEASE CHECK OUT THESE FINE PUBLISHERS.

AN ENORMOUS HAT TIP to the may comics professional in every level of the business who took time to be interviewed, share art, comment, give us news and in general support The Beat and its aims. Too many to name to count, and I’m incredibly grateful for that.

And of course, all my love to Ben, Charlie and Lucy.

Most of all thank YOU for coming here, being cool (most of the time) and caring about comics. I couldn’t do it without you. 2014 will be The Beat’s 10th Anniversary, and there wall be all kinds of special stuff that will make it a year to remember. In the meantime, to everyone out there, have a safe, happy New Year and here’s to kicking every kind of ass in 2014.

The 2013 Comics Happy List

The 2013 Comics Happy Listhttp://ift.tt/1dntE9v

I just can’t muster the hubris to do a Top 10 list.  Lists are subject to the tastes of the reviewer(s).  One person’s top 10 list doesn’t necessarily mean anything.  And, you know, Buzzfeed.  Instead, I’ll present a list of comics that made me happy in 2013, with an emphasis on things that might have a slightly lower profile.  (You should already have heard of things like Saga and Daredevil, right?)

And so, in no particular order, the 2013 Comics Happy List

Lazarus (Image) by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark

LazarusPerhaps the best debut of 2013, Lazarus reunites two parts of the critically acclaimed Gotham Central creative team from days gone by.  This “15 minutes into the future” science fiction tale of genetic engineering and corporate politics evolved into a feudal governmental system really delivers.  If you’re only familiar with Rucka’s DC and Marvel work, this may be a bit more of a political adventure than you were expecting, though people who’ve read Queen and Country or his novels (like Smoker) will have some idea what to expect.

Excellent world building, a bit of futurism and betrayals at a brisk pace are how this book rolls.  Michael Lark’s work is excellent – as always.  Just a really nice comic.

Marshall Law: The Deluxe Edition (DC) by Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill

Marshall LawMarshall Law is a bit of an oddity.  From a historical perspective, it’s the bridge between Judge Dredd and The Boys.  Writer Pat Mills isn’t as well known in the U.S., but is one of the primary British comic writers from the ‘70s on.  Kevin O’Neill has a much, much higher profile after drawing League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Marshall Law bounced around publishers quite a bit.  Some UK here, some American there.  It would be at least mildly annoying to try and lay hands on a complete set.  Fortunately, DC issued a gorgeous hardcover edition collecting the whole set.

Marshall Law bills himself as a hero killer.  In a world where superheroes were weaponized as a military project, the Marshall, who really hates capes, tries to clean up there messes.  This is a pitch black satire.  Not an affectionate wink toward superheroes, this series shreds the tropes with malice and contempt.  It was quite the shocking series when it came out and it still goes a bit further than you might expect in certain places.

If you’re a fan of The Boys, it’s reasonable to say this is The Boys’ grandfather and it’s well worth checking out.  If you like your satire vicious, it’s a winner.  If you hold up superhero tropes as comforting things in troubled times, back away slowly.

Superior Foes of Spider-Man (Marvel) by Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber

Superior Foes of Spider-ManI’m sure the following statement is going to upset plenty of people, but for my hard-earned dollar, Superior Foes of Spider-Man is Hawkeye done right.  Go ahead, hate on me if you must, but this Spencer/Lieber vehicle strikes a similar pose, but with a much more sardonic tone as hapless Boomerang tries to manipulate his partners in crime and make off with his big score, Superior Foes gives me twice the enjoyment in a similar vein the hard luck archer’s travails.

No mistake about it, these have been a couple good years for slightly goofy comics.  They aren’t all tearing up the sales charts, but they’re a lot more sustainable than they used to be.  DC’s Harley Quinn relaunch certainly reminds me of the Hawkeye/Superior Foes tone, so we might have a sub-genre on our hands.

Superior Foes is my favorite of the off-kilter mainstream superhero comics… even if it’s off-kilter supervillains.

Mark Waid’s The Green Hornet (Dynamite) by Mark Waid and Daniel Indro/ Ronilson Freire

Green HornetI’ve seen the sales estimates on this one and it’s amazing to me that more people aren’t reading it, especially coming on the heels of Waid’s critical acclaim on (the absolutely wonderful) Daredevil.  Waid’s been moving in a political direction, with the Sons of the Serpent arc in Daredevil reminding me, thematically, of a modern update to Steve Englehart’s Secret Empire arc in Captain America.  His Green Hornet run also has a political component, fixating on political corruption in Chicago and Nazi infiltration.

This is a fairly rare thing for The Hornet.  The comic is set in the heyday of the radio show.  It’s the original Green Hornet.  Not an updating.  Not his son or grandson.  I don’t know that anyone has gone back to the original version since the old ‘40s comics.

As the series starts, The Hornet has gotten a bit full of himself and his hubris takes him on an unpleasant and embarrassing ride as he tries to navigate political manipulations and figure out what’s up with these German spies. This could well be the definitive Green Hornet comic and it’s flying far below the radar.

The Sixth Gun (Oni) by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt

The Sixth GunHere’s a title that’s been around, got borderline screwed out of a TV adaption and I still don’t see big sales numbers on it like it deserves.  The Sixth Gun concerns a set of ancient weapons, currently in the shape of six-shooters that contain the key to triggering the apocalypse.  Yes, this is a post-Civil War horror western.  And unlike the beloved Landsdale/Truman Jonah Hex mini’s of the ‘90s set in a similar time period, there’s no knowing wink to the audience.  This is full on horror.

The Sixth Gun wins with strong characterization and an expanding cast of characters all of whom are vying for control of the apocalyptic artifacts with many of them having very different designs on their use.  It’s a comic that isn’t afraid to get strange and creepy.  As dark as it gets, Brian Hurtt’s art has a simple, clean and deceptively light look and feel to it, which serves to ground things and make them even more disturbing.  A combination of art and story that fits like a glove, even when you might not expect it to.

This is a comic I wait for the tpbs for and devour them in one sitting.  If you haven’t been reading it, go back and start with Volume 1.  It’s highly recommended and hasn’t slowed down through Volume 5.

Archer & Armstrong (Valiant) by Fred Van Lente and Emanuela Lupacchino/Khari Evans

Archer & ArmstrongValiant’s had a nice launch featuring, for the most part, characters that aren’t *quite* superheroes having adventures that skew towards superhero settings and tropes.  It’s a nice line and you’ll see Shadowman on a lot of the year’s best lists.  (DC apparently agrees, having hired away the original writer and artist.)  My pick of the Valiant litter is Archer & Armstrong.

Another slightly goofy comic, A&A is a not-quite superhero (but close) romp that sends up right wing conspiracies as an immortal drunkard and teenage assassin (raised by an overtly fundamentalist Christian cult that’s was fronting for a larger conspiracy) navigate a landscape of ancient “sects” competing for pieces to an even more ancient artifact.

How goofy is it?  The sect representing Wall Street is “The 1%” and they wear golden bull masks.  You’ve got a sect of Nazi llamas.  You’ve got the “Master Builders” sect who look a bit Masonic.  While not a sect, you’ve got a foray through the Bermuda Triangle with a “General Redacted” who’s put the grey aliens from Area 51 to work.  Which is to say, it’s very goofy, yet it’s still telling a story in a relative straight line, which can have a serious moment or two hidden among the more prevalent sarcasm.

Trillium (DC/Vertigo) by Jeff Lemire

TrilliumTrillium is an exceptionally well-crafted comic.  It’s a science fiction romance about star-crossed lovers separated by the centuries and the havoc wreaked as they try to be together.  It is, without a shadow of a doubt, the best thing Lemire has done for DC.

Part of the craftsmanship of Trillium Lemire’s use of flipbook format.  The first issue is in two halves.  Each from the perspective of one of the couple who are the main characters, entering the situation in their own time period.  Finish one half, flip it over, read the other perspective.  It finishes in the same place.  The pacing and production, absolutely precise.  In the current issue (#5), a similar structure exists.  The top and bottom halves of the pages are their own narratives… except they’re upside down from each other.  Read the top half through, flip the book, read the other half.  Again, the narratives correspond and lead to the same place.  The structure is as well done as you’ll see.

I also have no idea how this is going to work in a collected edition, but Lemire is working the monthly format with everything he’s got.

The story itself, which touches on colonialism and fear of the unknown, would work on its own… but the presentation really puts it over the top.

Afterlife With Archie (Archie) by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla

alwarchie1“Archie Vs. Zombies.”  You would expect something with that description to be a cheap cash grab, but Afterlife With Archie is anything but.  The set-up is entirely plausible within the greater context of the Archie universe.  The progression from a tragic event to forbidden activity to unforeseen consequences is a slow, but logical and character-driven, build.

That’s all you really need to know about this comic.  It’s Archie Vs. Zombies where suspension of disbelief isn’t an issue and the creepy mood builds organically.  Well… it’s also drawn by Francavilla, who can do no wrong these days.

 

Velvet (Image) by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting

VelvetSeveral years back, Brubaker and Epting took Captain America in an espionage direction and set the comics world on its ear by bringing back Bucky – the most sacrilegious thing you could do in Captain America – and doing it so well Bucky stayed revived and was popular enough for a spin-off.  Now they’re back and working on an espionage title at Image.

Not to be underplayed, there’s subtle similarity to the plot structure.  Much as the Winter Soldier came out of Cap’s past.  The titular Velvet finds herself drawn out of retirement (from the field) as a conspiracy from her past threatens to overtake her.

This is a fine action/spy tale, still a bit early in the game, but very satisfying two issues in.

Astro City (DC/Vertigo) by Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson with Alex Ross

Astro CityFinally, an old friend returns.  Astro City has been around since the mid-90s, dating back to the Image days of Jim Lee’s Wildstorm studio.  It’s been on hiatus of late, partially to get several issues in the can to avoid any publishing delays, but it finally returned to publication.

Astro City is a celebration of superheroes.  Initially, it was a celebration of the Silver Age of comics, but it’s evolved a bit past that, even if that’s where its heart may still lie.  Sometimes it focuses on the heroes.  Sometimes on the civilians in their wake.  A recent arc was on the heroes’ employees.

Astro City plays with archetypal heroes, giving them their own world and slowly revealing the mysteries of their pasts and their relationships.  It doesn’t so much have a predominant tone, so much as a tendency to provoke a sense of wonder as you read it.  In many ways it is the anti-Marshall Law.

Were these the only comics that made me happy in 2013?  No, but it’s a good enough place to start.  And it’s not like you don’t have enough lists to pick from this time of year.

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Must Read: Becky Cloonan on self-publishing

Must Read: Becky Cloonan on self-publishinghttp://ift.tt/1fYvcpX

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This is a good one to leave the year on, I think, a 4000 word essay by Becky Cloonan on the evolution and execution of her self-published minis, which have won Eisner awards and sold thousands of copies. The piece covers some of the intangibles, but mostly the practical side, from living with tons of boxes to founding a small distribution company and dealing with the post office:

I can’t say there is a specific advantage to doing it yourself vs. taking your book to a publisher like Image. My mini comics are hard to get ahold of, and more expensive than regular comics. It takes months to do and I don’t get an advance or a page rate. I have to figure out how to finance the printing, and learn how to put all this shit together, and then do a zillion conventions to sell them. It’s hard. It’s stressful. It’s confusing. It’s depressing and solitary. You’ll never have enough time, you’ll start obsessing over it. And to top it off, you’re almost guaranteed to lose money on the first print run. 

On the other hand, there is nothing like opening a box of your own comics for the first time, breathing in that first sweet breath of toner and paper, and whispering softly into the cardboard, “All of these books… ARE MINE!!” If you are a control freak than I guarantee* you will LOVE self-publishing. (*I actually don’t guarantee anything)



It’s a nice overview of how to use the myriad tools available for professional growth and possibly some profit. If 2013 was about anything it was about having access to all the resources that used to exist just for giant companies, and how that access is quickly allowing all creators to evolve. 10 years ago, Cloonan was making a bad deal with a problematic publishers to get her work out there, and in the process she lost it forever. Now she can call all the shots as long as she has the stamina and audience.

2014 will probably be about dealing with the panic attack that comes from having way too many options…or maybe that never ends.

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Japan launches worldwide assault via its own anime channel

Japan launches worldwide assault via its own anime channelhttp://ift.tt/1ckgju1

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The Japanese government is taking matters into its own hands by spending 15.5 billion yen ($14.7 million) to launch its own TV network with an eye to foreign distribution. The rollout includes Thailand, Indonesia and Cambodia, but hope to spread to North America, Europe and Africa. The channel will host a variety of programs, including anime, dramas, music programs, and travel programs. It’s all part of an ongoing program to spread Japanese culture, which pirate scanlation sites have been doing the heavy lifting on for a while. It’s also part of a move to improve Japan’s reputation abroad.

In 2002 the Japanese government launched its intellectual property policy outline, with a goal of becoming “a nation built on intellectual property.” Included in that plan was to transmit Japanese culture to the foreign countries, but the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has noted that so far any support for this has been sporadic because “there has been no leadership in the government.”

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Charles Soule reveals how the heck he’s writing seven books a month

Charles Soule reveals how the heck he’s writing seven books a monthhttp://ift.tt/1ck9oB4

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If you wonder who is the hardest working man in comics biz, there is only one answer: Charles Soule, currently scripting seven monthly titles and running a law firm. As he admits in this post, people are always asking him “HOW ARE YOU DOING THIS???”—in fact I asked him that the last time I saw him—so he has written a blog post to explain so he doesn’t have to waste precious time answering that question any more.

I am currently writing seven monthly titles – Superman / Wonder Woman, Swamp Thing and Red Lanterns for DC; Thunderbolts, She-Hulk and Inhuman for Marvel; and a creator-owned title called Letter 44 from Oni Press (read the entire first issue for free here!) That essentially means I’m generating 140 pages of script per month, every month.  My pagecount for 2013 is 1116. If I stay on this path, my pagecount for 2014 will be something like 1680. Every script that gets turned in also (usually) requires at least one rewrite to incorporate editorial notes (those are thankfully pretty quick, most of the time), art review and then a lettering pass, all of which have their own deadlines. There’s also a PR component, represented by interviews, Twitter, Facebook, blogging, convention appearances and store signings.

In addition, I’m running a law practice – it’s small, but that doesn’t really matter as far as workload. (Small aside, for years, while I was breaking in, I never mentioned the day job. I was concerned about negative associations with that profession, and intimations that it was somehow easier for me than it might be for others who didn’t have massive student loans and 80-hour work weeks to contend with… seems silly in retrospect.)



The answer involves a lot of discipline, planning and even color coding. I doubt that Soule or anyone can or should write seven monthlies for to long, but if you’re going to try, here’s a method.

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The Private Eye Chapter 5 now available

The Private Eye Chapter 5 now availablehttp://ift.tt/1dRkEr9

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I’m sure you all saw this but in case you missed this holiday offering, a new chapter in The Private Eye, the futuristic tale of a world where privacy exists by Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin, went up a few days ago. It’s based on a pay-what-you-want model. $3.99 feels about right, if you ask me.

I was rereading the first few chapters of this not long ago, and this is a wicked good yarn with a strong point about own need to disclose everything via social media. It makes a nice counterpoint to the Spike Jonze film HER, which satirizes our need to twiddle on our gadgets 23/7. Its my understanding that there are no even remote plans to ever print this right now, so download away, kids.

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31 Days of Winter Festivals Supplemental: Ty Templeton

31 Days of Winter Festivals Supplemental: Ty Templetonhttp://ift.tt/1fYja02

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Ty Templeton’s Bun Toons are always a delight. He currently running down the year in cartoons.

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31 Days of Winter Festivals: Kate Beaton’s Christmas Comics

31 Days of Winter Festivals: Kate Beaton’s Christmas Comicshttp://ift.tt/1alcuoD

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Kate Beaton has put all her holiday comics in one massive post. These are finely observed moments of family life, the laughter specific to her loving family, but universal, as well. Beaton has been working on many secret projects for the last while; given these glimpses of her steadily evolving talent, we can’t wait until they are un-secret!

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RIP: Smithfield

RIP: Smithfieldhttp://ift.tt/19F5MNa

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Well, another bar is closing in New York: Smithfield on 28th Street. This was mostly a soccer/sports bar, as the above photo of Six Alex Ferguson, legendary manager of Man United, hanging out with the owners shows. But as Ben and I knew these owners and much of the staff, this was also a little bit of a comic book bar.

Tom, one of the owners, gave Ben and me a tour before it even opened, and the minute I saw the care that was being put into the place, I got the dream of having some big gatherings for comic book folk there. It had everything that was needed: a central location close to transportation, space so you didn’t get jostled, a great staff, excellent food and a good pint of Guinness. Thanks to the help of the truly amazing staff and my co-sponsors Z2 Comics, Dynamite and the CBLDF I held a couple of parties there—the Beat 2012 relaunch party and the 2013 NYCC Beat/CBLDF/Dynamite party—which were, I think, good times for all. The space allowed the kind of big bashes with crazy random unexpected attendees showing up that make for memorable evenings. In fact, every time I had a party, people who came would decide to throw their own parties there, the sure sign of a venue that had that intangible air of hospitality. (I have to mention that the food at Smithfield was really outstanding—a pub with good Guinness and way above average food is always a Yelp +1 for me.)

Although at night Smithfield was mostly a big loud sports bar, it was also a community. The morning after the lights went out following Hurricane Sandy, Ben and I hit the streets looking for a place to charge up, watch the news, work and get warm. We both thought of Smithfield (luckily it was on the side of town with power) and when we got there we had a warm welcome from our friend Kieron. It had become a real “public house,” with people from all around using the many outlets while having one of those fine pints and watching the often heartbreaking news. We called our friends who were in the same boat, and they all came over and it become a big party, and a respite from a grim time. Smithfield became our home away from home for the rest of the week, a time I’ll never forget.

But now it’s closing. Today is the last day. New owners are tearing down the whole building and putting up high rise condos. I know Smithfield tried to fight the zoning change, but those changes, which often dragged on and on pre-Bloomberg, just breezed right on by in a matter of months. It all happened so fast that I had actually been planning a party there with Z2 for the week after next. We’re rescheduling at a new venue, but it will be hard to find a place that had all the right elements.

When Ben and I got the preopening tour, I was impressed at the level of detail (and expense) that was put into Smithfield—from an antique bar to the number of bathrooms. Smithfield was run by some of the same folks who owned Nevada Smiths, the first big soccer bar in NYC, and the closest place to the Mos Eisley cantina (fights and all) I ever beheld. I’ll never forget Tom proudly showing me all the ladies rooms at Smithfield—the ladies restroom at Nevada Smith was a cold horrible cellar that often backed up (to be fair it was a really old building)—to go in there, you really had to be brave and need to go. Tom wanted the new place to be welcoming to everyone. And it was.

Nevada Smith is long torn down (although reopened as a sinister place with lighting out of the Chernobog sequence in Fantasia), and Openers before it, and soon Smithfield will be too, along with so much of the New York I’ve known for so long. Yeah yeah, this is another “vanishing New York” wail, but damn, it’s happening so, so fast. Along with the end of Smithfield, it’s also the end of Mayor Bloomberg the same day, and while he made New York City an amazing place of bike paths and Highlines and parks and median strips, the old candy stores and butchers and fish shops and bakeries and signs and, yeah, the character, is all scrubbed away, too. If you’ve seen Inside Llewyn Davis (which I HIGHLY recommend) you’ll see another long ago vanished New York, the “MacDougal Street” scene of folk music in the village in the early sixties. There’s one scene that takes place at the one place from those days still around, Cafe Reggio, which has the same battered furniture and ornate fixtures that untold thousands of coffee drinkers have sat in over the decades. It’s what a certain romantic vision of New York City has always been, as outdated and antique as it is. Soon it will all be just photos, like the original Penn Station.

Ironically, when those high rise condos go up, they’ll wish they had a nice pub like Smithfield to go to. But it won’t be there.

Or maybe they won’t wish that. I suspect all the newcomers to New York care about as much about Cafe Reggio as I do about Edith Wharton’s horse drawn carriages.

Tom and his crew, Kieron and Robbie, are moving to a new venue, and I have no doubt it will be a fine one, and we’ll throw some more parties there, I hope. New York changes and evolves, and to be a New Yorker you need to change and evolve too.

So thanks for all the great memories, Smithfield. And I raise a pint to the future memories.

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Kibbles ‘n’ Bits 12/31/13: These links will blow your mind. And then they will make you lose control of your bladder. Sorry.

Kibbles ‘n’ Bits 12/31/13: These links will blow your mind. And then they will make you lose control of your bladder. Sorry.http://ift.tt/1cjVpuN

§ I don’t know what the Brevard Times is, but they are hiring a cartoonist.

Experience in caricature drawings.  Interested applicants should send their resumes along with a sample caricature drawing to [email protected]



No mention of pay so you might want to ask about that. I was also amused by some of their requirements for a reporter:

A personal computer that is less than 4-years-old.

High speed internet.

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§ Michel Fiffe turned out 12 highly acclaimed monthly issues of COPRA this year, and now he contemplates Life After C O P R A. He ALSO did an Exit Interview

ComicsAlliance: So what was the feeling like when you put the last copy of Copra #12 into the last envelope and shipped it off? Were you relieved?

Michel Fiffe: I think I felt more of a sense of relief when I finally sent off the pages to the printer. I think that’s when I thought it was done for real, but it was such an unremarkable thing, just hitting “send” like every other month. It was a weird moment. It was sort of bittersweet, too. I was kind of sad that it was done, because I knew I was going to take a break, but I just couldn’t believe it, really. I couldn’t believe I finished this thing. It was a mixed bag. And when I finally mailed that comic, I gotta tell you, every month, I mailed those comics and it was like a mountain to overcome. The biggest hurdle, just mailing alone was like a job in itself. With the final issue, I think I took a break and read a book afterwards.

§ Tim Callahan is giving up his long running column at CBR, and here’s his exit interview. It’s a familiar story—suddenly a lot of the comics seemed like crap, there was so much to cover, etc. But still, love.

And yet, I am apprehensive about stepping away from comics in the sense that as much as I say I don’t care what Zeb Wells is writing or who is drawing “Detective Comics,” a part of me wants to go look that up right now and find out. I do feel a void in not knowing everything about comics, but I am hoping that it will pass. I don’t feel the need to watch every movie or read every novel any more. I have moved on. But comics has been a longer love affair, so I can’t imagine that I’ll stop reading comics entirely. It’s been a major interest of mine since I first picked up “Web of Spider-Man” #2, if not before. Certainly “Ambush Bug” #3 sealed the deal, and I can’t violate that sacred covenant by turning my back on the medium.

§ Area man adds up all the money he’s spent on comics in nine years and it’s a lot.

§ More departures. Matt Kindt is leaving Suicide Squad because he has a lot of work and had to give up something. No drama. Wow.

BEST OFS!!!

§ Bleeding Cool’s 11 Best Graphic Novels of 2013

§ Kelly Thompson’s Best Of 2013

§ Flickering Myth’s Top Comic Books of 2013‏

§ Big Shiny Robot also had picks.

§ As did the staff of First Second

§ And DC Comics is rounding up ten moments that mattered .

§ Finally, the fine art of horn tooting.

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The 2013 Comics Happy List

I just can’t muster the hubris to do a Top 10 list.  Lists are subject to the tastes of the reviewer(s).  One person’s top 10 list doesn’t necessarily mean anything.  And, you know, Buzzfeed.  Instead, I’ll present a list of comics that made me happy in 2013, with an emphasis on things that might have a slightly lower profile.  (You should already have heard of things like Saga and Daredevil, right?)

And so, in no particular order, the 2013 Comics Happy List

Lazarus (Image) by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark

LazarusPerhaps the best debut of 2013, Lazarus reunites two parts of the critically acclaimed Gotham Central creative team from days gone by.  This “15 minutes into the future” science fiction tale of genetic engineering and corporate politics evolved into a feudal governmental system really delivers.  If you’re only familiar with Rucka’s DC and Marvel work, this may be a bit more of a political adventure than you were expecting, though people who’ve read Queen and Country or his novels (like Smoker) will have some idea what to expect.

Excellent world building, a bit of futurism and betrayals at a brisk pace are how this book rolls.  Michael Lark’s work is excellent – as always.  Just a really nice comic.

 

Marshall Law: The Deluxe Edition (DC) by Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill

Marshall LawMarshall Law is a bit of an oddity.  From a historical perspective, it’s the bridge between Judge Dredd and The Boys.  Writer Pat Mills isn’t as well known in the U.S., but is one of the primary British comic writers from the ‘70s on.  Kevin O’Neill has a much, much higher profile after drawing League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Marshall Law bounced around publishers quite a bit.  Some UK here, some American there.  It would be at least mildly annoying to try and lay hands on a complete set.  Fortunately, DC issued a gorgeous hardcover edition collecting the whole set.

Marshall Law bills himself as a hero killer.  In a world where superheroes were weaponized as a military project, the Marshall, who really hates capes, tries to clean up there messes.  This is a pitch black satire.  Not an affectionate wink toward superheroes, this series shreds the tropes with malice and contempt.  It was quite the shocking series when it came out and it still goes a bit further than you might expect in certain places.

If you’re a fan of The Boys, it’s reasonable to say this is The Boys’ grandfather and it’s well worth checking out.  If you like your satire vicious, it’s a winner.  If you hold up superhero tropes as comforting things in troubled times, back away slowly.

Superior Foes of Spider-Man (Marvel) by Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber

Superior Foes of Spider-ManI’m sure the following statement is going to upset plenty of people, but for my hard-earned dollar, Superior Foes of Spider-Man is Hawkeye done right.  Go ahead, hate on me if you must, but this Spencer/Lieber vehicle strikes a similar pose, but with a much more sardonic tone as hapless Boomerang tries to manipulate his partners in crime and make off with his big score, Superior Foes gives me twice the enjoyment in a similar vein the hard luck archer’s travails.

No mistake about it, these have been a couple good years for slightly goofy comics.  They aren’t all tearing up the sales charts, but they’re a lot more sustainable than they used to be.  DC’s Harley Quinn relaunch certainly reminds me of the Hawkeye/Superior Foes tone, so we might have a sub-genre on our hands.

Superior Foes is my favorite of the off-kilter mainstream superhero comics… even if it’s off-kilter supervillains.

Mark Waid’s The Green Hornet (Dynamite) by Mark Waid and Daniel Indro/ Ronilson Freire

Green HornetI’ve seen the sales estimates on this one and it’s amazing to me that more people aren’t reading it, especially coming on the heels of Waid’s critical acclaim on (the absolutely wonderful) Daredevil.  Waid’s been moving in a political direction, with the Sons of the Serpent arc in Daredevil reminding me, thematically, of a modern update to Steve Englehart’s Secret Empire arc in Captain America.  His Green Hornet run also has a political component, fixating on political corruption in Chicago and Nazi infiltration.

This is a fairly rare thing for The Hornet.  The comic is set in the heyday of the radio show.  It’s the original Green Hornet.  Not an updating.  Not his son or grandson.  I don’t know that anyone has gone back to the original version since the old ‘40s comics.

As the series starts, The Hornet has gotten a bit full of himself and his hubris takes him on an unpleasant and embarrassing ride as he tries to navigate political manipulations and figure out what’s up with these German spies. This could well be the definitive Green Hornet comic and it’s flying far below the radar.

The Sixth Gun (Oni) by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt

The Sixth GunHere’s a title that’s been around, got borderline screwed out of a TV adaption and I still don’t see big sales numbers on it like it deserves.  The Sixth Gun concerns a set of ancient weapons, currently in the shape of six-shooters that contain the key to triggering the apocalypse.  Yes, this is a post-Civil War horror western.  And unlike the beloved Landsdale/Truman Jonah Hex mini’s of the ‘90s set in a similar time period, there’s no knowing wink to the audience.  This is full on horror.

The Sixth Gun wins with strong characterization and an expanding cast of characters all of whom are vying for control of the apocalyptic artifacts with many of them having very different designs on their use.  It’s a comic that isn’t afraid to get strange and creepy.  As dark as it gets, Brian Hurtt’s art has a simple, clean and deceptively light look and feel to it, which serves to ground things and make them even more disturbing.  A combination of art and story that fits like a glove, even when you might not expect it to.

This is a comic I wait for the tpbs for and devour them in one sitting.  If you haven’t been reading it, go back and start with Volume 1.  It’s highly recommended and hasn’t slowed down through Volume 5.

Archer & Armstrong (Valiant) by Fred Van Lente and Emanuela Lupacchino/Khari Evans

Archer & ArmstrongValiant’s had a nice launch featuring, for the most part, characters that aren’t *quite* superheroes having adventures that skew towards superhero settings and tropes.  It’s a nice line and you’ll see Shadowman on a lot of the year’s best lists.  (DC apparently agrees, having hired away the original writer and artist.)  My pick of the Valiant litter is Archer & Armstrong.

Another slightly goofy comic, A&A is a not-quite superhero (but close) romp that sends up right wing conspiracies as an immortal drunkard and teenage assassin (raised by an overtly fundamentalist Christian cult that’s was fronting for a larger conspiracy) navigate a landscape of ancient “sects” competing for pieces to an even more ancient artifact.

How goofy is it?  The sect representing Wall Street is “The 1%” and they wear golden bull masks.  You’ve got a sect of Nazi llamas.  You’ve got the “Master Builders” sect who look a bit Masonic.  While not a sect, you’ve got a foray through the Bermuda Triangle with a “General Redacted” who’s put the grey aliens from Area 51 to work.  Which is to say, it’s very goofy, yet it’s still telling a story in a relative straight line, which can have a serious moment or two hidden among the more prevalent sarcasm.

Trillium (DC/Vertigo) by Jeff Lemire

TrilliumTrillium is an exceptionally well-crafted comic.  It’s a science fiction romance about star-crossed lovers separated by the centuries and the havoc wreaked as they try to be together.  It is, without a shadow of a doubt, the best thing Lemire has done for DC.

Part of the craftsmanship of Trillium Lemire’s use of flipbook format.  The first issue is in two halves.  Each from the perspective of one of the couple who are the main characters, entering the situation in their own time period.  Finish one half, flip it over, read the other perspective.  It finishes in the same place.  The pacing and production, absolutely precise.  In the current issue (#5), a similar structure exists.  The top and bottom halves of the pages are their own narratives… except they’re upside down from each other.  Read the top half through, flip the book, read the other half.  Again, the narratives correspond and lead to the same place.  The structure is as well done as you’ll see.

I also have no idea how this is going to work in a collected edition, but Lemire is working the monthly format with everything he’s got.

The story itself, which touches on colonialism and fear of the unknown, would work on its own… but the presentation really puts it over the top.

Afterlife With Archie (Archie) by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla

alwarchie1“Archie Vs. Zombies.”  You would expect something with that description to be a cheap cash grab, but Afterlife With Archie is anything but.  The set-up is entirely plausible within the greater context of the Archie universe.  The progression from a tragic event to forbidden activity to unforeseen consequences is a slow, but logical and character-driven, build.

That’s all you really need to know about this comic.  It’s Archie Vs. Zombies where suspension of disbelief isn’t an issue and the creepy mood builds organically.  Well… it’s also drawn by Francavilla, who can do no wrong these days.

 

 

Velvet (Image) by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting

VelvetSeveral years back, Brubaker and Epting took Captain America in an espionage direction and set the comics world on its ear by bringing back Bucky – the most sacrilegious thing you could do in Captain America – and doing it so well Bucky stayed revived and was popular enough for a spin-off.  Now they’re back and working on an espionage title at Image.

Not to be underplayed, there’s subtle similarity to the plot structure.  Much as the Winter Soldier came out of Cap’s past.  The titular Velvet finds herself drawn out of retirement (from the field) as a conspiracy from her past threatens to overtake her.

This is a fine action/spy tale, still a bit early in the game, but very satisfying two issues in.

 

Astro City (DC/Vertigo) by Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson with Alex Ross

Astro CityFinally, an old friend returns.  Astro City has been around since the mid-90s, dating back to the Image days of Jim Lee’s Wildstorm studio.  It’s been on hiatus of late, partially to get several issues in the can to avoid any publishing delays, but it finally returned to publication.

Astro City is a celebration of superheroes.  Initially, it was a celebration of the Silver Age of comics, but it’s evolved a bit past that, even if that’s where its heart may still lie.  Sometimes it focuses on the heroes.  Sometimes on the civilians in their wake.  A recent arc was on the heroes’ employees.

Astro City plays with archetypal heroes, giving them their own world and slowly revealing the mysteries of their pasts and their relationships.  It doesn’t so much have a predominant tone, so much as a tendency to provoke a sense of wonder as you read it.  In many ways it is the anti-Marshall Law.

Were these the only comics that made me happy in 2013?  No, but it’s a good enough place to start.  And it’s not like you don’t have enough lists to pick from this time of year.

Must Read: Becky Cloonan on self-publishing

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This is a good one to leave the year on, I think, a 4000 word essay by Becky Cloonan on the evolution and execution of her self-published minis, which have won Eisner awards and sold thousands of copies. The piece covers some of the intangibles, but mostly the practical side, from living with tons of boxes to founding a small distribution company and dealing with the post office:

I can’t say there is a specific advantage to doing it yourself vs. taking your book to a publisher like Image. My mini comics are hard to get ahold of, and more expensive than regular comics. It takes months to do and I don’t get an advance or a page rate. I have to figure out how to finance the printing, and learn how to put all this shit together, and then do a zillion conventions to sell them. It’s hard. It’s stressful. It’s confusing. It’s depressing and solitary. You’ll never have enough time, you’ll start obsessing over it. And to top it off, you’re almost guaranteed to lose money on the first print run. 

On the other hand, there is nothing like opening a box of your own comics for the first time, breathing in that first sweet breath of toner and paper, and whispering softly into the cardboard, “All of these books… ARE MINE!!” If you are a control freak than I guarantee* you will LOVE self-publishing. (*I actually don’t guarantee anything)


It’s a nice overview of how to use the myriad tools available for professional growth and possibly some profit. If 2013 was about anything it was about having access to all the resources that used to exist just for giant companies, and how that access is quickly allowing all creators to evolve. 10 years ago, Cloonan was making a bad deal with a problematic publishers to get her work out there, and in the process she lost it forever. Now she can call all the shots as long as she has the stamina and audience.

2014 will probably be about dealing with the panic attack that comes from having way too many options…or maybe that never ends.

Japan launches worldwide assault via its own anime channel

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The Japanese government is taking matters into its own hands by spending 15.5 billion yen ($14.7 million) to launch its own TV network with an eye to foreign distribution. The rollout includes Thailand, Indonesia and Cambodia, but hope to spread to North America, Europe and Africa. The channel will host a variety of programs, including anime, dramas, music programs, and travel programs. It’s all part of an ongoing program to spread Japanese culture, which pirate scanlation sites have been doing the heavy lifting on for a while. It’s also part of a move to improve Japan’s reputation abroad.

In 2002 the Japanese government launched its intellectual property policy outline, with a goal of becoming “a nation built on intellectual property.” Included in that plan was to transmit Japanese culture to the foreign countries, but the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has noted that so far any support for this has been sporadic because “there has been no leadership in the government.”

Charles Soule reveals how the heck he’s writing seven books a month

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If you wonder who is the hardest working man in comics biz, there is only one answer: Charles Soule, currently scripting seven monthly titles and running a law firm. As he admits in this post, people are always asking him “HOW ARE YOU DOING THIS???”—in fact I asked him that the last time I saw him—so he has written a blog post to explain so he doesn’t have to waste precious time answering that question any more.

I am currently writing seven monthly titles – Superman / Wonder Woman, Swamp Thing and Red Lanterns for DC; Thunderbolts, She-Hulk and Inhuman for Marvel; and a creator-owned title called Letter 44 from Oni Press (read the entire first issue for free here!) That essentially means I’m generating 140 pages of script per month, every month.  My pagecount for 2013 is 1116. If I stay on this path, my pagecount for 2014 will be something like 1680. Every script that gets turned in also (usually) requires at least one rewrite to incorporate editorial notes (those are thankfully pretty quick, most of the time), art review and then a lettering pass, all of which have their own deadlines. There’s also a PR component, represented by interviews, Twitter, Facebook, blogging, convention appearances and store signings.

In addition, I’m running a law practice – it’s small, but that doesn’t really matter as far as workload. (Small aside, for years, while I was breaking in, I never mentioned the day job. I was concerned about negative associations with that profession, and intimations that it was somehow easier for me than it might be for others who didn’t have massive student loans and 80-hour work weeks to contend with… seems silly in retrospect.)


The answer involves a lot of discipline, planning and even color coding. I doubt that Soule or anyone can or should write seven monthlies for to long, but if you’re going to try, here’s a method.

The Private Eye Chapter 5 now available

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I’m sure you all saw this but in case you missed this holiday offering, a new chapter in The Private Eye, the futuristic tale of a world where privacy exists by Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin, went up a few days ago. It’s based on a pay-what-you-want model. $3.99 feels about right, if you ask me.

I was rereading the first few chapters of this not long ago, and this is a wicked good yarn with a strong point about own need to disclose everything via social media. It makes a nice counterpoint to the Spike Jonze film HER, which satirizes our need to twiddle on our gadgets 23/7. Its my understanding that there are no even remote plans to ever print this right now, so download away, kids.