Gunfire at the Ft. Myers charitable event created a real-life running zombie herd, but the organizers’ security safeguards may have helped prevent further harm.
§ It’s a new year and everyone is promising a new look! Here at The Beat, we’ve added Kyle Pinion and Hannah Lodge as Entertainment editors, in conjunction with their own site, Geek Rex. I’ll still be weighing in with a few choice observations, but Kyle and Hannah are much better at this stuff than me.
§ ICv2 has a new look! with bigger pictures and all. They are also launching a Pro site later in the year.
§ Zainab Akhtar announced some changes at her outstanding Comics & Cola site, commensurate with all the quetsioning that goes into doing something you love in a field that doesn’t pay much:
I like writing about comics. A lot. So I’m going to continue doing that here. However, I simply can’t pore as much time and energy into it as I did last year (where my life ended up revolving around it, and I spent way too much time online, which fed into being sucked into a particular temperament which I’d rather stay away from), so that means a reduced capacity to some extent. I want to write more in-depth pieces, do a bit more research, running alongside bits of news and reviews, and the theory is this will free up more time to do that. I want to get organised and set specific time aside to write, too. Leaving things open- writing whenever, wherever, meant I was too laid back, rushing around to get things done, a lack of focus, and that all time was effectively writing time eating into pretty much everything else.
Whatever you do is fine, Zainab.
§ In the wake of Tom Spurgeon moving to Columbus to run CXC, he’s been foreshadowing changes to The Comics Reporter. In the meantime, he wrapped up the year with delayed convention reports: the San Diego Comic Con, SPX, CAB and ICAF, and the new CALA in Los Angeles. The CAb report includes Robert Boyd’s write-up of the crazy Raymond Pettibon panel, which he thought was an entertaining train wreck, but it did include a quote which was one of the best lines about comics ever:
“One drawing can also have its own narrative, its past, present and future embedded in it.” This says something that I’ve long believed about comics — that panel-to-panel storytelling is not the only way to depict narrative time. Comics and visual art in general prior to the invention of cinema often employed different means for this.
§ In regard to the above, it is dismaying to me that Tom Spurgeon remembers things that happened in July better than I remember what I did on Monday. His report did jog my memory about something I never got around to writing here though: the shrinking of the off sites and what many people told me was the convention organizers taking firmer control of some elements that had been sort of running on their own steam outside the show. This doesn’t have anything to do with comics, per se, but it is changing the feeling of the event. I’m told that many local businesses jacked p their fees for venues, and studios and gaming companies, noting that what happens in San Diego actually does stay in San Diego, said no thanks.
For instance, the San Diego Wine and Culinary Center was the site of the first Tr!ckster in 2011—located directly across the tracks from the convention center it quickly became the best comics hangout ever. However the next year, Tr!ckster, the alternative comics signing/party space founded by Scott Morse, got priced out and Sega moved in. Sega stayed there for 2013, but in 2014, there was nothing going on there. Nada. Just some people sipping wine once in a while. I’m told they raised their rental fee to a level that no one wanted to pay.
If I were a venue owner in San Diego, I imagine I’d expect the goose to keep laying golden eggs, but they turned into just good old goose eggs in 2014. Will people be back in 2015? We have a mere six months to find out!
§ Speaking of Comic-Con and CCI, five more guests have been announced for WonderCon: Darwyn Cooke, Greg Horn, Braden Lamb, Shelli Paroline and Babs Tarr.
§ Multiversity did a The Comics Internet Aggregate Rankings for Best Comics of the Year, but they did miss a lot of lists.
§ By now I’m sure everyone has seen Sam Raimi confessing to Chris Hardwick that Spider-Man 3 wasn’t too great.
It’s a movie that just didn’t work very well. I tried to make it work, but I didn’t really believe in all the characters, so that couldn’t be hidden from people who loved Spider-Man. If the director doesn’t love something, it’s wrong of them to make it when so many other people love it. I think [raising the stakes after Spider-Man 2] was the thinking going into it, and I think that’s what doomed us. I should’ve just stuck with the characters and the relationships and progressed them to the next step and not tried to top the bar…
I know I wrote about this at the time, as did everyone else, but the character of Venom was pretty much forced on Raimi by the studio (And producer Avi Arad) and it was obvious that he didn’t care. Spider-Man 4 was to have starred The Vulture, another vulnerable old man, the kind of character that Raimi is interested in…but the studio wasn’t too hot on it. And now, no one even knows what Sony is going to do with the Spider-Man franchise.
§ SF Gate profiled all the thriving comics shops in San Francisco.
Hibbs may be bearded and have long hair, but he’s the antithesis of the unwelcoming “Comic Book Guy” on “The Simpsons.” Sitting down for an interview, Hibbs apologizes for the mess in a back room that’s actually pretty clean. The store itself is full of light, has room to browse and the floor looks clean enough to perform surgery — a barely familiar scene to anyone who patronized one of the dank man caves selling comic books in the 1980s.
Greet! Sell! Comics shops aren’t just for nerds any more.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.
by Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson
Who else but the hipster indie publisher Top Shelf could possibly put out a book entitled God is Disappointed in You. Written by Mark Russell with illustrations by Shannon Wheeler of “Too Much Coffee Man” fame God is Disappointed in You is the Bible boiled down to its essential elements.
You know with Shannon Wheeler as part of the project a book like this is bound to be smart and witty and you won’t be disappointed. Leigh Walton of Top Shelf did the moderating for a panel with Mark and Shannon at NYCC on Friday afternoon. Leigh’s questions kept the action moving right along and the audience was attentive and engaged.
The room was filled to capacity and there was a palpable energy. What a contrast to some of the larger publishing houses, who unfortunately treat these panels as if they’re at a board meeting with stock holders. In all fairness the bigger houses have much more to lose and we’re grateful that they employ some of the best talent around. However we can all learn from one another and aren’t comics supposed to be fun?
Although it might seem from the title that God is Disappointed in You is anti religion, it is a deliberate attempt to understand the complex and controversial foundation of most of western civilization. And in its irreverent way it reveals the essence of what is good and true. This is not a typical graphic novel but each chapter of the Bible is condensed to a few pages with Shannon’s illustrations.
Mark Russell gave an example from the Book of Samuel, which tells of the prophet Elisha’s confrontation with a group of boys who make fun of his baldness. Elijah then conjures up a team of she-bears who maul the boys to death for this act of childish offense. Shrugging, Russell tells the audience “Nobody knows why Elijah didn’t just summon up a whole head of hair.”
Russell explained about his own path from growing up as a fundamentalist Pentacostal to writer of this book and there were nods in the audience who were obviously in sympathy. In the Q&A afterwards several young divinity students in the audience expressed their affection for the book.
Shannon told us how they came up with the idea—apparently in a bar in Portland, Oregon, which might be a mythic retelling but seems right for the premise. Shannon’s cartoon and illustration style is perfect for this book and it was clear that the collaboration between the two worked well. They obviously had fun doing the project and that sense of glee translated to the audience.
As evidenced by the examples given by Mark and Shannon, God is Disappointed in You is hilarious but filled with a true affection for the essence of our human struggles. The audience responded in kind with much laughter and a sense of being personally connected to the material. Apparently it’s best not to judge a book by it’s cover.
[Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson is writing a biography of her grandfather, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, military intelligence officer, prolific pulp writer, inventor and founder of DC Comics, with Gerard Jones (Men of Tomorrow) entitled Lost Hero. Her most recent publication is co-editing and writing an Introduction to a reprint of some of the Major’s adventure tales from the pulps entitled The Texas-Siberia Trail published by Off-Trail Publications. Nicky is a writer, editor and audio publisher and holds a Master’s in Classical Greek Mythology. She was featured in Women’s Enews with an article on Wonder Woman and San Diego Comic Con and appears frequently at Comics Conventions throughout the US speaking about early comic book history.]
The Elite Beat Staff is a trained squad of ninja masters.
I think we can give Jim Butcher his comic book street cred. It’s one thing for an author to allow adaptions of their work. It’s an entirely different thing when the author co-writes three new adventures for the comics medium. And that’s what Butcher is doing. [Read more…]
The first superhero comic I paid for with my own money was Sensational Spider-Man #0. It arrived at the pharmacy my mom worked at one cold December before school had let out for winter break. In those days, I would walk to my parent’s work after school and sit in the back reading comics until she finished and drove me and my sister home. It was a pretty sweet set up, and let me get into comics gently. Most of the books on the stands made little to no sense for me, operating on stories that had been set up months, if not years in advance, and requiring an access to titles that sometimes didn’t make it to the pharmacy’s comic book rack. Then, it arrived.
Wrapped inside a polybag with the intent to stay out of the prying hands of children, it sat on the shelf taunting me, a new beginning for a character I had grown to love on television, complete with a snazzy lenticular card attached to the cover. It was beautiful. It was also $7 Canadian, a veritable fortune to me at that point in my life. Eventually, I scraped together the cash and popped that sucker open. It was a bit confusing (although not as confusing as the last bits of the Clone Saga that immediately preceded it to the shelves), but all in all a satisfying read. It was also the first time I heard the phrase “with great power comes great responsibility”.
While the phrase itself sometimes elicits groans from crusty old Spider-Man fans who already know Peter Parker’s deal, I’ve always been in the camp that enjoys seeing the phrase float through an adventure every now and then. Not only was it good advice for a fictional superhero, I find it’s just a great phrase to ply to several aspects of reality – especially comics retail.
As a retailer, I have a certain amount of power. For many people, I’m the face of the comic book industry. I am the person in control of the environment they walk into when they first decide to get comics. I’m the person who has hand picked what sits on the shelves, and in what quantity. That’s a lot of power to have, and it needs to be wielded responsibly. If I’ve created an unwelcoming environment, or if I have a poor selection on the shelves, I run the risk of having a new customer walk in, only to walk right out again. That would be irresponsible of me as a business, and as a representative of this industry.
A good comics retailer should always be thinking about what their store and selection is saying to people about the comic book industry. Are you upset that people think of comics as “just superheroes”? Does your store happen to feature a majority of those books on the shelves? That might be part of the problem. While it’s easy to shrug and say “superheroes sell”, that’s not the entire truth. Superhero books often sell themselves, whereas other titles need you to be a little proactive. If you want to reflect certain ideals in the comic industry and if you want to build it up, you absolutely have the power to do so at your finger tips.
Before I go on, I should say that there isn’t one good answer for being a great comic book retailer. There is an audience for all things, and if you want to focus on a certain aspect of the culture in the comic book industry, than more power to you. I like to focus on keeping my store’s content fairly broad and I emphasize a culture where everyone’s favourite comic is valid. I can do this because my temperament allows it, and it makes for quite a wide ranging customer base, which is always good for business. Many people don’t have this capacity, and focus on a small subset that aligns with their interest – and while it sounds like I might be shaming that practice, I really have no problem with folks who know what they like and market accordingly. Honesty will get you far in this business, and pretending to be something that you’re not will often only end in heartbreak. This industry is large enough to take on all comers, whether your focus is on superhero books or back issues or independent zine style books – but if you want to survive and thrive, you have to be honest with yourself and passionate about the product. What you can’t do is feed yourself with one hand, and decry yourself with the other.
Over the past few weeks, dozen of people have sent me links to things Chuck Rozanski had to say about his experience at this year’s San Diego Comic Con as a retailer. For those of you who don’t know, Chuck is the President of Mile High Comics, a site and shop that specializes in comics and collectibles for premium prices. After San Diego this year, he took to the internet to lament what would amount to a $10,000 loss from having attended the show. As he notes in the newsletter, he made a considerably greater amount of money at a smaller convention with the same set up than he did at San Diego, and he has some ideas as to why that is – mainly, publishers are cutting him out of some seemingly well deserved profits using booth exclusive product.
“…the comics publishers with booths at the San Diego convention have so cleverly exploited the greed and avarice of comics fans through limited edition publications that are only available through their own booths, that there is no longer enough disposable income left in the room to sustain us.”
He has quite a bit more to say on the subject, but the crux of it is in that quote. He is upset that comic book publishers are cutting him out of their business model when he attends shows, and sees that as an affront to his business. I don’t entirely blame him, because in many ways, that’s exactly what is happening. Rozanski is not wrong, just a little blind to the hypocrisy of it all.
Mile High is a site and a business that makes no bones about what they do: they buy comics and sell comics in a very specific and managed way, offering a wide selection of back issues to collectors on the hunt. Over the years, I’ve been the recipient of rants regarding their business practices, including a perceived “over-pricing” of items, done so deliberately to work with their frequent site code word sales that slash the prices of many books to manageable levels. While I don’t dabble too much in the back issue market outside of business, I know that if I’m stuck for pricing a back issue, I can always look at the Mile High price and knock it down by anywhere from 25-50% and come up with something palatable. I know that I would never purchase from them if I was looking for a decent price. Again, I don’t intend for that to be a knock on their business structure – they’ve been around longer than I’ve been into comics, and you can’t quite argue with a structure that allows you to weather a $10,000 with a few internet posts and a shrug and not the immediate or impending closure of your business. The market they are aiming for exists, I just don’t happen to be a part of it. That said, Chuck’s line about publisher’s preying on the greed and avarice of comic fans is fairly chuckle worthy. By now, you can probably see where I’m going with this, but in the interest of clarity, let’s lay things out.
As a business, and a successful one at that, a retailer will always prey upon the so-called greed and avarice of their customers. The crux of business comes from a consumer’s basic needs. The comic book industry, which provides entertainment more than it helps sustain our body’s basic needs, falls into an area of wants, rather than needs. Nobody needs comics, they want them – and if a publisher or retailer is doing their job properly, they can get consumers to want a lot of their product. Attaching the names of a couple of the deadly sins to the process does make the whole enterprise seem quite lascivious, but I do believe that was Chuck’s intent. He wants publishers to feel bad about selling their exclusive wares directly to the customer. To be fair to him, he’s not upset because they’re doing it (and he shouldn’t, considering how Mile High has an armful of variants exclusive to their store as well in stock), but the fact that they won’t let him in on the cash and prizes end of the deal – which is ridiculous.
Just like Mile High Comics, the comic book publishers are running a business, pure and simple. It behooves them to get product to customers in the most efficient form possible, both in terms of delivery and cost. These days, brick and mortar stores aren’t really doing the trick. In a world where digital product can reach the eyes of the consumer with a few clicks, you have to have a better reason that “existing” to bring in the customers when cutting out the middleman allows an easier and more cost effective product for all those involved. The same goes for conventions. If a publisher and a retailer are placed on equal footing, what incentive does the publisher have to sell you their product below the listed retail price? What more are you offering them? Surely it’s not distribution, because they are already there and have the structure to distribute just fine.
Now I know that some retailers out there like to think they are owed. For years, the direct market carried comic book companies, and how are those companies repaying retailers? That’s a question that’s always struck me as disingenuous. Expecting a publisher to continue to support you with product due to past performance would be like a store continuing to order copies of Spawn as though this were still ’92. Yes, at one time it was a monster, but these days, it’s nothing more than a solid performer in a larger and different market place. Does Todd McFarlane get upset with retailers because Spawn doesn’t sell like it used to? And if he did, would you listen?
There is absolutely nothing wrong with a publisher selling comics directly to the fans, just like there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the way that Mile High, or any comic book store, sells comics to customers. Business functions on needs and wants, and the perceived equal exchange of goods and services. If one party isn’t getting what they need, the business ceases to be. If the playing field within the industry has changed, it behooves a business to change alongside it – otherwise the losses will start to mount. That’s just how business works. Nobody is owed anything. If you keep moving, you’ll have the power to stay in business and effect change for years to come. If you stop, the power ebs and you might find yourself searching for another line of work. This isn’t a great secret, it’s just how things go, even in an industry as wonderful and romantic as comics. Keep moving. Keep growing. Act responsibly. Be the change you want to see in the industry. Then everything will be fine.
[Brandon Schatz has been working behind the comic book counter for eight years. He’s spent the past four as the manager of Wizard’s Comics and Collectibles in Edmonton, Alberta. In his spare time, he writes about the comics he likes over at Comics! The Blog and works on building his comic book recommendation engine over at Variant Edition. You can find him on twitter @soupytoasterson. The opinions expressed are those of Schatz and do not necessarily reflect those of The Beat]
Brandon Schatz and Danica LeBlanc are the owners of Variant Edition Comics + Culture located in Edmonton, Alberta. They specialize in matching people with the comics and books they never knew they wanted. In their spare time, they write articles and produce podcasts at Submetropolitan.com
This will be the last By Its Cover for a few months, so I thought I’d do something special. Today we’re going to look at the Image Expo teaser images shown at SDCC 2014.
To be clear, these aren’t necessarily covers. In theory, they’re teaser images intended to get people interested in each series, though half of the teasers look like they just used the first issue’s cover art.
When Torsten Adair suggested the topic, I was initially hesitant. I made a conscious decision to focus on the best covers each week – partly in hopes of inspiring people to create more visually diverse covers – but these Image Expo images range from great to distinctly not-great. Though it’s possible for us to learn just as much (or more) from seeing people’s failures as their successes.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I almost feel like the column you are about to read needs a warning. I was going easy on the covers before; we’re about to go critical.
Methodology: I purposely avoided reading the descriptions of each book until after I’d looked at the corresponding teaser image. I then showed the images to a couple of friends who also knew nothing about the books, to see if their impressions differed. What follows are the results.
I’ve decided to go through these in reverse order from how the books were announced, because I wanted to start off with an example of perfection. Sleek and stylish, this teaser doesn’t say much, but in a tantalizing way that makes me want to know more.
The way the syringe icon doubles as a pill is perfect. The texture inside the icon wasn’t really necessary, but it works regardless. Futura is one of those sturdy, timeless fonts that’s ridiculously overused, yet never gets old. And like any proper teaser, it tells me the month and year it’s coming out.
That said, based on my own experience, I’m betting there are a lot of non-designers out there who consider this image boring. But I’m not sure that can be helped.
Tooth & Clawl? Tooth &…Crawl? Crawl? Clawl?
It took me two minutes looking over this image before I realized it said “Tooth & Claw 1.” I can understand putting the “1” in there so that the ampersand is centered (and it’s a great ampersand, by the way), but the number’s similarity to the lowercase “l” hurts the title’s readability. Plus, what do you do with Tooth & Claw 2 and beyond? Since all other numbers are wider than “1,” the ampersand will either no longer be centered, or the title is going to look cramped.
Also, the lowercase “l” looks weird with the upper serif coming off the wrong side like that.
But the title treatment isn’t the only problem. My friends and I all found this cover to be visually boring, and I couldn’t figure out why. I’m a fan of Busiek’s writing, so I want to like this. The image is well drawn and well composed. I dig symmetrical compositions. And it’s an image of a warthog doing magic! So why does it make me want to scroll away quickly to something more visually pleasant?
The problem is the colors. Instead of being used to create depth, they’re flattening the image out. The old staple of warm-and-cold contrast is being used for the background, but the gradient meets in the center as a dull gray. The blue orb sits in the cold area of the gradient, where there is the least contrast, and likewise all the brownish red elements sit in the warm area of the gradient.
The warthog, who should be the focus of the piece, is colored entirely in very desaturated colors that push the focus to the less gray background elements. Even the glowing light in the character’s hands is gray, instead of a vibrant white. The glowing objects around the character are separated from the light blue background with a strange warm gray glow that flattens them out, making it look like the character is sitting (well, floating) in front of a painted wall instead of summoning light. From a distance, the image balances out to dull gray and brown.
A better approach? Glowing objects are hard to convey against light backgrounds. A lightsaber doesn’t look as good in front of a white or pastel wall as it does behind dark colors. If the warthog was floating in front of a black background, everything lit only by the green objects emanating from the character’s hands, that would be one dramatic image.
(Yes, I realize Jordie Bellaire just won an Eisner for Best Coloring. Feel free to tell me I’m wrong.)
Whoa, look at that title logo. That’s crazy. I never would’ve attempted something so wild and chaotic, and that’s why I love it.
I also love the expressiveness of the painting, and the color palette is solid. I don’t quite get the light blue circle (sun? moon? something else?) that’s overlapping his face, but since they’ve already consciously broken all the rules with the rest of the composition, I feel like I should just go with it.
My first guess as to the story was “a western set in space?,” and the description pretty much confirmed it, so it’s a success there too. All it’s missing as far as teasers go is a date. It doesn’t count if you hid it in those seemingly random dots, guys.
The image of the kid behind the moon works really well when I’ve seen it cropped down on other sites, but otherwise the composition is a little awkward. I kind of want the kid’s eye line to be pointing to the title and credits, rather than just under them and over to whatever is to the right of the image.
There are a few different approaches that I think might work a little better. I don’t think the typeface used for the title works very well spaced out like that. A taller typeface would probably work better, like the one used for the creator’s names. But there’s so much space for a title at the top of the image, you could go even taller.
Or, the image could be cropped in so that the moon is centered horizontally, and the title and creator names could be centered within the moon. Or, the image could be cropped in so that part of the left side of the moon is cut off (the kid being places on the left side of the rule of thirds), and the title and creator names placed small in the upper right corner (not overlapping the moon).
I’m not sure if I’m making sense, so here are examples.
Am I the only one who hadn’t heard of the constellation the Southern Cross? Maybe that just shows how ignorant I am of astronomy, I don’t know. I initially thought the dots in the “O” were an attempt at making it look like a moon, until I saw the symbol in the Image logo, and still didn’t realize it was a constellation. Make fun of me if you want.
So my first thought looking at this teaser is that the story takes place in the south, and is about some sort of angel or winged main character who is transporting a ghostly corpse a la Hellboy. After I was informed about the constellation, I still figured it was the same story, only set in the southern hemisphere.
The story description tells me I couldn’t be more wrong. It doesn’t even take place on earth! It’s about a tanker flight heading to Titan called the Southern Cross, and what I took to be wings are probably the frame around a window. The corpse might be hitching a ride, as I thought before, or it might be trying to strangle the character.
It’s well drawn, but isn’t quite getting across the concept. It’s described as “The Shining on a haunted spaceship,” but I got neither a spaceship nor The Shining from this. The look of internal peace and calmness on the character’s face does not convey a horror vibe.
In terms of type, it’s kind of distracting to me how “SOUTHERN” is in very clean Futura, while “CROSS” is in Futura that’s been roughed up to look hand-drawn. They should either both look hand-drawn, or both look clean. Or maybe the hand-drawn word should look more hand-written (instead of a roughed up geometric font), but it might be tougher to get that to work. I also kind of want to see the Image logo moved up below the logo and resized to the same height as the “01,” to balance out the top half of the image.
A collage like this could’ve completely fallen apart, but I think it works. I immediately get that this is two locations combined into a single image, rather than two people finding a cave filled with ships flying away from a tiny planet. I think the ships flying overhead behind them helps a great deal in terms of that.
The only thing I’m not sure of is the stream. Is it lava? It looks like they’re standing in it, so I assume not. Is it just water colored red because artistic license? It’s the one element that isn’t really working for me, because I don’t really like how it flows behind the ships.
It’s not an elegant cover, but it does a perfect job of getting across the concept, assuming that concept is “Planet Of The Apes meets The Wild Angels.”
A critic who likes to be cruel for the sake of comedy might say: “Intersect is about a boy with a wolf for an arm who encounters Alice Cooper,” but I like to think I’m above that.
I like the texture of the painting, but the composition isn’t working for me. Then again, it perfectly matches the book description, which opted for text with a lot of flavor that doesn’t actually tell me anything.
Please tell me this is going to be a really tall comic.
This image certainly has a lot of energy, though it seems strange to have this exciting lightning bolt! and exciting title! and then this person just standing there looking bored. Normally I like contrasts, but his boredom in the face of excitement makes me feel like I’m going to be bored.
I don’t understand why those decorative flourishes are only on the right side of the page, unless they did it just to drive people like me crazy.
Let’s talk about the logo first. I get that the looseness of the letters is meant to convey that this is going to be wacky, but it really just looks sloppy. While it conveys madness, it doesn’t really convey god-ness. If the word “Valhalla” had been written in that font used for the rest of the text, and then “Mad” was in a zany comedy font, the logo itself would have a visually interesting contrast that better communicates the story.
The teaser would then be improved by having the rest of the text in a plain font, except maybe the year (which could mirror the logo’s “Valhalla text.”
Also, y’know what would be better than text telling us its a story about “three lovable gods just here to have a good time?” A silhouette of three godly-looking people laughing and holding mugs. You could even build that silhouette into the logo Final Fantasy-style, and it’d be perfect.
Update: It turns out the above image was actually half of a double-page spread, which makes much more sense. However, I still feel the logo could be stronger.
I like the decorative shapes being used here. The knives are a nice touch, if they represent that one character wants to backstab or is the enemy of the other. If that’s not what the knives are communicating, then I would’ve left them out.
The title text needs work. Serif fonts like that work well for small text, but they make for extremely plain logo text, even when hand-traced to give it an indie look. As much excitement as the illustration tries to convey, the plain non-logo title undermines it.
The red shape behind the title looks nice, except the hatch lines inside it don’t quite fit with the fully filled in colors in the backgrounds of the three main shapes. Instead of looking artsy, it looks like “I was filling this in with a marker, but got impatient and gave up.”
The placement of the Image logo looks like an afterthought, or a “I don’t know where to put this now, I’ll just wedge it in here.” A better place for it might be centered in the shape created by the overlapping red and light blue, or centered below the feet of the central character.
My first impression of this image was that it was two people sitting on the nose of a runaway bike as it was popping a wheelie. It seemed pretty clear to me what direction they were moving, from the speedlines behind the back tire, and their relation to the horizon.
After staring at it for awhile, I realized a few things. What I thought were speedlines was actually the reflection of the bike on a shiny black surface. In fact, they’re not moving at all – the guy’s legs are firmly planted on the ground, not on the foot pegs, and the background image represents a completely different view angle. The only thing I’m still confused on is why there are bits of krackle to the left of the front tire if they’re not moving.
In short: this cover isn’t working. Even if the intent was to confuse, my question is “why?” It doesn’t make the cover more interesting to look at, it just makes me want to look at an illustration that makes visual sense.
If you removed the bike and left just the strip of background, with the logo filling the black space below, I would love this image. If you removed the strip of background, moved the bike up a little so it’s more clear that there’s a reflection under then, and moved the logo to the upper left, I would call this a strong image. As is, it’s not working.
See you in a few months.
Mild-mannered UI/UX designer by day and freelance writer/artist by night, nothing can stop Kate Willaert in her quest to analyze everything in geek culture. She also writes about video game history for GameHistory.org.
Let’s take a look.
While at SDCC I could not help but notice the grumbling across Social Media of how little seemed to be coming out of SDCC in real time, and how deeply missed G4 was as a result. For those of us trying to bridge the gap, their seemed to be insufficient band width in Downtown San Diego for bulk loading from personal devices. This is a question worthy of its own article, but right now, it’s my pretext to finally upload more images from the Exhibit floor and Outside the Convention.
The Elite Beat Staff is a trained squad of ninja masters.
In this week’s episode, the More to Come Crew discuss 2014’s San Diego Comic-Con including the long-awaited Eisner award vindication of Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, Image Expo and indie comics, a slightly smaller presence for offsite TV and video game hoopla, digital comics, the con experience and convention safety concerns.
Gene Luen Yang is the writer/artist of critically acclaimed graphic novels like American Born Chinese and Boxers & Saints, as well as the writer of Level Up, The Eternal Smile, and adaptations of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Yang’s work has been awarded with multiple Eisners including “Best New Graphic Album” for American Born Chinese (which was also the first ever graphic novel finalist for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature) and for “Best Short Story” for The Eternal Smile. This year, Yang was nominated for another Eisner, this time under “Best Publication for Teens (aged 13-17)” for the historical epic Boxers & Saints.
Additionally, 2014 saw the debut of his latest graphic novel, The Shadow Hero, a collaboration with artist Sonny Liew on a resurrection of the sadly forgotten Golden Age super-hero: The Green Turtle; a character who comics fans consider the first Asian American superhero.
I was fortunate enough to be able to spend time with Yang to discuss the origins of this new work, his collaborative process with Liew, as well as delving into some of the intricacies of Boxers & Saints and some of the connective tissue between his two most recent projects.
You’ve spent your career working on affairs of an educational nature, or towards a young adult audience, what was the impetus to delve into Superhero comics now?
I love superheroes. I grew up reading superhero comics, and starting collecting superhero comics in the fifth grade. I was a Marvel guy all the way through my childhood. I’m not totally sure why it took me so long to get to superheroes. There were a couple of opportunities that showed up maybe a few years ago, but the timing was just never right. This felt like a door opening. All of this pent up superhero energy that I had as a kid was finally released.
These other opportunities, were they mainstream superheroes?
Yeah, there were a couple of mainstream superhero opportunities where the timing was just never right, and in some ways, the Dark Horse book that I do: Avatar: The Last Airbender is about super powered young people, so there’s a lot of overlap between Avatar and traditional superheroes. But as for The Shadow Hero, this is really solidly in the genre and something that I just really wanted to do for a long time. I’m not totally sure why it took so long.
When did you first discover the work of Chu Hing?
It was online. Like how most of discover a lot of stuff on the internet and several years ago a good friend of mine, Derek Kirk Kim pointed me to this blog post on a site called “Pappy’s Golden Age Comics Blogzine”. It was a feature about this obscure character from the 1940’s called “The Green Turtle”. The Green Turtle was created by Chu Hing and the rumor was that Chu wanted him to be a Chinese American superhero but his publishers wouldn’t let him do it. So, he draws this comic in this really funky looking way, where he’s constantly hiding his face from us. The rumor was he did this so that he and his audience could imagine The Green Turtle as a Chinese American. When I read that blog post, I was just fascinated. I was fascinated by the character himself, and I thought his character design was so “Golden Age” with his bare chest and the cape and everything. There’s something endearingly goofy about it. And the rumor surrounding his creation I found fascinating as well.
What were some of the challenges you found in crafting an origin story for a character that had none, as I think Chu Hing crafted only a few stories at most?
Yeah, he did five, but they were only 8 pages long each. And each issue, he has this sidekick named “Burma Boy” and every time Burma Boy asks the Green Turtle for his origin story something interrupts him. So yet, there’s another thing that’s being hidden from you. It felt like it was very rich, the original material that is. There are all these weird little pieces that I wanted to try and puzzle together. There’s this other bit, he has this turtle shaped shadow that follows him around. In the original comic, there’s no explanation given for this thing at all, it was almost like a design artifact. I thought there was something there that I wanted to explore.
What were some of the influences that helped form this tale? You mentioned that you were a superhero fan growing up…
I think a lifetime of reading superhero comics was really the influence and in The Shadow Hero we wanted to play with a lot of the tropes and a lot of the conventions of the genre but aiming to present them in a new way.
Hank’s (the Green Turtle) family was one of the highlights of the book for me, and they were so well fleshed-out. I know you sometimes pull from your own life experiences, for example in American Born Chinese. Is that the case with Hank’s supporting cast?
Yeah, absolutely, I don’t know how to write outside of my own life. Even if the story is very fantastical or set in a fantasy world, I still feel like the origin of it has to start from my own life. For Hank’s family, his mom is this very opinionated person who comes from a really good place. But she has all these ideas about how he should live his life. She’s actually based on these women that I knew in a church that I grew up in, these Chinese and Chinese American women. Who were all very well intentioned, but had very strong opinions about your life.
Were they equally as hilarious as Hank’s mother?
As a kid, I found them simultaneously hilarious and terrifying. (laughter)
Where did Sonny Liew come into the picture?
Sonny and I had collaborated together. We did a short story for an anthology called Secret Identities. It was a collection of stories about Asian American superheroes by Asian American creators and I enjoyed that process of working with him so much that I wanted to do it again here. After I started writing the outline for The Shadow Hero, after I started talking to First Second about it, they asked who I wanted to collaborate with. Sonny was at the top of my list. I just thought he had the perfect combination of the comedic and dramatic, and I thought he would be perfect for the story.
Was there ever any consideration for you taking on art duties yourself?
I thought about it for like two seconds, but I just don’t think I could pull of what Sonny can pull off. He’s amazing!
Between the two roles, when you are the writer/artist on a piece of work vs. when you’re writing the story with someone else taking on the other half of the duties, does it differ your approach at all? Was it a matter of giving up some control so Sonny could craft his own vision of your words?
Absolutely, when you work with someone else, you expect the final voice that comes out to be a mixture of the two people that are working together. And then, for something like Boxers & Saints, where I did all of the writing and the drawing, I had a really personal vision that I wanted to throw out. I did work with someone on that as well, as even Boxers & Saints was a collaboration with a colorist named Lark Pien, who is amazingly talented. The Shadow Hero, we’re hoping, is more of an expression of our friendship, of something that’s between the two of us.
Do you have an approach that you prefer?
No, I think it depends on the story. Like with The Shadow Hero, I just don’t think I could have pulled that off on my own. I really think having both Sonny and I together was the right way to go?
Do you work from a script when you collaborate with another artist like Sonny?
I gave it to him as thumb-nails, but the thumb-nail sketches that I sent to him were pretty basic. Everything was laid out on a six-panel grid and he was the one that sort of innovated on top of that.
Will there be more of The Shadow Hero in the future? A possible sequel?
I’m not sure yet, I hope so. I really love working in that world and that character, but a lot of that depends on Sonny and his schedule. He has a lot of deadlines that he’s trying to make right now. It also depends on how this first book does and what First Second thinks.
Sonny teased me on Twitter about it and got my hopes up for a Part Two or an on-going series of some kind.
I would love to keep working with him.
Just to circle to the other half of the reason you’re here is because of your Eisner Nomination for Boxers & Saints, which I’m a massive fan of as well, and from a personal side of things it was an area of history I didn’t know much about…
Well, thank you, I didn’t know much about the Boxer Rebellion either when I started that project. I vaguely remember hearing about it from high school history. The reason I got interested is, I grew up in a Chinese Catholic community and in the year 2000 Pope John Paul II canonized a group of Chinese Catholic Saints. It was the very first time that Chinese citizens had become canonized, which my home church kind of freaked out about. When I then looked into the lives of these Saints, I discovered that a lot of them had been martyred during the Boxer Rebellion. They were specifically martyred because they were Easterners that had embraced Western faith. I felt like that whole incident kind of embodied this clash of Eastern/Western thinking that I personally have struggled with as an Asian American, for someone that has a foot in each culture.
It’s also a beautifully even-handed approach though between both sides. You display the heroism of those “Boxers” in the Boxers book, but in the Saints volume you see the aftermath of their actions and the people they are slaughtering. Was it your aim to display both sides in this fashion?
That came out of my own ambivalence. When I was reading about the history of it, I was so ambivalent, I was trying to find a hero and I couldn’t figure out who that hero was or what side that hero was on. That ultimately caused me to decide that I had to do two books.
The second book, Saints, is a little more monochromatic looking in its coloring, was that all Lark or a decision you made together?
That was a decision we made together. I really wanted the first book to feel almost like a comics version of a Chinese War Epic. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen one, but they’re always really long, really colorful and really sad at the end. That’s how I wanted that first book to be. The second book I wanted to be much more personal. I wanted it to be humble in every sense of the word; smaller, lessened scope than the first book, and I really wanted it to feel like an American Independent Comic. I feel like a lot of that type of comic has a limited use of color that establishes a sense of intimacy between the reader and the creator, that’s what we were going for.
The books also take a similar approach to faith and religion, I was particularly struck by the panel of Jesus Christ with the eyes on his hands, which hearkens back to the fable that was brought up in the Boxers book. How much of your own religious belief was brought into this work?
Faith is an important part of my life, its one of the major pieces on which I build my own identity. When I was in college, I really struggled with this, with how to write about faith in an authentic way. Anytime I would try to do it, it would come out really stale and preachy. I had a writing professor who was a Buddhist, she basically gave me the advice: “You should live your faith, and you should write your life”, and that’s what I’ve tried to do ever since. For the piece that you’re referring to, that was inspired by an actual piece of artwork I saw at an Asian art museum years and years ago. Guanyin, the Chinese Goddess of Mercy was surrounded by this halo of hands with eyes in the palm. When I saw that I thought that looked so much like a crucified hand, that looks so much like the imagery I was surrounded with in a Western church. I wanted to explore that connection. That image with a hand with some kind of hole or an eye, it’s independent of faith. It’s found in all sorts of world faith traditions and it’s a very interesting thing.
As a sort of common denominator between the two works (Boxers & Saints and The Shadow Hero), you delve into magical realism a bit. When I read the first chapter of The Shadow Hero, I found some point of comparison between yourself and Gilbert Hernandez’s Palomar stories.
Oh, I love Gilbert Hernandez, love him!
Me too! Is the choice to aim towards magical realism in these tales a conscious choice or is it a natural off-spring from what might start off as a more grounded idea?
It has to come out naturally. I think it comes about growing up having read superhero comics and being really big into fables and stories that I inherited from my parents. I think it just kind of comes out and it feels natural to me to aim for Magical Realism in the comics.
Are there other influences that you draw from other than Los Bros Hernandez?
I could give you a list of cartoonists as long as my arm: Osamu Tezuka, Jeff Smith, and a bunch of my own friends like Jason Sheehan, they all have influenced me in some way. Scott McCloud is a big influence too. As for stuff outside of comics, for that project in particular (Boxers & Saints), I kept thinking back to this novel by a Japanese Catholic Author named Shusaku Endo who wrote a novel called Silence. He deals with a lot of these same issues, including tension between East and West, what faith is, and what role it should play in an individual’s life and society. It’s a beautiful book.
Since we brought up the Gilbert Hernandez comparison, their work is often praised for its look into Latin American culture, and a lot of your work is focused on the Asian American experience be it the immigrant’s tale seen in The Shadow Hero, the historical background of Boxers & Saints, and the personal nature of American Born Chinese. Do you feel a sense of responsibility as a sort of vanguard of Chinese American focused writing in comics?
I think with all my books, I just really want to tell a story that will carry my reader from the first page to the last. And the way I know how to do that is to sort of write the things that are important to me. Culture and the intersection between culture is something that has always fascinated me and I think that’s where its always come out.
You’ve had a long relationship with First Second, why that particular publisher?
They’re amazing, you know we talk about this intersection between cultures, I really feel like First Second is like that in so many different ways. But one way is that they’ve published Asian comics, European comics and American comics. Their aesthetic is sort of a combination of all three of those different cultures. I feel like I fit here.
Any future projects you’re working on beyond The Shadow Hero?
I’m working on a middle grade comic book, it’s a series, and we’ve signed on for three books so far. I’m doing it with another cartoonist named Mike Holmes and it’s all about coding and programming.
That’s a whole area of your background we didn’t even get a chance to talk about, your Computer Science background. I hope that’ll be something we can circle back to next year!
That’ll be great!
The Elite Beat Staff is a trained squad of ninja masters.