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Return of the Knave
Drink It Black
Monday, 5 February 2007
A good re(a)d

Readers are a careless lot though. The bin boys of my youth who let wheat dust gather on the first DD/Spidey crossover anticipated today's shortage and consequent high prices only by virture of their contributing to it. They will as likely crease the pages, swap with friends, read what's in the library, come across some good ones in the waiting room or servo, even in bus shelters or on trains. Even with series they like, they'll threaten its viability by waiting for the trade paperback (collected edition). But, sure there are readers who let the guy behind the counter know that it's worth stocking All Star Batman and Robin by buying it every month.

 It's a broad church containing readers of Elliot S! Maggin Joker stories, readers who are drawn to Ernie Chua's art, readers who happily continue to buy their favourites regardless of recommendations or hot books.
Some readers become collectors and seal the books they used to pore over in plastic bag and backing board. And there are readers who develop their interest in Frank Giacoia to the extent that they are more than readers, they're fans.


Posted by berko_wills at 2:21 AM EADT
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Wednesday, 31 January 2007
As read

To what do comics own their success?

Is it a creator like Sheldon Mayer that defines their status and all that would follow?

Are they triumphal when critics and academics look across and admire Sheldon Moldoff for being 'already postmodern'?

 Do comics need editors like Mort Weisinger to trumpet the merit of the character whose book they edit? Or chummy editors who draw the reader into their circle, and give some recognition to artists like Joltin' Joe Sinnott while they're about it?

 Has the industry risen to its feet when companies like Continuity and Image break away from the work-for-hire and take control of their own profits and creations? All of those things.
Then can this medium embrace the same notion that lovers of opera and chamber music adopt; that those with their feet on the seats in the front row of the picture house declaim - that their artform is nothing without its audience? The entertainment world must entertain; whatever other ideas it entertains.

II

Accepting the premise that comics are nothing without readers, who are they? Readers can be Japanese business people standing on the bullet train reading their manga, or the troops stationed at the fighting.

A readership in 1937 is different to one in 2007 so how is the size of the readership tempered by the sensibility of the readership?

Really, the reader has been implicit and complicit in every post on this primer. Nuff said. 


Posted by berko_wills at 12:07 AM EADT
Updated: Wednesday, 31 January 2007 2:05 PM EADT
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Thursday, 4 January 2007
Directly

There are a couple of questions hanging heavy over this idea of independence. More than just being possible that a safe, familiar story will be trotted out with characters that are easy to draw, at the smaller publishers; some co's stay derivative in the vain hope that fanboys will choose their version over the ones already on offer. Another aspect of independence in the world of comic book publishing, is the ability to find a market outside the traditional news stand. Pacific Comics sold to the direct market and were succesful for a time because of the established artists working on the books. But that is not true independence, unless the other requirements are met.

 To further put the lie to the notion that you can 'judge a book by its cover' and recognize an independent comic by appearance alone; consider the case of Plop!. Talk about walking like a duck! The most spasticated duck you've ever seen in your life. But still not an independent comic.                                                                     Further, Marvel Comics once put out a tasteless and short-lived book called Mort the Dead Teenager. They may have been riffing on the popularity of independent weirdness but it remains resolutely a comic put out by a mainstream publishing company.

Another interpretation of 'independent' is the publication of comic books outside the stranglehold of the North American and European market. When they can barely make a sale, who is mean enough to deny these comics the status solely on the basis that they may carry advertising or have investors waiting to see some return for their money.


Posted by berko_wills at 1:36 PM EADT
Updated: Thursday, 4 January 2007 2:01 PM EADT
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Wednesday, 13 December 2006
Independent of everyone

Independent comics, of which self-published comics are a subset, can be as individual and idiosyncratic as independent books that avoid the major publishing house, independent magazines that carry no advertising, and independent newspapers that provide a contrary approach to stories.

You can guess that Dog Boy on Cat Head Comics is an independent publication. But it need not necessarily be those sheets that veer from the subject matter of the majors, that earn the right to be called independent. Not all independent comics are alternative comics or underground comics but they are both classed as independent by their very nature.

 A creator or small creative team with an idea for a matricide take it to a mainstream company. It doesn't fit with their focus at the time, so the next step is contacting an independent concern to see if they're interested. They might be, that's just the thing - there's no requirement that the treatment is ironic or irreverent, satiric or sadistic. It could be written up as a straight 'killing mummy' story or series. As long as there are no shareholders or multimedia parent companies involved, the imprint it comes out on would be classed as independent.


Posted by berko_wills at 2:01 PM EADT
Updated: Wednesday, 13 December 2006 2:06 PM EADT
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Thursday, 30 November 2006
By yourself

Just generally, self-publishing is predominately devoted to the fanzine, with a smudgey wink to memoir & biography and the poetry that no one will publish, no matter how good it is.

 For a writer there are greater freedoms; whether to indulge in scatalogical excess or promote an unpopular position or be otherwise indulgent.

In reality, self-publishing across the media can range from terrible to terrific and isn't guaranteed to be narrow in its application. For every artist who wants a forum for drawing bushy eyebrows, there's the cartoonist who needs to take at least part of their work out on its own. And, of course, for the lucky reader who wants to intellectualise there's the possibility of a publication that doesn't chase the bottom line.


Posted by berko_wills at 11:19 PM EADT
Updated: Thursday, 30 November 2006 11:56 PM EADT
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Saturday, 18 November 2006
In company

Comics are published all over the world but how widely the input and output of a given region reaches depends on the distribution network but this is determined also by language and cultural specificities.

 The concerns of publication can be run by committee or can seem to come down to one individual. From what we've seen, publishing comics is not for the faint-hearted. It is fortunate for the reader, then, that he/she gets to see the work of fine draughtsmen of the field, as comics scripters may once have called them.

The world of comic book publishing is dominated by Marvel and DC, a perpetual campaign waged over a dwindling readership (or so we're told), but many another publisher has come and gone; if it wasn't for the Overstreet Price Guide, we might not remember such curiosities as All Negro Comics and Red Warrior.

 Niche marketing dictates some publishing ventures to this day. I think cartoonists like Peter Bagge need the underground to work and political statements are always going to be potentially problematic for the publisher who carries the piece.


Posted by berko_wills at 5:40 PM EADT
Updated: Thursday, 23 November 2006 4:06 PM EADT
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Saturday, 11 November 2006
Fine print

Higher still up the pecking order is the publisher ; the one who writes the cheques and has an override status as to what does and doesn't see the light of day. They are the ones who cop the flak if there is controversy so it does seem reasonable that they step in at times. It's not that a publisher should engage in regular editorial interference though sometimes it's hard to tell with the interchangeability of editor-in-chief and president, just who holds the reins of power anyway.

The main difference with publishers of books, magazines, and newspapers is that the publisher is not always identical to the comic book company.

Comics publishers would seem to be at one further remove from the actual business of producing the stories that go in them but, apart from the self-publishers, there have been instances of writers and artists who took on the role of publisher.

So how is the publisher's role prescribed then? It depends on whether the publisher selects a creative team and editorial staff to come up with characters to fit the market or has an idea of the kind of characters and stories they want to publish and then signs people on to bring them to life. There are many variables in the world of publishing, with arrangements that range from profit sharing to work-for-hire, and this bears only so much regard for who created what. Take the case of E.Levy, sparing in his own name details, the name of his company, and the details of the creative team who helped assemble the book, his efforts on Yellowjacket Comics reveal the tenor of the times. While only lasting ten issues under that title, the series nonetheless appeared canny enough in its direction. Edgar Allan Poe is a natural to adapt into comic book format and the introduction of the Old Witch as narrator is truly innovative and was taken up to great effect in the EC horror titles and the black-and-white Warren magazines that followed.

 The title character also 'had legs'. Being a staunch user and advocate of bee products, I could personally identify with a character who could command bees and was immune to their stings and, generally, both his name and insect-controlling powers have been copied since. The short-lived nature of the series may be put down to the fact that sending a swarm of bees against the stock villains of the day - the mad professor, the crime boss, the gangster - had only so much in the way of rivetting storytelling. While there have been detectives and reporters masquerading as superheroes, I know of no other crime fiction writer combining their research with physical crime-fighting. Not that that means it's a bad idea. It was probably a series of its time;  the Golden Age goofiness of having a character called Yellowjacket, a kind of wasp, controlling bees.

Or maybe the readership were distracted by world events..

 


Posted by berko_wills at 6:50 PM EADT
Updated: Saturday, 11 November 2006 7:32 PM EADT
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Saturday, 14 October 2006
Draw straws

It isn't that editors get in the way of the artists and writers or provide the overall perception for critics. Many comics editors, as it turns out, are also comics creators. They know how a character should look and sound because they had a hand in their design.

 I suppose, to be consistent, we could look at the common features of newspaper editors and the choices they make in what to include; we could examine the magazine editor's bringing together of article and illustration; or note the way that comics have followed closely the book editors branding and blurb.

The real essence of an editor's work in comics remains in the medium. He or she is the one who makes sure that Captain Storm is outfitted correctly; that Miss America has the proper backstory and use of powers. The editor also examines the finished proofs to see that the lettering doesn't obscure the art nor the drawings cover the words. An encyclopediac knowledge of the characters and their world comes in very handy, but so too does a general knowledge to guard against errors of fact.

 II

In the beginning, the editor was the one who liaised between the art team and the publisher. There would be one editor per book or one editor for the whole line.

Now, with the passing of time and an increasing sophistication in the industry, there is an entire editorial team:

Towering over all, and laughing manically is the editor-in-chief.

Posted by berko_wills at 3:14 PM NZT
Updated: Saturday, 14 October 2006 3:44 PM NZT
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Wednesday, 4 October 2006
New flavour

Although I write about comics from the standpoint of having a hobbyist and afficiando's interest in the medium, the process of writing this comics primer ensures that I often uncover highlights I was unaware of.

For instance, I had never heard of a legendary writer, perhaps because he's worked the last 47 years in Archie Comics.

Similarly, I knew of Lou Fine but, because he was a Golden Age artist and I was a child of the Silver Age, I haven't had the pleasure of reading the stories he drew. When I was most avid about comics, inkers were my favourite and yet I missed a great name like George Klein. Is it because letterers and colourists represent craft more than art, that we notice their individual contribution less? There is discussion of Tom Palmer's inks on Gene Colan's pencils but you'll wait a long time for an exhibition of Simek, Art. Nor hear someone expound on the degree to which S. Rosen contributed to Marvel's success. Colourists must sleep with the other artists.

Posted by berko_wills at 4:07 PM NZT
Updated: Friday, 6 October 2006 1:42 AM NZT
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Monday, 18 September 2006
Coffee cup ring

Artists and illustrators who worked on book jacket design, magazine and newspaper illustrations probably did have an influence on comic books. Just as flyleaf illustrators and book jacket designers, and magazine illustrators also did work for comics.

Now, we know that journalists and reporters do a bang-up job of writing about the industry but does the skill set transfer across so that they write for comics?

Well we know courtesy of the man himself that J.M. de Matteis started out as a rock journalist. Indeed, it appears that he practices what he preaches. And he isn't the only critic to cross over. Serious news journalists too, have found the graphic format useful for their reportage. And, while we're not moving beyond comparing print media yet, it's helpful to know that comics are being written up in the same pop culture breath as things Hollywood.

Posted by berko_wills at 3:12 PM NZT
Updated: Monday, 18 September 2006 3:45 PM NZT
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