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Return of the Knave
Drink It Black
Monday, 28 January 2008
On the front
The covers of comic books contain the price of the comic, title, a subtitle or other print to indicate that it features these characters.  In a strip or logo near the top of the page sits the name of the company, the cover will predominantly feature artwork depicting

The penciller, inker and colourist on the cover often also work on the interior art but there are also cover artists who specialise either because they work in a hyperrealised, and no doubt exhaustive, style like Alex Ross or they do the work that instinctively tells a story both obliquely and concisely a la Tim Bradstreet.

 The lettering might be confined to a sub-title on the cover. There was a style of action comic that once employed word balloons on its covers but the unworded image now dominates.

Anyone who doubts a place for the editor and publisher only has to consider how it is that there are rejected covers.  

Although other covers share many of the same features as the comic book, there can be differences. A book will often have a cover illustration, perhaps even one with the protagonist engaged in some skirmish depicted in the story, but there are also books - for either economic or artistic reasons - that have plain covers. A magazine is more populist and utilitarian and relies on its lurid eyecatching front, though it can favour the aesthetically appealing over the content driven. While its close cousin the journal often goes the other way and has nothing but text on its cover.  The cover of a video or DVD , which is to say the image and lettering that appears on the film poster (for the most part), probably resembles comic book covers more closely still, as it can be a scene from the movie, a generic action shot or profile of the main character(s). No word balloons, I'll grant you. And the record cover is that familiar combo of title and art. Newspapers are all about the headline, but also a photograph and  front page news.

Posted by berko_wills at 12:41 AM EADT
Updated: Wednesday, 20 February 2008 2:20 PM EADT
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Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Not every comic book has a splash page (not to be confused with the website term), just as not every comic has its prominent features, such as a story title or dual title (given that some books intimate a different title on the cover), credits and 'establishing shot'. It differs from the cover because, while dramatic and eye-catching, it is still the beginning of that part of the story, rather than an attempt to encapsulate the contents or show the protagonist in the most perilous position.

The fact that those in charge have sometimes pressured the creative team to show parts of the story before they are due to appear is a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of the splash page. It should draw you in but in 'Now read on' manner.

Despite its nebulous status, the splash page can be an ideal chance for the writer, penciller, inker, letterer and colourist to show off their work and for the editor and publisher to check that it fits.

The splash page can take you straight in to the thick of the action or give the reader a reminder as to whose this book is. Whether you get a shot of the hero or heroine on the first page depends on what kind of book it is.

The other main thing to note about splash pages is that they seem to be an American concept; looking at other comic books, there is no substantial difference between the layout of the first page and other pages in the book.

Posted by berko_wills at 1:47 PM EADT
Updated: Wednesday, 23 January 2008 1:56 PM EADT
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Friday, 28 December 2007

Before we go on to make a bigger splash, it's worth noting in passing that titles are profoundly generic. There's nothing unusual in this as it applies to the other media equally. The reader and buyer uses certain cues; expects to see them. The creative talent takes a risk if they don't meet those expectations.

Everything is packaged to a demographic. Even if that demographic is an alternative one or specialist in nature or proclivity. There are common themes that slowly alter over time but show their influence in an unbroken line.

Covers depicting cute moppets invariably show them doing something humorous. Women, on the other hand, who are heroic or derring-do have covers to match.

Even the talent gets a reputation that publishers can take to the bank. Artists like macabre Mike Ploog or "Ghastly" Graham Ingles

and writers like this guy.

Posted by berko_wills at 12:39 AM EADT
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Wednesday, 7 November 2007
A peeling label

As well as having a snazzy title for the series, each individual issue usually has a title of its own. This title is decided by the creative talent working on the book or according to the dictates of publishing convention.

An issue on the stand often appears to have two titles: one on the cover, which is like a headline, attention-grabbing and hyperbolic, while the true title is inside on the splash page.

The title does in some ways resemble that of a newspaper or magazine article though, being fictitious, its sensational thrust tends to be of a different kind. It could be likened to the chapters of a book if we think back to when novels were serialised but really it is more like a short story or full length saga with common characters, such as the Sherlock Holmes or Encyclopedia Brown stories.

I said in my last splosh of vino that the title of a play or movie has more in common with that of a single pamphlet  -  sharing the same characteristics as your average issue of the Silver Surfer (Lee - Buscema fans would have my guts for garters for saying that. They'd insist on grandiose) rather than summing up what a complete series entails. Nothing could play out in such close comparison, though, as episodes of a television series. The title only needs to encapsulate what that one episode is about, letting the series title do the rest.

While film alternates freely between specific and general and between dynamic and restrained,  the function of an episode (or issue) is to advance some overall development of the character. Even if that development is slow and slippery at times. Thus the title will want to capture that in some way. One way is to namecheck the protagonist or title character or refer to their powers. Less common subjects for titles are landscape or terrain and obscure allusions to unrelated events and objects the least common.

Often its enough to name the villain of the piece or the predicament the hero is in.  

Posted by berko_wills at 11:15 PM EADT
Updated: Tuesday, 25 December 2007 12:00 AM EADT
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Saturday, 13 October 2007
Entitled two

British comics adhered to the  safer option of an exciting title that allowed them to choose which series they kept within its pages. Of course this meant shorter pages for all stories and characters, the risk that you'd get parceled in a series or character you weren't interested in, and puzzles if you were really unlucky.

There has always been a mix of generic titles and series devoted to the popularity of one character. The relative saleability of each has varied through the decades. Characters from DC and Marvel had to earn their stripes if they wanted to continue to appear. Jack of Hearts didn't survive his Marvel Premiere (other than to put in a lot of guest appearances) but various versions of Ghost Rider and a motion picture later he can be glad of one thing at least, that the Marvel Spotlight shone on him as he did his first stunt.

Neither is a title static in its application. The motives of British comics staff in creating Hotspur is clear enough but consider, if at all possible, the comparative resonance of X- Men in repeat mode and under threat of cancellation and X-Men is the biggest selling comic in the world. Also consider what difference there is in how we, as fan or reader, approach a title depending on the artist and/or writer working on it at the time.  

Posted by berko_wills at 2:48 AM NZT
Updated: Thursday, 25 October 2007 11:00 AM NZT
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Saturday, 6 October 2007
Entitled to

Some titles are a mission statement. More Fun Comics not only describes the content but consorts with the consumer to insist that they have 'more fun'. Hyperbole is a broadbased feature of the comic book but not every title has followed this patina quite so closely.

Other golden age titles like Pep Comics are similar in tone. They are specific in their promise, if not their description of character types or genre.

A series entitled Justice Society of America did not appear until thirty years after the more junior team, Justice League of America. Characters in those days sprang through the pages of generic titles that promised action and adventure, romance and mystery. Amazing Mystery Funnies was both a title to live up to and live down, but it could swap its heroes and stories around to its heart's content (its content's heart)

Titles generally were designed to appeal to a target readership. There was, however, an early attempt to draw a following for a title character or characters.

Remember in all this that some interesting characters have never had their own book. They feature either in titles that encompass a group or larger gathering of heroes, or in generic titles like Tales to Astonish. Comics can have titles as prosaic as that for newspapers or as descriptive as magazines. Unlike some books, the titles tend to be short and to the point. It is the individual titles that bear a closer resemblance to titles given to plays and that is because they deal with one storyline, rather than a continuing saga or standalone stories featuring a common character. Film and radio series are further media whose titling is not that dissimilar to comic book series.

The comics industry knows which side its bread is buttered on and, besides bolstering its titles with fetching adjectives (and there is some justification for calling a character who goes on getting stronger the angrier he gets 'incredible'), it also makes its appeal direct to collectors and fans. A skill for well chosen titles is a valuable talent to master.

Posted by berko_wills at 3:27 AM NZT
Updated: Sunday, 7 October 2007 2:20 AM NZT
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Wednesday, 26 September 2007
On credit

The comparisons I used are for media that are similar in many respects to the graphic medium, but credits work the same for other creative endeavours and to other pursuits. But one of the most important forms of acknowledgement was left off 'books' for some while.

Perhaps the sensitivity over the company retaining royalties and being seen to be the owner of a creative property, led to this decision to keep the originator of a character or a series hidden. I daresay some are even now lost to history.

Thankfully it has since become common practice to include the names of the creator(s) under the title on the splash page.

Posted by berko_wills at 4:02 PM NZT
Updated: Saturday, 29 September 2007 3:58 PM NZT
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Friday, 7 September 2007
Without looking at the label

We've touched on credits in several ways through exploring what each producer of a comic book does. They're not that different from credits for similar media: they appear either on the cover, the first page or the last page; anywhere else would be weird. And not in a good way.

For some time comics seemed not to need much in the way of credits. There would appear the perfunctory byline but you had to really notice it at the bottom of a panel, when your eyes were really flicking enthusiastically over the story.

Then came the classic attributing of the staff who directly worked on the look of the page:

. Notice I did not include
  • editor or publisher.
  • The colourist was only needed sometimes but still got a mention when it was 'all in color for a dime'.
  • Even though there are now companies and machines producing what used to be done by hand, I think it is important that we got to know which books Chic Stone worked on. It 's revealing to see the different projects that creative and artistic talent was used on. Admittedly a lot of plain hard graft; you took whatever job was offered, and much of that could be generic and churned out quickly. True artists rise above that, though, and still stamp their individuality onto the work they produce and, for that reason, it's good to be able to trace their development.

    Attributions tend to work the same in all fields. The public sooner or later want to know who created the work they're enjoying and the publishers can see the benefit of telling them.

    Magazines will have different credits: photographers and journalists. Books don't have to have a lot of credits but they will if they are reference works. Then everyone besides (or including) Jesus Christ could get a citation. Plays, apart from the playwright, change their credits with each production or season or sometimes each performance. Radio works much the same way, with the voice actors being announced on a roll. Where credits have really blown out is in film, where canny directors are now adding tidbits after the credits have rolled to get cinema patrons to stay till the end. It may not make them care who Best Boy is, but at least they haven't walked out with the credits still rolling. Harder to get a television audience to read through all those bits so often the networks will preempt the lack of attention by shrinking the end credits and announcing over the top.


    Meanwhile, the gruntwork of comic creation is most likely to be found at the bottom of the page. According to the blurb there, the posting of this boring recital of statistics is for the purposes of satisfying second class postage requirements.

    To date, only the Comics Journal took up the challenge of making them entertaining, thus giving an unexpected treat to the most tragic of nerds and  hope to crude production assistant types everywhere. [looks away hurriedly, adjusts coat] 


    Posted by berko_wills at 5:19 PM NZT
    Updated: Sunday, 7 October 2007 1:04 AM NZT
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    Saturday, 30 June 2007

    Comics, as the Overstreet Guide will tell you, owe their existence to commerce . As an insert in a cereal packet or a vehicle for advertising, comics were an ideal way of promoting good will and a pleasant association with a product or company.

    The industry takes an interest in self-promotion but hasn't always had its way. Tie yourself to the shoestrings of the manufacturer and you could find yourself doing a soft shoe shuffle on storylines.

    Not that I think that being able to afford twelve cent comics as a kid was any kind of drawback. My curiosity toward controversy and a/cute political awareness wasn't dampened by a steady diet of Sweeper Sam the Mild Matman. Not in the least.
    I'd like to kid myself that we fledgling fanboys fueled the profits of funnybook publishers but those seamonkeys and x-ray specs must have helped.

    In any case, pushy sponsors and nervous editors didn't prevent the scattergun scatology of Viz, like a saucy English seaside postcard on acid, or the weighty worldliness of Crisis. The market decided that a comic character with "unfeasibly large testicles" was a better read than the actions of secret service types in countries round the world. Neither has built their house out of Pez candy, that's for sure.  

    Hostess Fruit Pies used the mainstream characters themselves in ads and, really, that's the tenor of ads in comics: as nourishing as a Mighty Crusaders story. You won't find fresh leafy vegetables being promoted in the ad pages (although there was one for milk).  

    During Shooter's reign of terror a whole line of toys were also licensed for ongoing series and fanboys somehow managed to absorb this and develop a fondness for the likes of Micronauts and Rom, Spaceknight. Comic fans don't care if Steve Skeates can write ad copy or Lee Marrs can illustrate it. The probable consensus is that most artists could draw the can of beans or motor scooter but it would depend on the skillset of the writer: a strong narrative storyteller may suit some jobs while a penchant for snappy phrases may benefit others. A title like "the Power to Purge" is pregnant with possibility and is possibly even wasted in a crummy comic book story.


    So much for comics as a medium for advertising. What has advertising done in turn for comics? Precious little on the face of it. A new movie based on a comic book character or theme is bound to have a promotional effect for the original.  Makers of industrial fasteners, I'm sure, would envy the focus that comic companies get for their product. Yet despite the serial nature of matinee cinema, they didn't take the opportunity to promote Silver Streak Comics on the silver screen, and creator Lev Gleason was preeminent in the field at the time.   It's as if Hollywood would rather make a bad Doctor Strange film than promote the superior source material.

    All Star Comics pre-date television but that doesn't mean that the medium has ever promoted the stars. They don't even have commercials for Adventures of Superman when you're watching Lois and Clark or Smallville and that's the same character produced by the same parent company.                                                                  Would Prize Mystery have benefited from being beamed into living rooms? Indubitably but it was not to be. The cross-promotion that went on in the stories themselves may have made up for it.

    You can find old issues (or atom age rarities if you prefer)in the classifieds and the odd alarmist tabloid piece on violence in comic books and that's about it, unless the companies pull some stunt like killing Superman. It did seem for a while there that formerly inviolable superheroes were dropping like flies. Dying and coming back from the dead is one thing but breaking Batman's back and chopping off Aquaman's hand was quite another. Newspapers select which characters they'll run in daily strips, which series they'll run in the Saturday supplement. It's a safe bet that Johnny Hart could do more with two properties in syndication than Arnold Drake could producing a lifetime of valuable commodities for the majors.                               And the papers won't run ads for Youngblood any time soonSealed.

    It could be argued that the percentages aren't there to promote an individual issue the way you would a motion picture or an episode of Friends but that shouldn't stop advertisers from putting an ongoing series up in lights. But if there were ever billboards of Buster Crabbe, it wasn't for his comic series.

    Which only leaves magazines, which will run advertisements for comic books if they are comics or SF based (you won't see an ad for Gay Comics in Life ) and comic books themselves, which have been known to run ads for competitors' books. 


    Posted by berko_wills at 3:13 AM NZT
    Updated: Thursday, 16 August 2007 12:39 AM NZT
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    Thursday, 21 June 2007
    Because you're a man of letters

    We know, looking at the initial list of performers et al in the last entry, that fanzines are a recent invention. So how did fans used to communicate? Was there even such a thing as a fan? Before the collector market gathered momentum and magazines sprang up to cater for the kind of reader who kept each issue and collected other related titles, there was the letters page, now largely defunct.

    I would question whether this was the ideal vehicle for the fan. It promoted camraderie, brought creator and reader into close commune,...
    but the letter writer was restricted in how far he or she could deviate from commenting specifically on last issue's storyline. This is fine if you're a Viking Prince fan and his series is running in Brave and the Bold but what if you're a fan of Quicksilver and it's not the nineteen forties? Too late.

    Marvel's version may never have been as popular as the scarlet speedster (take your pick) but he's an intrinsic part of the Marvelverse: son of Magneto, stepson to the Whizzer and Miss America, brother of the Scarlet Witch, husband of Crystal. I'm sure he has his fans. Those fans at their earliest, could not wax too enthusiastically about one of the bad guys in X-Men, anymore than they could draw all the focus away from the other stand-ins who called themselves Avengers. The odd mini-series aside, he has been all but cast to the dark side of the moon, an Inhuman fate.

    The kind of people who write in to comic book companies learned to stick to the point. Though that didn't mean they wouldn't slam the creators, note slips in continuity, praise and damn with equal gusto. It was fun to see what readers were thinking and you didn't have to join some club or sign on to some forum to access it. The promise of being immortalised in your favourite book or series has to be among the ultimate prizes in fandom. Or no-prizes even.

    Companies varied in their perceived demographic and the letters pages reflected these differences. With some letters page editors,  you didn't need to be worldly wise to comment, just be able to tell Gary Friedrich from Mike Friedrich and recognize a Herb Trimpe Foolkiller from fifty paces.

    As for letter hacks, they were the elite. I don't recall the exact terminology but I think you were a Fearless Face Fronter if you'd a letter published in both Sock It To Shellhead and Let's Rap With Cap. There were letter hacks notorious in their day as jgoldman10 is in the digital age. Actually TM Maple and Commander Quotey [and his lost marvel madmen - after the arguably more obscure Commander Cody and his lost planet airmen] were required to be more thoughtful and keep their comments relevant, however flippant their guise. Some letter hacks even went from writing letters to writing the book itself: Bill Mantlo and Roy Thomas began that way.


    I'm nothing if not thorough so we will look sidereally at 'letters to the editor' in newspapers and magazines or, rather, we'll hyperlink to a couple of examples and you'll get the general drift.

    Journalism can't help but touch on our customs and our built environment, whereas comics letters pages do so only on a whim and if there's a way of linking the critique/discussion to last issue's story or artwork. Or (as is the case in multi-story British comic books ) the brand at large. 

    Posted by berko_wills at 12:08 AM NZT
    Updated: Thursday, 21 June 2007 12:50 AM NZT
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