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Return of the Knave
Drink It Black
Thursday, 8 May 2008
Plastic wrapping

Comic book afficiandos take an ambivalent approach to toys. There's a need to separate a late adolescent cum adulthood appreciation for the men and women in tights from an earlier childhood love for toys. This is done by giving them a different name and keeping them in their boxes as collector's items.

Calling them toys is okay if the character is a fighter but is a funny animal or buffoon but that's subjective; it depends how seriously you treat Megaton Man vs the Tick

The funny thing about this is that the characters that are most likely candidates for "non-toys" are also the most fun to play with: heroes and villains, their weapons and accessories. Think about it. You each take a figure and pretend to battle each other. That works. Yet they're called action figures and never see action - they're mounted on the mantlepiece or stored away in a trunk.

 


Posted by berko_wills at 12:52 PM NZT
Updated: Sunday, 11 May 2008 7:26 PM NZT
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Sunday, 13 April 2008
Club

Coprophagia and necrophilia are all good and well but comics are ultimately an entertainment medium. One with a broader palate than either activity construes.

A medium with a loyal legion of fans will persist so long as it can hold its demographic. While fandom is an amorphous beast, within it lies the subset: the fan club. While one can talk about being a 'comics fan' in general (or a hentai fan or fan of cartoon robots), fan clubs have a more specific agenda and narrower focus. To whit, you can have a fan club for a series or a character; for a writer or an artist. Members of a fan club get together to discuss the latest developments, and projects, in their favourite series, characters, or creative talents' lives. If you're brave enough to declare your love for Fatty Arbuckle then it's easier to do so in a room full of likeminded people. Though comics may not push the envelope (or soda bottle) in quite the same way, a passion for a less popular figure risks derision in the wider fan community. And that's where fan clubs come into their own. 

Still, and I realise the irony implicit in stating this within a blog devoted to comic books, there is something in the fan club that suggests meetings in a treehouse. But if one can have a Desperate Housewives Fan Club..


Posted by berko_wills at 5:49 PM NZT
Updated: Tuesday, 15 April 2008 4:13 PM NZT
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Saturday, 22 March 2008
Underground seller

Underground comics, what's the difference? Sure they're markedly different from the mainstream but what about the profusion of offbeat titles that have been slotted into nebulous definitions like alternative comics?

They share much with adult comics: there's profuse profanity in the Checkered Demon, there's voluminous violence in Trashman, and enormous nudity in Goodman Beaver. Perversity is a given and there's even a comic book called Bizarre Sex.

The thing that sets undergrounds apart though is their subversive text. Sex is not there entirely to titillate; it can also disgust or be shown as a tool for moralistic hypocrites. Violence is there to prove a point. Bad language is used in the service of the proletariat and blasphemy to shake organised religion from its pedestal. There is a political imperative in their parody and a cynical sagacity in their satirical stroke.

Underground comics are independent because of their anti-consumerist cant, and distributed in head shops because of their drug culture references. There are comic books depicting use of:

Unless they take a 'tut tut' line, they're grouped under the underground.

The thing that characterises the underground most is an unflinching honesty. Even the components of the subculture are open to ruthless interrogation while accepted mores are trampled into the dirt.


Posted by berko_wills at 11:14 PM NZT
Updated: Thursday, 3 April 2008 12:42 AM NZT
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Wednesday, 12 March 2008
Grown up pursuit

No crude jokes about why they call me 'tripod' but I reckon this is where I get kicked off. You see it's time to survey adult comics.

A ready synopsis is to liken them to mature comics but with the violence, nudity and harsh language ramped up. As much as I'd like to claim that true adult comics are ones that explore complex philosophical issues, I'm afraid 'adult' here means the same as it does in any medium: sex. Diversity is key here as it is any stick book so you will see sodomy, lesbian sex and oral sex.

Though often considered the province of underground comics due to the taboo nature, adult comics also encompass sado-masochism, incest, paedophilia, bestiality, though dealt with in a suitably circumspect manner.

Or whatever tickles your fancy.


Posted by berko_wills at 11:17 PM NZT
Updated: Tuesday, 18 March 2008 12:17 AM NZT
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Saturday, 23 February 2008
Fic's price

Inflation hasn't really helped where sales of comic books are concerned. If you want to hook a generation of juveniles so they're still reading them in their forties then you'll have to compete for their pocket money. The ten dollars from raiding the piggy bank is now enough for one new comic and one from the remainder bin. At seventy cents each I could buy ten comics for my seven dollars.

Add in each era's equally enthralling alternative pastimes and it's no wonder the death knell has been sounded prematurely and periodically.

But that doesn't allow for the core fanboys n girls who do their own propagation. I know I've spread the word and left the occasional comic book lying around. If a sample can entrance a new reader then you can expect repeat sales because most series run multi-part stories now. Some series rely on the appeal of the character and the writing and are content to tell single issue stories. The incentive to follow the series is in the more subtle clues to character and background that appear throughout the run.

In the face of cancellation of the book that is top of their Must Have list, the sudden dropping of that beaut indie series they were buying  from their local shop, the sense of loss is no less real for being low on the list of priorities for the rest of the populace. So what do they do?

 Well, some produce fanfic. 'Fan fiction' may lack the graphics and the professional standard of writing of the official comic it's based on, but for those mourning the disappearance of Cyberella, writing their own accounts of her exploits and sharing them with fellow fans carries much satisfaction. Wherever there are characters that make enough of an impression to attract fans, there will be fanfic. As most are just bashing out something on their keyboard, there aren't necessarily stylistic leaps between comics fanfic and fanfic based on stories or characters in books, movies, and television.  

 


Posted by berko_wills at 11:52 PM EADT
Updated: Thursday, 28 February 2008 1:59 PM EADT
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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
Splish

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
Spilt

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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