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Entries by Topic
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Return of the Knave
Drink It Black
Monday, 17 August 2009
House Read
Now Playing: Silent Type

Much as it may seem that way, the Web is not the be all and end all of source material. It can be wayward and quite unreliable, with old favoured links suddenly pointing nowhere; the site having moved or been removed. Look back over Drink It Black and, regrettably, some of the great hyperlinks will now take you on a wild goose chase.

If you want to know more about Bob Wiacek, you may have to go back over your collection, or pick up one of the many books devoted to all things comic book.

Books also have the advantage of not directing you to a sales pitch or an order form, when you look up a subject.

The problems and advantages are different. Where a useful link could disappear, a book can rapidly become outdated, especially when profiling a creative talent whose still working, or a character still in syndication. 

So, say you want some information on Wiacek and you don't trust the 21 thousand odd search returns on the Web to yield this quickly and accurately. You could look up 'Wiacek, Bob' in the index and/or 'Marvel inkers of the eighties' in the contents but in which book? The World Encyclopedia of Comics by Maurice Horn is a vast and authorative text but it may not go into the detail you require.

Wiacek is both penciler and inker and his work appears in a number of mainstream releases, but he doesn't have the superstar status of artists like the Romitas and the Buscemas and he's no auteur like Jim Steranko or Jim Starlin so is unlikely to have his own biography.

This is where a little knowledge helps. You could find references to his colleagues or books he has worked on, but there's no guarantee that there will be comprehensive writings on them either. Or that it will come in book form. 

Posted by berko_wills at 11:49 PM NZT
Updated: Sunday, 6 September 2009 5:04 AM NZT
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Sunday, 2 August 2009
Quite a site
Now Playing: Elvis Costello

As much as it has been illuminating looking at the necessary and sufficient condition of being a fan, or somehow ending up with a comic book in your hands, fandom is an amorphous beast familiar to us all.

So what has changed for comics since the World Wide Web came into being? Here I'm not concerned with the amount of time spent online, which leaves less time and inclination for reading, or the advent of webcomics, which I think are a different form. Although comics creators and their eager readers got along quite fine before there was a search engine to look up a series or a blog of reviews to tell you whether it's worth picking up, the Web has as impressive an array of resources for the comics afficiando as for any other special interest group.

If you're pitching a story you can use an impressive grasp on history whether you're an artist or writer. What once necessitated a trip to the library or book store can now be had at the click of a mouse. You can see how the editorial process works across media. You can take lessons from oil and watercolour painters, charcoal artists, pencil sketches, chalk art. Actors approaching their role can inform the way you approach a character, directors and producers can provide insight as to how a narrative is constructed, or more effectively presented. 

For that matter, any  topic can be looked up on the Internet. Comics writers look to other writers, though the parallel to their enterprise is not in the novel and short story but in plays played right and the modern work of screenwriters.




It stands to reason if there's that much interest in arcania, then we're potentially connected to someone somewhere out there on the Web who has the very update on Roger Stern we've been waiting on.

So fans and obsessives need not feel left out.

There are places to go to sample pages of a key artist's work. With a friendly cyberspace tour guide.

Hang out with fellow inkers in newsgroups. Learn lettering from a message board. Pass by a colourist's blog.

When you find a website devoted to your favourite character, it's time to settle down.

Posted by berko_wills at 4:48 AM NZT
Updated: Sunday, 9 August 2009 4:37 AM NZT
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Saturday, 13 June 2009
Temper rants
Now Playing: BetonJan

Fans may be harder to corral than any of the other interested parties in this dark horse medium. Those who warmed to Marvel Girl may not have wished for Phoenix or accepted Dark Phoenix. Goodness knows what they'll do with Jean Grey.

Some fans will drop books if the writer or artist changes, others will hang on for grim death. 

Fans don't even always buy their own comics. They may buy some and borrow others, and their policy may have a dividing line: borrow brooding psychotics but buy superhero swimsuit issue.

 Some fans are mad consumers and enjoy the experience of collecting, of posing action figures, of meeting at fan clubs and conventions. Other fans create fanfic, edit fanzines, write blogs, write columns on websites, even occasionally go into production themselves.


Posted by berko_wills at 4:48 AM NZT
Updated: Tuesday, 7 July 2009 5:19 PM NZT
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Saturday, 6 June 2009
Quaff medicine
Mood:  party time!
Now Playing: Jane said

Hack into the industry itself and a carelessness so often abounds. Publishers copy a format without being able to discern the essential element that makes it a success and end up, in extreme cases, poisoning the ouevre they invade. Writers do inferior retellings of past glories for characters who have no more stories left in them, or no longer fit the temper of the times. Pencillers xerox Kirby before going on to exaggerate the muscles and weapons even further, creating a parodic slush of heroics. Colourists look all washed out and inkers draw too much shadow. Editors bastardise the lot and are out by happy hour.

It is is a medium that is no less prey to indifference than any other. Comics may have come into their own as mainstream entertainment (if in transmuted form), but that means they are up there with ghastly blockbusters and bestsellers; along with artistic works that satisfy on many levels.

Posted by berko_wills at 12:38 AM NZT
Updated: Saturday, 13 June 2009 4:45 AM NZT
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Monday, 23 March 2009
Cork age

You may think that a comic collector is as likely to pull that rare edition out of its Mylar snug to read, as a coin collector is to use change from their collection to buy a pint of milk, or a stamp collector is to whack that Penny Black on a letter to family. There is that attitude, but comic collectors aren't exclusively speculative or precious in the way they behave.

Gradually accruing more kitcsh surrounding a beloved character while reading less of their adventures doesn't happen often. If you really love a character, you'll queue for the movie and wear the t-shirt.

There is that version of the collector who ends up having to trawl for cardboard cutouts of the character they've chosen to collect that would otherwise not be likely to find a place in the rumpus room.

Readers are neither as fixated or loyal as collectors. They'll snap up the stories they want to read (and re-read) and they'll smartly drop a book at the first sign of trouble.

Buyers need not show that much interest. As long as they don't confuse  Cherry with Cherry Poptart  there should be no harm done.*

The intended reader knows it's fantasy. Cyclops may have cool powers but he was born that way through a genetic deviation. And 'wearing rose coloured glasses' was only ever intended as a metaphor - you wouldn't really like having a permanent red mist before your eyes. I also think that having powers like that almost requires that you have someone like Brotherhood of Evil Mutants on the opposing side - destructive eyebeams may not give Aung San Suu Kyi her rightful leadership of Burma any more than existing weaponry.


The seller can be counting his stock and almost divorced from the excitement of waiting for the next issue (other than the fact that this is when he will make his money), provided he knows the difference between Felix the Cat and Fritz the Cat. Whatever incidental example a character like the Beast proves to be, with his combination of rough exterior and loquatiousness, the business of telling a good story is the main thing required.

That is adopting the principle that a readership will gravitate toward quality storytelling, which is not the sole reason for the reader, less so the buyer.

Posted by berko_wills at 2:55 PM NZT
Updated: Tuesday, 12 May 2009 11:23 PM NZT
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Sunday, 22 February 2009
Bottled up
Now Playing: The Coral

You can find collectors among the other print media but there needs to be some cult of personality at work to increase the interest in any one publication.

Age is a factor as antiquarian bookshops attest. They often sell antique magazines, pamphlets and posters along with the books. And I have seen newspapers but you'd have to have a good basement and a patient partner to keep them long enough to become collectable.

Newspapers are more of interest to historians, researchers, and Barbier enthusiasts (in those art/icles on the founder of art deco) than to collectors.

Of course one could collect a writer or illustrator, a photographer, who worked in newspapers but it would be easier to collect magazines and journals with their featured writers than searching through old newsprint for a byline.

Special interest magazines lend themselves to certain art styles. There's artists like Norman Rockwell whose work is tied to an editorial imperative for catchy covers with heartwarming themes but many other artists found steady commercial work in monthly publications. While one could collect gazettes by their contributors, the more common collection is a complete run of one publication.

Some forms of narrative are, by their nature, ephemeral; you really had to be there. It is entertainment that can only be echoed in ticket stubs and souvenirs.

As time goes on there are many more ways of 'preserving the moment for posterity' though, unfortunately, there are films and television programs for which there are no surviving copies and recordings that are exceedingly rare. This, naturally, only makes them more attractive to the collector.

Posted by berko_wills at 4:42 PM EADT
Updated: Sunday, 8 March 2009 10:42 PM NZT
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Saturday, 10 January 2009
Collection at a bottleneck

A collection is really all the crap you got and stuffed into a box and felt good that you had it. It isn't necessarily something you think about much or pull out very often. But it has a value, an ever accruing sentimental value.

What that does to the care with which you backboarded or plastic sheaved is for you to determine.  But it it is good that there are nerds or geeks or whatever else they call the (inadvertent?) collector preserving these things for posterity.

One day a museum is going to pore over our quaint customs and researchers are going to seriously question our ways. We do it to previous generations so why should things be any different then. But that's no reason to trash our art or burst our bubble.


Comics are another artform, publication, pop culture item, work, product, item, reading matter, sequential narrative, that people like to collect. They've become moreso with a change in generational attitude (just chill, man) and the sophistication of the graphic art medium. 

This applies to superhero sagas as much as prison camp dramas or densely realist vignettes. Fans have a say in whom they make their idols in the production department. That's if they aren't too busy drooling over the characters to pay the technicians sufficient mind.

Older stories are of interest for their very antiquity. Perhaps a pre-code appearance of a cherished character or the first use of the villain growing to an enormous size.

 Fans who have been accumulating comic books will know the books to collect from a certain writer or artist. (I guess it would be possible to collect inkers, though probably not anyone else whose name appears in the credit of the comic itself, unless they also happen to be writers or artists as well).

Great storylines ensure that collectors take an interest in a certain company. It's more the publications they produce and the characters they feature, certainly, but a brand loyalty is engendered just as surely. It's Harvey league stuff sometimes but the collector market doesn't discriminate as online auctions have proven only too well. 


 What's the difference between a collectible and a collector's item? The first is more ostentatious in presenting itself as something you might want to keep - preferably in the box. 

A collector's item often only becomes so over time, not just because of its increasing age, but because it is all the better for not being self-conscious. Those holograph covers and crossovers and extravaganzas and anniversary issues are all well and good, but there is an oversubscription from amateur collectors who don't realise these things can't be wholly engineered.

You can buy a series that begins again from number one if you want but I find the corners of comic collecting are where to find the still interesting stuff.


Posted by berko_wills at 1:28 AM EADT
Updated: Sunday, 1 February 2009 2:38 AM EADT
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Wednesday, 10 December 2008
Knocking it back
Now Playing: Bob Dylan theme time radio

One thing you can't get on subscription (or in some smaller stores) are back issues

You're going to want back issues if you start reading and collecting comics seriously. You don't want holes in your collection and, if you're a fan rather than just a hobbyist, you'll want to read the earlier stories first. Even with the fashion for retconning, there are themes and plots developed over a series; having the older books from a series fills in the gaps in more ways than one.

What constitutes a back issue though? Catwoman has been around since 1940 but, with her many revamps, those earliest stories have little or no bearing on the character as you see her today. Batman #1 is a collector's item more than a back issue. And a 'back issue' for a character can't include a first appearance in someone else's title. Can it?

The long running Cerebus the Aardvark can be said to have back issues as it is one diverting arc running over years. It is either the character or the series that can be said to have back issues, not the auteur nor the publisher. Which is not to say you won't hunt down back issues that feature a certain run on a book.

But it isn't just the vintage of a book that determines its back issue status. Archie Comics Digest is hardly a 'back issue' if its stories are stand-alone. It's not as if the characters age, so the emphasis is on gags, not development.

Generic titles and generic books confuse the issue as they have back-up or short stories that start and finish at different times. There are golden age cases of the feature character swapping with the fashion or the times, sometimes losing a place in the book altogether.

Generally however I'd class Valiant as having back issues

Posted by berko_wills at 1:55 PM EADT
Updated: Thursday, 1 January 2009 1:46 AM EADT
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Sunday, 23 November 2008
Cool dark place

What do you do if your country is lacking in comics middlemen? What if they don't carry your favourite? Or they do but sell out before you get there? Or take forever to get in? Don't worry, friends, there's a solution. No local merchant is required when there are subscriptions available from the publishing company direct.

This is fine if you're following one company's titles exclusively - and I've been mainly DC and mainly Marvel at different points in my life - but becomes less convenient if your pull list includes She-Hulk and Sabrina the Teenage Witch.

Many subscription deals ask for a minimum order and you could find yourself adding a series that you wouldn't otherwise buy. And it doesn't allow you the flexibility of dropping or picking up a book at your own discretion.

But it does make you a subscriber. Listen for the postie, won't you.

Posted by berko_wills at 12:03 AM EADT
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Wednesday, 22 October 2008
Duty free
Now Playing: the Fugs

Chances are your first comics were bought for you. You liked what you saw and started spending your own pocket money. At some point you routinely bought 30-60 comics a month once you were working your first temp job and, with that and all the new music, it's a wonder you ever found time for romance. Still, real sex proved a better diversion and the trips to the comic book specialty shop were conducted inbetween and with not quite the same geekish resolve.

Then, when responsibilities arose and other priorities took the place of (gasp) penny dreadfuls, your actual consumption dropped down to a half dozen or less, enthusiastically followed. You grabbed rare moments of pleasure in second hand book stores. The narrowing focus forced you to take a more critical eye over your collection. Not to sell anything off, necessarily, but decide which stories you prefer, which characters you like to read about, which issues are best to collect, which writer and artist is working on that particular run..

But you're not the only one buying comics, and that's just as well. They were originally only sold in milk bars and drug stores. This meant that only the most popular titles would be widely available, as rack space was limited. Even in newsagencies there would be a representative sample of action, romance, teen humour, war and western (depending on the era) so this, with a lack of specialist expertise on the part of the proprietor and a lack of investment in watching for related titles to complete a crossover saga (for example), made the rise of the comic shop inevitable.

And, yes, a 'newbie' could venture into a comic store and find a welcome. But without those other vendors including the books among their stock, there may never have been enough customers to keep them in print. 


You can tell the comic book buyer by other means, perhaps, but not strictly by the titles they purchase at any given time. Walk out carrying Amazing Spider-Man and you could be buying it for your nephew, casual purchaser who likes the films, casual purchaser who'd rather read that than some of the other rubbish on the stand, Spidey fan of old, Marvel zombies of yore gnashing your teeth determined to keep the collection complete but not exactly liking it. Walk out carrying Concrete or Bone and you're in a cooler store. Maybe one that has maraccas and goathair scarves hanging from the walls.

If you're as indiscriminate - or should that be broadminded - as I once was, you'll happily sample the more esoteric offerings along with the mainstream purchases.

Posted by berko_wills at 12:02 AM NZT
Updated: Friday, 14 November 2008 2:15 PM EADT
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