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Return of the Knave
Drink It Black
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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Sunday, 27 August 2006
Paper cup

There's a lot of crossover between the media. A digest is like a magazine or journal but can also contain book excerpts. Then there's the newspaper.

Comic books, as we've assayed, were originally comic strips from the dailies combined into one book or pamphlet. Strips have their own resonance.

Comics themselves don't often make the headlines but there are no end of columns and articles dealing with them and their antecedents. Papers, in order to give relief from the preponderence of bad news that is their stock in trade, can cover some broad subjects.

 Comics aren't quite so broad as to have pieces on male pattern baldness or to appear as reading material at the hairdressing salon, they may not often be set in Guangdong Province or tell of the plight of camel drivers and, yet, neither can the most earnest broadsheet  cover every outage, every outrage; while, too often, the tabloids are busy touching up the page three girl.

Comics can give you the fun of a puzzle page, but mostly they coexist on the same page as the crossword. And they crop up as items of interest in the classifieds.


Posted by berko_wills at 5:55 AM NZT
Updated: Sunday, 27 August 2006 6:32 AM NZT
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Monday, 31 July 2006
Slick
There are magazines about comics and there are comics in magazine format, but in what ways are comics like magazines in general? Far from being narrow and fan-based, magazines cover everything from psychology to sheep farming but specialist publications usually take the form of trade and professional journals, and are available on subscription. Of course, this was not always available. The newstand won't cater to readerships below a certain size but neither are they all general interest. Apart from those glossies catering to: one also has to consider the groupings that are common to any larger newsagent: Comics have moved toward artful covers but they once bore catchy titles and descriptions to hook the reader in. Publishing history has seen an uneven attribution of bylines in both media. Advertising has long featured and you do sometimes get an editorial and a letters page

Posted by berko_wills at 4:01 PM NZT
Updated: Tuesday, 1 August 2006 4:15 PM NZT
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Saturday, 22 July 2006
A watched kettle

In all of the crossing of genres, we have largely stayed clear of terms that are particular to other media but, now that you have the perfect primer for beginning your exploration into the world of 2D adventure, let's look across at those terms; starting with books: Now the thing about the potboiler is that, while it is just as racy as yer average comic book, being in printed word form and lasting at least a couple of hundred pages, the idea is that all the action and suspense keeps you reading. Adding pictures and reducing the size to thirty-two pages turns this into something different; it isn't anywhere near as big an investment of the reader's time. So too the airport novel.

But the term thriller is a different story and has been employed in the graphic medium a number of times. In fact there was a series called Thriller. Not that I want to fall into the trap of equating comics with the lurid end of book publishing; it's not all pulp fiction, it could even be literature.

Taken over the complete series, a (comic) book may need an appendix, it may possess a frontispiece The index comes into play at the study level. Comics themselves don't usually contain an index to individual panels but Silver Age Marvel, especially, made judicious (often uproarious)use of footnotes. Not even the multi-story British weekly comics would necessarily have a contents page. Part of the fun was reading each story in turn and working through the mag that way. You pretty soon got to know all the regular strips anyway. To an extent these are like a collection of short stories but the ongoing seriality of many of the stories makes them appear more like periodicals than books.

Any reference  is likely to be about comics rather than in a sequential art format. But did you really want a  dictionary,  thesaurus , or concordance in comic book format? An encyclopedia is different since it utilises a combination of words and pictures to supply its meaning. It is also varied and general in a way that, say, an atlas (yeah, I know) or a cookbook is not.

Comics also occasionally deal with non-fiction. Popular are memoirs and biographies. But comics can cover Rod and real and everything beyond. What's on your coffee table?

Posted by berko_wills at 5:05 AM NZT
Updated: Saturday, 22 July 2006 5:59 AM NZT
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