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Return of the Knave
Drink It Black
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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    Monday, 21 May 2007

    As sometimes happens, I had to mention something that I had no opportunity to canvas ere then; in this case, the fanzine. A magazine for fans, sure enough.

    But, as well as fans, readers are satisfied by zines, which answer their need for a knowledgeable publication in their special interest. Comic fans can lose sight of the primacy of the printed page and begin worshipping their Judomaster action figure or shining their Captain Triumph plates but the fanzine reader is there for the text and pics; often as a supplement to their three-dimensional passion.

    I don't know that this goes a long way to explaining the fanzine so let's take a left turn and consider brass buttons. A journal for those who make them, a magazine for those who have a wider interest in collecting buttons, a zine for all I know, that devotes a number of features to the subject and has a Brass Knob of the Month. But the fanzine fairly requires a human or anthropomorphic agency as its centrepiece. You can only in the most colloquial manner, be a fan of an inanimate object.

    Fanzines can be devoted to authors, to players, to minstrels, and performers of all kinds. Real life characters like Hopalong Cassidy and the Human Fly serve as a bridge to fan clubs for characters who don't exist. So, having buttoned up, what say an Avengers fanzine?

    Despite their status as 'Earth's mightiest heroes', the Avengers are going to have a particular following. It will be for the original comic series since mention of "the Avengers" in any other format raises the spectre of the cult television series of the same name. They probably have their own fanzine too  

    Their creators are the stuff of fanzine legend but might I suggest you go to the Jack Kirby Collector if you're a fan of the King; it's proof positive that a magazine can cater to the fan and the collector in the same stroke. With decades of work encompassing so many aspects of the comics creation process, it's a mine that won't run dry any time soon.
    Stan Lee is likewise prolific and there is enough to sate any fan of the Man with his Just Imagine series, where the conceit is DC characters if they had been created by Stan, and the faintly senile-sounding Striperella. You can even see him doing Hitchcock-like cameos in current Marvel films (and, no, I don't know if he can wiggle his ears like Willie Lumpkin!) or 'meeting' his creations in one-offs.


    Dick Ayers is a suitable yardstick and let's never forget that it was Roy Thomas who brought us the Kree-Skrull War.

    Just as tricky is to imagine a fanzine devoted to the original line-up. It only lasted one issue with the Hulk stomping off in typical fashion in issue two and Captain America barely being given a chance to thaw before joining in issue four. Speaking of Thor, he has his own book and his own fan following as does Tony Stark - who owns Avengers Mansion. Dr Henry Pym is a one-man character cottage industry while Simon Williams spreads his identity across Avengers. And the unflailing heroism wasn't always in evidence as Hawkeye the Marksman and a couple of former Brotherhood of Evil Mutants became Avengers, presaging those other reformed villains, Thunderbolts. 

        Maybe they should have a fanzine for the Wasp. I'd like to see that. This is where a mighty Avengers fanzine could come into its own; highlighting characters like Mantis and Moondragon (never mind D list characters like Dr Druid and D-Man) who are, at best, supporting characters in the pantheon.  

    But the Avengers roster has included a large sector of Marvel Universe so that suggests you can have a Marvel fanzine and even a generic comics fanzine. Such is the case so, while no coat button fanzines are planned, it is still possible to have fanzines for "inanimate objects".

    Posted by berko_wills at 3:54 PM NZT
    Updated: Monday, 21 May 2007 4:08 PM NZT
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    Friday, 2 March 2007

    Magazine readers are always going to have more interest in American quilting than comic book readers. This is not to categorise them (us) as all of a kind, but a Revels reader may be predisposed to reading about Sarge Steel and Sarge readers may look across with approval at the lurid mags and still not change the fact that magazines and journals can take a serious tone on the most lighthearted of subjects with more natural aplomb than can comics, which often struggle to bring gravitas to serious matters.

     Newspaper readers, even subscribers who wake up to one each day on their front lawn, scoff down the news of the day - and once they're done, they happily recycle or leave on the seat. Newspapers do have a 'cast' of characters that either are of interest or who have an interest. Anna Nicole Smith seemed to have one of those totally tabloid lives. But we have heard the old lies and griped about the old wars; we're ready for a fresh supply with our cereal. Comics, on the other hand, engage our familiarity and position their players in the way they want. In the way we want. Papers, by mourning a succession of big notes, have an easier job than comics, which have to preserve the perpetual franchise. They do this, though, not by keeping the character and their surrounds the same, but by updating them in line with the times each generation of readers is going through. The uneven result is no doubt the subject of many a late night geek discussion.

    Short story readers won't feel they've missed out if they haven't had Mac Raboy to illustrate the story in their heads. What distinguishes comic readers from all other readers in this respect, is that part of the joy of reading is the 'creative' process of imagining the scenes and characters depicted, based on words alone. I don't think there is a laziness on the part of comics readers as much as a love of the whole potential of sequential art storytelling.

    Novel and novella readers enjoy those eloquent turns of phrase or vivid descriptions that are best worked in to longer works. It is this extraneous scene-setting that displays a different character to the comic book.

     The agenda for many non-fiction readers is not one of escape. It is linked to serious purpose, with any edification directed to professional or academic ends. Reference readers have an even more fleeting attention to their reading matter; where only the facts matter and not how they are related.

    Lastly, poetry readers have an even greater attraction to the language itself and the way a narrative is conveyed.

    Comics have at times attempted to cater to readers who don't normally bother with sequential art by emulating the feel and focus that other reading forms possess.

    Posted by berko_wills at 11:36 AM EADT
    Updated: Friday, 2 March 2007 11:38 AM EADT
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    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.


    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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