Tuesday, March 02, 2010

"New York, the Super-City" Tuesday March 9th at 6:30 pm!

Here's a press release which explains what I'll be doing a week from today...

New York Center for Independent Publishing

"New York, the Super-City"
Tuesday March 9th at 6:30 pm!
New York served as the model for Gotham City, inspired Will Eisner as he created the noirish adventures of The Spirit, and became a recurring character during the 1960s resurgence of Marvel in comics such as Spider-Man and Iron Man. ForeWord Magazine contributing editor Peter Gutiérrez will moderate a high-energy roundtable on the relationship between superheroes and their favorite hometown... and on how comics culture has promoted potent and memorable images of New York to readers worldwide.

When: Tuesday, March 9, 2010, 6:30-8:30 pm
Where: 20 W. 44th Street, New York, NY 10036

Tickets $15 for general admission, $10 for CIP Members, and $5 for students - and they're tax deductible to the extent allowed by law.

Please email contact@nycip.org or call 212-764-7021 to reserve!

Speaker Bios:

Danny Fingeroth was the longtime group editor of Marvel's Spider-Man line and the writer of many comics featuring Spider-Man, Iron Man, The X-Men and other iconic characters. He is the author of Superman on the Couch: What Superheroes Really Tell Us About Ourselves and Our Society; Disguised as Clark Kent: Jews, Comics and the Creation of the Superhero, and the Rough Guide to Graphic Novels.

Peter Gutiérrez is an Eisner-nominated comics creator and a born-and-bred New Yorker who hopes that people don't learn that he now lives in New Jersey. Peter has written about pop culture for Graphic Novel Reporter, the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Montclair Times, Screen Education, School Library Journal, Rue Morgue, the ALAN Review, and ForeWord Reviews, where he is the graphic novels columnist.

Gene Kannenberg, Jr. is the author of 500 Essential Graphic Novels: The Ultimate Guide (Collins Design, 2008) as well as articles about comics for the Comics Journal, Hogan's Alley, The Chronicle of Higher Education, the International Journal of Comic Art, and several academic essay collections, some of which come from his 2002 Ph.D. dissertation on comics. His new publishing house specializing in books on comic art will debut later this year. Currently he writes graphic novel reviews for the "Ulysses 'Seen'" website and is the director of ComicsResearch.org.

Frank Tieri is an award-winning writer and creator who has worked on some of the biggest franchises in comics including Wolverine, X-Men, Hulk, Iron Man and Batman. Current work includes: Wolverine/Wendigo, Wolverine/Mr. X, Web of Spider-Man, Deadpool Team-Up.

Billy Tucci is an award-winning illustrator, writer and filmmaker best known for his modern-day samurai fable Shi. Garnering praise in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, the character has also crossed over with many comic book icons, including Daredevil, Witchblade and Wolverine. Last year Billy won wide acclaim for his story "Flash Vs. Superman-To the Finish Line!" and a hugely successful run on Sgt. Rock-The Lost Battalion. He recently completed illustrating Jonah Hex, and is developing several new stories for DC Comics as well as a new Shi series and several other creator-owned projects.

This event is made possible thanks to the generous support of the New York State Council for the Arts, New York Comic-Con, Midtown Comics, and GraphicNovelReporter.com. This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.

About the NYCIP
The New York Center for Independent Publishing supports the craft and creativity of independent publishers, and promotes public awareness of how their work contributes to the creative economy, addresses the needs of underserved audiences, and furthers freedom of thought and expression. We support this mission by providing access to education for independent publishers, writers, and the general public, encouraging excellence and cultivating free expression through workshops and lectures. Our signature events include the Independent and Small Press Book Fair, the Round Table Writers' Conference, and The Poor Richard Award ceremony, an annual reception honoring a publisher for commitment to the independent community.

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Press Release: India's Immortal Comic Books: Gods, Kings, and Other Heroes, by Karline McLain

[Note: For more information on this book, see
ComicsResearch.org's information page for India's Immortal Comic Books.]
A pioneering study of Indian comic book culture.

Combining entertainment and education, India's most beloved comic book series, Amar Chitra Katha, or "Immortal Picture Stories," is also an important cultural institution that has helped define, for several generations of readers, what it means to be Hindu and Indian. Karline McLain worked in the ACK production offices and had many conversations with Anant Rai, founder and publisher, and with artists, writers, and readers about why the comics are so popular and what messages they convey. In this intriguing study, she explores the making of the comic books and the kinds of editorial and ideological choices that go into their production.

"The Rama comic book features a muscular, bare-chested, blue-tinged hero on its cover, posed with bow and arrow drawn. A beautiful, fair-skinned woman with long dark tresses watches with wonder as Rama, the hero, takes aim. ... [Although] in many ways akin to American comic book superheroes such as Superman and Captain America, Rama is not your average fictitious superhero. He is a god in human form, and the Rama comic book is a Hindu devotional story told through the comic book medium." - from the Introduction
"[O]riginal both in content and in the kinds of sources that are brought to bear on the subject ... Students of popular culture, contemporary religion, and anthropology will all learn a great deal from McLain's study." - Lisa Trivedi, Hamilton College
"I’ve never taught an introductory Hinduism class without finding that for many Hindu students, Amar Chitra Katha had taught the course long before me. It’s a formidable canon, and like every 'Bible' it’s not just inspirational but, on reflection, controversial. In this absorbing study, Karline McLain takes the comics seriously, showing us the faces behind the pages and tracing the global impact of this culturally crucial medium and text." - John Stratton Hawley, Barnard College, Columbia University
Karline McLain is Assistant Professor of Religion at Bucknell University.
India's Immortal Comic Books is published in association with the American Institute of Indian Studies.

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Thursday, March 05, 2009

"So, What's the Big Deal about WATCHMEN?"

Several months ago, a friend asked me about WATCHMEN. She'd read the graphic novel and liked it, but she wasn't utterly blown away like she thought she'd be, and she wanted to know what I thought about the book. I sat down to "write a quick email" in reply, and I came up for breath a little shy of 1000 words later.

I've been wanting to polish this up into a "proper" essay, replete with links and images a-plenty; but alas, I am not possessed of Doctor Manhattan's unique way with time. So I've decided to just "go wild" and post a plain vanilla, barely-polished version of that original email. Will it veer off topic? Yes. Are its ideas under-developed? Of course. Are all of its ideas original? No, but I only steal from the best. Does it just peter-out at the end? Aye. Will its unfinished state embarrass me? Heck no. Do I want to say more about all of this? You bet. And I hope to, right here, eventually. Until then, I give you, off the top of my balding, decidedly un-Moore-like head...

"So, What's the Big Deal
about WATCHMEN?"

Actually, I can understand this point of view. The hype -- the hagiographical zeal -- that surrounds Watchmen can't help but set up nigh-impossibly high expectations for new readers today. But...

Part of the situation is that when Watchmen appeared, 22-ish years ago, nothing quite like it had been done before. Since then, people have ripped it off -- er, paid it homage -- a zillion times. Plus, the type of psychological nuances that Watchmen contains are lots more common today, or at least the attempt is. So characterization-wise, it can't help but seem somewhat less amazing now than it was back in the day. Plus, lots of comics today try to envision "what effect superheroes would have on the 'real' world." Again, when Watchmen came out this sort of thing practically didn't exist.

But there are two other parts which, to me, make Watchmen still stand out.

I'm a form / process geek, and formally Watchmen kicks freakin' ass. Page design, cover design, series design, panel arrangement, transitions, narrative / thematic cross-cutting -- all this stuff is still done with more precision, care, and effect than any Watchmen -wannabes ever accomplished. Because Alan Moore is a genius when it comes to stuff like this - most of that formal stuff is in his script, although Gibbons contributes enormously. Check out the "Fearful Symmetry" chapter. Look at the first page and the last page, then the second page and the penultimate page, etc.... The layouts mirror each other, and the narrative and themes do a bit, as well, page vs. page, panel vs. panel.

It's stuff like this that you can do in comics but you can't do in any other medium in the same way.

The other biggie is that plot is so not the totality of Watchmen. In fact, I find it practically secondary to the larger experience. (I think Moore did too - viz. the admittedly derivative SF ending.) For me, it's the fact that Watchmen creates an entire world, a mythology, a history, all in 12 chapters. It gives you a narrative density that "regular" superhero comics might begin to approach after a decade or three.

It helps, of course, that most of the characters are analogues of previous heroes. On one level they're extremely thinly veiled analogues to heroes from Charlton comics; but on a deeper level, they resonate with lots of (super)hero archetypes (just as the Charlton heroes do). The Comedian is sort of Captain America and the Punisher at the same time; Nightowl is Batman-ish; Silk Spectre is like Phantom Lady or numerous other "good girl" super heroines of the 40s; Rorschach is a "dark avenger," but with the moral compass of Ayn Rand; etc.

But most important, for me, is all the extra material at the end of each chapter. There's where you learn about history and world cultural development and politics and so much else about this world: information that opens up the story so that it's not just a superhero / whodunit / mad scientist story. If you just read the comics narrative without the back-up material, you'll get a very good superhero story, excellently presented, sure. But without the extra material, I'm convinced that today we wouldn't be talking about Watchmen as much more than a "Yeah, that was a pretty interesting" book.

It's these latter qualities that make me believe that pretty much any Watchmen adaptation will fall far short of what the original is all about. I've always said that pretty much the only way I could conceive of an adaptation working would be to make it a TV miniseries, or maybe a series of DVDs. Each episode would have a regular narrative section, but then rounding out the hour (or appearing as bonus dvd features) would be things like documentaries, news programs, talk shows, etc.: TV-type things that expand the world just like the print-type things that expand the world in the book. You can try to do some of this type of stuff in one movie with flashbacks, montages, etc., but there's no way that you could get an analogous depth and the breadth of that world in even a 3-hour movie.

Of course, I can't think of a single film adaptation of a novel that manages to convey completely the richness of its source material. Or a comics adaptation of a film, or a book. Or a book of a comic. You get the idea. Anyone who expects an adaptation to "live up to" the original -- to include everything, in exactly the same way, with exactly the same weight and emphasis -- is playing a sucker's game. No adaptation into another medium can ever be 100% faithful to its source; it's physically, aesthetically, impossible. Nor is it wise. Film has its strengths and weaknesses, as does prose, as does poetry, as does theater, as does comics.

I don't expect that Watchmen the film will reduplicate the experience of reading the Watchmen the comic. From all the hype, I know that it at least will mimic the "look" of the comic as much as it possibly can. (Except for the heroes' costumes. Most of them should look dumpier -- but movie audiences wouldn't stand for that. Or maybe that should read "movie executives.") I would like to see a film that treats its source intelligently (not just reverently) and utilizes all the tools of cinema in ways as innovative as Moore & Gibbons did the tools of comics. I doubt that could happen, though, no matter the passion of the people behind and in front of the camera. If it were too avant-garde, I doubt any major studio would have allowed it through to completion, not with so much $$$$ riding on it.

But we'll see – Friday night, I expect...

Image Credit: Milhouse knows the score. Screen-grab from The Simpsons.

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

CFP: Understanding Superheroes (June 15; Oct. 23-24)

Understanding Superheroes
An Interdisciplinary Conference

The University of Oregon, Eugene, OR
October 23-24, 2009

"Understanding Superheroes" is conceived as an interdisciplinary multi-media event, held in conjunction with a simultaneous exhibition of original comic art at the University of Oregon's recently refurbished Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art.

This exhibition, "Faster Than A Speeding Bullet," will feature over 150 pages of original superhero comic art from the 1940s to the present, with examples of key works by many major creators in the industry, including Neal Adams, Mike Allred, C C Beck, Gene Colan, Steve Ditko, Will Eisner, Bill Everett, Lou Fine, Ramona Fradon, Dave Gibbons, Don Heck, Carmine Infantino, J G Jones, Gil Kane, Jack Kirby, Joe Kubert, Mort Meskin, Frank Miller, Joe Orlando, George Perez, H G Peter, Mac Raboy, John Romita Sr., Alex Ross, Marie Severin, Bill Sienkiewicz, Matt Wagner, and Berni Wrightson.

Keynote Speakers include Danny Fingeroth (author of Superheroes On The Couch and Disguised As Clark Kent) and Charles Hatfield (author of Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature).

Guests Panelists include Kurt Busiek (author of numerous Superhero titles for Marvel and DC, and creator of the award-winning Astro City series), Greg Rucka (co-creator of Gotham Central, White Out, Queen & Country, and many projects for Marvel and DC), and Gail Simone (writer on Marvel’s Deadpool, DC’s Birds of Prey, co-creator of Welcome To Tranquility for Wildstorm, and current Wonder Woman scribe)! Other guests TBA.

We invite 1-2 page proposals for 20-30 minute conference papers considering the implications of superhero fantasies for our understanding of such diverse topics as gender identity, queerness, theological yearning, and nationalist politics. We also welcome appreciative discussions of superhero comics as significant aesthetic achievements — particularly insofar as those discussions contribute to the ongoing project within contemporary Comics Studies, to map the unique conventions of the comic art form. Above all, we are interested in sophisticated, lucidly written analyses that utilize the conceptual tools and hermeneutic lenses of contemporary literary and cultural theory.

It is our hope that this conference will help all participants, student and professional, skeptic and fan, to understand the extraordinary imaginative appeal of the costumed adventurer — an appeal that overlaps significant distinctions of age, gender, nation, and culture, and which no amount of silliness or cynicism seems quite able to dispel.

Please address queries and submit proposals via email to Ben Saunders, Associate Professor, Department of English by Monday, June 15th, 2009. (Email address: ben@uoregon.edu)

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Superheroes: The Secret Origin of Revisions

Author Peter Coogan has posted this message on the Comics Scholars Discussion List:
I'm looking to get my book, "Superhero: The Secret Origin of a Genre" reissued. If anyone saw any errors in it, could you email? I know I have to correct the number of Sherlock Holmes stories that refer to Moriarty (Thanks to Peter Sanderson for spotting that), but if there's anything else, I'd appreciate knowing about it.
If you have suggestions, you can email him at coomics @ hotmail.com. Check out our own information on Superheroes: The Secret Origin of a Genre here.

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Sunday, July 06, 2008

Our Thoughts on Superheroes are World-Famous in Dubai

"Man and Uber Man" is a fairly lengthy think-piece on superheroes, published on July 2 in the 4Men section of Gulf News, a newspaper out of Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Nitin Nair, the researcher, asked some interesting questions and ended up using a lot of what I'd said. I'm in pretty good company too; he also spoke with Douglas Wolk (whose Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean I still need to add to ComicsResearch.org) and Gotham Chopra, the chief creative officer of Virgin Comics (and son of mega-selling author Deepak Chopra).

Note: At present, the article's first three paragraphs appear to have come from an unrelated piece, The actual article starts "For a minute, let's assume that you grew up without having known the world of superheroes."

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Saturday, May 31, 2008

June 22 at The Met - Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy

More information on the "Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy" exhibit can be found here. And ComicsResearch.org's information on the exhibit's accompanying book can be found here.
Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy
Sunday at the Met
Sunday, June 22, 2008
All programs are in The Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium
and are free with Museum admission.

This all-day event of lectures and panel discussions brings together leading international scholars, critics, and designers to discuss the world of costumes and comics. Themes include the appropriation of the uniform, the adaptation of superhero costumes for the screen, the creation of modern mythologies, and the role of the superhero as metaphor in contemporary society.


E Pluribus Unitard: Notes toward a Theory of Superhero Costuming
Peter Coogan, director, The Institute for Comics Studies

Writers Panel
Danny Fingeroth, author, Disguised as Clark Kent: Jews, Comics, and the Creation of the Superhero; Richard Reynolds, author, Super Heroes: A Modern Mythology; and Paul Levitz, president and publisher, DC Comics

The Boys in the Hoods: The Costumed Vigilante as Urban Dandy
Scott Bukatman, associate professor, Department of Art and Art History, Stanford University

Costume Designers Panel
Geoff Klock, assistant professor, Borough of Manhattan Community College; and Adi Granov and Phil Saunders, illustrators and concept Designers, Iron Man

Artists Panel
Alex Ross, comic artist; Stanford Carpenter, assistant professor, Visual and Critical Studies, School of the Art Institute of Chicago; and Arlen Schumer, comic book art historian, The Dynamic Duo Studio, Inc.

The Gods of Greece, Rome, and Egypt Still Exist—Only Today They Wear Spandex and Capes!
Michael Uslan, executive producer, The Dark Knight

The exhibition and its accompanying book are made possible by Giorgio Armani.

Additional support is provided by Condé Nast.

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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Tales from the Green Scrapbook #2: Stan Lee - Man Behind a Marvel

Hi, Heroes! Hang on to your hats - this episode of Tales from the Green Scrapbook spotlights the first newspaper article about Stan Lee I ever read. Sure, I'd read his essays in Origins of Marvel Comics, and I'd devoured all the comics reference books in my local library; but here was actual attention to my favorite comics writer in the daily newspaper. I couldn't grab the paper from my Dad's hands fast enough.

What a disappointment. It's here I learned an important lesson: Never believe everything you read. Even at age eleven or so, I knew enough to recognize that the article was full of mistakes, from simple typos to downright errors of fact. And the accompanying illustration was wildly, laughably, and infuriatingly inaccurate. As a true-blue Marvelite, I was incensed!

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I imagine that whoever had to write this (unsigned) piece knew next to nothing about the topic, if not less. I can't really fault the reporter: It's impossible for newspaper writers to be experts on everything they write, especially feature writers. How could they be? And there's only so much time for research, especially on deadline. But isn't an editor's job to make sure that the reporter gets the facts right? Or at least find a proofreader?

Maybe it's asking too much for complete accuracy in what was obviously considered a fluff piece. Thirty-some years ago (the approximate date of this article) the mainstream media's awareness of all matters comics was significantly lower than it is today. Furthermore, Lee's own public profile as the face and founding father of Marvel Comics (some would call that "inaccurate self-mythologizing") was still developing.

Still, my disappointment was palpable. I must have archived this article as a reminder that even I, at age eleven, was smart enough to recognize ignorance when I saw it.

So here we go: A picky, petty, unabashedly fanboy-ish deconstruction of the article's most glaring failings. For the maximum impact, imagine a serious young fan yelling out loud when he originally ran across each of the following passages.

This is The Geek Stuff.

1: And artist, plotter, and arguably co-writer Jack Kirby was who? (In all fairless to Stan, the reporter doesn't give this as a quotation. He's long said that he'd always talked about the artists with reporters, but that they often left that part out. I believe Lee, especially given that he does gush about artists like Kirby and Steve Ditko throughout Origins of Marvel Comics.)

2: Who? OK, They mean Marvel's Captain Marvel (actually Mar-vell, a Kree-born warrior - don't ask), not the Big Red Cheese who shouts "SHAZAM!" The character allowed Marvel to claim and trademark the character-name, a decade after Fawcett Comics lost a lawsuit to DC and had to cease publication of the original Captain Marvel. Stan did write the first appearance of Marvel's Marvel, but Roy Thomas took over the scripting duties with the next issue. I wouldn't be surprised if it was all Thomas' idea, with Lee there just to lend the first appearance more "authenticity." So: "The Second"? Not only did Stan probably not create the character, as the article implies, but that nomenclature is just wrong, wrong, wrong! (Remember, you were warned that there would be some picky fanboy stuff...)

3: Captain America: Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. In 1940. Can you "beget" something that was already begat nearly a quarter-century beforehand? No.

4: No, Xom was "The Menace from Outer Space!" We have archaeological evidence to confirm this:
Thank you thank you thank you, Monsterblog!
5: Thomgarr did not exist, as far as my research has been able to determine, and therefore was not an alien, anti-social or otherwise.

(I imagine that either Lee or the reporter weren't striving for accuracy here; they most likely just dreamed up these titles because they sounded right enough. But still.)

6: Reed was the only scientist. Ben was a test pilot, Sue was "the girlfriend," and Johnny was "the girlfriend's little brother." (Really, Ben should have been the only one qualified to fly in that rocket. Maybe Reed as well, since he designed it, but it's doubtful that his scrawny frame would have survived training. But Sue? Johnny? Really? Although I hardly gave questions like those more than a passing consideration back then...)

7: His whole body, dangit!

8: Who?

9: It's not The Thing who's the stupid one here. (He's not always the smartest tool in the shed, granted, but an "incredibly stupid" test-pilot wouldn't last long, would he?)

10: I suppose we can give this one a pass. I'm not sure if he's actually the first of these characters, but Prince Namor, the Sub Mariner, who first appeared in Marvel Comics #1 (Nov. 1939), does fit the description. Although Stan had nothing do to with creating the character.

And "anti-hero" would have saved a whole line of type.

11. Not by anyone involved with this article...

12. Not-exactly.

13. Is he not... Galactus?!!
I thought so.

14: Marvelite. Or True Believer. Or Marvel Zombie. Marvelophile just sounds stupid.

OK, that's the worst of the text. Now let's check out the accompanying illustration. It's a collage purporting to represent "Some of Stan Lee's comic characters." There's no wonder why the illustrator didn't take any credit, or that there are no copyrights listed.

Hommina hommina hommina WHA?

I didn't get it then, and I don't get it now. The only thing I can imagine is a scenario involving dialog like this:
"We've got space to fill on that funnybook article. I think it's about superheroes or something? Hey, you! Designated office flunky! Head to the comic book clip-art file and throw something together. With your eyes closed. And be sure to use at least one image from the 'Amateur Renderings' box. STAT!"
What else could result in a collage where arguably 70% of the content should not be there? Let's break it down, with visual emphasis or de-emphasis as necessary:

A) Spider-Man: Check. Co-created with Steve Ditko. (Yes, there are arguments that Kirby should receive credit. And Jonathan Ross got Stan to admit that, deep down, he feels that Spider-Man is his creation alone.) Even given those controversies, I'll say "full credit"; at least Lee wrote the character from the very beginning: 20%

B) Captain America: See #3 above. However, Stan did write the character for quite a long time, and along with Kirby he re-introduced Cap in Avengers #4. So half-credit: 10%

C) Green Lantern:
Published by DC Comics, not Marvel. Stan had absolutely nothing to do with this character. At all. Ever. (This book does not count, fanboys.) 0%

D) Green Arrow:
Published by DC Comics, not Marvel. Stan had absolutely nothing to do with this character. At all. Ever. 0%

E) The SHAZAM! Captain Marvel:
By this time, SHAZAM! was owned and published by DC. Stan had absolutely nothing to do with this character. At all. Ever. (This book does not count, fanboys.) I'd almost be tempted to give this one 5%, just because of the possible confusion noted in #2 above. But not with a horrendous drawing like that; no freakin' way. 0%

And now, the whole thing:

OK, that's far more than enough on this one. But thanks for indulging me; my inner eleven-year-old has been waiting 30 years to get this off his chest.

There. Now I feel cleansed.

Be sure to join us next time on
Tales from the Green Scrapbook, when we spotlight America's war on terrorists - thirty years ago...

More from The Green Scrapbook: Part 0: Intro || Part 1: Howard the Duck

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

"The Sleeker Superhero"

How much muscle does it take to look manly? But there’s a trickier follow-up: How much is too much?

The comic-book fantasy of humongous muscles "wore off when fitness gained widespread appeal, [Christopher] Hart says, "because, seriously, who wants to look like that?"
That's the central idea behind "The Sleeker Superhero," an article posted at the Arkansas Democrat Gazette website on Monday. In it, writer Ron Wolfe interviews Christopher Hart, the author of many "how-to-draw" books, about his latest, Simplified Anatomy for the Comic Book Artist.

For background information, Wolfe compares the popular conception of the über-muscled superhero with another comic-book mainstay, bodybuilder Charles Atlas, whose advertisements for the "dynamic tension" exercise program appeared for decades. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the article quotes "The Ad that Made an Icon Out of Mac!," my essay that appears at the Hogan's Alley website. It's always encouraging to see your writing put to use.

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Sunday, September 17, 2006

Dissecting the Crossroads of Infinity

The Sunday Arts section of The New York Times often features a "Close Reading" of artwork currently on display in the city. Today, commemorating the opening of the traveling exhibition "Masters of American Comics," critic George Gene Gustines turns his critical eye toward the work of Jack Kirby - specifically, images from the landmark comic book Fantastic Four #51, cover-dated June, 1966. The column is reproduced as an interactive slideshow at the Times' website (link also currently available off this page).

Gustines does a fine job of highlighting some of "King" Kirby's techniques and quirks in this brief overview, from the cartoonist's fondness for collage (never reproduced adequately in the original comic books) to his fantastic machinery designs. (If only he'd been able to cover some Kirby Krackle, as well!)

Since you can read Gustines' comments at the link, I thought I'd take the opportunity to showcase a few more images from this story. First, for comparison, here's the collage example discussed in the article as it was originally published. When you compare it to the article's recolored version, you can see how 1960s-era comic book publication techniques did Kirby's photo collages no favors:

When it comes to machine design, the article's curiously labeled "Deep Closets" example can't compare to one of my favorite Kirby machines of all time, also conveniently featured in this issue - in fact, it's the machine Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic) designs to allow him to travel to the "world of limitless dimensions" above:

And finally, no discussion - however brief - of FF #51 should ignore the issue's iconic splash page, featuring a rain-soaked, silent portrait of Ben Grimm (The Thing). True, there's some of Stan Lee's trademark, over-the-top editorial matter plastered on the page, but in terms of the story itself, the image remains silent. The absence of dialogue or even narration renders the drawing a portrait of isolation - an isolation further enhanced by the nighttime rain shower which pelts the pavement and the morose Grimm alike.

Lee rarely passed up the opportunity for snappy dialogue or "hipper-than-hip" narration, here he wisely allows Kirby's artwork to speak for itself. The somber tone perfectly prepares the reader for the story that follows, a superhero story in which "super powers" are used only twice: once when the impostor-Thing crushes a small metal canister, and once when Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, reluctantly sets his thumb ablaze to satisfy the curiosity of his gawking, fellow college students.

Here's hoping Gustines' article piques the curiosity of Times-readers who might otherwise have passed up the opportunity to visit this show. Masters of American Comics is on display until January 28th, 2007, with half at The Newark Museum (Masters Info) and half (including Kirby) at The Jewish Museum (Masters Info). The latter also is hosting a companion exhibit, Superheroes: Good and Evil in American Comics. Having missed the "Masters" exhibit's previous stops in Los Angeles and Milwaukee, I hope to visit these soon.

Update: Wow, I can't believe I forgot to mention the monumental exhibit catalog (perhaps because I haven't got a copy yet, myself):
Masters of American Comics. Ed. John Carlin, Paul Karasik, and Brian Walker. Yale University Press, 2005. 328pp.
Image credits: Top, the Times website; the rest are reproduced from the 44 Years of Fantastic Four dvd-rom. As noted on the FF images, they're all ™ and © 2005 Marvel.

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Monday, March 20, 2006

Marvel & DC's Super-Hero "Claim"

As BoingBoing notes (also here, with earlier info here), Marvel Comics is again flexing its muscles and asserting that it co-owns (with DC Comics) a trademark on the term "super heroes" - this time in the publicity for its "Marvel Super Heroes Science Exhibition."

Marvel and DC have been claiming and attempting to enforce this "trademark" for many years. According to this link (one of several) from the US Patent and Trademark Office's "Trademark Application and Registration Retrieval system," Marvel & DC claim a "First Use in Commerce Date" of October 1966. Most knowledgeable folks aggree that this claim is bogus on many levels, but that hasn't stopped the USPTO from allowing the publishers to register the claim successfully and repeatedly over the past few decades. Digging around the archives via TESS reveals that all TM claims aren't automatically registered - some are denied. But from what I can tell, they've never denied Marvel & DC's claim.

Apparently, just because the USPTO allows you to register a trademark doesn't actually mean that they're endorsing your claim's validity - they're just aggreeing that, well, you've made the claim (tax dollars at "work," folks!). I suppose if someone with deep enough pockets and stamina to spare were to take Marvel & DC to court over this, the claim's bogus nature would be revealed and overcome. But until then, these two "super-gorillas" continue to throw their imagined weight around.

Thanks to several folks at the Comics Scholars Discussion List for helping me figure out what I think is going on in this situation. Caveat lector: I ain't no lawyer!

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Now, More Than Ever, A Need for Science

A recent scientific study only re-emphasizes this country's need for increased scientific education, as well as the need for less stringent restrictions on scientists themselves and their exploration of the benefits of nuclear energy. Be sure to read We Must Expand Our Nuclear Power Program If We're To Realize Our Dream Of Superhero Mutants by T.J. Prima, scientific adviser for The Onion.

Image: Benefits of scientific experimentation begin to sprout forth.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

"Holy Flash Animation!"

I usually detest websites relying too heavily on Flash animations - they can be a pain for dial-up users to load, and too often the animation seems to exist merely "because it's cool." One of the most important ideas that a designer - heck, anyone - needs to learn:

"Just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should."
But today I learned about perhaps the finest use of Flash ever: The Bat Pages, devoted to the 1960s Batman TV show. Yes, the show was hokey (and Caesar Romero wouldn't even shave his moustache), but it was hokey-fun, from the cartoon titles to the whirling Bat-logo scene-changer to the catchy-yet-philosophical theme song.

The Bat Pages strive to recreate the entire Bat-Video Experience, and they do a mighty-fine job, with opening titles, sound effects, interactive bits, and more. So-- atomic engines to power, turbines to speed, speakers on, and go! (Note the special bonus included for those visitors lucky enough to find the Bat Shark Repellent.)

Thanks to my brother John Kannenberg (founder, designer, and all-around guru of the net.music label Stasisfield) for the tip!

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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Superhero Renaissance?

No, I'm not suggesting that superhero comics have suddenly "seen the light." Pal Miron Murcury alerted me to this Photoshopping contest at Worth1000.com. The theme this time should be pretty clear from the examples I've posted here: "Blue Boy Wonder" by the pseudonymous "Snowcrash," "Superdegas" by "DerPartnerSweeny," and "Wonder Woman" by FlashDaz.

Not all the entries are as accomplished as these three, but there are several here that are amusing and unexpected. Maybe not worth 1000 looks, but definitely worth a look or two; check it out here.

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Thursday, July 14, 2005

Comics Action-Fingers

Thanks to pal Mike Rhode, I am the proud owner of these exquisite Spider-Man and Batman finger puppets. Note the fine quality of the knitting, which really highlights the faithfulness to detail on these unlicensed Ecuadorian exports. Thanks, Mike!

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