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Trouble with Comics

Bill Sienkiewicz Weighs In On Concerns Over Frank Miller’s Health

                                      Photo by Richard Burbridge

Frank Miller’s friend and sometime-collaborator Bill Sienkiewicz has gone on the record on Facebook regarding the health of Frank Miller:

Everyone is expressing concern about Frank. It’s the 800 lb. gorilla in the room that everyone has zero qualms about seeing and discussing. We ALL love Frank— even those in the creative community who don’t share his political and creative views. I certainly can’t speak for him—he has actual reps and agents for that—but I’m close enough to honestly and sincerely thank everyone for their concern on his behalf. I’m sure he’d appreciate everyone expressing their best wishes, while at the same time poo-pooing any need for concern. When I saw him in SDCC, we hugged and he smiled and told me he was look forward to taking his first real vacation in 20 years. So Amen to that. He knows I- and so many others- are here for him should he feel the need to talk or whatever—-about anything at all. So we’ve all got that covered 12 different ways to Sunday- and his fans have it covered at least 3 times that. He deserves to be successful, happy, and healthy.

Public concern over Miller’s well-being arose after a recent Wired profile by Marvel historian Sean Howe included pictures by photographer Richard Burbridge that seem to make Miller look far older and more fragile than expected.

Alan David Doane

Ten Reasons to Read Don Heck: A Work of Art

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1. The first controversy I remember in comics was when Gary Groth and Harlan Ellison talked in The Comics Journal about how Heck was generally recognized as the worst artist in comics. Heck was condemned as a hack. Even in my early teens, that idea baffled me. By the mid-to-late ’70s, Heck (inspired as he was by Milton Caniff, although I didn’t know it at the time or appreciate Caniff’s art like I do now) looked old-fashioned to my eyes, and certainly he wasn’t a favourite of mine, but there were many, many artists working in superhero comics who had far less appealing and individualistic styles, and whose storytelling chops were far, far worse. Don Heck: A Work of Art, by John Coates (published by TwoMorrows) puts Heck into context and his career into perspective in a way that is long overdue.

2. The book serves as kind of a complement to another well-done TwoMorrows book, The Thin Black Line: Reflections on Vince Colletta. Unlike Heck, Colletta earned his reputation as the worst inker in comics not only with his anemic, lifeless inking, but by erasing backgrounds and even entire characters from the pages and panels he inked, supposedly to save time, but (SPOILER WARNING) I think it was just because he was a lazy artist and didn’t give much of a shit most of the time. In both the Colletta book and this new one on Don Heck, we gain insight and understanding of their careers and talents. In Colletta’s case I didn’t gain any sympathy for his destructive inking technique, but in Heck’s case, I found a new appreciation for the style and consistency Heck delivered throughout his career in comics.

3. I had heard years ago that Heck had suffered some unknown tragedy that affected his artwork. I think most comics readers of a certain age had heard that rumour. This book tackles it. Read it and find out the story.

4. TwoMorrows books and magazines demonstrate great care in reproducing the artwork that is featured in them, and Don Heck: A Work of Art makes it clear that their commitment to quality reproduction has not wavered. Many of the pages reproduced are scans of the original art, and they look lush and lifelike on the page. I am mentally contrasting that with the new book featuring 75 years of Marvel Comics covers, many of which are jagged and do not appear to have been scanned at a high enough resolution for a book of such importance (and $50.00 price tag). My eyes aren’t what they used to be, but they’re still good enough (especially with my reading glasses) that I can see the care taken in the visual elements of the Heck book, a kind of care that is increasingly rare in the comics world, which is ironic given that we should be at the apex of quality reproduction given the tools at our disposal.

5. Related: There’s a pencil scan of an Iron Man sketch on page 7 that is so well-drawn and well-reproduced on the page that I want to cut it out and have it framed and hung on my wall. It’s entirely possible a fan of Heck, Marvel Comics in general or Iron Man in particular might feel they got their money’s worth with that sketch alone.

6. Page 83 has a quote from Barry Windsor-Smith about the phenomenon of artists trying to draw like Jack Kirby at Marvel in the ’60s. He shared the very same insight with me privately many years ago, and I am glad to see it in print. It puts a lot into perspective, and in the case of Heck, really sheds a light on how Heck’s talents were used (and to an extent, abused) by Marvel.

7. In the past, some TwoMorrows books have been printed on super-glossy paper that seemed not to be simpatico with the subject matter and didn’t take well to the binding process. This book is on an extraordinary matte-finish paper that is a delight to behold, and that really shows off the artwork superbly. They should stick with this paper stock, it’s a winner.

8. I am definitely a process junkie; whether it’s music, movies, novels or comics, I love to peek behind the curtain and see how it all came together. There’s a wonderful section toward the end of the book where we see page after page after page of Heck in combination with a huge variety of inkers. If you’re at all curious about how the art of comic book inking is done and how very much visual variety can stem from just one penciler, this section is a goldmine.

9. Many of the most important creators in comics who are still with us today weigh in on Heck, both as an artist and as a person. Not just BWS as I mentioned above, but Tony Isabella, John Romita Sr., Stan Lee, Joe Sinnott and many more contribute comments. There’s also a note from Steve Ditko, but that has to be seen to be believed.

10. TwoMorrows is a great resource for those interested in the history of superhero comics (I find that history more interesting than the actual superhero comics being produced today, for what it’s worth). Buy this one, and hopefully they’ll keep making more books like it. 

Alan David Doane

The publisher provided a copy for the purpose of review.

Face it, John Byrne never got better than this. The only thing that could have improved it would be if Terry Austin had inked it.

Face it, John Byrne never got better than this. The only thing that could have improved it would be if Terry Austin had inked it.

ADD Reviews Andre The Giant: Life and Legend by Box Brown

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I’ve been a fan of Box Brown’s comics for years now. His style (somewhere near the intersection of Seth Boulevard and Kochalka Avenue Extension in the artcomix part of town) really resonates with me as a reader. From Everything Dies to The Survivalist, I’ve really liked everything of Brown’s that I’ve come across. So that’s why I set aside my loathing of professional wrestling (I lost interest in the sportsertainment of it all around the time my age hit the double digits) to check out the cartoonist’s new biography of Andre Roussimoff, a now-deceased pro wrestler who looms largest in my memory for playing Bigfoot on The Six-Million Dollar Man. (I looked up some YouTube clips, but they are pretty dire. If you have fond memories of those TV appearances, I’d recommend not revisiting them, just let them glow nostalgically in your mind.)

Brown humanizes Andre without painting him as a saint, sympathizing with Andre’s pains suffered as a result of the disease that terribly distorted the man’s biology; the same distortion that made him a superstar in the seedy world of pro wrestling, at a time when it was unusual for there to be 600 pound human beings. Brown balances whimsy with candor, here showing us how Andre’s phone looks like a tiny toy in his giant hands, there showing us Andre using race-baiting to pick a fight with an African-American colleague.

The world was a challenging place for Roussimoff to make his way in, and I suppose the mid-to-late 20th century was still backward enough that using his size to make a living was more out of necessity than cynical opportunism. His career began, after all, not long after the days of Vaudeville and when entertainers could make more money driving or flying from place to place rather than entertaining through mass entertainment media like TV or the internet. Much of Brown’s narrative involves depicting Andre in transit, and given that that was a large part of the man’s life (to the detriment of his family relationships, as we see), that seems appropriate.

Brown appears to have conducted copious research in the creation of this book, and it pays off. From recounting an appearance on David Letterman to a series of anecdotes from Andre’s fellow wrestlers and other people he worked with (like actors Mandy Patinkin and Christopher Guest), an expansive vision of who the man was begins to open up. He was bigger than life in more ways than one, and he clearly made an impact on the people he met and worked with. No doubt Box Brown and publisher First Second are aware of the lingering fascination with Andre the Giant, or this graphic novel would not have been produced. As I said up front, my interest in wrestling is non-existent, and my interest in Andre The Giant isn’t far behind. Despite that, Box Brown kept my attention throughout and fascinated me with the details he discovered in his research. If you don’t care about the subject matter, I suspect you’ll still enjoy Andre The Giant: Life and Legend; if you do care about wrestling in general or Andre in particular, I have to think you will love this book.  

The publisher provided a copy for the purpose of review. Buy Andre the Giant: Life and Legend on Amazon.com.

A Few Thoughts on the Justice League: War Movie

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* Thank God there’s finally an animated film that explains how the Justice League met.

* There’s something really wrong with the writing when my visceral, gut response to the bad guy breaking Green Lantern’s arm is “GOOD!”

* I’ll give you a pass for Superman snapping DeSaad’s neck because he was not quite himself, but I can’t help but wonder what Jack Kirby would have thought of having the heroes consciously plot to stab Darkseid in the eyes and then carry it out with no reservations whatsoever. 

* Thank God it’s finally okay for Green Lantern to call Batman a douchebag. That’s really what’s been holding comics back.

* Thank God Cyborg can finally say “Shit!” when something goes wrong. That has ALSO really been holding comics back.

* Why doesn’t “Shazam” turn back into Billy when he tells people his name is “Shazam?”

* Especially later when he says “Shazam!” to bring down the lightning to power Cyborg’s Boom Tube generator and DOES turn back into Billy?!?

* (I will never not think of him as Captain Marvel, because, HE’S CAPTAIN MARVEL.)

* Wonder Woman’s new costume would be so great if it had pants.

* Why did they make Cap’s lightning bolt look more like Superman’s S? Irony?

* Why did they make a New 52 cartoon and use the OLD Superman S? It’s maybe the one change I kind of like and they don’t use it!

I’m ambivalent about Miracleman being published by Marvel, but I have to say, at least it’s not DC, those fuckers.

ADD’s Comics DNA

I missed seeing Tom Spurgeon’s Five for Friday post a few days ago, but the subject was a really good one and it got my brain looking back over my own personal history, so I thought I’d post my answers here. You can see everyone else’s responses at FFF Results Post #358 — Comics Reading DNA at The Comics Repporter.

Comics Reporter readers were asked to name as specifically as possible:

1) The First Comic Of Any Kind You Remember Reading

I’ve tried to narrow that down, and I think it’s Amazing Spider-Man somewhere right after Gwen Stacy died. 

2) A Comic That Got You Back Into Reading A Certain Kind Of Comic After You’d Given Up On That Kind Of Comic

Avengers #1, the Heroes Return era by Busiek and Perez. Superhero comics had completely lost me in the 1990s, but Perez back on Avengers made me curious and the easy professionalism and obvious fun Busiek and Perez were having bought me back. It’s a good bet I might never have gotten so involved in comics again had this book not existed, so blame Busiek and Perez for Comic Book Galaxy and Trouble With Comics even ever existing, if you like.

3) A Comic That Got You Reading A Different Type Of Comic Altogether

Either The First Kingdom or Elfquest led me to what we then called ground-level comics, and FantaCo really opened the floodgates with Hembeck, Smilin’ Ed, Gates of Eden and more.

4) A Comic That Made You Want To Make Comics Even If You Never Made Them

Oh, hell, any good comic makes me feel that way. I did make scores of them in the early ’80s, probably inspired by the black and white alternatives I was reading.

5) A Comic That Represents A Kind Of Comic You Have Yet To Explore

I don’t know that there are any genres or kinds of comics I haven’t explored. But I do know my interest in comics about people who can fly or have bolts shooting out of their hands has never been lower than it is now, due to the shoddy quality of most superhero comics right now and the insipidity of the comics culture overall.

— Alan David Doane

A Scorched-Earth Moment in Comics History

For most of the first four decades of my life comics and graphic novels gave me a great deal of pleasure. From the ages of 6 to around 14 or 15, nothing occupied my time more happily than running off somewhere quiet (usually my bedroom) with a stack of new comics, in the pages of which I would lose myself in the imaginations of writers and artists far more creative than I was, or likely ever would be.

Since the ascension of celebrity fan-fiction writers like Geoff Johns, Mark Millar and others, superhero comics have become an imagination-free zone of ever-escalating violence with no thought, theme or theory in evidence anywhere. The apotheosis of this dire state of affairs was the publication of Before Watchmen. Wretched in intent and criminal in execution, its existence, and worse, acceptance in the marketplace, definitively ended my interest in superhero comics as an ongoing enterprise. The disgrace of it prompted some badly-timed comments about one of its creators at a time when all of fandom was in grief over his passing, and I regret the incident, but do not deny the truth behind my foolish utterance. The people who worked on Before Watchmen, from the writers and artists to the editors, publishers, even the “journalists” who “covered” it — all are complicit in a betrayal of whatever ideals superhero comics might once have laid claim to. The existence and acceptance of the books — now sickeningly available in hardcover, like bronzing a momentous bowel movement for posterity — is a scorched-earth moment in comics history from which there is no going back. And it killed my interest in superhero comics as if that had been its very intent. Perhaps, in broad strokes, it was. After all, the industry has little use for independent thinkers who question authority and call bullshit when appropriate. I was just one little comics blogger, but I’m sure I’m not the only one driven away by the horror implicit in the publication of Before Watchmen.

The thousands of dollars a year I once spent on comics will now be spent on other things. Rent. Groceries. Maybe the occasional movie. I still crave works that fire my imagination. I am as fascinated by the process of creating art as I am the art itself. Moreso, really. The mysteries of imagination seem like a puzzle too complex for human minds to ever fully decode. I can’t just watch a movie or TV show and lose myself in it, I am constantly pondering the process of its creation. There aren’t any superhero comics anymore that beg that question the way Kirby’s did, or Ditko’s, or whatever genius you think of when you think of the gods of comics creation. I do know that few walk the earth anymore. Fewer still seem to aspire to the heights those gods once reached.

Alan David Doane

Top Shelf’s Massive $3 Sale is On!

I may be crazy, but it seems to me that there are more absolute BARGAINS this year than in any of the previous Top Shelf $3 Sales. Click over to Top Shelf’s site and order as much as you want — this is the one time of year your budget won’t mind. 

Seriously, here are a few sale prices that strike me as absolutely bonkers; as in, you would have to be nuts not to buy these great comics and graphic novels at these prices:

* ALL of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century, each volume is five bucks, so the whole awesome story for 15 dollars.

* Alan Moore’s Unearthing softcover — normally $29.95, just $3.00. That’s 90% off for Moore’s latest work!

* The Surrogates Owners Manual is $10.00. This was originally published at $75.00 if I recall correctly, and provides hours of intense science-fiction entertainment (and also inspired a movie).

* Eddie Campbell’s excellent The Playwright is just a buck!

There are many, many more prices, so low it’s nuts. Buy some for friends, get some great reading for yourself. Top Shelf is an advertiser on this site (and I’m grateful for that!), but I’m telling you about this sale because it’s your one chance to sample some of the greatest graphic novels of the past 15 years or so without having to worry about how you’ll make the rent or pay for groceries. Click on over, get yourself some awesome graphic novels, and sleep well knowing you’re helping one of the best publishers in the industry keep doing what they do so well. And sure, if you like, tell ‘em Trouble With Comics sent you.

Alan David Doane

Somebody Said Marvel’s “Secret Invasion” Was A Story

It isn’t a story, it’s the bare bones of an idea for a plot that a story could have been built on (but was not). What you describe (“shape-shifting aliens invaded years ago”) is what Gaines and Feldstein called “springboards,” and they kept them on 3x5 cards at EC Comics so they had a place to start. (Pro tip: a story doesn’t fit on a 3x5 card — not a multi-issue epic story, anyway.) That’s the problem with Bendis and many corporate superhero comic book “writers,” these days — they consider the job done when they have a nugget of an idea, rather than blowing it up and exploring it and revising it and making it into something well-written, professional and occasionally even memorable, like Moore, like Morrison used to do, like Gaiman and Ennis and Ellis are sometimes capable of, like Millar and Straczynski had the potential to do before they disappeared up their own asses, like Hickman and Snyder might be capable of in another five or ten years if they don’t get better-paying jobs writing even worse-reading material outside of comics. Story is what the original Image creators thought either didn’t matter or they could fake on their own. Erik Larsen faked it until he made it, the rest hired other writers, some of whom knew what they were doing, some of whom were Jeph Loeb. 


A story by definition has a beginning, middle and end, with structure and character arcs and theme and other stuff that someone who didn’t drop out of high school and then college (like me), would be better capable of mapping out. 

Story isn’t that fucking Robert McKee book, and it isn’t something you can do just because you READ that fucking book. Storytelling is a skill and an art; it’s something you can learn, but the passion to do it is something you’re born with or at least is evident very early on. It’s something, honestly, that I personally don’t have in me, but I fucking well recognize it when I see it, and Secret Invasion ain’t it. A missed opportunity? Yeah. A huge disappointment? You bet. A story? Hell, no.

— Alan David Doane