Read comics every day! Let’s go!
Answering questions on Tumblr, an anonymous asked me:
“How do you feel about webcomics”
So I responded:
Glad you asked.
I’m a hip hop guy, for twenty years. I’ve been into hip hop since The Big Kids came to the playground with a boom box and a tape of Onyx and Dr. Dre. It would not be accurate to say that I “live” hip hop but it informed many of my values and a lot of my ideas about how art and commerce work.
The thing about music in general and hip hop in particular is that they give that stuff to people for free. Before anybody asks you for money, they’ve given you their art with no money asked. Buying an album or paying for a live show feels like a transactional formality by the time it occurs. Back when I was in high school, mixtapes used to cost money. In this day and age, mixtapes are free. It’s just an economic thing. We have computers. Mixtapes can afford to be free now. So they are.
Meanwhile. Comics in the 1990s: Bone, Scud the Disposable Assassin, Hepcats, et cetera. The lasting image that holds in my mid is Rob Schrab (Scud) hunched over his kitchen table, both drawing the comic and figuring out how to pay for it. And likely, how to convince people like you and me to part with $2.99 for an issue. Yeah, comics still cost $2.99 back in 1997 but that was worth a lot more back then.
The point that I’m getting at (and this is how I tell stories in real life) is that when webcomics began to rise up and become a part of people’s daily lives, we see people being better able to expose themselves to the artform. The medium of comics became something that wasn’t restricted by parting customers from their money nor was it bound by readers’ access to specialty stores. Webcomics made comics truly free.
The thing that bothers me and I’m including myself heavily in this since I haven’t worked a webcomic since 2010 or so: rappers put stuff out. Rappers put lots of material out and it isn’t even album stuff. Rappers will make multiple mixtapes and follow them with official albums which represent more material. Not all of the material is exclusive, but enough of it is. People remain engaged with the artist on a continual basis. For that reason, I aspire to the model of webcomics which allows one comic to be seen in public and generate interest in an artist while that artist works behind the scenes on other comics. I call the latter “black comics.” Mostly unseen, until they need to be seen.
Personally, if I were to return to webcomics, I would prefer to use them as a more freewheeling, disposable free thing that causes me as little stress as possible, while concentrating my more detailed labor on projects that I would sell.
Mixtapes versus albums.
[Feel free to ask me anything, via my Tumblr Ask Box!]
Cable and X-Force, no. 11
by: Dennis Hopeless & Salvador Larocca
with: Frank D’Armata & Joe Sabino
$3.99, Marvel Entertainment
I was born in Manhattan’s Mount Sinai Hospital. Thirty years later, I had my eyes checked out there (all good). A year and a half after that, X-Force saved the hospital from blowing up!
1. What it is.
Cable and X-Force is a comic about a new version of the original X-Force. The main X-Force comic is a derivative of the version that Craig Kyle and Chris Yost and Rick Remender spearheaded on recent years. Cable and X-Force is the “heroes branded as outlaws, on the run from the law” kind of comic. I’m into this.
As an indie comics guy, I’m supposed to loathe Salvador Larroca. His work on Invincible Iron Man should be an abomination to me, made by computers, aided by photographs, driven by photoshop, et cetera. Well, eat dirt, indie comics. I like Larroca’s work.
Frank D’Armata is no small part of this. His limited palate (grey) and silvery sheen probably turn off a lot of old school art-likers. But he and Larroca have slid into a rhythm where their work seems made to be together. It’s just a grey world and that brings me to…
3. Boom Boom.
The character Boom Boom is all pink and yellow. The proverbial ray of sunshine in this world that is so steely that her opposite character is literally black and white (Domino). Aesthetically, they look good together. They make an idea team-up because even their colors are coding their outlooks on life, particularly when contrasted with one another.
4 Domino effect.
In a Domino/Boom Boom stealth mission, Domino is the one who goes undercover. And nobody blinks at this Obvious Mutant carting a patient out of the hospital!
Points for not being racist, Mount Sinai Hospital!
Demerits for terrible security, Mount Sinai Hospital.
5. Structure: parallel; asymmetrical
In this comic, we actually never see the lead title character, Cable, but we see his daughter, Hope Summers. She is in the future, teaming up with Blaquesmith fighting Warlocks. I ain’t even mad!
When I was a boy, Original X-Force was my favorite comic. While the X-Force gang was running around and rescuing their friends, Domino was hunting down mercenaries and searching for X-Force. That was the era of issues #20-24, especially issue 23 “Domino Triumphant.” Today the tables are flipped and Domino is rescuing mutants (and civilians) while some OTHER estranged member is taking the Long Way Home.
Hope’s mission is long. It began before this issue and it continues past this issue. Domino and Boom Boom’s mission is immediate. It begins and ends in this current episode.
WHAT I KEEP TELLING YOU ABOUT!
A comic book issue should tell its own story while also providing seeds for future (no pun intended) stories to develop. That’s what this comic book issue does and I will support Hopeless and Larroca in their mission if this is what they plan to do.
I call this “polyrhythmic storytelling.” One story arc moves at a certain pace and the other hand (I took piano lessons as a boy) moves at a different pace. Yet both hands compliment the work as a whole.
In comics, what you want to do is have your dominant storyline take up the majority of an issue’s time/space (in comics, time and space are the same thing) and have the subplot move along at sparser, sharper beats to make for an interesting narrative “stab” of interest with each subplot interlude. The idea is that by the time the subplot becomes the dominant plot, the reader will have absorbed enough of that subplot’s world to become fully curious and engaged. And do remember: when the subplot eventually becomes the primary conflict, seeds should still be sewn for subplots even further down the road. That’s how it’s done!
6. Domino effect, part 2
This past weekend, I bought the 1996 Domino miniseries (so, so, so terrible) and the 2002 Brian Stelfreeze Domino miniseries (reading it soon). The day of this Cable and X-Force, I also bought Adam Warren’s A+X comic “Scarlet Witch+Domino.” I really like Domino. The Domino in the comic at hand is not the freewheeling, daredevil Domino but the original Too-Old-For-This-Shit Domino. I can’t complain, it’s just weird to see different comics slide the character back and forth between Stern School Marm and Reckless Trickster. The latter role in this story goes to Boom Boom who was an utterly joyless character until Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen put her in the comic Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.
So I enjoy this comic for what it is presented as, not what any prior comic suggests that it might be. And shout out to Ellis and Immonen for supplying Boom Boom with an actual characterization.
7. The review of Cable and X-Force # 11.
Wasn’t the best comic book to come out this week (July 17, 2013), but it might have been the closest comic book to my heart. If you were a fan of Fabian Nicieza and Greg Capullo’s X-Force (twenty years ago), this is the comic for you, without a question. Antics, friendship and want an destruction. The X-Force Way.
Young Avengers, no. 7
Marvel Comics, July 2013
Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matthew Wilson, Clayton Cowles
When I was a little dude, twenty years ago, there lived a comic book called “X-Force” (by Fabian Nicieza and Greg Capullo) that I liked a lot. It wasn’t a perfect comic book but it was as close to perfect as I had personally seen at the time and thus, functionally perfect. The point in time when this comic existed as pure joy was in the brief period of its 20th through 24th issues. During this period, the teenaged cast of the comic had their own adventures, made their own decisions with absolutely no adult supervision, broke things, blew things up and ran from the law. They argued with each other and loved each other and beat opponents into submission to protect each other. Persuasion through muscle and victory through hardheadedness. It was 1993 and this was the best comic book in the world. It was everything that eleven-year-old Darryl wanted to see. More than wanted, it was everything that I needed to see.
Twenty years later, we have Young Avengers. It’s the same concept but put together a lot more adeptly.
1. Kirby Engine versus IPAC Unit.
Flying around the world (or galaxy) in a super-jet, beating up bad guys and having a good time with your friends–the only people who you can hold to since you’re on the run from authorities and wanton property damage is the X-Force way. The teen superhero team way. It’s the Darryl Ayo way. If you make a comic like this, you’re talking my language.
2. Through the eyes part 1
Jamie McKelvie is pulling a large portion of this story along on facial expressions, mostly. Body language, next. The conversation between Noh-Varr and Hulkling is conducted over two pages of both characters sitting down. Yet throughout, we see not only the subtle shifts in mood and emotion on both characters’ faces but we also see a consistent difference in personal disposition between the two.
The same thing happens between the unspoken disdain between Prodigy and Loki. Their dialogue says one thing but their eyes and facial moods say all of that and then some.
3. These stories are long.
My initial complaint with this Young Avengers series seems harsh because it isn’t unique to Young Avengers but the first story arc was long. I didn’t have a problem with the pacing of the storytelling itself, I found the storytelling pitch-perfect. My difficulty was in the length of the overt-objective narrative. Five issues of the first story felt overly long to me.
Since then (issue six and the current issue, number seven), I feel that there has been a bit more containment of narrative beats in an issue which limits that sense of sprawl which I felt in the first arc.
I think that we’re seeing a return to polyrhythmic storytelling, where the overt objective brings the structure for an individual issue but the underlying emotional arcs keep readers coming back for more.
4. Miss America & Prodigy.
Two brown folks in the Young Avengers and they are pretty terrific to see on the page. Both are highly competent and casually cool (not “cool” meaning “likable,” but “cool” as in one’s demeanor).
Miss America is kind of a “you never asked” type of character which gets aggravating but it takes all types to run a successful ensemble cast. She’s mysterious and magical and likes to punch things, so therefore perfect for the role. Prodigy, on the other hand, is a new spin on the know-it-all character type. A genius with people-skills. He knows everything but has enough empathy not to lord it over people.
5. Through the eyes, part 2.
Prodigy’s point of view of tracking the Young Avengers is a lot of fun to read. Every issue of this series seems to have some sort of design trickery to it or some panel-border-breaking magic to it. This issue has both design trickery and panel-manipulation to denote magic. This comic is just a lot of fun to look at.
6. The review of “Break-Fast Meet,” Young Avengers # 7.
Good. Better. Best!
Young Avengers has been a high-quality superhero series since the first issue but the quality has just taken a dramatic upturn. Pop culture references in this series are sharp and trading on pop culture familiarity is dangerous ground for any storyteller. Most readers of this series seem devoted to the characters themselves and therefore this issue ratchets up the interpersonal antics.
“Blind Rage: Part One”
Indestructible Hulk, no. 9
Mark Waid and Matteo Scalera
Marvel Comics, June 2013
1. “I was sent by–” “No names.”
The last-page revel, after the runaway goon delivers the stolen weapon to the villain is Baron Zemo, sitting in a darkened room, lazily enjoying a glass of red wine, dressed in full battle garb. I don’t understand what was happening in that room before the goon showed up at the door. Zemo’s bodyguard was apparently in the hallway or center hall, Zemo himself was sitting in a chair, drinking wine. In the dark.
Weirder than a man who has a ski mask permanently stuck to his face is a man who sits in chairs in the dark, just in the hopes that a stranger shows up to exert an intimidating aura over.
This scene is used in a lot of fiction and it just does not make sense. What is more likely to occur when any person visits another person is that the person being visited will be in the process of doing something and the visitor will be interrupting.
The old cliche scene is that the crime boss is playing poker with his inner circle when the visitor arrives. This shows the visited as a person who has a life with interests. Interests beyond drinking wine alone in the dark. A life that is interrupted by a visitor with a proposition. This makes a scene more interesting and it makes the characters more interesting.
2. “Gentlemen… a word.”
There’s a scene that does the thing that some readers hate: a page with only subtle shifts in movement.
These scenes are sometimes constructed to mimic the rhythms of film. In other cases, they are designed to show the comedic effect of subtly changing scenic elements. Criminals see Daredevil (a man in a red suit), they draw guns. Criminals see Hulk (an invulnerable monster), they cower in terror. It’s a joke: characters begin a scene with one expectation and find that expectation turned on its end.
Personally, I like these sorts of page constructions. I don’t see it as necessarily cheap or overly indebted to filmic ideas of motion. In some cases, these scene constructions are both of those things but in general, I find it to be a fun comics trick to keep in the cartoonist’s toolbox. Personally, I would caution against using it as a full page construction too often. Like any trick, it can get over used and weakened. In this case, it works just fine. Reading it, I smirked.
Maria Hill is my favorite character currently roaming around Marvel comic books. She’s demanding, determined and completely not in awe of super people. She’s also mean as whatever so this prank she pulls on Bruce “Hulk” Banner is pretty much my highlight of the comic.
Never change, Maria Hill. Never become nice.
Minicomics, artcomics, lit-comics, indie comics, alt-comics. That whole region of comics falls under a general umbrella. The problem is that nobody is making it rain.
There is a lot of talk about how strong comics are as an artform and how important the independent/art/lit-comics world is. Over a decade since Fort Thunder and Jimmy Corrigan and it seems like it mostly is just talk. Yes, some individuals have made a career crafting a niche product while NPR hosts scramble to describe them as “not the comic books you may be used to,” but it still does not amount to a very powerful movement. It is more than selling individual books to decent numbers of people, I am talking about does this field of art mean something to culture as a whole. Does it factor into a moderately average person’s daily life? Or are literary/art/alternative comics just an occasional novelty, like a parlor trick?
By Darryl Ayo
Returning to Wolverine and the X-Men, No. 31 for deeper consideration.
Why is it that the bad guys lose? Not only lose but keep trying as though they will eventually win? And when they win, as Norman Osborne did in Marvel Comics for a while, they eventually get beaten up extra-badly and placed in a prison beneath the earth, never to be free again. Crime really does not pay when one is a supervillain?
The problem with villains winning in comic books (or similar media, television, movies, “genre” novels) is that the villains goals are fundamentally unacceptable to the audience. The world will no longer be “like ours” if a villain transforms all the people into monsters or detonates the Earth’s core or succeeds in invading the USA or what-have-you. The sense of it being “our world” becomes lost.
I think it would be interesting to experiment with villains who have more modest goals. Things that can be lost to the hero without changing the fabric of society, thus ruining the “world outside your window” illusion.
Let’s say you’ve got a villain who likes robbing banks (an archaic crime, if you look up the real stats, but roll with it). Then your superhero (Batman will do) attempts to foil the plot. He fails, gets beaten up, the villain gets the loot and Batman staggers back home with his cape between his legs. Lesson learned. No second act, no “this time it’s personal,” just simply “you win some, you lose some.”
I would like to see an element of plot uncertainty in action stories where the goal being battled over is forgiving enough that there remains a fair chance that the writer can send the hero into defeat without ruining the world.
*art by Nick Bradshaw, story by Jason Aaron
“I should have dumped you…”
Tragic Relief, No. 15; 2013
This is a comic consisting of single-panel gags completing the sentence “I should have dumped you…”
The central character is a woman who is depicted being subjected to her current boyfriend being exceptionally sleazy and hostile. From body-policing to infidelity to stealing, this boyfriend does it all. The amazing, adaptable Bad-Boyfriend-Man! The panels within this small comic are not quite “funny” as they are cringe-inducing. I don’t believe that these panels are meant to be funny but rather cathartic. For any person who has absorbed bad treatment from a spouse or significant other in the course of their relationship. I didn’t laugh with this comic but I felt reinforced in my own views about bad relationships: “OMG DTMFA!”
One especially fun aspect to this comic is the packaging. It comes wrapped in a magenta band that acts as both cover and dust jacket. The “meat” of the comic has no internal cover. Inside the cover is a two-panel strip featuring caricatures of some cartoonists who are not named (but I recognize them). Is it okay to take your grievances with ex-partners I to the realm of your artwork? To duke it out with the ghosts of your past relationships in public? The answer is obviously “yes, that is totally okay.”