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Who Cares What Wolverine Would Do?

13 Jun

By Ayo

The Hellfire Saga, Part One
Wolverine and the X-Men, no. 31
Nick Bradshaw and Jason Aaron
Marvel Entertainment, June 2013

Unpopular opinion: The Hellfire Club, in all of its iterations, is the best X-Men antagonist. The current Hellfire Club is a fun group of characters because they are jokey, little mean-kid versions of the group that used to be ruthless old men and women. Writer Jason Aaron has established the New Hellfire Club as a series-length antagonizing force against Wolverine’s Jean Grey School. So now Kade Kilgore has his own school. For villains. Where everything is BAD. I found it all very funny.

This issue was filled with physical comedy, sight gags and running jokes. Every inch of the Hellfire Academy is a pot of comics gold. Nick Bradshaw runs wild with these pages. Bradshaw’s style accomplishes many goals simultaneously: the characters are open and appealing; the body language and “acting” is clear; the action is staged in such a way that the comic is both information-rich and graphically easy to read. There are a lot if characters in this story, more than can fit in the magazine’s masthead. Even so, the comic does not feel crowded to me.

The pictures tell the story well–but is the story itself worthwhile? Yeah, kinda!

I like the series concept: taking the X-Men to be an actual school. And I like this storyline’s conceit that the X-Men’s rival would simply set up his own school for evil. It’s an idea that might sound foolish on paper but when you are willing to walk as far as “X-Men,” you might as well walk the rest of the way, into the high-concept deep end. The comic doesn’t take itself seriously, but doesn’t insult itself either. As a writer, Jason Aaron seems to just be having a good old time with bouncing ideas around and I’m pleased to be along for the ride.

Also, nice call, only giving “Wolverine and the X-Men” two pages in this issue. It’s apparent that the real hero of this story is Kid Omega, Quentin Quire. Who needs those grumpy spoilsports?

My only major apprehension is that as a series, Wolverine and the X-Men has rotated artists several times. I am very find of the tone and skill that Nick Bradshaw has infused this issue with and I’d like for him to stay.

One last comment, I very much liked the Hellfire Academy student uniforms. Nice touch, Bradshaw.


5 things that I liked about this X-Men comic book that a lot of people recently read

2 Jun

By Ayo

“Primer” part 1 of 3
X-Men, no. 1
May 2013, Marvel Entertainment
Brian Wood & Olivier Coipel

1. Series wordsmith Brian Wood decided to eschew the embarrassing phonetic accents for “regional” characters such as Rogue. Shugah.

2. The action scene takes place on the Metro North Harlem Line. I took this train to school when I was a kid and I enjoy some real-world regional flavor to my comics. Superhero stories tend to revolve around New York City so let’s bring some of that NYC reality to the page.

3. Coipel’s drawing of Jubilation Lee is completely adorable. She’s got the most emotional range in her expressions and Coipel handles it all well.

4. Coipel’s drawing of the American flag on the “Grand Central Station” page. I like how he used black for the stripes and faded into red for the tips, which show…

5. Yo, on the real, I JUST crushed a NASTY insect with this thing. So. Thanks for being at hand, X-Men # 1.


Re: proactive versus reactive lead characters

28 May

By Ayo

With regards to the article listed here.

You’ll notice in the piece about “proactive vs reactive” characters that the author is very proscriptive about what makes a good character. I don’t agree. I think that characters having a proactive or a reactive disposition is an equally valid creative choice. The problems arise when authors are not consciously making those decisions and are falling into cliche or unconsciously following trends which might lead them into certain styles of character building.

My primary thought is superhero comic books. The protagonists of all superhero comic books with the possible exception of Mister Fantastic seem to be reactive characters. While the genre is billed as “men of action,” the reality is that these characters generally sit passively until some hostile force prompts them to act. This pattern of character-writing gets a job done. The general idea of a protagonist doing one thing and being interrupter by adventure works toward common cultural values, namely humbleness, selfless activism and generosity. The idea that a person might set aside his or her interests to lend their talents to assist in a sudden emergency.

On the other hand, this use of the passive or “reactive” protagonist is often reflexive: it is usually a construct of convention not intention.

As a reader, I tend to find proactive protagonists more engaging. Failing that, I tend to be excited by side characters or villains, either of whom tend to have more direct and aggressive goals in stories featuring reactive protagonists.

Which seems to lead into the question floated in think-piece essays by every television blogger: “WHY ARE WE SO FASCINATED BY ANTI HEROES??!”

The answer: because they do things.


Eyes spiraling

22 May

By Ayo



“The Prime of Miss Emma Frost”
NEW X MEN, no. 138
May, 2003
Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely
Marvel Entertainment, May 2003

Frank Quitely, the best superhero cartoonist in the world. Ten years ago, he redesigned the X-Men and made drew some brilliant scenes in the series NEW X MEN. Above is the introductory scene from his final issue on the series, “The Prime of Miss Emma Frost.”

Quitely’s panels tend to move in two directions at once: one-point-perspective, pushing our depth view straight back and straight across our field of vision from left-to-right. The result is a dizzying sense of motion and an immersive sense of space and movement.

My favorite panel above is where Beast (blue guy) has rescued the car passengers and turns to see the flaming guy (Hermann) continue to run down the road. There’s so many different things happening in that panel and all of those things are moving or defined by their lack of moving. Beast and the passengers are still but a raising smoke and dust cloud from Hermann who continues to race away gives the right-hand side of the panel some movement. So as the eye travels from left to right, we see a still scene which gives way to a motion scene. All in the same panel. It’s brilliant.

The panel in which Cyclops skids the car in front of the gas station is also brilliant. It gives me the chills, it’s so good. We read from left to right but the car is moving from our right to left, and it’s trail of telltale motion signs (exhaust fumes, tail light distortion) points away from our reading orientation. These competing stimuli make us read that particular panel both backwards and forwards at the same time. It’s magnificent.

“The Prime of Miss Emma Frost” can be found in volume 4 of NEW X MEN, Riot at Xavier’s.


Commit To Your Future

3 May

By Ayo


“It’s All Over!”
by Ben Passmore
self-published minicomic


Immediately after complaining that too many cartoonists simply draw their characters *existing* but not really *doing* which is to say, the cartoonists fail to have their characters engage with the actions that they are supposedly performing, I read DayGloAyHole by Ben Passmore which antidoted that cartooning crisis with finesse.

The characters of DayGloAyHole are very animated and very present in their roles. Whether its walking, running, leaping or whatever, the characters appear to be *really doing* the actions that they are shown to be doing. Rather than characters that appear posed as doing a thing.


Something that really bothered me is that the first protagonist of DayGloAyHole doesn’t have a name. The character drives half of the book (another character named “NO LIMITZ” drives the other half), yet he has nothing to identify him by. That bothers me. I literally read this book forwards, backwards and forward again before giving up hope. This character is literally nobody.

I’ve got a bone to pick with “The Everyman,” “The Unnamed Protagonist,” “The Man With No Name,” and other such nonsense. Commit to something, authors. You have to give things names. This “general” stuff just doesn’t hack it. There is no “everyman,” there is nothing to gain from obscuring basic contextual information. It doesn’t allow me as a reader to project myself onto a character or immerse myself into a character. It just makes me think that something is missing and makes me leave the story to try and see what I may have overlooked. Just name characters. Even Scott has a name. It’s “Scott.” Why does Scott get a name and Protagonist Man remains nobody, going nowhere, doing nothing? I don’t even want to hear that “thematic” stuff, it’s just lazy.

Authors have been pulling this “man with no name” nonsense forever and a day and that has to stop. It’s not about whether the character is named “Jeff” or “Herbert,” it’s about how can I think about this character? What do I even refer to him as? I mean, there’s a character in this book called “NO LIMITZ” because he has “NO LIMITZ” carved into his forehead, presumably with a knife. Any name will do. Just something to hold on to.


There are basically no women in this comic, except for two backup comic strips that exist outside of the main story. Written and drawn by Kate Hanrahan and Erin Wilson, these strips gently play at undermining the hyper-masculinity of Passmore’s story. A fitting close for a book that reveled in maleness for its duration.

Some girl drug-overdoses. Everybody who does drugs in fiction always overdoses.

26 Apr

By Ayo


Jupiter’s Legacy, no. 1
Mark Millar, Frank Quitely
Millar World/Image Comics
April 2013

Look, Frank Quitely is the best superhero artist in the world. His use of space in his signature horizontal compositions is still understudied and overlooked. Nobody put out a better superhero comic this week because nobody is better than Frank Quitley.

But sweet heaven, this was also likely the most boring comic this week as well. As a debut issue this was about equivalent to the first track on a hip hop CD that features two and a half minutes of the rapper talking lazily to his friend over a good beat about something so vague that it fails to even make an impression. Feels like a waste of a good beat.

The Comics Journal’s Tucker Stone and Comics Alliance’s David Brothers already gave this comic as serious a looking as it deserves. This is the kind of work that gets produced when writers and artists are allowed to rest on their laurels and feed off of the fat of their past achievements. As the introduction of a new work, Jupiter’s Legacy is lazy. It is banking on the reader’s emotional investment., not the work at hand. But as a brand new story with new characters, a new world to explore, the only emotional investment of loyalty that a reader can have is an investment in the authors. Having enjoyed another work previously doesn’t make this project better than what appears on the page. On its own merits, Jupiter’s Legacy is just no good.

Threats and Innuendo

11 Apr

By Ayo

Saga, chapter twelve
Brian Vaughan & Fiona Staples
Image Comics, April 2013

We open as chapters of Saga so often do, in a flashback or dream. This time, it’s both. The war flashback of Prince Robot IV gives this chapter the shouting action that the genre demands so that the present-day, waking-world events can proceed at a suitable pace. Slower.

After several chapters involving the freelancer (a sort of assassin) named “The Will,” the decision to close Book Two of Saga on the other major enemy, Prince Robot IV is a fairly significant jump in idea and tone. Where The Will is all action, all chase, all square-jawed-adventure, Prince Robot IV is like a detective. He’s done his life’s share of fighting. His Highness was an active duty soldier in the war but his official tour of duty has already ended. IV’s current assignment reveals that his true nature is cerebral. While The Will crushes people’s heads or swings by rope, Prince Robot IV talks. Leisurely. His investigations are usually polite or at least cordial but he is prone to sudden outbursts of violence when he finds the people who he interrogates to be uncooperative.

Prince Robot IV is the prince of The Robot Kingdom. His wife is pregnant for the first time and he does not want to play hunter. His mission to kill the heroes of the story isn’t personal to him. His temper flares because he wants to be at home. On the other hand, his capacity for patience seems to increase as he suspects that his prey will soon fall into his lap. In the end, inaction is action for Prince Robot IV.

Ten years

7 Apr

By Darryl Ayo Brathwaite

My mom was driving my car when we got hit by a Mack truck on the expressway but since my mom was driving it was no big deal. However it made a bit of an impression when we drove up to the Puck building with the front bumper hanging off. This was how I arrived at MoCCA in 2003, my first time professionally exhibiting at a comics show.

The MoCCA Art Festival has had its own brushes with death. For one, the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art no longer exists. For another, the MoCCA Art Festival has seen its prestige as the pride of New York City’s comics community decline as the organization became increasingly chaotic. But through the Society of Illustrators, the Art Festival lives on. The Society of Illustrators has adopted an aggressive and responsive attitude toward addressing the years of comics community complaint about the MoCCA Art Festival. The result of this community outreach has been an immediate upswing in community attitude. For the first time since the Art Festival’s 2009 move to The Armory, people seemed positive. Even happy. Maybe it’s me.

It’s 2013 and the tenth year of my working comics convention tables. For the first time since 2008, I did well at MoCCA. I may have done *too* well, I’m starting to feel important.

Here are the objective facts:

The Society of Illustrators administration cut down the visual noise and sensory overload by dividing the aisles with curtains. These curtains also provided exhibitors a place to hang up their own decorations, or display art prints.

The Society created overhead aisle markers which helped both exhibitors and attendees to understand where they were at all times.

There was an on-site cafeteria and there were multiple seating areas so that people could relax and refresh during the festival.

The volunteer staff is always excellent at MoCCA but this year, the volunteers were trained to assist and also trained to suggest ways in which they might assist. That’s a significant jump.

As a touch of irony, the Society’s most drastic adjustment was creating a space inside the festival, on the actual showroom floor, for the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art’s display collection. That’s right, for the first time ever, representative artwork from the now-defunct museum was available for public viewing at the art festival.







Comics is a hard business and even harder when the infrastructure is not supportive of the practical needs of the people in this business. 2013’s MoCCA Art Festival felt like a success because it sought to improve the morale of the community that uses the festival. I hope that the Society of Illustrators continues to move the MoCCA Art Festival in the direction that they’ve steered it.

And happy ten years of comic shows for me, specifically 🙂



“You up against: Jesus Freaks, farming corporations and Young Republicans

2 Feb

Indelible NATO forces, hidden agenda, puppet governments.”

By Ayo

So I was—

“Walking down the street/to the hardcore beat—”

—and it occurred to me that one of the things that binds the cultural narrative of this society together is homogeny. We can talk about how the idea of a “melting pot” subtly implies the loss of individualism as the ingredients of the mixture melt and meld into one continuous mixture. But again, that’s implied in the name itself. What isn’t explained so often is the way in which the loss of discrete identity is harmful. Because the culturally dominant force doesn’t lose anything, the minority loses its identity; the minority dissipates into the melting pot just as a sliver of onion dissipates into a literal cooking pot.

As storytellers how do we push against that? Today’s lesson challenges the assumptions that we commonly hold about vantage point characters. Protagonists. The common mode is for a protagonist to be hollow. A default setting. The protagonist is generally the character who (in the context of that particular narrative) is closest to our cultural norms. The Everyman. Within the constraints of the story, the protagonist is The Most Normal within the cast. On a large scale, a cultural median is established and people are reminded of what their culture wishes for them to conform to. As the narrative advances, the protagonist’s normalcy (or relative normalcy) plays against the foils, and antagonists. There is a villainous force which seeks to disturb the social order represented by the protagonist. There are foils, characters who are generally share the protagonist’s goals but disagree on the details. There are the disinterested, characters who lay outside of the range of the narrative’s objectives and also are cast into relief against the protagonist’s goals. All the while, the protagonist is the median perspective.

No matter the story’s outcome, we are given little choice in how to perceive the world through that narrative’s lens: a protagonist designed to be inoffensive and median will always represent social norms and thus, remain passively hostile to cultural diversity. That is to say the fiction of the story will be hostile to real-world cultural diversity.

Every piece of media enforces an idea in a public’s mind. Whether they admit to it or not. This is why women and minorities instinctively know that they must seek greater representation in the arts and the media. Because being represented means having their perspective dealt with. This comes before being tolerated, accepted or embraced. This is just awareness.

Having different perspectives play out through characters is positive for a story and for the society from which the story is a part. But having those different perspectives come from the central actor in a narrative, the protagonist, does all of that while also rejecting the idea of self-normalcy. The hollow, easily accessible everyman protagonist is “me” in the narrative. But given specific traits and strengths and weaknesses, the “me,” becomes “that person.” But lest you worry that putting distance between the Generalized Protagonist and the audience makes for a colder experience, the simple fact of being a protagonist gives an audience an intimacy of character that we all seek in fiction. It’s more challenging to the reader but also more rewarding.

One of the primary effects of fiction is building and encouraging empathy. In order to do this effectively, storytellers must give the audience somewhere outside of themselves to “go.” Be aware of the generalized social standards and moral ideas of a society. And trust an audience enough to give them a character who isn’t perfect (or near-perfect). The audience wants to be challenged. They want to explore. Take them on a journey. Little by little, story by story, storytellers can nudge the world toward a different place: where diversity isn’t melted and absorbed into a larger whole but rather a place that is inclusive yet appreciates life’s textures.


Fred Sanford

9 Oct

As I was reading through Jog’s weekly column for The Comics Journal, I basically gave up on the idea of buying comic books. People my age consume comic books with a hunger like we’ll never see them again. We learned that from when good comics were very difficult to come by. Now $500 worth of good comics are released per week, and my owned books take up so much floorspace that I hopscotch through my one-room hovel, I think it is time to stop buying and start leaning more heavily on our libraries.

Last night my friend’s dog jumped and hopped and leapt for joy when the friend got home. The dog is a rescue dog, literally starving to death when the shelter found her. A year later the dog is a healthy weight but still reacts to being fed like it might never happen again.

For many years, the comic book economy has practically been driven on guilt. When a comic gets cancelled, there’s a mournful shrug and “I guess people don’t like good comics.” A deep well of regret for not saving everybody. It gets worse if one is a cartoonist oneself. Come out and support the team! We’d support you! And the same twenty dollar bill circulates around a convention hall for a weekend, returning to its original owner. I doubt that I’ll ever overcome the sense of guilt that I feel when I pass on a friend’s book or choose to read it from the library. But that is how it’s got to be. Fuck comics.

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