Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Help Make the Long Con Game a Reality -- Support Thom Zahler's Warning Label Kickstarter Campaign

Okay, I'll try to keep this brief (for once).  One of the best Web Toons of the last year was Thom Zahler's romance strip, Warning Label.  It came out weekly every Thursday beginning about a year ago and consisted of 39 chapters (plus a bonus one).  It's your classic love story: guy meets girl, girl turns out to have been cursed by her ex, and now the guy has full knowledge of all her faults going into the relationship.  Thom is a master of dialogue (and pop culture references) and you already know what I mean if you've read any of his other classics like Love and Capes, Long Distance, or Time & Vine.  The lady love interest, Danielle, works for a gaming company and during the story she pitches her own game idea at her company about putting on a successful Comic-Con, called "The Long Con".  Well, now Thom is the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to publish the series as a trade paperback.  It was funded in like less than 3 days, so now he's hitting his stretch goals, which are all incredible (pins, T-shirts, bonus stuff, etc.).  However, the best of the best is if he hits the $20,000 mark (less that $8000 away) -- then he actually creates the Long Con board game!!!  And if you're a "more than book backer", which I am, you'll get a copy (if the goal is reached, of course).  I really, really want to see this game get made!  So, that's why I'm doing my part to pitch the series.  Here are some handy links for you:

Read the entire series for FREE here.  If you don't want to take my word for it, TRY IT and then tell your friends.

Support the Kickstarter campaign here (only 12 days to go)!

Thanks and Enjoy!

Oh, and when I wanted to commemorate my 20th wedding anniversary I commissioned Thom to do the excellent piece seen here.  He translated my idea splendidly!  I knew I could trust Thom, the king of romance, to depict this once-in-a-lifetime celebration.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Pomp and Circumstances

On Friday around 4 pm, my wife and I were exiting out of the local restaurant park when she gives me a high-five, "We did it!"  Did what you ask?  Well, we successfully navigated through THREE graduations in the last seven days: my daughter Charlotte from the University of Maryland College Park with a Bachelor's of Arts in Studio Art Painting and Art History (summa cum laude), my son Eric from Howard Community College with an Associates of Arts in Music, and my daughter Helen who had just graduated from Oakland Mills High School that morning at the newly renovated Merriweather Post Pavilion (where Jackson Browne recorded "Running On Empty" back in 1977 [there's that ever important year again]).  Of course we Thank God for all these blessings and for guiding and directing us to get to these momentous milestones.  I've got to say the High School graduation always seems to get you more emotionally as a parent -- its like you really need to at least get them to this point.  Anyway, it got me thinking about my past graduations from 30 and 25 years ago.

1988 -- I've just spilled my guts on the parking lot pavement of the Virginia Science Center in Richmond.  The fresh smell of my recently ingested graduation "lunch" intermingled with the stomach acid.  I was probably the most sick I had ever been up to that point -- sheer agony.  But it wasn't from the food, it was from a broken heart.  My "girlfriend" (long story there) was moving to Michigan and I didn't have time to say goodbye, since they were rushing families out of the Arthur Ashe Center quickly for the next high school ceremony.  Needless to say, I was torn up in knots before the food arrived and the stress and anxiety just made it impossible to enjoy the day.  What should have been a time of celebration was misery instead.  After all, I couldn't possibly think things would ever get better...

1993 -- We're celebrating my graduation from Virginia Tech (Bachelor's of Science in Civil Engineering) at my apartment, which I share with the girl I started dating about a year before.  The girl I didn't even meet until late-1990, the girl I didn't even like as more than a friend until late-1991, the girl who became my wife in late-1992!  God is so good!  It just goes to show you that you never know what's around the corner and sometimes what you think is the milestone (like a graduation) is really just a blip of your life and the real life changing events can occur on the ordinary days.

There is a comic angle coming up and it concerns my mortar board pictured above, which features the reduced photocopied cover of Amazing Spider-Man #185, published 40 years ago on July 18, 1978. [More after the break:]

Sunday, May 20, 2018


I'm not usually one to post about something that's just getting started, but Barrier is an exception because it's not going to be collected in a trade.  The original on line creation is being published in 5 issues by Image and that's it if you want a print copy.  Coming out weekly, Barrier, by Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin, and Muntsa Vicente, is coming out weekly.  This past Wednesday was week three and the halfway point, so if you haven't gotten ahold of it, you probably still can find the first 3 issues on the stands before they get jacked up in price.
Barrier #1 (Of 5) Collector’s Edition

Barrier is a beautiful book.  It's being published oversized and with the panels sideways by the usual standards.  Martin's art is arresting, whether in perspective that focuses on a character's face or in depicting the very alien aliens who are, through issue 3, something of a mystery.
Barrier #2 (Of 5)
The story starts with the perspectives of a young father trying to make it to the US from Honduras and a young American rancher on the border and who's a widow.  It looks like it's going to be a direct address of the problems of those fleeing to American and those in America who are reluctant, at best, to absorb those immigrants.  The immigrant faces violence and Coyotes and exposure to the elements and desperate crossings.  The rancher faces smuggling and racism and intimidation and loneliness.  Then it all goes sideways for both of them when they're abducted by aliens from another planet.
Barrier #3 (Of 5)
The portions of the story told from the Honduran perspective are told in Spanish.  The American's story is told in English.  When they and the aliens come together, each continues in his or her own language, without interpretation for either.  The aliens speak in colors, representing the fact that their language is entirely without frame of reference for either human.
Barrier #4 (Of 5)
The two humans, when they interact on the alien ship, are able to make themselves understood to one another on a basic level, even without a shared language, because they have shared human cultural references.  Pointing and speaking or showing artwork that the Honduran has done or had done on his person gets a message across. Pantomime fills in blanks.

But with the aliens, there's nothing.  Through the first 3 issues neither human has any idea what the aliens want.  They're shunted from one part of the ship to another, sometimes alone and sometimes together.  For whatever reason the aliens stripped the rancher of her clothes, leading the Honduran to give her his jacket.  The ship has spaces filled with objects taken from Earth and just dumped like some treasure room in Gringotts.  When the humans try to light a fire, the aliens react swiftly, but the aliens also provided medical care for a bullet wound to the Honduran's leg.
Barrier #5 (Of 5)
This is an intriguing story, and if you're impatient you can read it on Panel Syndicate where it was originally published.  I can wait two more weeks to get the rest of the story in an excellent print edition.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Free Comic Book Day Highlights

Several Small Reviews

So, I just wrapped up my first turbulent and intriguing year of graduate school and I am still winding down from everything. I’ve spent the past semester learning more about the human skeleton than I thought was possible and managed to name my 20-page research paper from my lithics class with a comic book reference. Next week I’ll be immersed in finishing up as much of my museum work as possible before diving into an intense self-directed study of Pompeii. Only 2 ½ weeks until I leave for Italy for field work! Whew, I am exhausted. Due to this I’ll just be highlighting a few comic book encounters from the past month.

First up, Free Comic Book Day!

My husband, son, and I checked out both of the local comic book stores in our new town and ended up going to the one that not have a line down the street. It was a nice setup and a Spiderman cosplayer gave my son a high five. The store itself was great and had additional sales to go along with FCBD. We got 4 free comics each (which was plenty) and picked up a Mouse Guard alphabet book.

Image result for mouse guard alphabet book

My son can read at this point (level 1 stuff, nothing fancy, but beyond needing an alphabet book) however, this book has neat little Mouse Guard blurbs with each letter and the art is gorgeous. My son loves Mouse Guard and since I always try to purchase something from the store hosting FCBD it was MG or the BB-8 cook book and the recipes did not look exciting (I think my son just liked the pictures). After spending some time with the alphabet book, I feel like it was a good purchase. 

Caution to other parents: Mouse Guard isn’t really made for children. It may look like a child’s book at a glance, but it contains a lot of warfare and death. My son started going through Mouse Guard at age 4 and frequently requests it, but there were quite a few story points he struggled with. He’s still upset about Conrad’s final encounter with the crabs from story arc one. Even so, if they can deal with Mufasa’s death in the Lion King it should be mostly okay.

Image result for wormwood saga fcbd

The other books we picked up that were worth noting are: The Wormwood Saga and Sparks.
The Wormwood Saga was interesting enough that I’d like to pick up further issues at some point. It is definitely all-ages as advertised but the art is oriented towards a young crowd used to animation. Don’t get me wrong, the art is appealing, just somewhat simplistic for my tastes. My son found it easy enough to follow the story though and that’s important for young people reading comics. It seems to be a fairly standard magical fantasy world adventure story (think of the Spiderwick Chronicles, Narnia, and Terebithia type genre). A young boy’s father can create paintings that are portals to another world and the boy shows this to a girl he wants to be friends with to impress her. He’s not supposed to share this with anyone so I’m sure that will go really well for him as the story progresses. Regardless of the seeming predictability, I like this type of genre and would hope the story branches out a bit more as it goes.

Image result for sparks fcbd

Sparks! was the true winner of our FCBD excursion. It hit a lot of high points for my son – cats in a dog robot trying to be heroes. The dog robot even puts out a fire by “peeing” on it. As you can imagine, my 5-year-old was cracking up while reading this book. The art is cartoony, but cute. The whole story is narrated by a sentient litter box and the villain is an alien hiding out as a human infant. This story is definitely for younger kids but it is a lot of fun with likable characters.

Thor: Ragnarok

Image result for tom hiddleston lokiI just saw this for the first time 2 days ago while decompressing from finals. I’m not a big Thor fan but I adore Tom Hiddleston as Loki so I keep watching these movies. First, I still love Loki, never stop stabbing people in the back sir. Besides that, this movie really tried to hard. It was entertaining but seemed to be trying to be sarcastic and funny in a way that works for Guardians of the Galaxy, but not for Thor. I get that the Thor movies aren’t as popular but trying to make it into something it isn’t doesn’t make anything better. Also, does anyone like Bruce Banner? Yuck. My son enjoyed Hulk’s fight with the giant wolf and the overall story was okay.

That’s about it for the past month. Most of it was class work, not much time for comics.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Spider-Man Created By Steve Ditko

I have constantly struggled with trying to define the creator credit when it comes to a collaborative art form.  As it stands right now a few creators have gotten their due. Jack Kirby (after years of court battles), Stan Lee (self-created grandstanding) , Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster (again after fighting for justice) and others except Steve Ditko.

I know many will say he has gotten credit for much of his work, but since Steve is not one to obtain lawyers and lives by a strong personal philosophy he is never going to stand up and say I created Spider-Man in court. Not counting on his many many other contributions to Marvel, DC and Charlton comics.

First let me get one thing clear, I understand that many of these characters have been enhanced and improved by the creators who came after the originators. Still for as much as people like Wally Wood and Frank Miller did to change the nature of Daredevil, you still have to give Bill Evertt and Stan Lee credit as creating Daredevil. The fact that Netflix Daredevil series has a F**KING created by Drew Goddard burns me up to no end. Credit someone as developing for TV – but creator – my ass. I know these types of credits are negotiated bullshit but over time people without knowing will think this asswipe created Daredevil.

So back the matter at hand. I say that Steve Ditko is the true creator of Spider-Man and Stan Lee can maybe get a co-creator credit as his dialogue and perhaps some story ideas were a part of the success of the character. Sadly Stan Lee has taken almost all the credit for Spider-Man and almost back handed Steve saying he can be called the co-creator.

My basis for giving Ditko first billing is due to comics being a visual medium first and foremost. Also Stan has constantly lauded the “Marvel Way” which means he often with artist came up with a story idea and the artist then turned it into 20 pages of story. Stan would then dialogue the entire thing. Many, many times the credits would read written by Stan Lee and art by Steve Ditko. When you see some of the original artwork by Kirby you often see margin notes where he is giving an idea what the characters are going to say. In many of the Spider-Man books by Lee and Ditko you can see where the dialogue does not even match what is happening on the actual page.

Ditko at one time produced a drawing showing what the Kirby Spider-Man may have been versus what Ditko created. If accurate (see below) Spider-Man would have never been the popular character he become.

When you read the first 38 issues of Spider-Man and the first 2 Annuals you can see tons of new villains and characters. The actual look and feel of the book is all dictated by the art. Spider-Man’s signature moves which are still used in the books and movies, 60 years later are basically the same. Without Ditko the Amazing Spider-Man could well have become very much just another generic guy in tights.

While I want to give the lion’s share of credit to Ditko for creating Spider-Man, I would give Stan Lee credit for the dialoguing of the books by Ditko and Kirby. As much as I’m sure Stan was grating on the nerves of the artists. It was the bombastic style of his and the fact that he did not write down Marvel comics like DC did to a younger audience that  help make the books different and new.
The thing that constantly drives me crazy is hearing Stan Lee, Stan Lee, Stan Lee. Stan was the front man and was certainly a force that helped to make Marvel comics the success it was but he did it on the backs of a lot of great creators like Kirby, Ditko. Everett, Wood, Dick Ayers and many others.

Remember in today’s world the writers usually provide a full script. That means page by page with a panel by panel breakdown of what they want presented. The dialogue is even included with a full script. An artist may decide to change something here and there but still they have a roadmap of what they are producing.  The Marvel way could be a page, a paragraph or a one liner. Spider-Man faces the Green Goblin again. Now the artist must layout the entire story and only gets writing credit if Stan decided to say plot by Ditko or whomever. At the end of Ditko and Lee’s run on the book the story is Ditko came by once a month and dropped off a complete Spider-Man story and left. Stan would look it over and add words.

The creator credit is important so we can properly give credit to the right people. In a collaborative medium like comic it can be difficult to pick out who should get credit at times. Other times it is pretty clear. With Spider-Man for me it is very very clear. Ditko is the creator of the Amazing Spider-Man and Stan Lee was the plotter (sometimes) and scripter for the character. 

I could write about this stuff forever. I also think that a lot of credit for these characters go to the writers and artists who followed in the originators footsteps which keep the characters alive/ They have added new elements to the characters over time and sometimes made the character better (Daredevil).

The rich history of characters like Batman and Superman show that the characters can change and morph with each generation and with different iterations of the characters in movies and TV. Still the people who started still are deserving of the title of creator. No matter how much you may add onto or modify the character you are not the creator.