Comic-Con was last week. I didn’t hear anything about any comic book news coming out of it. “Comic books” are a mainly a genre of TV and movie now, in case you didn’t know. This *could* actually be good for some creators — Mark Millar has shown one way to create a sustainable model in which he’s able to put out creator owned books on his own terms, pay his artists a living wage*, and fund it all on the back end with movie rights. So if you’re creating the kind of comic book that could conceivably be transformed into a summer blockbuster or a multi-season ensemble TV spectacle, hey, there might be some money in that for you.
If you’re creating a comic book that is designed to be a comic book and take full advantage of the beauty and flexibility of the form, doing things that can only be done on the illustrated page, I recommend the restaurant industry, freelance technical writing, or house/petsitting as ways to make extra money on the side.
Regarding this year’s Eisner Awards: congratulations to Los Bros; the fine folks behind Saga, Sex Criminals, Battling Boy, The Wake, and The Fifth Beatle; and Hall of Fame inductees Irwin Hasen (Dondi), Sheldon Moldoff (Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Batman), Orrin C. Evans (All-Negro Comics), Hayao Miyazaki, Alan Moore, Dennis O’Neil, and Bernie Wrightson. Here is a link to a full list of the winners.
Southern Bastards #2 by Jason Aaron and Jason Latour. Image, 2014.
I was a bit harsh on the first issue of this series. I had been stoked about a JA title set in the deep rural south, especially after what he did with the North Dakota reservation setting of Scalped. But Southern Bastards #1 just read like one long cliche to me — more a parody of the South than something derived from lived experience there. Issue two shows that some of those broad strokes were necessary to set up where this first story arc is going. It seems like the idea is that Craw County is not just another chicken-fried locale where High School Football rules and the sweet tea flows freely. It is all that, but much worse, because the football culture is linked to a culture of corruption that pervades the entire county. By digging a bit deeper, Aaron and Latour have turned cliche into metaphor, with much success. I should have known that they just needed a little time to get going.
The Star-Spangled Angel by Scott Roberts. Self-Published/Ubutopia Press, 2014.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to read the origin story of Captain America or the Hulk in the form of a highly abstracted, nearly wordless indie comic? That’s basically what this is, and it’s totally awesome. The story of Star-Spangled Angel is pretty simple: two childhood friends join the army and then sign up for a science experiment in order to avoid the worst of the combat. The experiments transform them both beyond recognition, nearly killing them in the process. They develop superpowers. Later, a robot designed by one of the pair loses control and goes on a killing spree. It’s kind of like the short-short-short version of the first few years of The Avengers.
But it’s also a really gorgeously hand-printed three color risograph featuring truly absorbing artwork and imagery. Roberts really uses the artwork to get deep inside the mind of someone undergoing a profound and frightening transformation. There are only about 125 words of text in the entire comic, yet there is more nuance and psychological realism here than in even the most ambitious mainstream versions of similar “science gone awry” origin stories.
Roberts created this comic for Brain Frame, Lyra Hill’s long-running performative comics series that has been a focal point of the Chicago alt comics community for three years now. You can watch Robert’s performance on Vimeo. There is didgeridoo involved. Sadly, Brain Frame is nearing its end, but there are still tickets available for the last ever Brain Frame, to be held at Thalia Hall in Pilsen on August 9. (Conflict of interest report: I work for the company that owns and manages Thalia Hall).
Wonder Woman #109-112 by John Byrne with Patricia Mulvihill. DC (Warner Bros.), 1996.
My big goal at C2E2 was to find as many of the ’90s Wonder Woman issues with Brian Bolland covers as possible. I fantasized that a few hours of crate digging would lead to a complete set, but what I found was that very few of the vendors had any Wonder Woman from this, or any, era. What I did find was a complete run of John Byrne on the title. In 1995, Byrne came on Wonder Woman with issue 100, in the hopes that he could do for the title what he had done a decade before for the Man of Steel.
The results were…mixed.
Byrne doesn’t seem to have much of a feel for the character, the biggest disappointment being the somewhat retrograde portrayal of gender roles. Byrne’s artwork is decent but hardly belongs on the same shelf with his best work — the inking is sloppy, the layouts are jumbled and sometimes barely readable, and many of the character designs seem to be lifted directly from Byrne’s own Next Men series.
The one standout storyline buried in the middle of this morass is the four issue arc starting in issue #109. Wonder Woman encounters The Flash, who is running rampant and carelessly destroying the city. Even more shockingly, it’s not Wally West (who was the Flash at the time) but Barry Allen, who was supposed to have died a decade early during the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Soon, Diana also runs into Sinestro and Doomsday, who are acting similarly out of character and, of course, leaving trails of destruction in their wake. Needless to say, there’s a mystery to be solved and a hidden actor pulling the strings. It’s a pretty hokey story, and Byrne’s understanding and depiction of computer and videogame technology are particularly laughable today, but it’s a very nice self-contained arc that makes for a really fun and satisfying read. Recommended, but skip the rest of the Byrne run and treat yourself to some vintage Fantastic Four or Uncanny X-Men instead.
Secret Avengers #5 by Ales Kot and Michael Walsh with Matthew Wilson. Marvel (Disney), 2014.
Oh, Ales Kot from Zero is writing this? Mmmm, Tradd Moore is doing covers? M.O.D.O.K. is one of the main characters and there’s a big ‘ol conspiracy wall with M.O.D.O.K. at the center of it? Whoa there, you can stop sellin’ cuz I’m ready to sign on the dotted line. HAWKEYE AND SPIDER-WOMAN ARE IN THIS TOO? Are you serious? Take my fucking money, here please just take this $20, keep the change, okay thank you bye.
* That’s straight from the horse’s mouth, of course: “I’ve started having all my artists sign on to not work for other publishers while they’re working with me, because creator-owned can not be part time,” he added. “The rates I’m paying are better than the rates at Marvel and DC, generally, so I say, ‘You have to commit to this for six or 12 months.” What I don’t know is whether Millar also shares any of the profits from his Hollywood licenses with the artists behind the books. I’m pretty sure John Romita Jr. did get a fat payday for Kickass — if you can confirm or deny this, leave it in the comments!