Wednesday, July 24, 2013

One more Comicon Anecdote

On the Sunday before Comicon, we hosted Harlan Ellison for a book signing at La Luz de Jesus Gallery. I wasn't able to attend because I was extremely ill (and got my relapse immediately after Comicon), so I missed one of the few opportunities I'll ever have again to spend time with Harlan. When I went through the gallery of pictures taken by our publicist, Lee Joseph, I saw a sequence of images featuring Bill Sienkiewicz–compounding my disappointment at not being able to host the event in person.

The following Saturday at Comicon, I found Bill at his table. After catching up a bit and discussing some upcoming gallery business I relayed to him my apologies for not being at the Ellison signing, but told him I had a great couple of pics of him with Harlan. As we were about to part company, Brian Michael Bendis walked over and told Bill that they (and Klaus Jansen and my friend David Mack) had just topped the New York Times Best Seller List with the hard-bound, collected Daredevil: End of Days.

Bill re-introduced me to Bendis and said, "Well I guess you get to share in this victory, too!" which just about made my day.

Below are those two great pics of Bill with Harlan.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Get Cape Conscious–Join the Hero Inititative!

The 1986 shame campaign
Most comic collectors are familiar with the royalty battles that the creators of their favorite characters have had to fight against the megacorporations that now own DC and Marvel (not to mention EC, Fawcett, Gold Key, National, Timely and Atlas). If coverage of the recent Iron Man 3 or Man of Steel films seemed noticeably absent from this column it's because I was in an ethical dillemna regarding coverage of content directly related to this column and the recent court rulings that gave copyright of Superman to Warner Brothers over the estates of creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, and barred Jack Kirby's estate from any piece of future Marvel product. I knew that I was going to see these movies, and therefore calling for a boycott would have been hypocritical, so I decided to not further add to the publicity machine by reviewing them whilst they were still in theaters.

For the record, I really enjoyed Iron Man 3 and can't believe how implausible Man of Steel was.

Most comic fans are completely unaware, however, of the hardships faced by virtually all comics professionals in their later years. I can't call them retirement years because very few comic artists actually get to retire. Working as freelancers in an industry without a union has left very little in the way of a nest egg or retirement fund for most of the people that wrote, drew, inked, colored or lettered the best comics of the Golden, Silver, and Bronze Ages. When considering that most of those creators toiled for low page rates with no chance at ownership and no royalties while building a multi-billion-dollar industry, it's especially despicable. And even contemporary artists were likely to be uninsured until Obamacare went into legislation, which meant bankruptcy and premature death in the face of any serious medical issues. Natural disasters or any other unexpected expense can mean instant unemployment for them just as it can for the rest of us.

Pang-ju: created in Korea,
but manufactured in Japan
This past weekend at the annual San Diego Comic Con International, I made it a point to avoid the big entertainment company booths completely. It was my wife's first Comicon experience and she had a blast weaving through the artist alley tables and the small press aisles, and discovering the latest toys from her native Japan to make a splash here in the USA (Pullip and Pang-ju especially). We embraced the bump-into factor inherent in an event of this size, and enjoyed seeing friends from all walks of life (and parts of the world) as we navigated the convention room floor. We checked out panels for my friend Huston Huddleston's Star Trek Bridge Restoration project and Ryan Ridley's new gig writing Rick and Morty for Adult Swim. Most of the art reps whose collections of amazing original comic art helped me to launch Pop Sequentialism are all gathered in the same area, and this year I was happy to see the Hero Initiative's booth among them.

The Hero Initiative is the first ever federally chartered not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping comic book veterans. Through Hero Initiative, financial aid is available for comic creators who may need assistance with the necessities of life or simply a helping hand back into the comics industry. It's a chance to give back to the people who have given us so much enjoyment. The fund disbursement committee includes Hall of Fame creators Howard Chaykin, Denny O'Neil, John Romita, Sr., Walt Simonson, Roy Thomas, Jim Valentino, and George Perez–who drew me this awesome Robin portrait. The suggested donation for sketches was $40.00, but I tossed a Franklin in the bowl to guilt the crowd around me into giving more than just the minimum for such a worthy cause. George has done well and given back to those less fortunate. He's gregarious and still enthusiastic about comics, fans, & life in general, and his run on New Teen Titans has much to do with Robin / Nightwing being my favorite character of all time. He called me a "Graysonite" with a smile and I nodded proudly.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Wolverine on the New York Times Best Seller List?

In a brilliant marketing move anticipating the release of the new Hugh Jackman movie that hits theaters at the end of this month, Marvel has collected Mark Millar's run on Wolverine into an Omnibus. This 576 page deluxe edition contains Wolverine 20-32, 66-72, and the Giant-Size Old Man Logan special–and it currently ranks fifth on the New York Times Best Sellers list of Hardcover Graphic Books.

The first half is the "Enemy of the State" story-line illustrated by Millar's Kick-Ass colleague John Romita Jr. which pits a rabid and brain-washed Wolverine against the entire Marvel Universe. It was a blood-thirsty romp, considered the ultimate Wolverine tale by fans. After a four-year absence from the title, Millar returned with a post-apocalyptic vision of tragic pathos that followed an elderly, retired, and pacifistic Wolverine, and it doesn’t get any better than this. Millar’s Civil War penciler Steve McNiven enhanced his usual adrenaline-rush theatrics with a rougher edge that captures archetypal Clint Eastwood at his wild-western best via Mad Max.

by Mark Millar & Steve McNiven
Issue #71, Cover Rough (gore cover)
Graphite on paper
Signed by Steve McNiven
8.5" x 11"

Foreign orders please add an additional $20 for postage.

The page above is a cover study for issue #71; the rough, pencil outline of the cover that would eventually be published. An extreme close-up of the titular hero’s face (with bullet wounds exposing the adamantium skull beneath his flesh before his mutant healing factor can repair the damage) reveals the quiet rage that has long been building in Old Man Logan, who long ago vowed to sheath his mighty claws. It’s one of the goriest superhero comic covers ever, and it epitomizes the best of Millar and McNiven’s work together: tough, gritty and barely containing the violence that percolates just beneath the surface. The team that shattered the status quo with the mega-hit Civil War reunited to tell the greatest Wolverine tale of them all –a sort of Unforgiven meets Dark Knight. This page was included in the Pop Sequentialism exhibition and the accompanying published catalog.

Wolverine has been a fan favorite ever since his introduction in the Incredible Hulk back in 1974, but it was the Frank Miller mini-series by Uncanny X-Men scribe Chris Claremont that established the character as a genuine, marquee name. And ever since Frank Miller's back-to-back prestige format books Ronin and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, fanboys have been praying that he would do a retirement age tale of the most savage mutant in all of comicdom. As the years stretched on and Miller's output became more erratic and less satisfying, Mark Millar became the go-to guy for well-written machismo.

Mark Millar has been one of the key figures of 21st century comics. Following a series of well-received collaborations with fellow Scotsman Grant Morrison at DC, Millar went solo in 2000 replacing powerhouse writer Warren Ellis on Wildstorm’s hit series The Authority. His controversial, over-the-top approach to the already dynamic superhero action garnered a heap of awards in the UK and America, but caused a bit of friction with publisher DC and Warner Bros, who greatly censored his scripts in an era of post 9/11 sensitivity. This led to his departure from DC, and offers of lucrative work at Marvel. In 2001, following the success of Brian Michael BendisUltimate Spider-Man, he launched Ultimate X-Men. It was huge. The following year he rebooted The Avengers via the title The Ultimates, which proved more popular than the X-Men. It became something of a phenomenon and the brass at Marvel’s film division used it as the source template for no less than four films, including Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and The Avengers. He’s also had two big-budget, big-screen blockbusters adapted from his creator-owned titles Wanted and Kick-Ass–with a Kick-Ass sequel set for release next month.

So congrats to Mark Millar, John Romita Jr., and Steve McNiven for their continued success with a classic tale from the modern age. And congrats also to Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner who nabbed the New York Times Best Seller list's top spot with their Before Watchmen: Minutemen / Silk Spectre split hardcover collection, which represents the best of an otherwise mixed endeavor in telling new stories with characters created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons*. Cooke's New Frontier treatment of the Watchmen's under-represented characters is classy, reverent and enriching, while Conner's decidedly female perspective was fresh, light and endearing.

*scroll back through this blog for my take on the entire Before Watchmen line.