Better Living Through Graphic Storytelling
A Comics Blog About Shit We Like
30 April 2007
Comics Not in Comics
So I've been watching a lot of television.

A lot of television.

I've noticed that graphic literature/comics have been getting quite a bit of reference in the mainstream media lately.

Beyond the constant barrage of "Zap! Pow! Comics are not just for kids, anymore!" and "Kids love Manga!!" articles that seem to come out consistently.

I think that is a good thing.

Some references made in television in fact deal with the preconceived nothing that comic books are made for children, albeit in somewhat backhanded ways that inevitably make comics out to be, not only reading material for kids, but reading material for grown-upkids as well.


I'll take 'em where I can get 'em.

(Yes I did just use "'em" instead of "them".)

Here's a quick run-down of how some of my favorite tv shows have been referencing comics:

Lost Fans who have been following the show will not be surprised that the creators of Lost reference comic books. In the very first season, one of Hurley's comics (a Spanish-language translation of a Mark Waid Green Lantern/Flash story, which I assume was part of the Brave & the Bold mini-series) makes a few appearances, as it is handed off from character to character. However, as the slipstream-style drama has escalated over the past season and a half, the witty pop-culture references have been sidelined along with Charlie and Hurley. "Serious" comic reading Lost fans were excited by the prospect of comic's "it-boy", Brian K. Vaughn, perhaps bringing some elements of comic-styled storytelling to the show, and what they got instead was an exchange between Hurley and Charlie arguing over whether the Flash was faster than Superman. Those of us in the know obviously recognize the Flash as the faster man (fastest man alive, in fact), but one of the beautiful things about this exchange, for me, is that it is in fact identical to maybe 5,000 different conversations I've had growing up one of the few unabashed Flash fans in elementary school. To add to this beautiful fan-boy moment, Hurley takes it up a notch by referencing the classic Flash/Superman story when Charlie begs the question, Why on Earth would Superman want to race the Flash? "Uh, I don't know. For charity?" Brilliant!!

30 Rock Aside from having consistently grown from a fairly clever/funny show that started off a bit rocky (pardon the pun) to possibly the best network comedy show currently on air (I know it's going to get canceled before it's time), it consistently uses terms like "frick", "dang", "oh snap", and "blerg" as running jokes. Even better, however, has been the use of "By the hammer of Thor!"

Raines I honestly have no idea why no one is talking about how amazing Raines is. It has, at it's foundation, possibly the greatest must-win combination in the history of television: Jeff Goldblum and endless Raymond Chandler references. That's right. Both of those things, in one television show. Why are you not watching this? I have no idea. On top of this, of course, are the comic references. Several, in fact. The police sketch artist who works with Raines, is an aspiring graphic artist, for which Raines constantly belittles him for. To Raines' credit, an overheard conversation of said artist with his agent on the phone has him turning down work for Archie Comics, stating "If you want the Dark Knight, or Watchmen, you know where to find me." Also, an entire episode (Stone Dead) deals entirely with an art student studying cartooning as the victim, and his entire world of persnickety fanboys, goth girlfriend, and, hitting it even closer to home, washed-up stoner gangs. The comic references have seemed to have ended there, and the season finale (as announced by NBC, in spite of another, un-aired, episode being listed on was quite shaky compared to the rest of the season, but I will continue to watch the show for as long as it airs. I re-iterate: Jeff Goldblum + Raymond Chandler.

Sidenote: I'm not sure if anyone has noticed this, but the apartment building of the victim in the Pilot episode, is nearly identical to the building Philip Marlowe lives in, in Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye, which has a similar must-win combination of Elliot Gould + Raymond Chandler.

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24 April 2007
Did I ever tell you about how I actually considered joining the seminary?
It's true.

I thought about it.

That dude above might have been me (aside from the whole, resentment towards the Catholic Church for screwing up my psyche that I still maintain today).

Towards the end of high school (I attended a Catholic high school), a lot of my teachers began trying to recruit kids into the brotherhood, stating that the church would pay for their education after a certain amount of time, etc. etc.

Very similar to the Army's recruitment strategy.

They didn't court me though.

The Marines did.


Really hard.

Anyway, none of this is neither here nor there.

If you are a big follower of the inter-net, you may have seen some items about the Catholic Church using manga-sytled comics about real people's experiences in the seminary. Seems like an innocuous enough recruitment strategy, even with the reputation Christian oriented comics have gotten from Chick Publications, but I honestly believe that the Catholic Church is a slightly different animal (read: The Death Cookie by Chick Publications). Yaoi jokes aside.

Anyway, I just couldn't let go of this particular quote:

"Cartoons, particularly Manga-styled ones, are a good way of reaching young people, even up to the age of 25," says Father Embery.

Because there aren't 30 year old "otaku" who live in their mom's basement, reading Death Note all day and fansubbing anime.

It's a good thing that most of my comic-reading friends are under the age of 25.....

Oh wait, that's not true.

I feel surprisingly guilty now.

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20 April 2007
Eisner Nominees for 2007
Here is a complete list of all the nominees.

Not a bad batch, in my opinion, but I can't say that I'm in complete agreement on some of the nominations. Of course, I'm not an Eisner judge, so the decision is really not up to me.

I appreciate the creator driven aspect of the awards (I mean it is the creators being nominated, more so than the books), and while I think that most of the super hero themed works nominated are deserving of honor, I do honestly have to wonder about the level of variety. I mean, any super hero books nominated were either created by Ed Brubaker or Darwyn Cooke, Batman: Year 100 and All Star Superman aside.

Also, is Fables really that good? It's an enjoyable read, but I gave up on it after a few issues. Has it really gotten that much better? It's one of those books, like Y: The Last Man, that I (could) enjoy the hell out of and read regularly, but would never say it's one of the best comics ever.

These are probably two of the most overrated comics in the market today. Like I said, I enjoy the shit out of some BKV aktion as much as the next nerd, but Y is by far one of his weaker masterpieces. And to be completely honest, just because a comic book is really good at being a great comic book, doesn't mean that it really reaches the literary aspirations that everyone seems to be forcefully injecting into the medium.

And while some of the more hyped nominees like Yang's American Born Chinese and Alison Blechdel's Fun Home certainly achieve a fairly high level of literariness, it's far from breaking new ground (no matter what the NY Times says).

That being said, there are quite a few nominees who, in my opinion, have done some really amazing work in the medium, if not in terms of literary aspirations, than by all means cinematic, or visual, or even comical.

Brian Chippendale's Ninja (Best Graphic Album - New) is seriously some next level shit. Not necessarily new new ground for any of the Fort Thunder cartoonists, but the packaging and presentation is some of the best I've seen. Yes, I'm a sucker for over-sized books that don't fit in my book shelf, and yes I also own Lost Girls (AKA The Giant Purple Brick), and the packaging of Ninja blows it away.

I don't think that I can hype Scandinavian cartoonist Jason enough. Eli and I had a conversation recently where we debated which cartoonists and writers were breaking new ground in the medium. Jason was among my list, but Eli contested my opinion, by stating that good cartooning isn't enough to break new ground. I argued that it was if the craftsmanship of the cartoonist was so pure and so refined that it actually defined the language of the medium to come. Jason is very close to being at this point, and his nominated book The Left Bank Gang, is perhaps the best example of his work's potential available states-side. It's also one of the most powerful books I've read in a long long time. Comics or otherwise.

A few more quick notes:

  • Lewis Trondheim's A.L.I.E.E.E.N. is probably my favorite book that First Second put out last year, which says a lot since they put out some really amazing books last year
  • I'm actually not too familiar with most of the manga in the Best US Edition of International Material - Japan category, but I read the volumes of Old Boy released by Dark Horse. It's good, but is it really worth an Eisner?
  • The fact that Tatsumi's Abandon the Old in Tokyo really brings up some serious questions about what can be considered a "comic book" and a "comic strip". Eddie Campbell defines a comic book as a long-form comic strip, and a graphic novel as a longer-form comic strip. The stories included in Abandon the Old in Tokyo are all about 4 - 6 pages in length and were included in an ongoing erotic manga anthology. So do short stories like this count as "strips" or "books"? Considering the limitations of the newspaper and the differences in graphic design, I would venture to say that a few of the Tatsumi stories are probably equal in density as any Sunday Peanuts strip. I don't know. I could be wrong.
  • That being said, Tatsumi sort of kills the "competition" in the Best Archival Collection/Project - Comic Books category, but would be given a run for his money in the Best Archival Collection/Project - Strips category.
  • I'm very disappointed with the judges choices for Best Digital Comics. None of them are that great. I would pick Dan Goldman's fucked-up psychedelic roommate dramedy, Kelly, over Shooting War any day. And seriously, Bee?
  • I didn't think Kramers Ergot 6 was that great a collection. There have been better volumes of the anthology, and better anthologies released last year.
  • Ivan Brunetti should win every category that he is nominated for.
  • Except Best Humor Publication, which would necessitate that Bob Burden's Flaming Carrot Comics win because the Flaming Carrot saved my life.
  • I still have not read his Gumby book. I know I should though.
  • Does Young Avengers really count as a "continuing series" at this point since, it's, you know, no longer continuing?
  • I am seriously giving myself palpitations trying to decide whether to root for Paul Pope's Batman: Year 100 mini-series, or Tony Millionaire's Sock Monkey. Sock Monkey!!
  • I can't believe Stan Fucking Lee got nominated for an Eisner Award. Seriously? Seriously?!? What's next?

In a completely unrelated note, I still have no computer at home. So blogging is still sort-of suspended. A lot of really good stuff came out this week, and I downloaded a bunch of awesome stuff to read. So if I get a new computer soon, expect some furious comic blogging.

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16 April 2007
My computer died this morning. Same day I got sick and some other
crappy crap happened to me. Or rather, the crappy crap happened and I
got in the way. Anyway blogging has been suspended for now. Way too
much tn deal with on top of this so internet is my last concern.

sent via mobile device...

12 April 2007
Kurt Vonnegut died yesterday. Way more shook up about it than I thought I would be. I was under the impression that he was going to outlive us all because he was, in my opinion, one of the few fit to stand whatever judgment we face at the end of the universe with all the playful honesty that has made his writings so effective.

But enough about that. I promised no more non-comic related posts.

Has anyone read the new Madman book that Image just put out?

All I can really think about is how weird it seems to me.

But then again, it is a Madman book. It strives to be "weird" I guess.

Laura Allred's colors is a nice visual shift compared to the Madman comics I'm used to reading. Everything seems less dark, less bouncey, but at the same time a bit less static and a bit more real. Allred's modernist/Art Deco inspired layouts seem to have reached its pinnacle with this new book. It really grounds the story in that pop art aesthetic, even more so than any of Allred's previous works.

I know that sounds crazy to you familiar with Madman but, hey, it's a new Madman book. It can get crazier.

By crazy I don't necessarily mean schizophrenic or even psychedelic. I feel the people confuse the two.

Madman or even The Atomiks have always been sort of wacky and silly, but they always followed a specific kind of logic. It may not have always fit perfectly with our own logic, here in the world of non-fiction, but it still maintained a sense of logic regardless.

It's like the difference between Surrealism and Dadaism, which a lot of people seem to mix-and-match. Surrealism literally means "super realism". It doesn't always mean that one realism is superior or better than the other (although I have a feeling Breton would dispute that), but rather that one is a bit more intense or vastly different from the other. Madman is surrealism in it's most straight forward and digestible form. It follows an eschewed narrative, but a narrative that can be followed if one extends oneself enough.

Dadaism, on the other hand, is the absence of logic. It is nonsense. The word "dada" actually means "hobby horse". There is no real meaning behind that definition. Dadaism is only consequential in its inconsequential nature.

Anyway, Madman Atomic Comics seems to be more along the lines of Oddity Odyssey (republished by Oni Press), which was a much darker affair than say the Madman series published by Dark Horse Comics.

While Madman (the Dark Horse series, again) is fun and light and exuberant in its whimsy, Oddity Odyssey is unsettling and angst ridden. It's the two poles of mental illness. The seemingly nonsensical silliness of play, versus the burden of a heightened sensitivity to reality. Rather than pit one against the other, Allred had separated the two concepts into two different stories/series to more finely dissect and pick apart. The first issue of Madman Atomic Comics seems more in line with the burden angle than the play angle, although it is reasonably too early in the series to suss out Allred's ultimate intention.

Ultimately, Madman is a product of modernism. It is only post-modern in that it is aware of itself as a product of modernism, and often makes reference to this. It plays with iconography and its meaning, rather than aesthetics or pastiche. But at its core is the main tennant of modernism - laying bare the bones of the device. It is a comic book that operates in the logic and reason of a comic book. It celbrates its own silliness and wackiness, with reverence, but not obligation, to what has come before.

This is why Allred's Dark Horse Madman series was such a breath of fresh air in the age of the "grim 'n gritty" appropriation. Rather than appeal to the darker side of a decidedly cynical audience in an attempt to affect drama, Allred abandoned dramatism altogether to form something much more compelling.

The darkness of Oddity Odyssey doesn't diminish the stories power, nor does it drag down its characters. It still remains a story that is ultimately fun to read. But if the age of "darkness" is over, there is no need for Allred to produce the antidote any more.

If Atomic Comics is any indication, we can assume the Frank Einstein, along with Allred, have returned to more existential issues. This can either be considered a "good" thing or a "bad" thing, depending on what you want from your comics. Either way, this new series looks to be an interesting ride regardless of direction.

I remain positive in any expectations of Madman Atomic Comics.

NOTE: Madman Atomic Comics is not to be confused or associated with Fox Atomic Comics. Madman Atomic Comics is published and printed by Image Comics, an entirely separate entity.

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11 April 2007
Ding Dong
Eli will be MIA for the rest of April. That leaves the relatively minuscule amount of posts here down to one man - me.

I've been so super busy with work, and caring for my two cats, that I've had hardly any time to write/blog about anything, nor have I had sufficient time to make any kind of headway through my ever-growing Reader list.

So on that note, I'll just mention a few "quick" things:

  • Something seems to have been up with my regular store's Image shipment.  All of last week's books all got in a week late (that means last week's Image books and this week's Image books were received today, Doogie Howser).  That means, I didn't get my copy of Mike Allred's new Madman comic until today. 

  • For those of you paying attention, that means that I'm very excited about this week's pull.  I admit that I indulged myself a bit this week, but with me pulling two copies of Invincible and X-Factor, plus a copy of Powers for Eli, I figured I might as well get almost all the books I want for myself and I'll have Eli foot the bill later. 

  • Ooh, new episode of Lost tonight.  That means all comic reading and kitten petting will promptly cease at 9:58 PM.
  • Does anyone know when the hell Ivan Brunetti's new collection is coming out?  Nobody's been talking about it, and I have no idea when Fantagraphics ships things, or when my store would order it.  They're often too busy whenever I go in there to answer my inane questions about "When is Book X coming out?"
  • Also, when is the new issue of Mome coming out?  I thought it should have been out by now, but again, for the reasons above I'm pretty much operating in the dark.
  • Have I mentioned that I think Ivan Brunnetti is an absolute genius?
  • Reason # Infinity why I hate Adrien Tomine: that shit is fake!  You're upset (well, actually it's your characters, but I assume it's you too) that your girlfriend doesn't talk to you?  Anders Nilsen's girlfriend doesn't talk to him because she's DEAD!!  Meaning, your heartache is affected and disingenuous to the point of inspiring nausea.

  • That Weezer poster you did all those years ago was awesome, though.  Too bad I can't stand Weezer anymore either.
  • Why is it that whenever I tell anyone the story about how I witnessed some woman getting robbed by a gang of big angry teenagers on the subway, the question everyone asks is, "And you just stood there?" or "And nobody did anything?".  Take into account that the entire episode occured within 1.5 - 2 minutes and also BIG ANGRY TEENAGERS.  They could have been concealing a switch blade or a laser torch or something.  I don't know.  I've already admitted to being a coward many times, so don't get all self-righteous on me.
  • Have I mentioned that I'm obsessed with Doctor Who right now?  I mean, I've been a fan for a while, but with no regular broadcasting of a contemporary series, it was hard for me to keep up.  So, in the event that the current series runs out of steam, may I propose a Doctor Who comic drawn by Ed Templesmith? This image has been my computer's desktop for days now and I just can't help but stare at it constantly.
  • This post has not turned out to be nearly as "quick" as I intended it.
  • I can't decide whether I'm excited about Warren Ellis' new Doktor Sleepless series coming out on Avatar.  I love me some Warren Ellis sci-fi (newuniversal is my absolute favorite, if not the best, example of modern SF in the comics medium right now, and it's a friggin' Marvel book), but I just can't jive with that name.  "Sleepless"?  I also can't say that I've been wowed by any of the stuff he's been putting out on Avatar recently.  Even Black Gas and that has zombies in it.
  • Can someone please send me a still or screen capture of Rich Johnston as a zombie from Shaun of the Dead?  I've rewatched my DVD of it maybe 6 times this past weekend, constantly pausing it every time I see a zombie with long hair and/or a beard.  Alternately, Chris Martin as an evil creature of the undead is incredibly ironic to me.  Have I mentioned that I can't stand Coldplay?
  • That's all you get.  I'm going back to work.  If I feel like it, I'll blog about the books I got.

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04 April 2007
Another Quick Note on Science Fiction
(because it relates to comics, how?)

Today I read a blog post about somebody claiming to have invented the Sci-Fi sub-genre of "heliumpunk".  Now, seriously.  Why?  Do we really need more sci-fi anthologies that include the world "punk" in the title? To be honest, the whole post pretty much drips of conceit, and that is possibly the most off-putting thing about it, but it's not the only one.

Listen to this:

Since I "invented" Heliumpunk, I feel authoritative enough to define it: "A future or near-future setting where anachronistic and obsolete technology is given a new lease on life, not just because it is cool, but for plausible reasons within the setting."

Honestly, the only thing that seems to differ between "heliumpunk" and (sci-fi's flavor of the year) steampunk seems to be the fact that "heliumpunk" is set in the future, while steampunk is set in an alternative past.

Don't believe me?

Listen to this:

This setting begs to have air pirates who are after your helium, flying around on crude gliders with harpoon guns and futuristic goggles.

Or this:

BSG uses technology that is old from its own perspective, not from the perspective of the viewer. Heliumpunk uses tech that is outmoded even by today's standards and gives it new life.

And this:

A novel with polearm-wielding Zeppelin pilots flying over the Arctic whilst being pursued by multinational Helium conglomerates.

The air-goggles thing really got me.  I mean, yes, air-goggles are cool.  I would even go so far as to describe them as sexy.  But what your discussing - the fashion, the fight scenes, the setting, the involved conversations about the pros and cons of fighting with polearms - this is all window dressing.  Is it possible to define an entire genre, or even sub-genre for that matter, with peripheries?

I understand, when it comes to speculative fiction, it's the speculation part of it that can be the most fun, and while that may work really really great for you and all yr D&D playmates, it doesn't write the goddamn story.  A story is more than plot and setting (which seems to be the only thing steampunk fans care to talk about these days). 

Think about it. 

Think about the great sci-fi novels that made you wet your pants with glee & imagination.  Think about what really gets you when you watch Firefly.  Is it the cheap visual tricks, or is it the characters?  What year was Concrete Island set in?  What was the dominant fashion of Farenheit 451?  Where were the sexy air-goggles in Time Out of Joint?

Even the direct predecessor of steampunk, my beloved cyberpunk, showed some interest in concepts beyond what weapons were used and what people wore.  It was used as window dressing mostly.  A way to make the ideas and concepts come alive as people, rather than notes on a piece of paper.  Granted, the whole concept of cyberspace was pure speculation (the fun part!) on the part of Gibson, but we have it now.  It's real life, it's in front of us, and it turned out to be a fucking waste of time. 

Bruce Sterling gives blogs 4 - 5 more years before they die off as all cultural fads do.  And he should know about fads - he was one of the "founders" of cyberpunk.

Doctor Who enthusiast and zinester Tat Wood describes steampunk, in his essay Disraeli Gears* describes the genre as a marketing category.  With good reason too.  The term "cyberpunk" was coined by Bruce Bethke as a marketing ploy to make his books more noticeable.  And honestly, that's all the term "steampunk" or any other derivative (concept + "punk" = subgenre) can make me think of.


Attempts to make money.

Now, I will never write off a piece of work simply because it is associated with a particular "movement" or genre, but please give it a rest.  I've already admitted that air-goggles are sexy...



...but not as sexy as vision-enhancing mirrored lenses surgically attached to your face.

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03 April 2007
Why Is Tonio So Excited?
Well tomorrow is Wednesday, and aside from the fact that my comic store may have actually ordered the Spiderman Loves Mary Jane hardcover I inquired about last week...


Don't just stand there!  Go!  Go buy it!  Go buy it now!

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01 April 2007
The Doctor
I know I said I wouldn't bore the comic-book exclusive folks who read this blog with any of my meanderings on science fiction but...

I finally caved and picked up the first two seasons of the new Doctor Who series.  I'm pretty damn excited.  Up until now I've pretty much settled for catching whatever loose episodes I can on the Sci-Fi Channel or watching flash videos of clips on the internet.  But after having done that, I'm really glad I saved up the money and actually spent it on the DVD sets because, well, they're really nice looking DVD sets.  The box for the second season is even better looking than the first, with a nice holographic cover and some sweet illustrations and pictures on the insert (I like to refer to them as "liner notes"). 

One of the other reasons I'm particularly psyched about the second season is that, in the beginning, Christopher Eccleston was somewhat unconvincing as the Doctor for me.  He seemed to hard all the time.  Sure the Doctor could be an asshole a lot of the time, but I always saw him as a somewhat playful character and Eccleston failed in that department for me.  To be fair, the level of "play" he adds to the cast of Heroes has made him one of my new favorite characters on that show.

The fact that an actor like Eccleston can find success on two perofmances steeped so high in the Science Fiction genre is somewhat astonishing to me.  Hardcore Sci-Fi nerds, similar to comic book nerds, still hold a bit of resentment towards the mainstream public in spite of recent success in the genre.  I mean, comics and sci-fi never went away.  There was always Star Trek and there were of course the Justice League and X-Men cartoons, but on some level the prime-time viewing audience was not quite ready for a show like Battlestar Galactica or Heroes until now. The fact that both shows are doing so well is a boon for fans, but I feel that it creates a strange riff between supposed new-comers and those of us who have remained faithful.

I mean, at this point it really comes down to whether you mutter "frakkin' bitch" under your breath at work or "fraggin' bastich". It's a moot point, but still one still large enough to draw a thin line in the sand.

I honestly believe that if shows like Doctor Who and BSG had originally premiered on major networks like NBC or CBS, they would have done just as well as Heroes and Lost (yes, I choose to include Lost as part of the science fiction genre's oeuvre). I mean, at this point, BSG has probably done a better job of attracting new viewers than Lost has of keeping old viewers interested. And most West Wing fans I am friends with have already given up on Studio 60, while finding solace in the socio-political drama of BSG .

So, all that being said, I'm off to watch some TARDIS action. I will undoubtedly scare off any social interaction with my roommate or his little brother for the evening with my loud cries of "EXTERMINATE!", muffled only by my bedroom door. Oh, and if any of you are on the fence about purchasing the DVDs instead of just downloading episodes or watching them on Youtube, I give you three words:


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