Better Living Through Graphic Storytelling
A Comics Blog About Shit We Like
25 August 2007

In England, the word cunt is punctuation.

The other day I had gone back and re-read a few stories from Warren Ellis' brief run on Hellblazer, which was really quite good. Ellis is one of those creators that I trust, but only as far as I can throw him. When he hits the mark, he hits it hard. But unfortunately, he often misses the mark too. Ellis is an "idea man", and while I think that this is something sorely lacking in most modern comics, it can also hold a good writer back.

All of this occurred to me while I was reading Hellblazer because, frankly, it's really fucking good. Ellis' famed smarminess (see Warren Ellis (dot) Com for examples) has been a useful tool over the years, but too often it is apparent that most of his protagonists at this point are little more than Spider Jerusalem derivatives, who himself was admittedly a Hunter S. Thompson derivative. All of this nut-kicking, chain-smoking, and swearing is quite charming in the beginning, but it begins to wear itself pretty thin after a while. Especially when considering that Transmetropolitan is 10 years old now.

The reason I frame this in the context of Ellis' Hellblazer run is because Ellis is just that much more convincing when he's writing British characters. Looking back on series like Desolation Jones reaffirm this suspicion.

Crecy, Warren Ellis' new graphic-novella released by Avatar Press as part of his Apparat Line, is another perfect example of why Warren Ellis should not be writing Thunderbolts and should be writing Wisdom instead. Crecy is a surprisingly economic piece of work about the Battle of Crecy, from the British point of view.

There's a reason why Hugh Grant movies sell in America. Warren Ellis' omniscient narrator is a perfect example of how the British could be verbally abusing you to your face, and you'd still walk away from the conversation having been charmed. Take out the racism, the perpetual class-warfare, the hatred of everything not English, the constant need to correct everyone who is not English that they are wrong and backwards, and you'd have a Summer Blockbuster on your hands right there.

Crecy doesn't read quite like a story, but it also doesn't quite read like the overt history lesson that it is. More than anything it reads like a lament and an admission of not only the things that the British got right, but also the ugly things that the British had to get wrong in order to survive. The combination of admitting your mistakes while also admitting that it is necessary to continue them is extremely powerful when handled by Ellis. These are the kinds of lofty experiments that make it worth buying as many Warren Ellis books as possible.

Crecy bodes well for not only Avatar, but for comics as well. With the release of both Doktor Sleepless and Black Summer, the Apparat line has shown that it is not only alive and well, but more than willing to kick in your nuts.

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24 August 2007
Gay as in...

Michael Davis, over at Comicmix, has the answers to the comic industries problems - Happy Heroes! (tm & (c) Michael Davis 2007):

*For the uninformed (Republicans) a 40 means a 40 ounce beverage in a glass bottle. In this case the beverage would be a beer, more specifically a malt liquor such as Colt 45. If by chance you are ever in the “hood” and you want to appear “down” or “cool” then by all means order a Colt 45 in the bag. That’s a plain brown paper bag. Do NOT order a Sam Adams or some such weak ass brew. That would most likely result in a beat down…yours.

Whatever happened to the good 'ol days of self-deprecating satire?

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15 August 2007
Text vs. Meta-Text

Been a while. How have you been?

So... This and this have been making the rounds (please read the original blog entries). Not quite in a this kind of way, but enough to make me go "WTF, man?" this morning. Why did I go "WTF, man?"? Because this argument seems pointless to me. Why is it pointless?

Because both Ms. Superheroine and Ms. Hudson are completely right.

I think the issue that many people have with 'Angry Fangirls' on the blogosphere is that there is confusion as to what makes up the content of a comic book.

There's text...

...and then there's meta-text.

ou’re supposed to be disgusted with what happens to Barbara Gordon—and to Commissioner Gordon—because it’s disgusting. That is, in fact, the entire point. It was brutal and pointless and ugly and terrible, and that's why it hurts so much.

That's the text of Killing Joke.

It doesn't take the perspective of a woman into account. It doesn't take into account that some women might be so very disgusted with the book & what happens to Barbara Gordon in it.

That's the meta-text of Killing Joke.

You can review the text of a work. You can't really do that wholly with the meta-text, however, you can certainlyevaluate a work based on its meta-text.

The Killing Joke has been mentioned by Alan Moore as one of his most disappointing works. He states that it is about "nothing". I may be wrong, but I also believe that he did not intend for that story to be necessarily in continuity, and certainly did not intend for this story to be an impetus for getting "rid of" Barbara Gordon/Batgirl. He just needed something that he, as a fan, felt disgusting and offensive enough to actually have been committed by a character like The Joker.

We can't forget the story. The story is the most important part. But we also can't forget that art is supposed to inspire people. Whether it inspires people to make works of art themselves or inspires them to become life-long fans of the character. Even if all it inspires in people is that they should not shoot women in the spine, a piece of art should inspire on any level. Should we be all-accepting and forgiving of the more annoying tendencies of our fanperson compatriots? Probably not, because then most of us comic book bloggers wouldn't have blogs anymore, but we also can't forget that things like this stem from love and appreciation.

Ms. Superheroine was disgusted by The Killing Joke. Not disgusted but inspired like Ms. Hudson, or myself at age 13. In my opinion, that is reason enough for someone to dislike a particular work of art, regardless of whether I share that reaction or not.

The only thing that I would mention to Ms. Superheroine is that The Killing Joke was published in the late 80s (a very, very culturally dark time), before the pictoral abuse of women in comics was as rampant as it is today. This is before "Women in Refrigerators". This is before Stephanie Brown was senselessly and unfairly killed. This was before Brad Meltzer ran off copies of his first novel at Kinkos.

Given its historical context, I would say that Mr. Moore's decision to depict Barbara Gordon being shot might be inspiring. A lot of terrible abuses were happening to Women all over the world in 1988. This is still fairly fresh off the Women's Liberation movement, when we had thought that if we tried hard enough we could eradicate sexism, only to see it all come crashing down with the rise of Heroine Chic and the Crack Epidemic. However, in comics, no one was talking about these things. When Jim Gordon is forced to watch footage of his daughter being abused by the Joker, we're right there with him, because we love Barbara too.

However, given the present day context of Mike Turner variant covers and the legal name change of Dr. Light to Dr. RapeityRapeRape-Rape, yeah, it's uninspired and irritating.

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01 August 2007

Seriously, the next person who claims that it was illegal downloading that "killed" the music industry....


You know what? You're entitled to your opinion. If your opinion is that the Music Industry as we knew it could have survived, had the onslaught of P2P sharing networks, such as Gnutella and Slsk not become ubiquitous, then so be it. I've made very clear in the past my advocacy of downloading media (illegally or otherwise), and how I honestly believe that it makes people more responsible and conscientious consumers. It allows us to make informed decisions about what we pay for.

Maybe I should have mentioned something though...

I'm a musician. My father's a musician. My roommate's a musician. Most of the people I was around, growing up as a kid, were musicians, both professional and otherwise. Some of these people work for small record companies as their day jobs. Now that they all have iPods, they all download music. Before the internet, they used to tape music, either off the radio, or from records borrowed from friends or the local library. We're musicians and we steal. Fuck you.

I mean, even if one were to blame Napster for the death of the music industry (looking at you Lars Ulrich), did we really want the music industry as we knew it to survive? Be completely honest with yourselves now.

Illegal downloads f**ked the music industry seriously, and while I'm all for sticking it to the "man," it all does end up negatively impacting the artists and their art -- ESPECIALLY SMALLER "NICHE" MUSICIANS!

I would say that music industry executives, and the framework of the industry is what really f**ked musicians and artists, long long long before the internet was around. Don't believe me? I know some dudes in Plainfield that worked as studio musicians on some historically important records and never saw a lick of the album profits. That's not because they were screwed over by anyone with any specific malice towards them. That's because working studio musicians only get paid a one-time fee. Even if you provide an improvised excerpt in a song (i.e. solo), which many musicians like to refer to as "spontaneous composition", you get a one time fee. No publishing rights, nothing. Why? Because that is the going contract for studio musicians. That is the way in which the Music Industry was designed at its very inception.

I mean, you want to talk artists' royalties, the situation is not much better. We're talking a couple cents per unit, and that's after the label has recovered expenses (i.e. shipping, packaging, production, any sort of advance, touring costs, etc.). A couple cents per unit. The average CD costs less than a dollar to manufacture. The cost of an individual album, including shipping, production, artwork, packaging, is somewhere between $3 - $4. It might be even less at this point. Meanwhile, music consumers are being charged anywhere between $11 - $18 on average. That's about $10 more than the CD cost to make. That's a $10 profit per unit, and the artist is getting paid a couple cents per unit. This was the case well before Napster, and last time I walked into a record store, it was the case several years after Napster.

The music industry does not respect you. The music industry does not respect it's "talent". All the music industry has done, since its inception, is convince you, the consumer, that there was a need for a middle-man.

Before The Music Dies is a fairly decent documentary which investigates this issue further, by interviewing music fans, studio technicians, professional songwriters, musicians, and former A&R reps. The nicest thing about this documentary is that they are selling both DVDs and DRM-free, downloadable digital copies of the movie (both at compressed and DVD quality) via their website. No middle-man. If your curious about this issue, and how it relates to music fans and musicians, check out the site.

Now, in relation to the post, I don't really think that the issue is whether or not illegal downloading is right or wrong. The real issue is that the RIAA does not want you downloading music, period, and that this is another piece of propaganda to add to the pile. It just so happens to feature a comic book character. That has always been BoingBoing's stance. Sure, pay the artists for their work, but don't let the record company tell you how to use your music (i.e. Digital Rights Management). Intellectual property is a very slippery slope of an issue, but property formal is less so. If you pay for a record, whether it be the physical record or a digital copy, the record company should not be able to prevent you from sharing it with your friends, burning multiple copies for whatever reason, or play these files on another machine.

Let's put this in terms of another media industry. Let's say you bought the Civil War tradepaperback. Your buddy comes over, sees you have the book. He's interested in buying the X-men tie-in trade, because he's a big X-men fan who happens to be one of those wait-for-the-trade guys, but he hadn't read the main story yet. He's a bit of a tightwad when it comes to his cash. So you offer to lend it to him. Now imagine that the minute the book exchanges hands, Joe Quesada pops up out of nowhere, snatches up the book and says to your buddy, "You didn't pay for this! You don't get to read it!" That's DRM in a nut-shell.

Now correct me if I'm wrong, but most comics pros are currently advocating that you lend out your comics. They're telling you that word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tool. It's the one thing that could get non-comic book readers to read comics again, and hopefully save the industry. I don't think that BoingBoing is anti-artist by any means. I don't even think they're anti-paying for your art. I'm pretty sure what they are against is rich white men telling you how, and under what circumstances you are allowed to enjoy the art which you have already over-paid for.

Again, there are lots of resources out there on this issue, and how it pertains to any number of mediums. Go read some of this stuff and decide for yourself. As for me, I've made very clear that I download illegally in order to be a more concientious and responsible consumer. I'm downloading in order to make an informed vote with my money. This way, I am doing my personal best to ensure that the material I want to see on the shelves every week will be there next month, and that the crap I have no interest in is not. I'm trying to personally ensure that the comics industry is putting out what I personally think are good, intelligently made comics, in a language that they actually listen to. Money.

Except when it comes to the music industry. I am clearly out to fuck them. Hard. Because every day they are trying to fuck my friends and family even harder, and that doesn't sit right with me.

UPDATE Wow. Just read those opening paragraphs. I'm a dick, aren't I?

In the comments section of Occasional Superheroine Ms. Superheroine talks about the comics industry adopting a download platform for authorized digital comics (e.g. iTunes store for comics). I agree, wholeheartedly. My only issue is that DC & Marvel will probably be strong advocates of using DRM to ensure that these comics are not shareable, and I've mentioned above my feelings on DRM, and how I think that that would contradict previous statements made by professionals. The only reason this concerns me, is because there's only a small handful of books coming out from those publishers that I want to pay money for, but they have enough clout to set the standard for all the other publishers.

Ms. Superheroine makes an excellent point (again in the comments section) when she points out what really killed the music industry was not so much the emergence of downloading technology, but rather going up against the downloading technology. She believes that working with emerging technologies might help keep the mainstream comics industry afloat. I think that the heads at the big 2, as well as publishers like Image and Dark Horse are pretty well aware of this, and are at least trying to work with the future instead of fighting it. Hell, Avatar is putting out that web-exclusive Warren Ellis project.

Does anyone but me remember Marvel's short-lived, Flash heavy Dot-Comics? They used to feature a lot of classic books (I can't tell you how many times I've read Amazing Fantasy #15 at this point in my life) as well as the two main Ultimate titles. It was pretty sweet, and it's sort of how I got back into super hero comics when I was in college. I thought that that was a format that worked well, because you had to actually read the comic on Marvel's website, but you could share the link with you pals or whatever. Sure it's not portable, and the initial load time could be slow, but it was well worth it for me. And I suspect it was worth it for Marvel, because I've been reading and buying Ultimate Spiderman as a direct result.

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