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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Reversal of kudos to DC - Ignoring errors

This probably matters to no one but me, but since I commended DC Comics a while back for  putting up an errata site to document and correct errors in their books (primarily credits, but other things as well), I wanted to note that they've not added any entries to the site since then, despite dozens of undocumented errors not yet included from earlier books, and many new ones since (with one egregious example).  So I guess it was a half-assed effort.  Not sure if that's better or worse than nothing at all, since having the site up there does sort of imply those are the only mistakes they're aware of.

The whole thing made me curious about why exactly they put the site up there, what one mistake tipped the balance to make them decide they needed the site, presumably letting someone throw up a quickly constructed list of errors (or maybe an existing internal list of corrections made or planned for new printings) to make the site look real and act as chaff for the error they had to acknowledge?

The ABSOLUTE SANDMAN errors are conspicuous, as it's a prestige project and it's always nice to stay on Neil Gaiman's good side, I guess, but those are fairly minor errors.  The big Kane/Moldoff correction on one book might have been it, but I know that same "error" exists in other books not corrected.

Then it jumped out at me:

Elric: The Making Of Sorcerer

  • Indicia is incorrect - trademark should be assigned to Michael Moorcock.

Should have been obvious, really.  They somehow flubbed properly acknowledging the owner of the character and story they were publishing, an actual legal requirement, and presumably recalling the whole print run and reprinting the book wasn't a feasible option.  Much cheaper to say they've got a site to cover stuff like that and hastily throw one up.

And no, I don't know that was the case, but it seems to make sense.

Friday, January 29, 2010

My favourite way to read THE CATCHER IN THE RYE...


Pick up Evan Dorkin's DORK #1, and I'm sure one of the books reprinting the series (WHO'S LAUGHING NOW, I guess), for the rest of the 2-page story.

And rest in peace, Mr. Salinger.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

ABADAZAD v3 by DeMatteis & Ploog

Bit overdue, I talked about ABADAZAD v1 over here and v2 over here.  A while after that it was revealed that Disney/Hyperion had cancelled the series, and further that they weren't even going to release the completed third book in North America, but did release it in the UK.  Yeah, I don't get it either...

Anyway, a few times in the past few years I took a look to see if I could get the third book, but generally found that it was either ridiculously expensive, when shipping was added on (often even before shipping), or that the sellers wouldn't ship to Canada for some reason, or had a dodgey looking website that I didn't want to enter my credit card information on.  A few times I even found it for a reasonable price and ordered it, only to be told that there was an inventory error and the seller didn't actually have a copy, so money refunded.  So when I tried again a few weeks ago (after DeMatteis mentioned the series a few times on his blog), I didn't hold out much hope, so imagine my surprise when instead of an apology and a refund a package showed up with a copy of ABADAZAD v3: THE PUPPET, THE PROFESSOR AND THE PROPHET by J. M. DeMatteis and Mike Ploog.

For those unfamiliar with the history of the series, it began as a comic book series from rapidly failing publisher CrossGen back in 2004, only lasting three issues and barely getting into the story of Kate Jameson, a young girl who finds out that the world presented in the popular early 20th century series of Abadazad novels were inspired by a real place, one where she winds up in a search for her long-missing young brother.

The remains of the company were bought by Disney, which apparently only had a real interest in ABADAZAD (all they've done with the other books from CrossGen is license out some reprints to a third-rate publisher) and the series was reformatted to a series of books in a hybrid format, with sections of heavily illustrated text mixed with sections of comics, with eight books to tell the initial story.  Unfortunately, as mentioned above, it didn't get much further into the story than the original comics, especially in North America.  If you read the posts from DeMatteis's blog above, you'll get more details about what happened, and prospects for the future, including details about his related upcoming novel IMAGINALIS, about characters trapped in limbo.

For now, though, we (or at least I) have one new book to move the story along.  This third book essentially finishes up the first act of the story, the classic gathering of the characters for their quest.  It's a bit more than that, since this is a heavily meta-textual story, so it plays with the classic story structure in addition to following it.  By the end of the story we get Kate finally united with the group of characters who formed the core of the adventures in the fictitious original Abadazad novels, all quite different from their fictional counterparts.

It's a very enjoyable read, although the foreknowledge of the fate of the series kind of makes it somewhat bittersweet.  The contrast between the characters as Kate knows them from the novels and how they really are is always enjoyable, and there are a lot of twists that depend on the odd meta-textual format of the series (the story in this format is essentially presented as direct from Kate's enchanted diary, which includes scenes that she's not present for or didn't write about, but which she sees in the diary (as the comic book formatted pages), so she becomes aware of those events, even if she doesn't know if they're real or what they mean, and those inform her future actions).

Anyway, a good little book, and hopefully it finds a way to rise from the ashes once again.  In the meantime, I guess, into IMAGINALIS.

By the way, from a while back, the original series proposal by DeMatteis.  It's interesting to see how some parts of it were retained, but a lot of it changed in very major ways.  The end of the third books has a twist that was obviously going to have major implications on the final resolution but doesn't appear in the original proposal, and neither does one major character.

Also, Disney still has their way out-of-date website for the series up, which has some neat stuff. I don't know if I like the disneyfied animation in the opening screen, but it's interesting, and some of the other stuff is very nice.

Update: and here's an excerpt from the unpublished v4

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

STRANGE SUSPENSE: THE STEVE DITKO ARCHIVES Vol. 1

STRANGE SUSPENSE is a recently published hardcover collection from Fantagraphics featuring 34 of the 35 stories drawn by Steve Ditko published from 1953 to 1955, primarily for Charlton Comics after a few for other publishers, plus the 20 covers he drew for Charlton in that era.

The stories included being public domain, they're all readily available online, and all but a few have also been recently reprinted in black and white, along with other early Ditko work, in various books from Pure Imagination.  So this won't be a review of the actual stories and art (if you want to know what I think of each story, check over here, and you can read them all there as well) (since, as far as I know, neither Ditko nor anyone who wrote the stories is participating in the book financially, there shouldn't be any guilt about reading them for free online).  For the stories, I'd say about a third of them are just plain bad, of no interest apart from the drawings, a third are mediocre but solidly readable examples of comics from that era and a third have something more there (though sometimes that something more is lifted from other sources), though none would be considered a masterpiece on the strength of the words.  The art is consistently better than the writing, of course, and while it's often rough around the edges, especially in the first half, it's always interesting, especially if you're interested in Ditko's full career, as there are hints of his influences (some very heavy Eisner-esque moments early on) and his future (several horror landscapes beg comparison to his later Doctor Strange work, and you tell me if Rumpelstiltskin doesn't remind you of some later Ditko designs).  The covers are generally superior to the story artwork, though that might be mostly a function of better reproduction, and those include some genuine classics.

So apart from the actual quality of the stories, this book is an adequate but unexceptional presentation of the material. There's a limit to how good a reprint can be if the source material has to be actual printed comics from the 1950s, though what's possible overall has improved tremendously in the last decade.  Late in the last century a reprint of this quality probably would have been considered state of the art.  In 2010, I'd say it's solidly average, maybe give it a 6 or 7 out of 10.  Most of the choices made were right.  The paper is a nice thick non-glossy white that holds the colours well and not even a hint of what's printed on the other side of the page bleeds through.  The binding is a thing of beauty (an old annoyance of mine), I really wish someone would use this to show some other publishers what a properly bound hardcover looks like.  The 7x10 page size is a bit on the small side, but still close to what the original comics were printed at.  I suppose I'm spoiled by some larger reprints done recently (the Pure Imagination reprints of the same stories have about a 20% larger image area), and I know that given the print quality of the source material against modern printing technology there isn't really any extra detail that would come out in a larger print size, but still, I'm getting old and big letters are easier to read than small letters.

But, overall, it's pretty much just high quality scans of the printed comics with minimal digital tweaking to get rid of the most obvious artifacts of their low quality source (the age and grain of the newsprint and the ink bleeding through from the other side of the page).   There doesn't seem to be any attempt to adjust anything else, even obvious colour registration errors, but I understand why there wasn't, and in a way am glad there wasn't a minor effort made to do that, since if you're going to do those kinds of corrections, you really do need to go all the way.

Other than those 224 pages of comics and covers, the only supplemental material in here is the 6 page introduction by Blake Bell (the original solicitation mentioned "short essays by some of the comic book industry giants - Daniel Clowes, Gilbert Hernandez, etc.", but unless they were so short as to be microscopic they aren't here).  There's nothing much of interest in there that adds to the book, although the introduction does include the first page of the one Ditko story from the era not included in this collection, as well as an interesting alternative version of the final page of one story, where the last panel (which had no art, just a caption and a space for a newspaper clipping) was replaced in the printed version by an ad and pages from a few other stories of the era that might (or might not) have Ditko's hand in them.  Anyway, the full introduction is available in the Amazon preview of the book, so you can judge that for yourself.  One odd omission, as far as I noticed there's no mention anywhere in the book of Bruce Hamilton, the only known writer of any of these stories. Seems a shame to reprint his story and not include his credit (especially as it's one of the three best stories in here), or any of his account of working as a freelancer in comics in those days which adds a lot of background.

I'd say overall, if you really want to read the stories and appreciate the more important bits of Ditko's art, go with the Pure Imagination reprints (though they have their own flaws).  If colour is important to you, go with the scans available at the links above.  The quality varies, but the full comics add a nice measure of context to the stories, seeing them with the original surrounding stories and ads, and my versions, well, they're easy to find and they're free, what do you expect me to say about them.  If colour is important and you don't like to read comics on your computer screen, then I guess this is the book for you.  Or I guess you could print out the scans from those other sources, but it's probably easier to get this book.

So, overall, as I said, the book is adequate by the standards of the day.  I'd give it maybe a 6/10.  If the material in here wasn't so readily available elsewhere in forms I prefer I'd probably bump that up to an 8/10.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Where the art went

So, a related matter to the previous post that I also always wanted to explore some more is brought up in that same post I linked to about the Archie Comics exhibit not crediting the artists (though apparently the museum has, at some point, added some artist identification to the works.  But probably still claims John Goldwater created the characters):

the rather "interesting" fact that the company has retained all, or most, of its original art.

Is that really the case, that Archie Comics owns most of the originals, not having returned them to the artists?  Clearly they don't own all of them, since there is stuff out there on the open market, but a quick check shows that what's out there seems to be pretty small compared to what was actually produced in the 60+ years the company has been publishing, and obviously anyone familiar with the original art market knows how some work can be "liberated" over the years (I think that's the word they use because "stolen" sounds so vulgar.  And actionable).  In fact, it seems a rather large percentage of the Archie original art on the open market is strictly from the comic strip version, dating from the 1940s to the 1990s, and those probably went through different hands than the comic book art.

Anyway, starting from that point, did Archie keep the originals after it became standard (but not universal) for comic book publishers to return originals?

And expanding on that to the whole market.  First, I'll point out that my interest in this is mostly theoretical.  I don't collect much original art, the handful of pieces I have were either bought from or given to me by the original artists, and if I was interested in (and financially capable of) getting more I think, given the market, I'd only deal with work I can get from the original artists or their direct agents.  I do like looking at originals, though, so I'm glad decent scans of a lot of them show up on-line and in various books and magazines.

Obviously given the comics market, the most interest is in work from Marvel and DC, and those histories are pretty well known.  In the mid-1970s returning the art to the artists became standard at those companies (though not always without glitches in the system, including some notable losses and thefts, including pages from what may be the best single issues of SWAMP THING and SANDMAN.  So at least the thieves have good taste...). A lot of the artwork done prior to that isn't accounted for, some of it is known to have been destroyed, a lot of it was "liberated", there are some stories about artists who were in the offices taking back their own art in a more casual arrangement before returns became policy (which I'd happily call liberated without the quotes of sarcasm, as long as it was only their own artwork, or if any other artwork they took found its way back to the artist).

I haven't heard about any major issues regarding DC returning what art they still had in their possession to the original artists, although I don't know how quickly they did it or how much actual art was still around to return, especially among the most valuable work.  Quite a lot of 1960s stuff is on the open market, not a lot of it signed by the original artist (which it presumably would more likely be if it had been returned to the artist and subsequently sold, but not really evidence one way or another).  There's some work out there by artists not known to have sold many originals (Joe Kubert until recently, Steve Ditko), so I guess a good chance that was "liberated".

Marvel's history with that stuff was uglier, of course.  They still held a lot of earlier originals well into the 1980s, and then asked artists to sign a short condition-filled release to get their work back as a "gift" from the company.  And asked one particular artist, Jack Kirby, to sign a much longer and more detailed release to get back a small fraction of his artwork, in an apparent attempt to definitively establish ownership over the characters he created, since the actual paperwork on such matters from the 1960s was either inadequate or non-existent.  That rightly created some controversy in the comics world, and eventually it was worked out, but from all reports what he got back was less than a quarter of the work he did for Marvel from 1958 to 1970, and by far the less valuable share (certainly no FANTASTIC FOUR #1, not a lot of the more famous covers), even if some of that artwork was in Marvel's warehouse inventory a few years prior.  A lot of rumours about who, when, where and how some of that work vanished.  Quite a bit of it is sold openly these days, and reportedly a lot more of it gets offered on less above-ground places.

Other artists got work back as well, but it's a fair guess that they didn't get all of it, and they didn't get the best stuff.  Steve Ditko has written that he got back "the story/art pages from 3 Spider-Man issues: 2 complete issues (inside pages) and a 3rd which had three pages missing" and no covers from his 41 issues of Spider-Man (including the Annuals, which he writes he didn't get back, and AMAZING FANTASY #15, which obviously he didn't get back, as it sits in the Library of Congress now*).  So around 60 pages of  nearly 1000 pages of what would be the most valuable work.  Oddly he did get most (but not all) of his Doctor Strange pages back.  But no Hulk pages.  Lots of the short 5-pagers, but again, not all, you can find a lot of them openly for sale.

*[funny story there, since I do that Ditko weblog thing, I got some interesting e-mails around the time the anonymous donation of the AF15 art was made, from people confident they knew who the anonymous donor was.  It would have been more helpful if they didn't give three different names.  And oddly none of them gave the right name. Irving J. Forbush]

So it doesn't look like either DC or Marvel were careful custodians of the work while it was in their possession, but they did eventually, if not always easily, return what they managed not to lose, or destroy, or allow to be stolen.

But that's all well documented, if shadowy.  What I get curious about is all the other artwork that's out there.

For example, from an interview with Bernie Wrightson I gather that Warren actually began returning originals of new work a few years before DC and Marvel (presumably the pressure from publishers like Warren acting first moved DC and Marvel to make the change).  On the other hand, regarding the earlier 1960s work, I recall once hearing a story about how that work was still on-hand in the 1980s, and one of the editors started to return it to the original artists and was stopped.  Not sure if that was really the case, but there does seem to be quite a bit of it on the open market, again including work from Ditko which probably wouldn't be the case if it was returned to him.

And the EC case is kind of interesting.  I can't find any reference to it on-line, but I recall some mention in those pre-internet days that Gaines did keep virtually all of the artwork for the EC books for a long time (along with high quality file copies of the actual comics and quality stats for reprinting the work), but eventually he (or his estate, I'm not sure when this happened, but I think it was before he passed away) decided to sell off the originals instead of returning it to the artists. Can anyone verify if that was the case, or anywhere where it might have been reported? And I know I heard somewhere that at least as of a few years ago MAD MAGAZINE still kept the original art (but paid really well), is that still the case?

Hm, what else is out there... quite a bit of work from Charlton shows up on the market, including Ditko stuff.  Not sure how it got out there.  Charlton mostly got out of the business of new comics around the time art returns were becoming common.  Interestingly, there's evidence that at least some pages of Charlton art from as early as 1958 managed to find its way back home to Ditko somehow.  Well, at least one battle-scarred page...

And Disney being Disney, as always makes its own rules.  Do any Disney comic book artists ever get their originals back, no matter which publisher is actually licensing the characters? I'm pretty sure Don Rosa didn't, even working for the European publishers, and certainly it seems that the few Rosa pieces you see on the market are preliminary or unused pages, not the final art.  And there are only a few Carl Barks pieces on the market, I wonder if all of the work from that era were destroyed or are sitting in a warehouse or a private collection somewhere?

Well, obviously it's a vast and complicated subject, something a lot of people involved in don't like to talk about openly, as it involves acts that range from morally questionable to major felonies.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Golden Age of Reprints - Where does the gold go?

The past few years have been called the Golden Age of comics reprints, and it's hard not to see it, with every month seeing a few new announcements of long out-of-print works, both major and minor, coming out, sometimes in high quality archival presentations, sometimes in cheaper packages with considerably less care going into them (though usually just as expensive in price).  Certainly if you'd told me back in 2000 that by 2010 I'd be able to get every strip from the first two decades of Peanuts, thousands of pages of DC war comics in nice black and white editions, thousands of pages of Kirby reprints every year in a variety of formats, more than 4000 pages of John Stanley and Irving Tripp's work on Little Lulu in nice little affordable volumes, plus more books of Stanley's other work in  hardcover, and dozens of other things, well, I'd have wondered if all that came with the flying cars and jetpacks we're always promised about the future. And where the flrj my Sugar & Spike reprints are...

Still, we've got all that, and more.  One thing not often mentioned in those announcements is any details about where your money for buying them goes. Specifically, does any reasonable portion of the money for those books (not just a token payment) go to the writers and artists who created them in the first place.

Now, the comic strips are generally either owned by the creators, or by the newspaper syndicates, but with much more enlightened contracts than comic books had, so those I'm mostly confident some money is going to the right place (except for public domain stuff, more on that later).

And for DC I'm pretty sure some money does always go to the creators, to the point that the contract they had in place for a few years (specifying set reprint payments by page, not by percentage of retail price) makes cheap, thick black and white reprints (my favourite kind) of material from those years impractical unless they can renegotiate the rate.  In any case, Steve Bissette, one of the few to talk about it openly and never shy about being critical of DC, said DC "has honored and in many ways bettered the original agreements and contracts" with respect to the reprints of work he did for them.

Marvel's record is much spottier, at the very least they apparently have a policy in place only to pay reprint fees to living creators, not their heirs (not a policy DC has, I think), so all those Jack Kirby reprints they do every year are a freebie to them.  Not that they seem to pass along the savings to the consumer.  I've also heard a few statements that suggest they don't consistently make payments to living creators, but I'm not sure what exactly the situation there is.

Now, other publishers, especially those picking up reprints of material they didn't publish the first time around, that's where it gets tricky.  To get back to what Steve Bissette wrote at that link above, that was partly instigated by IDW and Dark Horse reprinting a few minor pieces he did for First Comics back in the 1980s, and not getting anything from the publishers, no notice that his work was in the books, no payment, no complimentary copies (as he later updated in that post, Rick Veitch did eventually get a comp copy of the Nexus book that reprinted his story, along with a ridiculously small payment.  $200 for 28 pages of art, $7.15 a page.  I think we can agree that if you get less than Siegel and Shuster got per page of Superman in 1938 that qualifies as a "token payment"), but I don't think Bissette ever did get payment for his cover reprinted in that book.

So what about all the other stuff that those companies reprint?  In addition to that reprint from First, I've heard a few times that IDW doesn't pay creators anything for all the Star Trek comics they reprint from various other publishers who held the license before them. Can I assume the same is true for their other reprints of material that's not creator owned?  How about Dark Horse for all the old comics they reprint?  Star Wars and Indiana Jones comics from Marvel, Tarzan comics from various publishers, old ACG comics.  Irving Tripp only passed away a few months ago, was he even getting copies of those Little Lulu books, or a few cents for every copy?  Dark Horse has done more than 20 of them, so I'm guessing they make a profit for someone.  Those $50 Creepy and Eerie books, if I buy those, does anything go to the estates of Archie Goodwin, Alex Toth and Wallace Wood?  To living artists like Gene Colan, Al Williamson and Steve Ditko?  It's not the skills of the people at Dark Horse or whoever happened to buy the rights to Jim Warren's publishing company that sell the books, after all.

And to expand this to other publishers, half of what Archie publishes is reprints, in their digests.  They frequently don't even have proper credits on those, so I'm going to guess if they can't be bothered to put on a name (or in some cases can be bothered to erase a name), they're not going to be cutting a cheque.  They've recently announced various "archival" collections, including artist based ones, but given their publishing partners are Dark Horse and IDW I wouldn't bet money on the artists getting more than that usual Archie treatment (apparently a current showing of Archie artwork at a museum doesn't mention the names of the artist who created the work on their walls).

And, of course, there are lots of examples beyond that.  Do the various artists of the EC books get anything from those $50 books reprinting their work?  I don't think most of the writers even get credited for them yet.  I'm pretty sure Disney comics reprints didn't pay the creators anything when Gladstone/Gemstone were doing them (at least from what I recall Don Rosa saying), has that changed any with Boom picking up the license? Fantagraphics has a book reprinting the four issues of Blazing Combat.  Looks really good.  No idea if Archie Goodwin's estate and the many talented artists represented see a dime.  I hope they do.

And of course there are a lot of books of public domain material.  Now, public domain is just that, and certainly I don't have clean hands since I'm not shy about posting public domain stories online.  It's an issue I still need to think about, I guess, but I'd certainly think that if you're going to do a high priced book with the name of a still living creator as part of the title and the work of that creator as the sole selling point, not having the participation and sharing the financial rewards with that creator doesn't seem right, somehow.

Well, anyway, those are some preliminary thoughts on the issue for a longer piece I'll never write (because you know, that would require research).  I'd be curious what other people think, and if you have any facts on payments given to creators for anything I mentioned, or any other reprints, please let me know (I kind of wish publishers would be required to include a note in their books, "A minimum of x% of the cover price of this book goes to the writers and artists responsible").  It would be a shame if in the Golden Age of Reprints, those that do the reprinting keep all the gold.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

EC - The Hungry Grave (Ingels)

The Hungry Grave
art by Graham Ingels, story by Gardner Fox
Crypt of Terror, The #19[#3] (1950)

Some early EC horror here, one of a handful of stories written for the line by Gardner Fox.

Ida's been out of love with her husband Ed for a while, and been slowly poisoning him with arsenic, but didn't have the nerve to go all the way until Jim came along, with the foolproof idea of emptying out a grave and using it to dispose of the body (I'm not quite clear on why they can't just dispose of the body where they hide the body of the person they take out of the grave, saving a lot of digging if nothing else). Unfortunately for them, Ida's gradual poisoning has built up Ed's immunity to arsenic, so he's still alive. They decide to try again the next day.



When Jim shows up, he finds no one home except for a body in a bag, which he takes and buries, surprised a bit when it starts to moan, but going through with the act of burying it alive. Not surprisingly to anyone who's read more than three EC comics in their life, he gets an unpleasant surprise when he goes back to celebrate with Ida. Two unpleasant surprises if you count the ax...

So, yeah, crime doesn't pay, or something like that.  Some nice early Ingels work here, a little bit rough around the edges compared to his later work (and this particular printing is kind of dark), but the panel of Jim surprised by the moaning body in the grave is an excellent example of his work.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Hey, Joe Kubert has yet another new book coming out...

Stan Sakai gives us a look at some of the work that went into the upcoming Usagi plush toy.

And if you bought THE ART OF DITKO and found one of the stories really took a weird turn in the middle, you'll want to read this. Sloppy.

Upcoming comic of interest:
DONG XOAI VIETNAM 1965 hardcover
A brand new 200 page war comic from Joe Kubert. Sign me up. Oh, and that reminds me, I never did get his JEW GANGSTER book.  Looking around now, I think I was waiting for a softcover version that was on the schedule but never actually came out, so I guess I'll track down the hardcover.

ISBN-10: 1401221424
ISBN-13: 978-1401221423
Diamond JAN100309

And now, entirely unrelated, to prove goofy Batman covers didn't end with the "new look" in the mid-1960s...



Hm, I see this has been reprinted in a couple of SHOWCASE PRESENTS volumes I haven't picked up yet. I need to get caught up on those, although really, the stories never do justice to the covers.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

WEST COAST BLUES by Tardi & Manchette


Jacques Tardi draws Spider-Man, Thor, Iron Man, Daredevil and others

There have been a number of translations of French artist Jacques Tardi's large body of work into English over the years. From Dark Horse back around 20 years ago there were some translations of the early 20th century fantasy adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec stories that he wrote and drew. From Ibook a few years ago THE BLOODY STREETS OF PARIS, one of his adaptations of Leo Malet's Nestor Burma novels.  Some other stuff from NBM and Fantagraphics. Personally, I haven't cared much for what I read of them.  The art was mostly okay, but either because of the writing or translation I found I could never get into the stories enough to really appreciate the books.

Recently it seems Fantagraphics has decided to make a major effort to bring Tardi's work into English, with two books released in the last few months, and a third already on the schedule, a mix of his original solo work, his work as an artist for other writers and his adaptations of prose works by others.  WEST COAST BLUES is in the last category, a 74-page adaptations of the 1976 novel LE PETIT BLEU DE LA CÔTE OUEST by Jean-Patrick Manchette, first published in French in 2005, one of several adaptations of Manchette that Tardi has done, although the first published in English.

While I can't say if it's because of the source material, translation or differences in Tardi's art (the Tardi I've read before was at least 15 years older than this), but I liked this one much more than the earlier stuff.  It didn't start off that way, the first few pages I found a bit confusing, and I'm not entirely sure that was intentional, so I wound up starting and stopping it a few times.  After that part is over, it becomes an entertaining crime/adventure story.

The plot is your basic "man who saw too much" set-up, a young man from  Paris who finds himself pursued by a pair of not quite effective assassins for reasons he's not quite sure of, seeing his life spiral out of control in moments of intense violence.  I can't say I find our lead, Gerfaut, very likable, or some of his actions very logical, but he serves the story.

Much more enjoyable are the two assassins out to get Gerfaut, but obviously not doing a very good job of it.  They bring a fair bit of the comedy to the story, being a sort of PULP FICTION Jules & Vincent combination, years before Tarantino and Avary wrote anything.  I don't know how much of the dynamic was in the original, but since the novel was apparently translated into English (as 3 TO KILL) and made into a movie (3 MEN TO DESTROY) I suppose there could be some influence there.  Anyway, it's through the pop culture immersion of those two killers that we get that neat panel of the Marvel super-heroes up top, and my favourite scene in the book:



It took me a few minutes to figure out why that character looked so familiar, but then I realized that he's the Spider who appears every now and then in Paul Grist's JACK STAFF series.  I knew Grist's characters in the series were often "influenced" by some obscure old British comics, but didn't realize that in this case he lifted one wholesale.

On the other hand, the frequent musical pop culture references don't really work for me, but that could just be because I'm unfamiliar with the music in question, so I'm not sure if they add a layer of meaning that I'm missing (the fact that they're the source of the title of the work suggests that's possible).

Anyway, it's an enjoyable little book, so I'll definitely try some of the other Tardi material coming out.  I have to say, I don't care that much for the cover design, which blows up and crops an interior page, then slaps a colour label on for the title and credits.  I see they're using something similar for the later books, so maybe it'll look better as part of a series, and it certainly does give them a distinctive look.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Some old comics I got, some new ones that are interesting

Good mail day, as I finally got around to getting a copy of Tim Eldred's GREASE MONKEY book, a 300+ page book published a few years ago, collecting the first six 12-page stories Eldred published in various places back in the 1990s, and then continuing on with a few hundred more pages. Looks like some good reading ahead there.

Plus I got most of the WOLFF & BYRD / SUPERNATURAL LAW stuff I was missing, straight from Exhibit "A" Press. Still missing one issue they were sold out of, unfortunately, but looking forward to reading the stuff I did get.



Upcoming Comic of Interest
LITTLE ADVENTURES IN OZ BOOK 01
A compact collection of two of Eric Shanower's five original Oz graphic novels, originally published by First and Dark horse about 20 years ago. There's already a big collection of all five that IDW published a few years back, but if you don't have that, or the originals, this $10 book is a good cheap way to get them. This book has "The Enchanted Apple of Oz" and "The Ice King of Oz", and looks like it's shipping this week.  A second book collecting the rest should be out in the summer.

ISBN-10: 1600105890
ISBN-13: 978-1600105890
Diamond NOV090862

Other comics of some interest this week, I seem Boom is coming out with their $25 book collecting the first half of Don Rosa's LIFE OF SCROOGE. Seems like a pretty odd format, considering Gemstone collected the whole thing in one book for $16, but I'm curious to see how it looks.  Oh, and really good comics, so if you don't have it in another format, check it out.

And it looks like the new editions of the Kaluta/Lee STARSTRUCK series are actually coming out at a steady pace. I was a bit reluctant to pick them up since I didn't have much confidence in it not stalling early on. Is there any actually new stuff in the issues out so far, or just all reprint so far?

Monday, January 04, 2010

ODD AND THE FROST GIANTS by Gaiman & Helquist

ODD AND THE FROST GIANTS is a short novel that Neil Gaiman wrote for World Book Day 2008 in the UK, which recently got a North American edition with illustrations by Brett Helquist.  Apparently the original version had illustrations by Mark Buckingham, and while I have no problem with Helquist's work, I'd kind of like to see Buckingham's version.  Oh, here's an example.  And it looks like I can get a copy for 9 cents. Plus about 60 times that in postage...

This is Helquist's for the same chapter.



Anyway, this is the story of a young boy named Odd living in a village in Norway back in the days of the vikings.  During a winter that seems to be lasting much longer than it should Odd meets three talking animals, who (spoiler alert) turn out to be the transformed versions of the major gods of Asgard, Odin, Thor and Loki, trapped in those forms after a Frost Giant took over Asgard.

Gaiman sure seems to like the Æsir, as this is at least the third time that he's used them in his work, after minor recurring bits in SANDMAN and a more major role in AMERICAN GODS.  And a few years ago he was going to do some comics about what I consider the real Asgardian gods (the ones designed by Jack Kirby) with P. Craig Russell, though I guess that was called off quite a while ago.

Anyway, it's a cute little story, the short length avoids some of aspects of Gaiman's prose that I'm less fond of (and it is the classic Gaiman plot of a dissatisfied person in the real-world finding himself thrust into heroism in a separate magical world), but the lack of room for complexity removes some of the better aspects. Should be a pretty good for the intended younger audience, though I'd recommend THE GRAVEYARD BOOK and CORALINE before it from Gaiman's oeuvre.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Past, present and future comics, not in that order

Halfway through the Ninja Turtles brick of a book collecting the first few years of the original series.  I think I'm going to have to put it away and get back to it in a few months.  Fun stuff, but like most serialized comics doesn't really improve by reading a 600 page chunk in a few days.

Reading P. Craig Russell's adaptation of SANDMAN: THE DREAM HUNTERS, I think I enjoy it more than the illustrated prose version that came out way back when. I certainly like the art better.

Still going through the old MARSHAL LAW stuff, an issue every few days.  That original story isn't my favourite bit, I'm not sure I would have kept reading after two or three issues if that was where I started (the first one I read was the TAKES MANHATTAN one-shot, then some later stuff, then the original series).  Great art, but the story is a bit disjointed and unclear.  Good thing I know it gets better.



Upcoming Comic of Interest:
BLAZING COMBAT Softcover
Already out in hardcover, but you can save a few bucks by picking up the upcoming softcover edition collecting the four issues of war comics mostly written by Archie Goodwin from the mid-1960s, with art including Alex Toth, John Severin, Wallace Wood, Gene Colan and many more. Great stuff, very well reproduced, plus with some interesting interviews with Goodwin and publisher James Warren in the back.

ISBN-10: 1606993666
ISBN-13: 978-1606993668
Diamond DEC090865

Let's keep with old Batman for the old amusing cover, #147 by Sheldon Moldoff.  Boy, criminals in Gotham really are cowardly.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

More short bits

A few random things while I work on some things to keep up the daily posting for a while.

Reminders of stuff to write about soon:
Tardi's WEST COAST BLUES, pretty good, the first Tardi I really enjoyed, although the beginning is a bit confusing.
Lucky Luke, still not quite that impressed. I'll give it a few more books to grow on me, Goscinny's earned that much.
Boy, Eddie Campbell really changed Bacchus a lot from his earliest stories.
PERSEPOLIS is really good. Why didn't anyone tell me? Yeah, okay, it was my own fault for taking this long to read it, but man, better than I expected. Definitely should have read this before Satrapi's other books.

Around the web:

Steve Bissette begins a brand new story online, "King of Monster Isle", with a whole mess of monsters (just a few of them over on the right) in the classic SRB tradition. This should be good.


I'm not sure why Dark Horse is still hosting their on-line comics at MySpace, but hey, look, a new series by Mark Crilley, "Brody's Ghost", starts in the latest one. Runs for three months, and the good news is that there's going to be a series of original graphic novels.  Looking forward to that.  And looking back a few months, I see there was a prelude to the new Groo series a while ago that I missed.  Cute little story by Rick Geary a few months before that.  Oh, and a second Beanworld story is going to be hosted there in April.  The interface kind of sucks, though. Not quite "DC's Zuda Comics" sucks level, but pretty awkward.

Me elsewhere:
Kirby Weblog : Where Creatures Roam #3 [1970]
Ditko Weblog : Where Creatures Roam #3 [1970]

Upcoming Comic of Interest:
MEANWHILE PICK ANY PATH 3856 STORY POSSIBILITIES
I really like Jason Shiga's BOOKHUNTER, so it's really good to see that his next book is coming out from a major publisher, and looks to be something unique and experimental.  Should be a book to watch for. And man, Abrams has been building up quite a selection of quality comics, haven't they?

ISBN-10: 0810984237
ISBN-13: 978-0810984233
Diamond NOV090577

And an amusing old cover, who doesn't love "Batman Jones"? Sheldon Moldoff and Charles Paris provide this 1957 cover.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Daily stuff

Okay, time for one of those short-lived attempts to make sure I post something every day, which would be quite an increase from the 93 posts, many of them low content (like old comic covers which caught my fancy), that I had in 2009.



Me elsewhere:
Kirby Weblog : Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #136 [1971]
Ditko Weblog : Morlock 2001 #3 [1975]



Larry Marder has his State of the Beanworld, which among other interesting bits announces that he'll be in Toronto in a few months.  Which means I'll be in Toronto in a few months.  Well, I'm there now, actually, and will be here for a long time, but will definitely be there then.  Or something like that.  So, I get to meet my favourite living comic book artist who would actually go to a convention.  Cool.



Comics I'm reading these days, going through that big fat reprint of the early Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, first time I'm reading most of that stuff, I'm mostly familiar with it from later works by creators other than Laird and Eastman.  Pretty good, actually, I can see why it caught on, although obviously the degree to which it caught on (to the tune of $60 million that it recently sold for) had a lot to do with luck.

Got a couple of Lucky Luke books, an old western humour series by Rene Goscinny and Morris.  Maybe you have to grow up with it too really appreciate it, but I'm not liking it that much so far, not like Goscinny's Asterix.  Maybe it'll grow on me.


Also starting on a re-read of Marshal Law by Pat Mills and Kevin O'Neill, which will end with the collection of two prose adventures of the character that I just picked up and haven't read yet.  Unfortunately I don't have the Mask crossover, so hopefully I can find that, or it'll be included in the upcoming collection that Top Shelf is publishing, but I doubt it's essential anyway.

Also re-reading Eddie Campbell's Bacchus comics, in the scattered forms I have them in. I figure by the time I'm done I should have the big collection of Campbell's Alec stories in hand to keep me busy for a while, and then his next book, The Playright, should be out.  Maybe I should toss in From Hell, those First Second books, his adaptations of Alan Moore's performance art things, and those assorted other things he's done (even Catalyst: Agents of Change).  Guess we'll see if I overdose of Campbell before I get to that point.



Upcoming Comic of Interest:
THE TALE OF ONE BAD RAT new hardcover edition
One of the best comics of the 1990s, Bryan Talbot's story about a girl who comes to term with her history of sexual abuse through her travels through England and the works of Beatrix Potter gets an improved edition, now in hardcover, for just $20.
From Dark Horse
ISBN-10: 1-59582-493-6
ISBN-13: 978-1-59582-493-6
Diamond DEC090034



And because old habits die hard, a randomly amusing old cover, drawn by Win Mortimer:



For Robin at least that's a much nicer costume than he usually wears.
Weblog by BobH [bobh1970 at gmail dot com]