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Wednesday, April 03, 2024

Mark D. Bright, R.I.P.

Sad to note the passing of comic book creator Mark D. Bright at age 68. He was most active in comics from 1981 to 2000,  with the occasional later work, with his longest and best remembered run being ICON with Dwayne McDuffie from the Milestone comics line from 1993 to 1997.  That was my favourite on-going book for a good chunk of that time, where he started good and just got better throughout, up to the powerful final issue (which I wrote about previously on writer Dwayne McDuffie's passing).  Over the years I would find quite a few highlights from earlier in his career, like the run of IRON MAN and GREEN LATERN work, and enjoyed some of of his later work like A. BIZARRO with Steve Gerber in 1999 before he moved on to mostly non-comics work.


A few samples of Bright's work, IRON MAN with Dennis O'Neil, Ian Akin & Brian Garvey, SPIDER-MAN VS. WOLVERINE with Christopher Priest and Al Williamson, ICON with Dwayne McDuffie and Romeo Tanghal and A. BIZARRO with Steve Gerber and Greg Adams.


Sunday, March 31, 2024

Dave Darrigo, R.I.P.

Just wanted to note the recent passing of comic book writer Dave Darrigo, best known for writing the 12-issue series WORDSMITH, drawn by artist R. G. Taylor and published by Renegade Press from 1985 to 1988 (later reprinted by Caliber in two books in 1990).  That was the story of Clay Washburn, a "penny-a-word" pulp fiction writer in Great Depression era New York, cranking out work under various pen-names and in multiple genres for the popular dime magazines of the era.  Through a dozen issues the story follows Clay's life, mixed with segments of his writing, as the 30s go on, he deals with trying to break into more respectable writing, various relationships, as well as reacting to the increased global tensions ultimately leading to WWII.

It was an excellent series, with a lot of small stories evoking the feel of life in the era and how all of it becomes fodder for Clay's writing.

Darrigo was also a fixture of the Toronto comics scene as the original manager of the Dragon Lady comic book store in downtown Toronto.  I only knew him casually through that, enough to say hi to, but enjoyed the times I got to talk to him. He was inducted into the Joe Shuster Awards Hall of Fame in 2010.

Darrigo and Taylor, as drawn by Taylor.

Some pages from WORDSMITH depicting the variety of opinions that Clay's writing inspired.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Hard Time #6 [2004] (Random Comics Theatre)

Random Comics Theatre

Hard Time #6 [2004]

HARD TIME was a series created and written by Steve Gerber and drawn by Brian Hurtt (with some additional writing in later issues by Mary Skrenes and inking by Steve Bird and Rick Burchett), published by DC under one of their shortest-lived imprints, Focus, for twelve issues in 2004, followed a year later by a second series, HARD TIME SEASON TWO, without the Focus branding and lasting seven issues.

The Focus line seemed to try to try to try to target somewhere between DC's then-still Comics Code approved main line and the "mature readers" labelled Vertigo line.  There were three other books in the line, KINETIC, TOUCH and FRACTION, none of which lasted more than eight issues. Among other things they all seemed to have a muted colouring style with a limited palatte (which ended up being less used in the second series).

I kind of think this might have worked better as a Vertigo book, with a lot of sometimes awkward, sometimes ridiculous attempts to avoid "adult" language.

Anyway, the series is about Ethan Harrow, who starts the story as a 15-year-old who gets involved in a school shooting (which he thought was a prank, not knowing his partner-in-crime brought real bullets) and sentenced as an adult to 50 years  of hard time (hey, that's the name of the book).  At the time of the shooting Ethan also started to exhibit a power, an invisible entity that can leave his body and wreak havoc while he's unconscious. Initially completely oblivious to that entity, he gradually becomes more aware of it.

By this issue Ethan is already in trouble with several groups in the prison, in particular the homicidal religious fanatic Gantry, who can sense something about Ethan's entity and thinks it's demonic. For most of this issue Ethan is trying to race back to his cell ahead of Gantry to put some plans in place, but gets distracted by various things, like a visit by his lawyer.  He makes it back just in time, managing to save his own life, but ending up sent to a month in solitary.  There he finds himself increasingly in control of his entity, moving beyond the bars of the prison.

This was a really strong series, obviously influenced by a lot of prison dramas of the era, especially the HBO series OZ.  It developed a lot of interesting characters and balanced the gritty prison elements with the increasingly outlandish fantasy elements.

DC published a complete collection of all 19 issues of both series back in 2020.

Monday, March 18, 2024

Scooby-Doo #14 [1996] (Random Comics Theatre)

Random Comics Theatre

Scooby-Doo #14 [1996]

Scooby-Doo debuted as a TV cartoon in 1969, and very quickly was adapted to comics, first from Western / Gold Key in 1970 and later from Charlton, Marvel, Harvey, Archie and then finally DC, which still publishes it to this day. During the Western run some of the issues were done by Dan Spiegle and Mark Evanier, who would later also do some Scooby-Doo stories at Marvel in the late-1970s, and then three more for this 21-issue run of the series at Archie in the mid-1990s.  They even got a then-uncommon at Archie credit blurb on the cover for some of their issues.  Along the way of course Spiegle and Evanier collaborated on many other comics, including BLACKHAWK, CROSSFIRE and HOLLYWOOD SUPERSTARS.

Under the Dan Spiegle cover is the 22-page story "The Balloon Busters", also drawn by Spiegle and written by Mark Evanier.  The gang take in a parade with giant balloon floats, which is attacked by a fire-breathing dragon balloon.  Naturally Shaggy and Scooby run for cover, in a nicely drawn sequence, while the rest of the gang follow the balloon until it gets away, then come back to investigate at the department store which sponsors the parade, which they find is having financial problems, with a rival store owner trying to buy it.

Fun little story, always interesting to see Spiegle doing this style, very on-model with the characters from the cartoon while everything else is a slightly more open version of his usual adventure comics artwork.

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Comics and print-on-demand, preliminary notes to an overview...

I've noticed lately that a large percentage of new books that I'm interested in are being done as print-on-demand, so I'm thinking of writing a longer piece here about that, but for now this is just some notes on the matter, as I try to find out more, since often I don't even know that these books exist until well after they're available, so I suspect there might be a significant number of other books that I'm unaware of.

But just in what I already know there's a lot of material available, both new and reprint, comics and text (or a mix of the two), colour and black and white, featuring work by creators like Rick Veitch, Rob Walton,  Steve Ditko, Stephen Bissette, Scott Shaw!, Robert Kanigher and Bernie Mireault.

For those not familiar, print-on-demand is pretty much what it says on the tin.  The publisher prepares the material for a book, and in the traditional method they go to a printer, order the number of copies they think they need, then sell those copies  to wholesale distributors, retailers and individual customers as orders come in, warehousing the unsold copies. 

For print-on-demand, the publisher instead makes the files available to various retail outlets which have the ability to print single copies of the books, so when you order the book a new copy can be printed, probably at a printer close to your location (an increasing number of ones I order are printed in Bolton, ON, about a half-hour from where I sit) and sent to you. That retailer/printer pays a royalty to the publisher for every copy they print, and presumably charges you enough to make a profit after adding up the royalty, printing and shipping costs. 

This reduces some problems associated with publishing, shipping books around the world, storing most of the print run for an indeterminate time, returns from retailers and more. Of course there's a tradeoff, printing is almost always going to be more expensive per unit, given economies of scale, and quality control can become an issue with production spread across the globe (though I haven't had any issues with books I bought yet).

(and yes, this is all simplified, there are a lot of other aspects, like the fact that the publisher or creator can probably order copies in bulk, possibly without the royalty, to sell on their own to various venues, wholesale, retail, conventions, just as they could with traditionally published books.  And I believe many print-on-demand books can be ordered by retailers under similar terms as other books they buy (possibly not including returnability))

Anyway, print-on-demand has been around for a while, but for a while it seemed mostly suited to straight text. There seem to have been considerable advancements made more recently that make it much more suitable for comics, especially black and white comics but increasingly colour comics at a retail price not completely out-of-line with other books.

The tipping point for my awareness of this was, of course, SD Comics entering the field in 2019.  This is the company founded by Steve Ditko and Robin Snyder, publishing Ditko's work since 1988.  Since 2019 they've been repackaging the working in a growing library of print-on-demand books, including essay collections, five volumes of most of Ditko's work in the last decade of his life, collections of earlier works including Mr. A. and three volumes collecting, in colour, Ditko's work (mostly with Joe Gill) at Charlton comics from 1971 to 1973. They have 13 books so far, with more on the way.

Snyder has also recently expanded the line beyond Ditko to HOW TO MAKE MONEY WRITING FOR COMICS MAGAZINES and enhanced reprint of Robert Kanigher's 1943 ground-breaking book, plus a look at Kanigher's first decade in comics.

Rick Veitch has been in the print-on-demand game for a while, since about 2016, with quite a selection of books.  He's had four volumes that continue his 1990s dream journal comic ROARIN' RICK'S RARE BIT FIENDS, four issues of BOY MAXIMORTAL, which serialize the long-awaited second book of his King Hell Heroica (after BRAT PACK (book 4) and MAXIMORTAL (book 1), both now available in print-on-demand editions), a collection of BOY MAXIMORTAL and several original standalone comics including TOMBSTONE HAND and THE SPOTTED STONE. More Heroica volumes are promised, so we might finally close that particular chapter of the 1990s...

Stephen Bissette did several books of his non-fiction prose writing through Black Coat Press over a decade ago (movie reviews in the BLUR volumes and a massive examination of Veitch's Heroica in TEEN ANGELS & NEW MUTANTS), which I believe were all print-on-demand, but mostly text with incidental illustrations if any.  More recently he published more copiously illustrated books like CRYPTID CINEMA [2017], and in 2021 two sketchbooks, BROODING CREATURES [2021] and THOUGHTFUL CREATURES [2021], both with over 100 pages of his artwork.  Both the books were available in several formats, pure black and white or in colour, and softcover or hardcover.  I believe he's said if he gets back to publishing comics it'll be in a similar print-on-demand format.

Nat Gertler's About Comics has been publishing a variety of comics and related works for years, I'm not sure quite when they started going print-on-demand, but I recently picked up Bernie Mireault's THE JAM - SUPER COOL COLOR-INJECTED TURBO ADVENTURE FROM HELL #2 [2021] and SCOTT SHAW!S COMIX & STORIES [2023] which are right up my alley, and will probably soon get the collection of the original Mireault JAM comics (and hope for a follow-up, as there are several issues I've never found) and Mireault's TO GET HER (about a post-Jam Gordon Kirby). As noted above on distribution methods, these will also apparently soon be available to comic shops through Diamond (Shaw book, Jam reprint).

I just recently found out that Rob Walton completed his old 1980s series BLOODLINES in a three volume series of books, some 600 pages long.  I haven't gotten any of them yet, but I'm planning to (they're also available digitally, so I may try that first).

Now I'm sure I'm just scratching the surface of what's available (you may have noticed that all the creators of these books are people I've been following the work of for at least 30 years), so if you have any more examples, I'd be curious.  In particular are there any younger artists using print-on-demand to get their work out?  

(by the way, I know there are a few companies that use print-on-demand to publish public domain comics, mostly using scans openly available on various web sites.  That's a whole separate issue, I'm mostly interested in comics being done by the creators or people closely associated with the creators)

So much longer piece, or several, maybe coming up in the future on the topic, or at least individual reviews of several of the relevant books. I might also reach out to some of the people involved to get more details about the process, benefits and pitfalls of the system.
Weblog by BobH [bobh1970 at gmail dot com]