When DC killed Superman they almost killed the comic industry. And Marvel is about to reload the gun…


It was a crisp October evening in 1992. I was standing in a small comic store surrounded by fanboys who were buzzing with anticipation, waiting in a line that stretched out the front door.

It was a time of excitement, a time of change, and no one could have predicted what was to come.

Brett Favre just made his first start for the Green Bay Packers, long before he could have predicted that just 18 years later, he’d be sending pictures of his wang to the entire world through a futuristic device called an ‘iPhone’.

Bill Clinton was about to win the U.S. presidency in a landslide and go on to repair a badly damaged economy, long before he’d be sitting in a courtroom discussing his junk as if it were a matter of national security.

And while some men will be remembered for their genitals rather than their significant accomplishments, DC Comics somehow became the biggest dicks of all.

Long before it would become a cheap gimmick, Superman would die.

And comic industry that we all love would pay for it.

Comic book nerds are not as stupid as we look….for the most part.

Standing in line listening to conversations around me, I could hear the lilt of excitement in almost every voice. These people were not just excited, they were ecstatic. This was it – they were going to be a part of comic book history! They were soon going to be in possession of the most important comic book of their lifetime, because the most iconic hero ever conceived, Superman, was going to die, never to return.

Ever ever.

Ever.

Or so we were led to believe. But even as a child, still fascinated with the technological achievements like Bionic Commando and the compact disc, I just knew this was bullshit.

Really? Was DC going to kill off their most popular character, never to return?

Maybe not, but worst-case-scenario, even if this turns out to be nothing more than a gimmick, at least I’ll get a great Superman story out of it…

More of a financial masterpiece than an artistic one

If you think the Death of Superman would be handled with care, you would be wrong.

I won’t go into a full review here because the actual quality of the book itself isn’t the point of this blog post, but suffice to say, it sure as hell wasn’t The Watchmen. Let’s just leave it at that.

In case you haven’t had the pleasure, here’s what happened: Superman fights a giant rock monster named Doomsday. They punch each other. They both die. The end.

Epic, I know. I get excited just writing about it.

And while the comic itself was nothing special aside from its historical implications, the sales figures truly were epic.

The comic sold between 2.5 and 3 million units, and Superman had gone from a stale, all-but-forgotten property back to a mainstream sensation overnight. The subsequent funeral issues and resurrection sold well, and I’m sure that DC was thrilled at the response.

Superman wasn’t the only thing DC buried

Of course this financial success was short-lived. The comic book industry nearly collapsed due to a number of factors, starting in 1993 and continued to fall through 1999.

Rising cover prices and bad decisions by Marvel were partly to blame, but many cite the Death of Superman as the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. By this time DC had been clearly exposed for pulling a very cheap publicity stunt, and had robbed comic book enthusiasts of a truly special event that they thought we were a part of.

And as a result, they started walking away.

The Man of Steel’s meaningless resurrection sent a message to hardcore comic book fans and casual readers alike: We’re DC, and we care more about the sales figures than storytelling. We wanted a quick influx of cash so we told a little white lie.

Oh well. Get over it.

Of course DC would go on to kill and revive a number of other major characters over the following years with a far lower rate of success, and this just underlined the fact that they were now replacing any semblance of storytelling with over-the-top hyperbole and cheap marketing tricks.

Chuck Rozanski, respected comic book enthusiast and owner of retailer Mile High Comics, would go on to write an infamous article to that effect; he asserted that the Death of Superman gimmick played a significant role in the downfall of the industry as a whole over the next decade.

The resurrection of the comic book

Much like Superman, the industry came back to life.

While the comic book biz is certainly not at its strongest point, it has rebounded to some degree over the last ten years. This can be attributed to quality titles, the sale of trade paperbacks, and a strong base of loyal followers who are not part of the ‘mainstream’.

We’re a relatively small, but influential tribe, and we don’t care about cheap gimmicks. Hologram covers and overblown advertising campaigns mean nothing to us. We want quality over quantity, compelling stories, and above all, we demand authenticity.

But as 2010 draws to a close, Marvel wants to play Russian roulette with the industry that’s been slowly but steadily re-building.

Reloading the gun…and shooting Peter Parker

Marvel has seen a dip in its summer sales figures, so they’re taking a page out of DC’s playbook: let’s kill our most iconic character in the hope of garnering mainstream press and a temporary sales boost.

This is, of course, a mistake.

We’ve been down this road, and we’ve been burned before.

Familiar names like Millar and Bendis add credibility to The Death of Spider-Man, and hopefully they’re given some actual thought to this endeavor. But in the end, the result will be the same as the Death of Superman: death, funeral, resurrection, and inevitable fan disappointment.

DC shot the comic industry in the foot, and Marvel is picking up the gun to reload it. While the core comic book fans will be unfazed by this, the casual reader could once again walk away in frustration.

Let’s hope the damage isn’t quite as severe this time around.

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I want to be part of the comic book industry…so, now what?


I’ve received this message a hundred times in the last few months:

“I have a great portfolio/story/idea and I don’t know where to take it from here. Please help!”

Unfortunately I have nothing overly helpful to reply with.

Connecting a talented (and motivated) creative team together is a long, and VERY difficult process. I can tell you from working with a few comic book creators that it doesn’t just happen by accident.

And once you get together, there are always roadblocks: physical printing or digital? How do you letter it so it looks professional? Should it be color or black and white? And how is the best way to color it?

And once the project is complete, it brings up an entirely new set of questions, like how do you market and advertise? Can you do it for free, or do you need a budget? Can social media help? What’s the most profitable way to sell a comic online?

One forum to rule them all…

I’ve been looking for these answers for the last year, and I’ve been successful to varying degrees – the problem is that I can’t find a great spot where this is all in one place.

Not just a Craigslist-style forum (“Me writer, need art guy!”) but a place where writers and artists can actually share, connect and collaborate.

Along with a few friends, I want to launch an online community where these challenges can all be addressed.

Whether you already have a book and want to promote it, or you’re starting with just an idea, I want you to come on board.

If this sounds interesting to you, please leave a comment on this post, find me on Twitter or friend me on Facebook, and please please please participate in the poll on the right!

Happy Thanksgiving, Americans…eat turkey and be merry.

Love you guys,
Blake xox

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Zombie Outlaw! A comic book review from ComicBookGrrl.


The first of many indy comic reviews starts with Zombie Outlaw – a colorful tale that asks the question “What if your resident advisor was a part-time zombie??”

(Literally…it asks you that right there on the cover)

The Story

The story takes place at Irvine State University where friends Matt and Will are enrolled. Will is completely obsessed with zombies – more specifically, the tale of a fabled outlaw zombie – and he spends his time investigating an urban legend from 1872: the legend of Edward Dransby.

As Will searches for answers, Matt has his own obsession: a busty, flame-haired beauty named K.T., who at the moment seems more interested in differential equations that dating.

As they search the lower levels of ISU, they make a startling discovery…

The Creators

As a writer, Brian J. Apodaca seems to be a perfect fit with artist B. Paul Jordan. Apodaca has crafted a story that reads like an action-comedy, introducing characters and explaining the legend in a clear and concise way. Issue #1 serves as an origin story for what I can expect are several adventures yet to come.

Jordan is along for the ride with a loose and fluid style that seems more Saturday-morning cartoon that comic book at times, depicting the characters with simple features, bright colors, and Popeye-like forearms (it takes some getting used to, but it works…you just have to see it).

One of the highlights was an interesting change in art styles when Apodaca takes us back to the late 1800’s to explore the legend of the outlaw. Jordan’s playful style takes on a rougher, sketchier edge when depicting the zombie hordes from the old West – something I’d like to see more of in forthcoming issues.

Conclusion

While it seems like you can’t watch a TV show, movie, or pick up a comic without seeing the word ‘zombie’ somewhere, Zombie Outlaw is carving out its own niche in the well-worn mythology, and taking it in a different direction.

In the future I’d like to see the characters get some additional development, and the zombie lore explored in greater detail.

This is a good first effort for Apodaca and Jordan – give them some love and check out their work:

Get Zombie Outlaw at: http://www.comixpress.com

Visit Zombie Outlaw at: http://www.zombieoutlaw.com/ or at http://www.myspace.com/zombieoutlaw

Next: back to my usual commentary, where I take on DC Comics (again), and discuss the impending Death of Spider-Man!

Don’t miss it, true believers…

Love you guys,
Blake xox

PS: If you’re not already friends with me on Facebook, what the hell are you waiting for? Let’s be friends…or the terrorists have won.

PPS: Are you following me on Twitter? I promise to follow you back, and write at least one moderately-entertaining Tweet per day.

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I’m enlisting some help to answer your Tweets and Facebook posts


My new friend George is here to help me answer your questions.

Fight Opinion asks: “In your mind, what’s the best way to distribute comics, mags, etc. online and minimize the level of piracy of content?”

Enjoy!
– Blake xo

PS: If you have a question for George to answer, let me know!

PPS: when it comes to online marketing, this man writes the bibles. I would go so far as to say if you want to sell anything, anywhere, this is the best place to start. His latest book Linchpin is a masterpiece. http://sethgodin.typepad.com/

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Garth Ennis’ “The Boys”: a comic about bad-ass men, slutty women, and *very* slutty women.


I realize that the world of comic books is – by and large – a boys club.

I accept that.

And I definitely get the appeal: big guns, big tits, big muscles, big violence, big battles, and when it’s done right, all those elements tied in with a big idea. I don’t want to change it, or even complain about the status quo.

But since my tastes skew towards concepts that are a little different from the standard superhero fare, I tend to look outside Marvel and DC for my funny books.

A number of people recommended that I read Garth Ennis’ “The Boys” – a book that turns the superhero universe upside down by asking “Who watches the Watchmen?” A group of government contractors are hired to intimidate, and if necessary, assassinate, out-of-control superpowered jerks who abuse their gifts (many of whom bear a resemblance to iconic DC characters like Superman and The Flash).

Fun idea, great writer, very nice artwork.

I’m sold.

After reading volume #1 of The Boys a few weeks ago, I was thoroughly entertained. It was violent, funny, interesting, and even had a couple heartfelt moments. But it left me wondering: what the hell does Ennis think about women?

Strap in – here comes the complaining

Is this the portion of the blog post where a girl bitches about other girls being treated unfairly in comics?

Yes and no.

No, I’m not offended by the treatment of women in The Boys, or any comic. It’s Ennis’ vision, and he’s a talented artist plying his craft – he’s entitled to write women any way he sees fit and that’s perfectly fine. I was thoroughly entertained, and will likely pick up volume 2 at some point in the near future.

Yes, I question him to a small degree, only because if this were the only Ennis book I had ever read, it would seem that his sole interaction with women has come from observing them in German porno movies.

Bring on the whores!

Female Character Breakdown: (a couple spoiler-ish things get spilled here out of necessity, so please don’t go any further if you plan on reading The Boys)

1. The Butcher’s main contact is the director of the CIA, Susan L. Rayner. She’s a deranged sex addict who likes to be bent over her desk and treated like filthy whore while she does her paperwork. I know this sounds like a joke if you’ve never read The Boys, but I assure you I’m neither joking nor exaggerating.

2. The Female is the sole female member of The Boys, which makes sense because, well…you know. She’s an unbelievably violent mute. No dialogue, just homicide. Moving on…

3. Hookers. And plenty of them. A group of sluts have sex with superheroes for money, and get vaginally pummeled in the process. Classy.

4. Janine, a mouthy, out-of-control teenager that dresses like a skank and hooks up with random guys, including gun-toting thugs.

5. Finally, we have Annie January, a.k.a Starlight – a perky blonde girl who is down-to-earth, sweet and wholesome. But as soon as she’s faced with the opportunity to join the ranks of the most powerful superhero team in the world, she abandons her southern family values and performs oral sex on several members of the team.

Sluts. Skanks. Whores. Hookers. And just to mix things up, a girl who keeps her goddamned mouth shut.

It has to get better than this for the chicks…doesn’t it?

OK, I admit it, The Boys represents an extreme in the world of comics where men are bad-ass, and women are…well, you just read the character breakdown.

But it highlights an issue that’s prevalent: all too often in movies, TV, and my beloved comics, women area given very little to do, and very little to say.

And when a writer tries to make a “strong female character”, typically it’s handled like Lara Croft in Tomb Raider: a sassy and sarcastic vixen with DD breast implants and a skin-tight outfit.

She kicks, punches, and shoots her way through a number of baddies, and hey, even stomps the shit out of a few boys in the process. Girl power! She’s an equal, so that’s how you know she’s a strong female character!

Wrong.

Buffy Summers. Ripley. Lois Lane. Starbuck. Sydney Bristow. Scarlet. Trinity.

They’re female characters from comics, television and film with something to say. They have multiple layers. They’re rugged and tough when the situation requires, but are still vulnerable, and at times even maternal. They have more to offer than enormous jugs and titanic ass-whoopings.

Why is this so rare?

Part of it is demographics. Guys writing for guys. I get that.

Part of it is that people write what they’re comfortable with. Men feel more natural writing from a male perspective, and women write from a female.

But part of it eludes me. Even if the women are not central to a story, can’t they just be…people? The damsel in distress, the nagging ball-and-chain, the scantily-clad ho…we don’t ALL just fall naturally into one of these one-dimensional stereotypes (at least most of us don’t…I can’t speak for my college roommate).

So is this a male fantasy type of thing? Women either need rescuing, are an annoyance, or are simply available for sexual gratification?

I can definitely draw a comparison on the other side, as women are notorious for writing stronger female leads, while their leading men are either brainless (and often shirtless) hunks, or overly-sensitive nancy-boys (if you think I’m making a Twilight reference here you’re no the right track).

So I have no logical conclusion to this review/rant, but I open the floor to you, my fellow comic book junkies.

Are there enough strong female characters?

Are women as guilty as men for stereotyping roles in comics and sci-fi/fantasy?

And what did you think of “The Boys”?

Post away…and thanks for reading!

Love you guys,

Blake xox

PS: If you’re not already friends with me on Facebook, what the hell are you waiting for? Let’s hook up!

PPS: Are you following me on Twitter? If you’re NOT, there is a very good chance Santa will withhold your Christmas gifts this year. I’m serious.

PPPS: More blog posts coming soon – I promise!!!

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Stop drawing stupid pictures and tell a story (How Eminem & Megan Fox can teach you a lesson)


This is a post for comic book creators…if you’re not an aspiring writer or artist, you’re still allowed to read. 🙂

Have you ever watched a movie or a TV show with the sound off? Could you tell what was happening based solely on the actors’ gestures and expressions, the sets, the lighting, the editing and the camera angles?

Or were you scratching your head, wondering what the hell was going on?

Although some directors rely more on the ‘show’ (visuals) than the ‘tell’ (dialogue) as a comic book creator you need to be equally versed in both. Even on the writer’s side, you need to craft a compelling visual tale that your artist can easily follow so she can bring it to life on the page.

Take a look at this video: Love the Way You Lie by Eminem and Rhianna. If you’ve never seen this video before, watch it on mute and just follow along with the visual narrative.

Even though the events happen out of sequence, you get a very good sense of what is happening, and the emotions clearly come through without words (Yes, Megan Fox can emote! Someone call CNN!)


Anyone can draw a goddamned picture.

OK, that’s not exactly true. But if you study lighting, anatomy, and a couple basic principals for long enough (and fill enough sketch pads) you will produce a decent drawing at some point.

But a great artist does not always = a great comic book artist.

Some of the best artists in the world – technically proficient wizards with pinpoint accuracy – are terrible storytellers. And some artists who can’t draw anything more detailed than a poorly-sketched manga character produce a compelling visual narrative page-after-page.

This is by far the most overlooked element by comic book creators.

Of course I’m not breaking any new ground here, or telling you anything you probably don’t already know. But to design a great comic book page, you need to walk the reader, panel by panel, through the story with perfect clarity. And you can’t rely on dialogue alone to do the job.

Here are five things I personally would like to see a lot more of in the magical medium of comic books.

(Side note: I’m far from an expert. If you want to learn from the pros, I suggest starting with a Scott McCloud book – when it comes to telling a story through sequential art, this man writes the bibles. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scott_McCloud)

1. Start wide. Don’t zoom in on everything. Set the stage with a long shot (fancy insiders sometimes call this an ‘establishing shot’.) How the heck are we supposed to know where the story is taking place if you don’t show us?

2. Don’t break panels. This isn’t Image circa 1992, and you don’t need to have every character smashing though every panel as if all hell is about to break loose. This is often confusing, cluttered, and takes away from the story.

Basically pick up any Rob Liefeld comic and see what he did back then…and then don’t do it.

3. Keep it moving. Don’t dwell on any one action unless there is a good reason.

Someone is drinking a coffee? One panel – done.

I don’t need to see a panel of the milk being poured, the spoon mixing in the sugar, the guy blowing the steam off, the first sip, etc. (unless there is a REALLY good reason).

4. Stay dynamic. Throw in an overhead shot, a unique angle or an exaggerated perspective shot once in a while. Keep the reader interested.

5. But not too dynamic. Sometimes an artist can overreach. If you’re new(ish) to the drawing thing, better to keep things simple than push it too far beyond your capabilities. Perspective can be tricky, so don’t go overboard with craziness (see point #2).

Finally, if you’re in the mood, here is a fun exercise you can do in 20-30 minutes, and I promise you’ll learn a lot:

Put on an action or sci-fi movie that you love. Pause it periodically, and sketch what you see. Then play, pause, and sketch again. Try to do 5 pages of storyboarding with different angles, and you’ll have an idea of how the pros lay out a scene.

Every movie has at least a few guys (sometimes current or former comic book artists) that storyboard their films, and layout the entire film, shot-by-shot.

(This is better than just going through a comic book and copying the layouts and artwork, because you’ll be drawing from an image rather that someone else’s art.)

So go out, kick some asses and tell us a story.

We can’t wait to read it. 🙂

Love you guys (and girls)!
Blake xo

PS: Want a new BFF on Facebook? Me too! Send me a friend request and I’ll approve you. Unless you’re a creepy stalker, part of a cult, or Glen Beck.

PPS: Follow me on Twitter if you’re not already!

PPPS: More blog posts will be coming in short order…I promise! If you have a suggestion for one, please let me know by sending me a DM on Twitter or a message on Facebook.

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Bendis vs. Millar: Why Scarlet is better than Nemesis!


Prologue:

This is not a negative review. If I like something, I review it. If I don’t like something, I ignore it.

People who review comic books, novels, movies, TV shows, or any art form with the sole purpose of hurling insults is a douche.

It’s stupid, juvenile, and more than anything it’s a complete waste of time. Why spend hours complaining about something you claim to have no interest in?

Also pointless: writing a spoiler-filled recap of a comic book as if you’re about to hand in a 3rd grade book report. I assume that if you’re reading these words and have even a basic understanding of the English language, you can pick up a copy of Nemesis or Scarlet and read them for yourself.

This blog post is about proving one thing:

Why Scarlet is better than Nemesis.

Of course art is 100% subjective, and the title of this blog post was meant to cause controversy, but here is why, in my estimation, Scarlet is the more exciting piece of work.

I am a huge fan of the Bendis/Maleev combination. Their work on Daredevil was incredible. I couldn’t have asked for a better storyteller to capture the tone of this character; it was like reading the Daredevil movie that should have happened. And Maleev’s semi photo-realistic depiction with it’s grit and atmosphere – how every character seemed draped in a perpetual shadow – brought Daredevil to life in a way that is as close to flawless as I could have imagined.

Teaming up for Scarlet, the boys bring the same tone, the same darkness, the same visceral feel.

From issue #1 you know you’re in for a wild ride…as the story progresses the main character (ironically named Scarlet!) breaks the fourth wall and talks to you, the reader. She explains her actions, her past, and ultimately what led her to (seemingly?) lose her mind and begin her disturbing journey as a vigilante.

By the end of issue #2 I was invested. Hardcore. To the point where I want to pitch a tent in front of my local comic store and wait for the next issue to arrive (yes, I’m thisclose to going ‘Episode 1’…it’s that good).

How does this differ from Nemesis? Keep your pants on, I’m getting there…

Nemesis looks beautiful. Clean lines, sharp detail, and great storyboarding. It has more of a traditional superhero comic look to it, and it fits perfectly with the story.

If you don’t know anything about Nemesis, it goes something like this: a super villain – with Batman’s arsenal of gadgets and bottomless bank account – goes as crazy as, well…the Joker. He dons a white cape and cowl, and decides to wreak havoc across the globe, setting up Saw-like scenarios for decorated police officers.

And as the lucky viewers, we get to watch.

In Scarlet, death is monumental. It carries with it heartbreak and self-reflection, and more than anything, consequences – just as in real life when we lose someone close to us, it’s often a game changer.

Not so in Nemesis.

From the opening scene, death is treated as a carnival sideshow – it registers the same emotional impact you feel as when you run over a pedestrian while playing Grand Theft Auto. It’s slightly amusing at first, but quickly becomes tedious.

YES, I GET IT – we’re supposed to fear Nemesis. We’re supposed to be witnessing the sick, twisted mind of a madman, and darn it, Millar is going to show us just how sick this guy is whether we like it or not. Over, and over.

And over.

After 3 issues we’ve been treated to decapitations, evisceration, impaling, and for the grand finale we get tales of underage rape and incest, as well as…well if you want more details you’ll have to read it for yourself.

I’m not really sure where the esteemed Mr. Millar goes from here?

For issue 4 I can only imagine Nemesis takes the hero’s wife, chains her to a tree, and forces a herd of hippos to sexually assault her like in some demented Hentai video, so he can then upload it to YouTube and send high definition copies to her grandparents.

I appreciate Mr. Millar pushing the envelope, I really do. Violence, gore, and disturbing imagery are all part of that, and woven carefully into a meaningful story where I’m invested in the characters, it carries with it great weight.

But you can’t keep raising the bar on carnage without offering additional substance for the reader.

If that’s the direction he’s going, Millar’s body of work could start heading the way of a long-running horror franchise where the viewer simply munches popcorn and chats between brutal slayings because hell, what’s all this talking and stuff? Let’s just see the chick getting her skin ripped off!

I love Mr. Millar, and I have the utmost faith in his considerable abilities. He always draws me into his worlds, and every time (whether I’m completely invested or not) I stick around to the end, because I just have to know how things turn out.

So while I do prefer Scarlet to Nemesis (I’ll continue to buy both), please don’t take my word for it! Who am I, anyway – some wacky Canadian chick who’s obsessed with Twitter?

Go and read them for yourself, come back, and leave me a message explaining why you disagree.

I love you guys! (but you already knew that, didn’t you?)
Blake xox

PS: Want a new BFF? Be my friend on Facebook! I’m just getting started but I’ll try to check it more often.

PPS: And of course follow me on Twitter. I WILL follow you back, I promise.

PPPS: In case you missed it, I’m periodically posting updated on ComicsOnline.com, so go read my latest entry there, where I burn every possible bridge with DC comics and accuse them of being greedy asshats.

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