Showing posts with label comics culture. Show all posts
Showing posts with label comics culture. Show all posts

Monday, January 26, 2015

Answering Questions - The Picky Girl asks Where One Should Start When it Comes to Comics

Picky Girl placed the following in the comment box

Ok, I have a question. So I was not a comics girl growing up. I read a ton - and a lot of stuff that was probably way above my head - but the only comics I ever came in contact with were Archie and Veronica at my grandmother's house (in the bathroom...).

In college, a prof handed me Watchmen, and I loved it. I read some graphic novels and did a lot of reading about comics and the superhero, but when it came to comics, I never knew where to begin. There are so many iterations that I don't know where to begin. Any suggestions?

I'll go ahead and ask my fellow comics dorks to weigh in down in the comment section.  I know you've got your opinions, and my suggestions are just that.  They're just some suggestions by me.  So, chime in, buddies.

First of all, I think if you get down to it, a lot of people had their first and often their last exposure to comics through Archie Comics.  There's a reason everyone over a certain age recognizes Archie and Jughead, and enough people are aware of the Archie-Veronica-Betty love triangle so that you can use it as cultural shorthand.

I'm one of those kids, too.  I have a warm spot in my heart for Archie, even if I can't imagine how one remains a lifelong reader, but people do that, and that's kind of cool.

yeah.  every high school guy has two girlfriends who are cool with this situation.

Back in the 90's, you got to ride the wave of 1980's envelope-pushing comics and academics for whom bringing in anything on the edge of culture to teach was kind of a novel thing.  Watchmen has sold a lot of copies to kids taking a blow-off course where they could read comics, but it earned its rep as one of the very, very few comics that reads like a sprawling novel and talks to an audience of people who also read Thomas Wolfe.  I cannot stress how rare this is in capes and tights comics.  Less so in other genres of comic.

The 1970's brought in the first writers that wanted to push beyond kiddie-stuff and you wound up with Green Arrow seeing his ward shooting up smack (no lie!), but it still read as a 22-page adventure with only loose tethers to the past and future.  And, 95% of the time when comics think they're writing for adults or to make a point, it's still basically Speedy doing smack.

First it's comics, then you smoke one rock of pot, and then wham-o!  You've riding the white pony and defending Jethro Tull in public.

Almost nothing in capes and tights before or after Watchmen is Watchmen, and I've written extensively about how comics have learned all the wrong lessons from a superhero comic that wrote up to a literate audience.  We can cover that again some other time, and surely will, but that wasn't really your question.  What I'm doing here is: expectation setting.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Up is Down, Black is White: Rocket Raccoon 3rd Best-Selling Comic in 2014

Wow, I've got to check out this crazy new character in a #1 comic... this..  Spider-Man


People, according to ICv2, Rocket Raccoon #1 was the 3rd best selling comic of 2014.

I feel like I'm taking crazy pills.

Back around  January of 1987, a somehow-even-more awkward version of myself was lumbering around Austin Books & Comics and used Christmas money to purchase all four issues of the Rocket Raccoon limited series by Bill Mantlo and Mike Mignola off a spinner rack.  By that evening, we were bona-fide Rocket fans.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Je suis Charlie


There's nothing much to add to the discussion.  Freedom of expression is a hard earned right, and on the long curve of human history - a new one from a species that tends to silence the ones asking questions.

I am sorry for the tragedy, and heartened by the collective response of the free world to such a cowardly, uncivilized affront to our principles.

Monday, January 5, 2015

So, What Have I Been Up To? Me and Comics Since June 2013

I really don't know how to write this post, because, if you've been following me for any length of time - and, in particular, if you've been here because of comics, this is where I disappoint you.

I am no longer a "read 20 comics per week" kind of guy.  I'm more of a "I'll knock through a trade once a week or so" kind of guy.  My comics reading and collecting was changing before this site was frozen in carbonite, and it's continued to mutate.

y'all buckle in, because it's about to get pedantic and ornery up in here

I kind of quit trying to keep up with Marvel as a universe around Secret Invasion, which was several years ago now.  I've tried to keep up here and there with Captain America and a few other titles, but Marvel's insistence on the cross-over stunt has made that exceptionally difficult.  Pair that with the fact I read Marvel in trade collections rather than floppies or digital comics, and their "all new #1's all the time" marketing strategy, and I literally gave up trying to understand what was happening at Marvel as a Universe.  But I will be picking up some of the Star Wars books for a few months and see how I like a Marvelized Star Wars U.

DC and the New 52 kind of sent me screaming.   The quality of DC hasn't really improved much over the past two years, and it was in the basement with the launch of the New 52.  I recently read that by Spring, DC will have canceled 60 titles since the launch of the New 52, which is an indication that I'm not crazy to think they have some problems and maybe they aren't serving their audience very well.

In the past year, it's safe to say my habit of reading comics has greatly reduced.  At least the reading of new comics.  When I do buy floppies, I collect them for a couple months and read a few at a time, unless it's something that's self-contained.  And I'll talk about what I'm buying as floppies, which isn't much.

The other day I mentioned that I've recently also sold off a huge portion of my collection.  Well over half my stuff has been dispensed with since August, something like 15-20 boxes (short and long), something like 4-5000 comics.  I've also sold a huge number of my action figures, graphic novels and other items.

And - you know - I don't miss them.  I have more than a room full of great stuff that I like and feel like showing off from time to time, and it's a lot more focused than it once was.

So What Happened?

Saturday, January 3, 2015

I Just Sold My Last Box of Comics (for a while), Which Was My First Box of Comics

It's fair to say the comic book in particular that set me on my course of really getting into comics was Uncanny X-Men #210, written by Chris Claremont and drawn by John Romita Jr.

The issue took place in a period between a big fight with Mutant hunting robot from the future, Nimrod, and issue 211, which would begin the Mutant Massacre saga in the X-books and a few unaffiliated books (Thor and Power Pack, for reasons I do not understand).

Can't tell you how much I miss an era where superheroes smoked
I'll talk a lot more about this in the near future (because, ha ha...  this is The Signal Watch and verbosity is not a problem here), but I released about 2/3rds of my single-issue comics back into the wild in the second half of 2014.

I was not hanging onto this box out of romance or nostalgia.  I planned to sell it on eBay.  Or, rather, Jamie's been selling some of my stuff on eBay, and I was going to sell these issues off in lots of ten, but it just never happened, so...  The good folks at Austin Books and Comics were able to take this off for my hands for in store credit.*

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Official Signal Watch TL; DR "Man of Steel" Discussion

I went to the midnight show of Man of Steel and returned home in the wee hours.  I left kind of a rambling initial reaction here.  I went to work, I came home.  I've seen the movie again (in 3D IMAX with Simon, Angela and Jamie), and I've had time to process the film much, much more.

And, since that first post, I've spent a lot of time thinking about how to approach commentary on the movie.  As this will be one of my final posts going into hiatus, we might as well talk about this movie as the intersection between the two major topics of this blog: film and Superman.



Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Tour of the Signal Watch Fortress of Solitude

I saw online some folks were doing tours of their Superman collections. Well, it seemed like a SUPER idea to participate.

My Fortress is in disarray at the moment as I'm currently consolidating my collection and removing large portions of it.  I'm going to humblebrag and note that what you see here is only part of what I had on display until recently.  I'm really winnowing it down to Superman and Wonder Woman these days.

I started collecting Superman stuff in college, and I don't have much in the way of vintage. So the collection takes you from the late 90's til now, I guess.


your entry from the hallway to the Fortress

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Superman: The Happiest Fella?

Just up here in space, smiling at nobody

There have been a lot of posts (hi, Max!) and articles by longtime Superman fans regarding the to-date seemingly somber tone of the new Superman film, Man of Steel.

Folks are worried about a "grim'n'gritty" Superman versus the cheerful fellow who takes delight in his powers that you've seen since Superman's first appearance in Action Comics #1.  That imagery has been a part of the "discovery" part of the story for Superman in one form or another in all sorts of representations, from Superboy comics, to the animated series, to Superman Returns and Superman: The Movie where we see a young Clark Kent running faster than a freight train and beating Brad and the gang back past the Kent homestead.  And, of course, the absolutely terrific "reveal" sequence when Superman saves Lois and then runs around Metropolis saving the day.

Probably the most joyful you're likely to see Superman is in Superman: The Movie after The Man of Steel first appears and then flies around Metropolis performing super good deeds.

In fact, I've gone on record as saying that the key to my understanding of Superman in many ways is the moment wherein he saves Lois, reminds her of the relative safety of air travel, and then turns around and lets loose with this huge grin before flying away:

"Man, I wish she'd fall out of a helicopter EVERY day!"

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

And then, in 2013, DC Comics discovered hypertext fiction

If there's any doubt that DC Comics has moved to a number crunching behemoth of creative despair, today form Randy I received a link pointing me to a story about DC's latest effort, Multiverse Comics.  Basically, digital choose your own adventure comics.

At this point in the tenure of Diane Nelson, any hope for a creative renaissance at the company should be replaced with more of a visual of someone selling t-shirts outside the Louvre with a picture of Mona Lisa in a bikini top with a knife gripped in her teeth.*

There's a lot of reasons to sort of want to put your head down on the table about this one.

In 1991 or so the first hypertext fiction appeared, which promised branching narratives and the ability to dig further into a narrative - all in standard prose.  If you were going to raves and enjoying smart drinks in 1994, it all sounded like a nifty part of our bright future of this series of tubes called "the interwebs".  Just get yourself a 1600 baud modem and go nuts.

"But, hey The League," you might say.  "It's 2013!  Where can I purchase some of this hypertext fiction that's clearly the wave of the future?"

Tragically, it went the way of the Dippin' Dots and may not have been the ice cream/ preferred narrative construct of the future.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Sort of Going Through a Thing as I Downsize my Comic Stuff Collection

my office from some time ago, when I was doing some other renovation work in there


The past few weekends, (when I didn't have food poisoning, anyway) I spent my time preparing for the de-superheroing of my house and the paring down of my collection.  I am still working through what this probably looks like, and I am sure, if I asked people who know and love me what they think is going on, I'd get a lot of different answers.

For clarification - the front room of our house had been intended to be a sort of reading room and casual conversation room, and the bookshelves were full of statues from DC Direct and other places, and it was a real conversation starter.  But nobody ever wanted to actually sit in there.  And for some reason the dogs go crazy when I go in there to try and read.  Also, I have my office, which was where I'd put my action figures, toys, comics and a whole bunch of other stuff.  

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Calling it now: Everyone will now suddenly like Superman

Firstly, I am totally OK with this.

One does not spend ten years extolling the virtues of Superman and then get pouty when public opinion changes (thanks to the movie.  I'm not taking credit).  I'm not going to decide I don't like Superman because comics fans and the public alike shake off the past couple of decades of proudly proclaiming Batman's a hero and Superman's a zero.  And if people find something to like about Superman: GREAT!

Believe me, having a movie that sells people on Superman is going to make whatever I've been up to the past several years a lot easier to understand, and when it comes to family, friends and co-workers, I can use whatever help I can get.  Hopefully someone will do a follow up with a great Barks/ Rosa Ducks movie and I won't have to explain anything about myself ever again.

This all hinges on Man of Steel being a watchable film, and the trailers are pretty promising.  I have a strong feeling that even if the movie is not my cup of tea, the groundwork is already there to get people thinking about Superman a lot differently.

what are they looking at?  Where are they?


So, I just ran across an opinion piece at Comic Book Resources in which the writer points to various comics released over the past decade and, in my opinion, has found "his Superman".  No doubt a discriminating reader of comics, what with having a column and at least one podcast about comics, this writer finally found a way to "get" Superman.  He's got his in.

And, in many, ways, that's sort of what it takes.  If you can't find a point of accessibility, why would you like the character?

Not only is Superman one of the longest running characters in fiction, he's appeared in so many media over the years, the character has become this wall of iconography that's criss-crossed generations, nations, etc...  The very constancy of the character's omnipresence in culture, his association with comics, his occasional guest appearances, etc... all can lead to a belief that you gave the character a shot but you were too smart for what Superman was selling.  I know!  I've been there.  See yesterday's post on my era as an X-reader.  Couldn't get me to touch a Superman comic back then.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

SuperMOOC Week 6 - wrapping it up with Gender Through Comics

Fortunately for me, my class extended it's timeline by a few days without adding any additional content, and so I was able to finish last night despite the fact that I'd basically missed a week thanks to work and other factors.

This is what I think about when I consider returning to grad school, by the way.  I travel for work.  Really, an online program would be ideal for me to get a masters at long last, as I can't match the attendance that comes with being a 23 year old with nothing else going on but growing facial hair and caring about what sort of beer I'm drinking.  I'm seriously considering the need for an MA, but, man, the idea of walking into a classroom again at age 38 or 39 sounds like a nightmare.

Yes, I agree that the education system and how we deal with college degrees in the US is broken, but the trend to want to turn colleges into trade schools also isn't really an option (they have something for that.  It's called Trade School).  MOOCs are seen as a possible way to share courses across universities, and it sounds good on paper.  But I was sitting through a presentation at my conference last week and one of the presenters pointed out that most parents paying for someone's degree really don't want to hear that their kid was in a class with 40,000 other students, only 10% of which completed the course.  It's really opening the door for private schools and any university to stroke parents on college tours to promise a generation of helicopter parents that their kids will get special attention by sitting in a class with just 50-100 kids.

But I digress.

Ouch. A Little DC Comics Schadenfreude for your evening.

Immature? Yes.
Unnecessary? Yes.
Hilarious? Absolutely.


Read more about DC's PR goofs at The Outhouse.

A functioning sign for keeping track of how often DC Comics has done something publicly very stupid.

All this as they cancel another slate of books, alienate another round of readers, and the publishing side erodes into a nu-metal album cover and licensing flails around, still making money but relying mostly on movie materials and pre-1986 images.

Thanks to CanadianSimon for the link.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Neverending Battle Fatigue

I recently attended a small Toy and Comic Expo here in Central Texas.  I say small, but it had major cast members of The Walking Dead in attendance* (I don't watch the show, and I still recognized them), the event filled a few ballrooms, and had a Batmobile (you saw the pictures.  No reason for me to show off further.).

But I also walked out without buying anything.

I've talked here before about how Cons are not my cup of tea, but at this Con, I felt like such an outside observer that I felt like I was at someone else's party.

how your comics blogger feels on the inside

I quit writing posts on how I was cutting back my DC Comics selections, and in short order, I will have stopped buying any new DC Comics.  I just can't buy the new Superman stuff (Scott Lobdell on both main titles, really?) just to bridge my collection, just as I avoid the 90's mullet-era Superman for the convoluted contortions the writers were going through as they wrestled with the Post-Crisis rules imposed on Superman.

I don't understand the enthusiasm for most of today's comics from DC and Marvel, but I do get my fix from other books - like the stuff coming from MonkeyBrain, some from Dynamite and IDW, but my pull list has shrunk to about 3-4 comics on a good week.  Last week I didn't pull anything, and I see about a week per month where that's true.  Looking at the solicits for an upcoming month tells me that stepping away means it would be work to even try to get back into any of these comics, and at the cost and high likelyhood of a comic at DC getting the axe, it's not really worth it.

Walking around the con, I could identify only a fraction of the costumes on the attendees, and then, mostly from commercials I'd seen for video games while watching shows aimed at a younger demographic, like Archer.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Your Humble Blogger and His Next Ride

P5041141 by thekgb2010

P5041141, a photo by thekgb2010 on Flickr.
from the Central Texas Toy and Comic Expo

Jason and I went to San Marcos on Saturday.  I don't collect much Batman stuff as there's so much stuff out there with the Bat logo on it.  But I have always been fascinated with the various iterations of the Batmobile, largely because of the Batman '66 version, the 1989 version and the various looks from Norm Breyfogle when I started reading comics.

You will never not get me to get excited over a well manufactured replica.


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Weeks 4 and 5 of MOOC: Gender Through Comics

Attrition rates for online courses are fairly high.  In the years I worked in distance education and eLearning, we always knew that external incentives were a huge reason anyone signed up for a masters program online and why they would complete the program.  We didn't keep in-house stats when I was working at UT or ASU, as many students blended their learning between on-campus and online, but I believe in our cohort of 15 students to begin a unique program we designed, we only lost 3 of the 15 or so who started.

Massive Open Online Courses have an estimated retention rate of about 10%.

Depending on who you talk to, this is either a problem or it is nothing to worry about.  What's interesting is hearing the various excuses and pointing of fingers I've seen lobbed in my personal experience over the years - from "it doesn't matter that the students leave in droves, they came in to get what they needed and left" to "if the faculty can't hold the students' attention, that's really saying something about the faculty".

What nobody is apparently willing to say is that maybe we already have ample evidence that this isn't working as originally intended.  Moving the posts in the first quarter of the game turns it into Arena Football, it doesn't improve the NFL.

Look, if you have a TV show and if by week 10, you've lost 80 - 90% of your audience, your show is getting canceled. It doesn't really matter how great of a debut you had.  If your whole network loses 80-90% of every program it runs, everyone is getting fired and you're shutting down.  If you had a play, and by the time you closed the final curtain your formerly sold out house was left with 10% of the attendees wanly applauding, you'd figure maybe the place was on fire and nobody had told the cast and crew.

I find the idea that students are dipping into classes, getting what they need, and then exiting a naive and groundless assumption and, frankly, the sort of useless hand-waving that folks in higher ed are good at.  I suspect they know better, but it's something to say until they put together some actual data on what's happening.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Massive Open Online Course, Week 3

Well.

This week was about how making comics is a collaborative process, and that mainstream comics, especially superhero comics, are rarely the work of a single person.  There's a writer, artist, editor, etc...  associated with every comic that hits the stand.

The process includes many voices, from the writer sitting at their keyboard, to publishers wanting to push circulation, to editors trying to meet deadlines, to artists who seem to reference Maxim photo-spreads all too often.

The comics we were assigned to read included several incarnations of the Marvel "nobody's favorite" candidate, Carol Danvers, aka: Ms. Marvel, aka: Nova, aka: Ms. Marvel, aka: Captain Marvel.  I don't dislike Carol Danvers, but I also don't think about the character any more than I think about The Rhino or Arcade or Angle Man or something.

I didn't read the comics.

I was curious about the instructor's take on the production side of comics and how it would affect the narrative, and I thought the take was interesting, but... not what I expected.  I had expected discussion of how artists can put their own spin on a script, how editors act as mediators working from their own opinions and company dictates, how design of characters can be managed and scrutinized at a very high corporate level, and that intention of writers can be changed by the time a comic is actually produced.  And the fact that artists continually include shots of Wonder Woman's barely-covered butt from a low angle in all-too many Justice League group scenes.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

On the Event of Superman's 75th Anniversary

Today is, reportedly, the 75th anniversary of the debut of Action Comics #1.  75 years ago, Superman appeared on the cover of a comic book and, within a couple of months, had already risen to pop-culture superstardom.  By World War II, he had become a staple of Americana and - while Superman didn't invent the idea of the costumed hero, the science-fiction hero, or the altruistic do-gooder, he managed to put a distinct stamp on all of those ideas in one place - and has been endlessly imitated ever since.


In his first issue, all we knew was that Superman was a refugee of a doomed planet who arrived here as a baby.  There was no Jonathan and Martha Kent.  No Jor-El or Lara.  No Daily Planet (Clark landed a job at the Daily Star working for "Editor", I believe).  Just Lois, Clark, Superman and a whole lot of action.  And, man, Lois is a tough dame in that first issue.  No wonder Superman fell hard for her.

There are too many good books out there that talk about Superman's origins as a product of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster for me to try to recreate the story here.  But they were down on their luck 20-somethings (not the teen-agers that are described to have just had Superman pop into their heads one night) when they sold the property to a struggling publisher who was soon outmaneuvered by some smooth operators.  I don't want to dwell too much on the fate of Siegel and Shuster, that's been fought out in the courts for five decades.  But their creation was not just one of the moment, but one of the past, the present and a limitless future, the likes of which we'd only ever seen in a few American fictional characters, from Ichabod Crane to Huckleberry Finn.  And this one arrived in a splash of color, crude drawings and an insurmountable flash of power.

Superman is an amalgamation of a dozen or so pulp literature ideas, some stolen outright from big names like Doc Savage, some from lesser known sources like the novel Gladiator.  Many find biblical aspects in his origins or in the perceived saintly selflessness of his actions (an interesting idea given Superman's varying presentations over the years).

I would argue that most people* don't really know anything about Superman, but everyone believes they know all you need to know.  A lot of folks can dismiss what they don't know as unimportant, thanks to the character's comic book roots, while ignoring the fact that Superman has been a huge part of every major media revolution.  You see people ascribe characteristics and virtues to the character based on a glance and some half-remembered bits from a movie they haven't seen in decades.  Others demonize those same virtues as old fashioned or out of touch, without ever deconstructing what it means to declare a desire for a more just world, to protect those who can't protect themselves as irrelevant in the modern context.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Course Update: Week 2 of Gender Through Comics Books

With the navigation issues resolved, Week 2 of the course Gender Through Comic Books, was a lot easier to deal with (the navigation is still awful, but at least I've basically sorted it out).   Of the promised 3-5 hours, I probably spent 3-4 hours, including an hour of guest lecture by comics maestro Mark Waid.  I did bypass a lot of the reading as I've read Superman: Birthright numerous times in the past, and was able to focus mostly on course materials - so that saved a good hour.

As has often been my experience with a lot of course reading in theory classes, the full articles are going to start feeling repetitive.  We've been presented the premise, and everything else is going to be supporting evidence - and this is why I was not a good student as an undergrad or, especially, during my glorious short, flamed-out career of not finishing grad school.

In this course, the basic concept is that "sex" is a biological designation and "gender" is a construct of personal and cultural choices.  I believe this makes sense in context, and  the readings made the concept pretty clear in Week 1.  In Week 2, the one article we were asked to check out gave some more evidence.  That's cool.  But by the time we get to Week 3...

This week was a mix of reading Superman and putting some coin in Mark Waid's pocket by selling a lot of copies of Superman: Birthright.  The task was to consider the construction of gender as it's played out less by instinct and more as part of a perception of roles of male, female and otherwise and how that's demonstrated by reading Birthright as well as Action Comics #1, an issue of Superman from 1960, and consider the ways gender is portrayed across 75 years.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

So, That Online Course I'm Taking - Gender Through Comic Books

Just as an FYI - I intentionally wrote my piece on portrayals in women in comics earlier this week before getting into the reading for the course I'm taking.

The course is:  Gender Through Comics Books at Canvas.net and originating at Ball State.

Anyway, I work in higher education, currently in libraries, but from 1997-2006 I worked in Distance Education at large public research universities, UT Austin and Arizona State University.  From 2007-2008, I worked at a smaller eLearning company here in Austin that developed mostly corporate training materials with the occasional foray into creating materials for educators.

When I left university distance learning, it wasn't because I was tired of the field.  I thought eLearning was in its toddler-hood, but we were taking a leap to return from Arizona to Austin, and there weren't/ aren't that many positions out there for this, even with my sterling credentials.  Working in a media shop developing stuff for corporations was a great experience in many ways, and I learned a tremendous amount I doubt I would have gained at The Academy (as we like to say when we're wearing tweed and drinking hot tea from small cups).

Back in 1999 or so, I remember watching a clip from 60 Minutes on The Future of Education.  At the time, University of Phoenix was a rising star and talking heads were proclaiming that UofP had cracked the code.  In a few years we'd all be taking our courses through them, and there was no point in resisting progress.  They predicted (and were clearly relishing the term way, way too much) the concept of "rock star faculty", folks who would be THE faculty voice for a generation talking about America History 101, etc...  Nobody was sure how it would work, but they were certain it was just around the corner.  

It didn't happen.