Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Article on Austinite Chris Roberson - the guy taking over writing duties on Superman!

Chris Roberson is taking over writing duties on Superman comics with issue 707.  The issue comes out next week on Wednesday.

Roberson is a local Austinite, and, I have from very reliable sources in the Austin comic community, a HUGE Superman fan.  There's an article on Roberson in our local paper, The Statesman.

Roberson will be signing his issue at Austin Books on 1/12/2011 from 4-7.  Yes, I am definitely going.

Why I think Roberson is the right guy for the job?

From the article:

"The standard knock on Superman is that he is so powerful, what can you give him to do that is interesting?" Roberson said. "Well, that's the writer's job — give him something to do. If he's having to stop muggers, it's going to get old fast. If he's having to travel outside of space and time and sing a certain note to restart the universe, that is really cool to me."
me, too, man.

DC Letter Columns Return!

So, DC Comics is boldly moving forward by moving backward and bringing back Letter Columns to the backs of their comics.

From very early on in the publishing of serialized comics, readers were encouraged to write into their favorite titles to congratulate or complain.  The readers also asked silly or scientific questions, and it all made for a "hey, gang!  We're all enjoying Superman together!" sort of vibe.  The editors took on criticism and occasionally released formal mea culpas,  and sometimes spent some time explaining a point in a story if enough people wrote in with some confusion.

As a reader growing up pre-internet and generally not tuned in to fandom, if you were the only kid on your block reading, say, The Heckler*, then it was nice to look at a letter column and know what your fellow fans were thinking and that you were a part of some larger community.

I didn't just like letter columns as a kid, these days I LOVE reading vintage letter columns in back issues.  Many letters are from some poor schlub pointing out this-or-that continuity error (fake ex:) "In the first panel Jimmy Olsen is wearing his camera and three pages later, where is the camera?", and  you can practically hear the derisive self-satisfied nerd-snorting.  Often, editors would cop to their mistakes and say "yup, its a comic book.  Our artists work for horrible wages at amazing speeds.  They @#$% up every once in a while and so do us editors."  And in even better cases they come up with an answer intended to simply irritate the asker,  like "Ah, but Jimmy handed it off to Lois, who you didn't see walk through the room between panels".

Those, by far, are my favorite answers.  Its a reminder that "holy %$#@, kids, its just comics, have some fun with it for chrissake" that the modern comics reader could certainly stand to ponder.

I also appreciate this tactic as it is one I often similarly employ when Jamie attempts to point out any of my errors.

She:  You left the garage light on all night.
Me:  Indeed I did.  It needed to be on for the spiders.
She:  No, it did not.
Me:  Did you want the spiders tripping over their own feet?  They have eight feet you know...  Think of the spiders.
She:  It is a miracle we are still married.

...and.... scene.**

What's very interesting about the letter columns in older comics, when folks tended to think that comics were just for kids, is that, pretty clearly, a lot of letters are sent in by a range of ages, and include quite a few girls and women writing in (women, in particular, tend to be furious at Jimmy Olsen in their letters.  Its sort of charming.).  And I recently read a letter column in which an angry fellow from the Bronx predicted the inevitable passing fad of The Beatles, as something everyone would soon wise-up to (Jimmy had traveled in time and made up several cavemen to look like The Beatles.  Don't ask.).

I don't remember what year letter columns disappeared.  I do know they gave way to message boards, including those owned by the publisher.  Then other means of web communication.

I don't go without opinions on this, but I want to see what they've decided to do before I say "this is a good idea" or "this is a bad idea".

But I half wonder if DC isn't trying to remind its fans that (a) they can listen, and (b) possibly remind their fans what a constructive conversation with the editors looks like.

The rules are as follows:
Please include your full name, and address, for confirmation purposes. Letters should be no longer than 500 words and should not include attachments.
Letters may be edited for length or clarity and may be published in any medium. Letters become the property of DC Comics.
500 words?  Man, that's asking people to be precise, get to the point and not ramble on about how their Batgirl fan fiction improves on continuity and how they think it IS part of continuity (in their own crazy head, I guess). 

The return of letter columns also

  • eliminates drive-by trolls who, for example, hit every DC Blog column they see on Superman just long enough to post "why don't they retire that character?"
  • eliminates the "axe-to-grind" trolls, like say, Kyle Rayner fans who use every post about Green Lantern to complain that Hal is not Kyle
  • not have to publish wild type-o's and misspellings and publicize the failure of certain public schools
  • allows them to ignore the Nth poster who insists that Grant Morrison's approach must be wrong because, basically, they can't read.
  • enables DC to demonstrate what sort of questions they'll answer and what a respectful exchange of ideas looks like
While letter cols no doubt will manage the conversation, there's also no doubt that the internet is an enabler for misplaced entitlement and bad behavior (why DC bothers to have a comment section on its blog is beyond me.  Its the same six guys criticizing every single item that goes up) and DC can manage their conversation with fans a bit better.

Part of that managed conversation is the fact that readers sending in letters will have to stop and think about what they're saying so as not to wind up in the crank file or circular file.  Can you provide constructive feedback?  Ask a thoughtful question?  Is this something the current generation of eager fans will even know how to do is asked?   (They've never SEEN a letter column in the past decade!)

I don't foresee DC removing comment sections or giving up on their discussion board, necessarily.  And the internet will always have its own unique voices and communities, but at this point I am 100% okay with a managed conversation between the fans writing in.  But, interestingly, the questions of record in print comics will be the ones that make the cut.  And that's worth something.

Its a two-edged sword.  The internet most certainly gave fans a sense of community and ownership over DC Comics that it had never before seen.  But it was always an illusory entitlement.  At the end of the day, no matter how much the fans perceive a love of, say, Superman...  its always DC's toy.  Surely the thrill of having a letter printed in an issue of your favorite comic will provide a great sense of participation with DC (some creators actually broke into comics this way!).   And if this is to work, editors will have to include and address criticism, or the whole exercise will look like useless hype.

So... I am curious to see how this goes.

And I'm also curious to see what the editors have to say for themselves in the letter columns.  The fanbase is a bit different than it was even by 2000.

I guess, in many ways, I'm looking forward to seeing this first batch, and then seeing how the letters evolve.

*I tend to believe I was one of five people in the world reading (and enjoying the heck out of) The Heckler.
**every day I thank my lucky stars that Jamie has been willing to put up with me, lo these many years.  I can barely stand being in the same room with myself.  How she does it is beyond me.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Signal Watch Salutes the Marriage of Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer

I wasn't going to mention this because, well, maybe two of you will care.  But...

Congrats to one of my favorite comic writers and one of my favorite musicians.  They got married over the weekend.

Congrats Greg Rucka and Kanye West!

Wait...  that isn't right.

Oh, right.

Congratulations to Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer!

This picture made the rounds on the comics webs the past 48 hours, and we figure its free for us to use, too.

We at The Signal Watch know they will never see this post, but we wish them the best, anyway.  We were impressed when we heard these two were coupled up and we're glad they made it official.

For those of you wondering, Neil Gaiman is the writer of many very good comics (most famously Sandman) and novels (I just got both Jamie and Judy to read Anasi Boys, and I think you guys might like it, too), and Amanda Palmer is a solo performer as well as half of Evelyn Evelyn and Dresden Dolls.

The dress is apparently something Palmer used to wear as a street performer.  Go figure.

The Power of Muscle Mystery!

DC will finally reprint Flex Mentallo, a mid-90's Morrison/ Quitely collaboration.  

I haven't read this series since 1996.  Color me excited.

Read about Flex here.

Vertigo, DC's comic line aimed at not-kids, kept me in comics during the crucial period of high school and college when I might have walked away from the medium.  Shade, Sandman, Swamp Thing, Hellblazer, Kid Eternity, Sandman Mystery Theatre (an undervalued and terrific book)...  I didn't get into Animal Man or Morrison's Doom Patrol until far, far later.  But I got to know Grant Morrison via The Invisibles,but his JLA and my growing interest in Superman brought me back to the DCU (with no small help from Waid and Ross's Kingdom Come).  Flex was a part of that, but its been forever since I read this series.

Mentallo first appeared in Doom Patrol before the mini-series hit.  Mentallo is loosely based upon the old ads for Charles Atlas, with a huge helping of Morrison.  The series is most famous now for the law-suit tossed at DC by the Charles Atlas Corporation.

Anyway, good news!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Mad Men Season 1: Apparently I never watched ANY of this

So a while back Jamie and I were getting the DVDs of Mad Men Season 1 via Netflix.  I watched some of it, but I knew Jamie had finished the season without me.  I had caught stray episodes on AMC, and I watched some of Season 2, and so when I came in with both feet in Season 3, I didn't feel like I missed all that much.  Also: I recall hitting "pause" on the remote and saying "What?" to Jamie quite a bit, and then she'd fill in details.

Anyhow, on Thanksgiving I had a few glasses of wine, and then got an email from CanadianSimon on my Blackberry alerting me that the BluRay for Seasons 1-3 were on deep discount at Amazon, and I figured "well, Mythbusters isn't on every night.  What the heck.  Also, Christina Hendricks."  And so I am now the proud owner of Seasons 1-3 of Mad Men on BluRay.

So, wow, apparently I had only ever seen the first 3 episodes of Mad Men from Season 1 in any kind of organized fashion.  Its amazing how well conceptualized the show was from episode 1, from character, design, historical and other standpoints.  I think they managed to deal with some of the things that people were talking about so much with a bit more nuance by Season 3 (it seems like the fact that people drink and philander is played up less for shock and more for story), but its hard to ignore the impact of Season 1.

I had not, for example, seen Peggy do "The Twist".  And we should all see that at least once.
It seems that what I thought was Season 1 I was catching on AMC was Season 2.  This is why I am bad at TV watching and get nervous when people try to get me to commit to a series.

We're almost done with Season 1, so I expect we'll cruise right into Seasons 2 and 3.

At any rate, its a lot of fun to start over, and I guess I'll have seen far less of Season 2 then I believed I'd seen.  Either than or I am flat out suffering from some form of Mad Men Amnesia.

Welcome Back to the Work Week

Well, the holidays are over and we're all having to forget about peace on Earth and worrying about making Q's 1 and 2 a roaring success.

This week I'm doing a spot of traveling.  For once I'm not driving around Texas.  Instead, at the end of the week I'm hopping on a jet and winging my way to sunny California where somebody wants me to stand up in a room full of people and try not to embarrass myself or my employer (that's you, Texas tax-payer!).

Its my last night of freedom for a while, so I'm going to let you get back to checking your other blogs, RSS feeds, email, Facebook and other things you do when you should really be working.

I hope your 2011 is starting off right.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Drawing the Line at $2.99

The Never Ending Battle to Make it Sound Like $2.99 is a bargain!
I kid, I kid.  But I can't help but be amused that $2.99 is a big selling point for DC.  Why didn't they try to hold the line at $2.50 or $2.00?  Well, better late than never, one supposes.  But at $3.00, it was already getting a bit rich for my blood.

I have to say:  I like Wonder Woman's new outfit much better once you ditch the jacket, but I still miss the red boots. 

Also:  I haven't read Brightest Day yet, so I'm not entirely comfortable with Martian Manhunter adopting pants but eschewing a shirt.  I kind of liked the One Year Later redesign, but I guess that was just me...

And an additional note:  Hey, look!  Its the JLA's original seven prominently displayed in a house ad!  With Barry and Hal and everything!  If they can get Wonder Woman's boots squared, we may be back to cooking with gas.

Carl Barks Comics Collection Coming: Collected Classic Comics a Collosal Concept

Here's some good news for comics fans here in 2011.

Fall 2011, Fantagraphics will be printing a really nice, hardbound edition of classic Uncle Scrooge comics  by Carl Barks in a prestige format for around $25.  There's a terrific interview at Robot 6 today discussing plans.

One of the odd things that's hard to sell to non-comic readers and comic-readers alike is that Uncle Scrooge comics are a whole lot of fun.  And this is also semi-true of a lot of most Disney comics.  I, myself, looked cock-eyed at people who would talk about Uncle Scrooge comics until I was about 30.  I watched a few episodes of Duck Tales in high school, but wasn't ever all that enamored (I did, however, love Tail Spin and was quite irritated when it was canceled).  I knew about the money bin, Gyro Gearloose, domestic duck squabbles with Donald, globe-trotting adventure...  but what I didn't get was how that worked in comics that I heard adults talking about.

While Mickey is certainly the foremost Disney character in terms of recognizability, for decades Uncle Scrooge, who is a sort of periphery Disney property, has reined supreme in comics around the globe.  The rise to prominence came under the pen of Carl Barks, a legend to many in comics along the lines of Jack Kirby, who brought straight up all-ages adventure to Uncle Scrooge comics.  That didn't mean they weren't funny or rely on specifics of character that you'd see in all the classic Disney characters (except, oddly, for the nephews, that Disney seemed to think worked better as interchangeable, and I kind of refuse to disagree). It was mostly a quality of storytelling and art that set Barks apart as an auteur of the medium.

We keep our change in a big coffee cup
I guess it was when I found out the guy who owns Diamond, the monopoly that runs comic distribution in the US, had started Gemstone Comics to get the Disney license and do reprints from older and overseas-produced Disney comics, I decided to try out some Uncle Scrooge.

I've become a fan, but I don't pretend I'm one of the folks who was reading Uncle Scrooge as a kid, or who has a closet full of Disney comics that I can quote chapter and verse.  Respect.

When Gemstone lost the Disney reprint license to Boom! a couple years ago, I wasn't all that shattered as Boom!, (a) was going to be aggressive in their offerings, and (b) they dropped the prices to the point of easy affordability.  Gemstone had been charging upward of $8 for a single issue of Uncle Scrooge (in all fairness, it was 2 or 3 comics worth of materials) and I'd quit buying.

Anyhow, summer 2010 Fantagraphics announced it would be publishing a classic run of Mickey Mouse comics by Gottfredson, and I've been waiting to see that collection listed in Previews (honestly, I may have missed it, but I hope not).  And now Fantagraphics plans to do the same with the Uncle Scrooge work of Carl Barks (aka: The Good Duck Artist).  Fantagraphics doesn't really do "half-measures", so I expect this will be a really nice book-shelf style hardback.

This is almost exactly my set up at Barton Springs each summer
In some ways, I don't understand the publishing model from Disney's perspective.  Disney has a license for its characters through Boom! and they've published largely recent, mostly European-produced stories.  But in recent months Boom! has made it clear they're going to be reprinting classic Disney comics in their mainline Disney books, and one assumes this includes Barks and Don Rosa (Rosa is Barks' amazingly talented successor).  Disney actually does own their own publishing arm, which could have done this.  Further, Disney owns Marvel Comics.  I don't know that its a good mixing of brands, and I have to assume there are good reasons for a lack of cooperation between Marvel and Disney Comics.

And then Fantagraphics, yet another publisher, gets the prestige format reprint license?  It would just be interesting to hear Disney flat-out explain their strategy.  My guess is that they just saw what Fantagraphics has done with Peanuts and they thought they were the right folks for this job.  I'd also hazard a guess that they see the monthly comics as "periodicals" and this project as "the book department", and so licenses are different.

Whatever the case, the book is happening.  And that's really good news!  

An additional note:  Its hard on the pocketbook, but across the industry, many publishers are getting very good at putting together prestige format collections of classic comics, both from standard comic book formats and from the comics page/ comic strips.  There have always been "best of" hardback collections, but now we're seeing complete runs of work like Calvin & Hobbes, The Far Side, and Bloom County.  Fantagraphics is working its way through Peanuts' multi-decade run.  And we can expect to see Walt Kelley's Pogo hit in March with its first volume.

Barks' work hasn't been collected in the US in any comprehensive manner, so I'm glad to see it happening.  Not a bad way to start a new year in comics news!

Again, its expensive if you decided you wanted to own all of these, but I think I'm glad to know that these archive edition books are making their way to press before the work is lost (because one day it will be), and that means its likely digitized and semi-preserved.  The price isn't that prohibitive if you can pass the books around, and I don't know if they'll try for an ebook or paperback edition, both of which would be cheaper, I'd guess.  The new edition also means that these books, whole runs of them, may find their ways into libraries, both public and private.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Signal Watch Events - January/ February 2011

Signal Watch Events is a standard service to alert Signal Corps members of movies, concerts, sporting events that we are considering attending.  You can also check the Signal Watch calendar (see the tab above) or click on this link.

If you plan to attend an event or would like to suggest an event, please contact us and let us know! 

Please note:  While we have the best of intentions, we don't actually make it to all events. We would like to put our best foot forward, so if you plan to join us, please email us so we can discuss.

Also, we're usually up for dinner or something coordinated with an event, so just ask.

  • January 13 at 7:00 - Out of the Past at The Paramount Theater
  • January 14 at 7:00ish or something - Girl Talk at the Austin Music Hall
  • January 16 at 2:00 - Out of the Past at The Paramount Theater
  • January 16 at 4:00 - Laura at The Paramount Theater
  • January 16 at 7:00 PM - Alamo Cinema Club:  Some Came Running hosted by Richard Linklater at Alamo Downtown (a 3 movie marathon seems like a bit much, so the outlook on this isn't great)
  • January 19 at 10:00 PM - Tough Guy Cinema presents:  Robocop at Alamo Downtown
  • January 22 at 7:00 PM - Abbot and Costello Meet Frankentsein at The Paramount Theater
  • January 22 at 9:00 PM - Frankenstein at The Paramount Theater
  • January 28 at 11:55 PM - The Room at Alamo Village
  • January 30 at 6:00 PM - Texas Rollerderby at the Palmer Events Center
  • February 13 at 7:00 PM (alternate times considered) - Zzang!! presents Big Trouble in Little China at Alamo Downtown (you are pissing me off to no end!)
  • February 20 at 7:00 PM - Alamo Cinema Club presents Bigger than Life at Alamo Downtown

More 2010 - a year that happened

2010 was NOT the year we made contact, as promised by a John Lithgow/ Helen Mirren movie I'd seen as a kid.
It was the year:

  • The Jersey Shore remained inexplicably and unironically popular
  • Jamie received a donut maker for Christmas
  • I very slowly started working out again, making me sad about the arrival of a donut maker in my house
  • the iPad arrived.  Many people bought them.  Then, everyone I talked to who had one told me it likely wasn't worth getting for every single application I mentioned using it for were I to purchase one.
  • We saw no 3rd installment of the popular Chipmunks franchise
  • I was on the road a whole lot
  • I spent the summer at the movies
  • Scout did not attempt a jail break even once
  • DC Comics celebrated its 75th Anniversary (we'll make more noise during Superman's 75th anniversary in 2013)
  • We may have finally seen the last of Jon & Kate (and their 8)
  • Al and Tipper Gore called it quits.  So no more Al-on-Tipper PDA.  Sorry, folks.
  • Kanye West's Twitterfeed justified an entire form of communication
  • UT Football found new and creative ways to astound and disappoint weeks after the final game was played
  • A show about Zombie Apocalypse was a stunning cable hit (and was actually very watchable, too)
  • Someone started working on another Planet of the Apes movie
  • I broke my weekly comic shop habit (which was like quitting smoking)
  • I managed to kill 5 minutes in a meeting at work making everyone learn about Mister Miracle.  And that is why you don't ever ask Ryan about the characters on his shirts in a mocking tone. 
Here's to 2011 and another chance to do it right this time.