Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Bil Keane, Family Circus Creator, Follows Dotted Trail into the Infinite

Today it was announced that Bil Keane, creator of the long running and enormously popular Family Circus comic strip, had passed at age 89.  Keane's strip appears in over 1500 papers and has been in publication for over 50 years.

As a somewhat shallow jerk with no children of his own, like literally dozens of other Americans, I quit enjoying daily newspaper strip The Family Circus's whimsical take on the gosh-darn cute things kids say and do some time back.  But circa 1984, I was all about The Family Circus.  Mostly because I'd found a huge treasury album on deep discount at Bookstop, but its also a fairly consistent (perhaps too consistent) strip, and sometimes it was sweet and amusing enough and inoffensive, in the way you might find yourself partially smiling at a rerun of Everybody Loves Raymond when its on in the waiting room of Jiffy Lube and you're stuck there for 45 minutes.*

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

So, "Axe Cop: Bad Guy Earth" worked almost exactly like a DC Event Comic

I take it all of you are familiar with Axe Cop?

If not, you should be.

Axe Cop was a happy accident which occurred when a 29 year old comic artist, Ethan Nicolle, went to visit his family for the holidays, and whilst hanging out with his 5 year-old brother, Malachi, created a quick comic strip in which Ethan illustrated the stories which Malachi dreamed up.

Malachi's vision comes mostly from understanding the world in the manner of a 5-year-old, by way of TV, movies, video games, 5 year old perceptions of the world on everything from how police recruitment works to headier things like one's mortality or morality.

All in all, its an amazingly fun read, at least in part because it taps into the world of play and unfettered imagination all of us who lived to grow up and become boring 'ol adults now filter out before an idea has time to percolate.  Most five-year-olds don't have talented cartoonist brothers willing to draw the stories they reel off.

That said, part of what's fun is also that five-year-olds are not terribly responsible story-tellers, and there's a lot of free-association, randomness, odd handling of cause-and-effect, etc...

Usually Axe Cop is read in small chunks, in a sort of webstrip format, and even if a story goes on, its in these tiny chunks.  But Bad Guy Earth was an Axe Cop opus, a three-issue comic series 

What struck me as I was wrapping up the read (one I highly recommend, by the way) is that the series was 99.9% plot development with not even a nod to character development, featured a string of events that didn't really push one into another but still fit, somewhat loosely, with plot threads that kind of start and then do nothing, while kind of random things happen to draw the series to its conclusion.

Sort of like most of DC's "event comics" since Crisis on Infinite Earths.

SUNDAY: Witherd Wuhrld - Authtin! Comicth! Thelebritieth! Geekth! Cothtumth!!

On Sunday I'll be heading down to the Austin Convention Center for Year 2 of the Wizard World Austin Comic Convention.

I won't be going Friday because: work.  Saturday I've got less important things to do (kick-off is at 11:00 AM, FX is carrying the game).  So, Sunday is when I'm going.

Last year was weird, truth to be told.  I had a great time hanging out with Matt, Phil, JackBart and Jason, and I got some good deals on Jimmy Olsen comics.  But the tone of the Con was strange.  I am not entirely comfortable with the "celebrities" kept in pens like veal.  I still think I did something wrong when I went to talk to Erin Gray and get her autograph (but no regrets.  It was Erin Gray.).

This year promises a colorful line-up of the kids from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, now all grown up (sadly, Augustus Gloop has canceled), Jake Lloyd of Star Wars fame and both Kyle Reese AND young John Conner will be there in the forms of Michael Biehn and Edward Furlong.  Peter Mayhew (you know him as Chewbacca), the cheerleader from Heroes, and Kevin Sorbo.  

Frankly, its not an awful line-up, if I actually wanted to meet any of them (well, maybe Michael Biehn).  

Last year I wandered the tables in artists' alley, but it was sort of odd.  The truth is, there's a lot of talent at those tables, both names you do and do not know.  But I'm not a wealthy man, and its not a reading library.  I'm the same guy who can't stop at a gas station just to use the restroom without feeling obligated to buy a bag of peanuts and a soda, so I don't like lingering and just staring at the artists and creators like animals on display.  And, certainly NOT buying something is some sort of judgment, I think.

Anyhow, I plan to make it a quick trip.  If you're in Austin on Sunday and want to tag-up at the Con, let me know.  I'll be there for a while sometime after the lunching hour.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Superman Lawsuit, and me playing with kids' toys

On Sunday I stumbled across this new Superman toy from Fischer-Price.  While Fischer-Price has done an admirable job with Batman and DC toys of late, this is slightly different and bigger and shows up as part of their "Rescue Heroes"/ "Hero World" line.

Yes, I buy kids' Superman toys.  Especially when they come with Krypto.

Krypto does not screw around

I was carrying the item around Target when I gave the toy a second look and realized...  he hasn't got the trunks.  And he's got the chunky boots, and...  they gave him the scaling detail of the Jim Lee re-design (sort of).

Superman wouldn't want to appear un-detailed

And I started thinking: wow, the New 52 is really going to change things.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Signal Watch Reads: Action Comics #3

Action Comics 3
World Against Superman
writer - Grant Morrison
pencillers - Rags Morales & Gene Ha
inkers - Rick Bryant & Gene Ha
colorists - Brad Anderson & Art Lyon
letterer - Patrick Brosseau
covers - (standard) Rags Morales & Brad Anderson, (variant) Gene Ha & Art Lyon
associate editor - Wil Moss, editor - Matt Idleson
this review is of the standard, print edition of the issue

Oh, Gene Ha.

If anyone was going to up the ante on Byrne's vision for Krypton, or surpass the mix of nostalgic fantasy and futurist thinking that Mark Waid and Leinil Yu put together in Birthright, it seems fitting that DC paired an artist as meticulous and wildly creative as Gene Ha to bring the world of Krypton to life in a manner both new and familiar. I do not know if DC planned to have two separate artists for the Krypton and Earth sequences in this issue, but as much as I've been enjoying the super-heroic work of Rags Morales on this book, that first page, complete with a gurgling Kal-El and his star-filled eyes brought back memories of glory days on Top 10 and the magic I expected every time a new issue hit the stands.

For everyone who insisted that we never need to see another version or telling of the last days of Krypton, that its too well known, and that Morrison himself summed it up so perfectly in All Star Superman that the topic never needed revisiting, I'd point to the richness of story that comes from the tragedy that marks the final notes of a great cosmic civilization. In every incarnation, its a fable about hubris, and if we can cover the territory of myth repeatedly, in form after form, it seems not unreasonable to welcome a fresh telling of American myth and our own Atlantis, blown to bits across the cosmos rather than sinking beneath the waves.

"Forever Lazy" - so, are we going "Wall-E" or more "Idiocracy" with this one?

What really caught my attention was that this product pitches itself as essentially creating less work for the user than a Snuggie/ Slanket.

What then caught my attention was that this product has a butt-hatch, and is damned proud of this particular throw-back/ innovation.

Today, I am fascinated with the new product, arrived just in time for cold weather and the holidays - the "Forever Lazy" one-piece garment of regret.

I suppose it would be poor marketing to sell this thing as the "The Official Wardrobe of Just Giving Up".

I love the value statement ideas, like "party it up with friends".  As if I will (a) buy my friends "Forever Lazy" sweat inducers, or (b) that they'd have their own, and think its okay to wear over to my house.  And somehow pitching to people that they can better cuddle with their pets in these outfits speaks to the likely target market I suspect, of people who seek comfort at all times as they watch CBS programming with their 20 cats.

Yes, it WILL be the talk of your next tailgate if you go for broke and wear the thing in public.  It will also be the talk of anyone who walks past your tailgating party and you hear whispers of "was that dude really wearing a 'Forever Lazy' in public?".

I'm not denying that it looks like it would be soft and toasty, but I think you need to do some mental math before deciding you want to be seen in a product that really pitches the ease of pooping while never having to remove the outfit.

Kudos to the actors and models hired for this shoot.  You really sold the idea that donning a "Forever Lazy" will immediately fill one's empty soul with shame and self-loathing.

Les Daniels Merges with the Infinite

I saw some noise on Twitter and am sad to confirm that Les Daniels, writer and comics historian, had passed.

I've read a few books by Les Daniels, now several years ago.  Daniels wrote the books that I still refer to for historical context on DC's Trinity (I pulled the Superman book off the shelf just last month for some fact checking).  I've always understood that he preceded current historians like Hajdu or Gerard Jones, and its certainly not the place where one earns glory in comics.

Likely Daniels' greatest exposure came in the creation of the DC Masterpiece box sets that came out a few years ago that you could pick up at Barnes & Noble or Borders.   Those things were actually pretty amazing, and if you're a comics fan, you missed out if you didn't grab them.  

Mostly, I appreciated Daniels' approach as an historian, not really shying away from some of the goofier or odder sides of the development of characters.  It was from him that I first read about Wonder Woman's origins derived from William Moulton Marston and Marston's particular proclivities.  Its not an approach 95% of the folks currently writing about comics seem to get (or want to get), that these characters we love do not spring whole cloth from the imagination, but from the forces of the time, the forces of personality of creators and the environment and culture that formed the minds of those creators.  

In the end, I don't have much to add about Daniels, other than that he opened my eyes to the sweeping history within the publication of superheroes, and I suspect that he helped build my fascination with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman as more than characters on a page, but as icons of western culture in their own right.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Signal Watch Sports: Longhorns - we aren't totally horrible this year!

This Saturday I attended the UT/ Texas Tech match-up at Darrell K Royal - Memorial Stadium.

Firstly, it was Veteran's Day (observed, I guess) which meant the 82nd Airborne dropped 4 paratroopers into the sky who, to a trooper, landed pretty much dead-center of the field (I literally had no idea that you could be that accurate with a parachute).  They brought the flags AND the game ball.

I feel like such a sucker for just walking into the stadium
And then a pair of F-18's buzzed the stadium at the end of the Star Spangled Banner.  It was AMAZING (I am about 11 years old at the sight of a fighter jet in the sky).  

The point is, UT hit the field, and on the first drive by Texas Tech, I got a bit nervous.  Tech manhandled Oklahoma this year, and we've had issues with Tech in recent years.  Yes, Texas Tech lost last week's game pretty badly, but every week is a fresh start, so I really didn't know what to expect.

Remember, remember...

Before it was a movie that utterly watered down the premise and execution, V for Vendetta was the comic that every mildly disaffected teenager should read.  And then read again every five years, like any book that affects you in your youth.

Its funny what age, experience and the insight derived from both bring to a text you think you know.

I've mixed feelings regarding the fact that both Anonymous and emo teens have adopted the face of Guy Fawkes, a figure who's politics are so of his time and personal issues, that I've never been able to get my head around the morality of his gameplan.  But, really, my trip to England finally got my head around some of how the non-democratized world worked in ye-olde-era in which nations' fates hung upon big-stakes games of "get rich or die tryin'", and how quickly one could end up dead in crowned countries right up til fairly recent history.

Its a far leap from The Gunpowder Plot to the Occupy Wallstreet movement, and I suspect that its the anarchic principles outlined in V the comic and movie that inspire the mask.

I watch Anonymous with a sort of detached interest.  How does one condone vigilantism, be it on the internet or elsewhere?  How does one not smile a bit when you see masked Trickster agents befuddling folks who believe they've got it all under control (and profit from keeping it that way)?  But cringe when you see that same merry approach to chaos used without wisdom or restraint?

But, hell, I heard this week they might be targeting M13?  That would be remarkable.

Between you and me, I do not want either governments or corporations who do not tremble a little at the thought of what the unwashed masses can do.

There's an argument to be made about Mystery Men, here, as well, of wondering about the morality of a Superman or Batman who can disappear into the shadows by putting on glasses or pulling off a cowl.  And its interesting to see the masks appear at rallies, online, on posters...  If you don't know who we are...?  you've given us a playing field in which we know more than you do, and we know how to make it hurt...

And maybe that's what I find fascinating about this return to a 1938 Superman, brash and dangerous, as likely to make mistakes as a drunken bull perusing a china shop.  Its amusing how some readers find this idea unsettling, and I think that's the energy the character likely exuded back in the day, that captured the imagination of street kids with clear moral compasses, but the lack of experience or knowledge to understand how complicated the world can become, or understand the concept of compromise.

So, let us all remember, remember...

It was surely about justice in the mind of Mr. Fawkes.  Or at least a moral obligation to the church and/ or crown.  But there's always a fine line between anarchic justice and terrorism, isn't there?  You don't see me striking back against those with whom I disagree with cyber-attacks or by burning down their office cubes.

Its not the way I prefer to engage with those with whom I disagree.  But it doesn't mean you can't enjoy seeing someone get tweaked now and again.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Happy Freaking Friday

oh, you want a post?  You want the content machine to entertain you on your Friday?

Where's your part in this whole operation?  I give and I give and I give...


Sometimes it seems like...  its just me blogging here.  Just me pondering Silver Age Superman's relationship with his latest publishing venture...  just me espousing the virtues of Frankenstein...  or searching for semi-tasteful shots of pin-ups girls in holiday themes...

I don't know.  I just don't know anymore.

Well, ENJOY!  Enjoy this post.  I hope you're happy, Mr. "Oh, look at me reading this blog!" fancy-pants.

I'm nowhere ready for blogicide, but I'm a bit burnt out at the moment, Signal Corps.  Give me a few days to recoup.  Forget that my efforts are being hurled into a bottomless chasm of meaninglessness, and maybe... just maybe...  we'll be back at normal operating speed come Monday.

Here's a large goat.  How do goats even get this big?

What do they eat at that size?  Meat?  Where do they live?  This looks like the Alps.

I really don't know much about goats that I didn't learn in a cartoon.

Today I was in a library at a medical school, and they literally have a room just full of rubber models of body parts, and nobody thought this was amazing or funny.

I think I've hit one of those periods I find myself in every so often where I realize I'm just spending too much time online for reasons I can't put my finger on, and its time to crank it back down.

You're all terrific people and goats, but...  I have no idea what I'm doing here this evening.

We'll have a quiet weekend, and maybe we'll see you on Monday.