One of the things I've learned as I've grown older is that time really does pass more quickly. Case in point: It's been 10 years since George Harrison died at the age of 58. I'm not going to claim it seems like yesterday, but the moment is still fresh in my mind. It feels like a couple years ago.
It was one of those surprises that shouldn't have been a surprise, especially for anyone who kept up with Beatles news. Everyone was aware of Harrison's struggles with cancer, but still it was a shock. There'd been a rumor he was nearing the end earlier that year, and of course he promptly denied it, but it had also been widely reported that his health never quite returned after he was attacked in his home by a crazed intruder in 1999. Still, hearing the news for the first time, it was a shock.
Harrison's contributions to The Beatles are well-documented, so I'm not going to bore you by re-stating all the reasons he was such a great guitarist or why he was an under-appreciated songwriter in the world's greatest band. What was always coolest about George to me was that after The Beatles disbanded, he put out not just his first solo album, but a 23-track triple album that would ultimately be viewed both as his masterpiece and arguably the finest solo work released by any of The Beatles.
When I first sat down to put together my top 10 favorite George Harrison solo songs, I thought it would be easy to just run through my 10 favorite tracks from that album, but happily, George left a wealth of great music behind...
1. "Beware of Darkness," (All Things Must Pass, 1970)
2. "What Is Life," (All Things Must Pass, 1970)
3. "Stuck Inside a Cloud," (Brainwashed, 2002)
4. "All Things Must Pass," (All Things Must Pass, 1970)
5. "Blow Away," (George Harrison, 1979)
6. "All Those Years Ago," (Somewhere In England, 1981)
7. "Cheer Down," (single a-side, 1989)
8. "Try Some Buy Some," (Living In the Material World, 1973)
9. "I Live for You," (All Things Must Pass, 1970)
10. "Crackerbox Palace," (33 1/3, 1977)
And finally, Martin Scorcese has put together a documentary about George called Living In the Material World. Here's the trailer, along with a couple videos:
There's one of those huge hardcover books out collecting the first chunk of John Byrne's magnificent run on Fantastic Four, and it's nice to see such an incredible getting its due in that manner. I'm kind of over the whole oversized omnibus thing myself – they make great shelf furniture, but they're impractical for actually sitting in bed and reading – but I have such enduring affection for Byrne's FF work that I went back and forth over purchasing it as I paged through it at the store recently. Ultimately, I chose to pass and just went home and pulled out a stack of the original comics.
Fantastic Four hit issue #600 recently, and I flipped through that at the store, too. I'm a big fan of Jonathan Hickman's work, but as much as I love the FF, the first thing that struck me about that particular issue was how uninteresting the cover was. Or rather, covers. Images of the FF running... where? Doing... what? Looking purposefully staged, mainly.
And that took me back to John Byrne.
Byrne did some fantastic covers way back in the 20th century when I was first discovering comics. Prior to his run on Fantastic Four, there were a lot of comics he drew that he didn't do the covers for – Avengers #181 stands out as something I always remember as having a Byrne cover, when in fact it was drawn by George Perez, echoing one of Byrne's pages from the interior - but the covers he did draw, particularly on books like Avengers and Uncanny X-Men, were almost always phenomenal.
I could spend a week posting about my favorite Byrne Fantastic Four covers, but instead, here's a small mix of favorites covering his work that affected me the most back then. More and more often, I encounter comics fans or professionals who tells they're not familiar with some of these comics. Considering the earliest of them were published over 30 years, I suppose that's only natural, but all the same, I enthusiastically recommend seeking them out if you're not familiar with them...
My first issue of Fantastic Four was not #1. That comic came out in 1961, a little over seven years before I was born. I didn't even start reading comics until 1975.
When I did, I started with Incredible Hulk #192, not Incredible Hulk #1.
Incredible Hulk #192 wasn't particularly noteworthy in any respect, but it was interesting enough that it made me want to read more comics. And the next comics I got were not first issues, either. They were Captain America #193 and Marvel Team-Up #43.
I'm pretty sure the significance of first issues didn't even occur to me until I was exposed to reprints. Comics like Marvel Tales, Marvel's Greatest Comics and Marvel Triple Action used to feature a small note on the first page that said "Originally presented in..." and then listed an issue number for Amazing Spider-Man or Fantastic Four or The Avengers. And then, of course, there were actual books that reprinted the first issues of all my favorites, things like Origins of Marvel Comics and Son of Origins of Marvel Comics. I seem to recall talking about finding the actual comics and it was then my Dad told me the older issues of the comics I loved so much, and especially the first issues, cost more than new comics. They were collectible – valuable.
I don't think I bought the first issue of anything new until 1979. I remember buying ROM #1,Amazing Adventures #1, Fantasy Masterpieces #1 and Tales to Astonish #1 all at the same time. A month or so later, I bought She-Hulk #1. Three of those books – Amazing Adventures,Fantasy Masterpieces and Tales to Astonish – were reprint titles, re-presenting the first issues of X-Men, Silver Surfer and Sub-Mariner. I think I eventually bought two issues of ROM and two issues of Tales to Astonish. I followed Amazing Adventures for a little while, because I was really into the X-Men in general, but I didn't buy a second issue of She-Hulk orFantasy Masterpieces.
See, by that time – a mere four years after I'd first fallen in love with comics – I'd developed what I suppose you might call a more sophisticated palate. I knew I preferred the work of certain writers and artists over others, and I knew a little about the history of my favorite characters and titles. I'd read a lot of truly great Fantastic Four stories by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in Marvel's Greatest Comics, so the current issues suffered by comparison. I'd discovered, both through reprints and current issues, Daredevil just wasn't very interesting, period. And the X-Men? Well, no offense to Stan & Jack, but the X-Men were clearly at their best, thanks to John Byrne. I had no desire to own X-Men #1, or even the first appearance of the new X-Men in Giant-Size X-Men #1; I was only interested in the X-Men as drawn by John Byrne.
The first issue of Daredevil I really paid attention to was #183. I'd bought scattered issues over the years, but after not paying attention to comics at all for almost two years, that was one of the first comics to catch my eye. The cover depicted Daredevil being shot point blank in the gut by The Punisher, after all.
I didn't know much about The Punisher. I'd seen him in a couple issues of Amazing Spider-Manand he had a cool costume. Reading Daredevil #183, though, I realized he wasn't just another villain, and I realize Daredevil wasn't just another superhero comic. It was really good, and the guy writing and drawing it – Frank Miller – was amazing. So I looked around and foundDaredevil #182, and that was the one that really did it. Matt Murdock was mourning the death of his lost love, Elektra. Who was Elektra? She'd apparently died in a recent issue. I needed to know more, so I started buying other issues. I found #180 here, #178 there. I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit that I acquired #174 when a kid left it behind after class one day.
Back then, there were double-page ads in the middle of many Marvel Comics that advertised back issues, sold by Mile High Comics. Daredevil #158 was listed as the first Miller issue. #168 was the first Elektra. Suddenly, I knew exactly which issues I was looking for, and none of them were Daredevil #1.
Now, as I said, I'd lost touch with comics for a couple years. Sometime in late '79, my interest just dried up. Some of that was down to the fact I was moving – from elementary school to junior high, from Washington to North Carolina – but also, I just didn't like what was going on in a many of my favorite comics.
But then I found Fantastic Four #242 on a family trip.
Written and drawn by John Byrne, that comic single-handedly pulled me back into comics. I loved the art, I loved the story – it had the same flavor as the old FF stories by Stan & Jack, but with a contemporary edge. I wasted no time tracking down earlier issues until I reached Byrne's starting point – Fantastic Four #232. It seemed that with very little fanfare, Byrne had simply come onto the book, assessed its the problems and then just started telling better stories. With that one issue, the comic I loved was immediately transformed from this thing I'd drifted away from to a book I couldn't wait to read. And it wasn't a first issue, it was #232.
Roger Stern, Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin jump-started Doctor Strange with #48. The artwork of Paul Smith reinvigorated a faltering Uncanny X-Men with #165. Walt Simonson made Thor a must-read title with #337. Amazing Spider-Man suddenly became interesting again when Roger Stern and John Romita, Jr. did a story called "Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut!" in issue #229 and then followed it up a few issues later with the introduction of the Hobgoblin in #238. A little over year later, things got even more interesting when Spider-Man got a new black costume, not in a new #1, but in issue #252.
Fantastic Four #1? I've read it. I have it reprinted in several books. I've even owned an original copy. As a piece of Marvel Comics history and the starting point for the Marvel Universe, it's pretty neat. As far as good issues of Fantastic Four go, however, it's right down near the bottom. If it were a Beatles song, it'd be "Love Me Do" – things only got better from there.
With almost great comic, the really good stuff came after the first issue. Finding that good stuff is part of what made reading and collecting comics fun. Learning more about the characters and the worlds they lived in was part of what set comics apart from virtually everything else.
Now everything starts over with a new number one.
New writer? New number one.
New direction? New number one.
Nothing new whatsoever, but in need of a sales boost? New number one.
Presently, it's conventional wisdom that current readers like number ones because they like having a beginning, a clear starting point. It has even been argued that even if a later issue is marketed as a clear starting point, that's still not good enough. X-Men #94, Thor #337, The Saga of the Swamp Thing #21, Fantastic Four #232, Daredevil #158 – none of those comics would stand a chance today, because today's readership is considered so stupid they can't tell what a clear starting point is unless there's a #1 on the front cover.
I personally think readers are more savvy than that, whether they're long-time readers or someone completely new to the medium. I think long-time readers know enough to realize that when a book is re-booted with a new number one, by the time an important anniversary rolls around – #300, for instance, or maybe #600 or #1000 – that book will return to its original numbering. I think they realize that, ultimately, starting over at number one is a marketing gimmick, a ploy designed to grab their attention and, most importantly, their money.
Making sure a long-running comic is both entertaining and accessible takes work, but we are living with the results of the alternative. It's easy to say times have changed or tastes have changed, but the reality of the situation is that, sadly, standards have changed.
A wise man once said that every issue is someone's first issue. Comics, written as episodic fiction, once managed to move a story forward on a monthly basis whilst simultaneously providing all the information necessary for potential new readers. Even if the issue in question was part of a larger storyline, a new reader could pick up a comic book and understand what was happening and who everyone was by the end of that issue.
One can argue that today's comics are more complex, that the level of writing is more sophisticated, but in the past, even the worst comics were capable of doing this on a monthly basis. The best did it so well, many of them are still viewed as high water marks for the medium today.
As it turns out, my first of Fantastic Four was #172. It was the second part of what a five-part story involving Galactus, the High Evolutionary and a golden gorilla named Gorr. I read it so many times the cover came off and I drew my own version of the cover to replace it. It wasn't the most remarkable issue of the series, but it was as powerful a revelation as my first kiss.
I've read better issues of Fantastic Four since then, and better comics in general, but for me, Fantastic Four #172 is still number one.
Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds played in San Francisco last night. I love the album, but it actually took a bit of prodding to get me out to this, mainly because I associate the venue with musicals like Wicked and not full-on rock shows. I'm glad I went, though, because even as a longtime fan of Gallagher and his former band, Oasis, I was kind of blown away.
The set was dominated by songs from the new album – in fact they played all but one track ("Stop the Clocks") from it. And apart from salting in the odd new song (the excellent "Freaky Teeth," from next year's collaboration with Amorphous Androgynous), b-side ("The Good Rebel") and a smattering of Oasis tracks (opener "It's Good to Be Free," "Mucky Fingers," "Half a World Away," "Wonderwall," "Supersonic," "Talk Tonight," "Little by Little," "The Importance of Being Idle" and triumphant closer "Don't Look Back In Anger"), they played it in order.
I saw Oasis a couple times, the last at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, when they were touring Dig Out Your Soul, and it occurred to me then that Liam Gallagher's voice was thoroughly shot. 17 years on from Definitely Maybe, however, Noel sounds better than ever. His songwriting was always Oasis' strength, but he is really coming into his own as a singer – and a frontman. He joked with the audience throughout the show (lots of "Occupy" jokes – "They're fucking occupying that balcony tonight, aren't they?") and seemed incredibly relaxed playing a more intimate space. And while he certainly didn't need to play "Wonderwall" and "Supersonic," the fact that he did so by stripping them down to new bare bones arrangements was a welcome surprise.
All in all, a very impressive outing for the clear winner in the Oasis split. If you have the opportunity to see them, do it.
I've written before that the protest song was in much better help during the 1980s, but this morning I woke up with some of the lyrics from this song by Paul Weller's Style Council in my head. I was first reminded of it Friday night after a friend who'd participated in the Occupy Oakland protests recently recounted how the news helicopters disappeared just before the police unleashed their full force on the protesters. I was reminded again when I read various reports yesterday, of passive protestors at UC Davis being subjected to pepper spray by campus security.
The song, from 1985's Our Favourite Shop, is called "A Stone's Throw Away," and though it was written against the backdrop of the 1984 miner's strike in Thatcherite England, I don't think it's too hard to see the connection...
For liberty there is a cost
It's broken skulls and leather cosh
From the boys in uniform
Now you know whose side they're on
With backing, with blessing
From earthly gods, not heaven
A stone's throw away from it all.
Whatever pleasures those who get
From stripping skin with rhino whip
Are the kind that must be stopped
Before their kind take all we've got
With loving, with caring
They take great pride in working
The stone's throw away from it all.
Wherever honesty persists
You'll hear the snap of broken ribs
Of anyone who'll take no more
Of the lying basards' roar
In Chile, in Poland, Johannesburg, South Yorkshire
A stone's throw away, now we're there.
The Style Council played the song live on their 1985 Internationalists tour, and this is from a show toward the end of the tour, at Wembley Arena that December:
I was living in (then, West) Germany at the time, and was fortunate to catch the Council live is Ludwigshafen that October. It was the first time I'd seen The Style Council and overall, an incredible night out, but the performance of "A Stone's Throw Away" was particularly striking: Weller solo, forsaking the elegance of the string quartet that accompanied him on record to simply blast through the song on electric guitar. Somehow it created a heightened sense of urgency and drove the point even further home.
So here's a clip of Weller playing the song on his own during the Australian leg of the tour, earlier that year:
Here's something cool from 28 years ago: The Style Council performing "My Ever Changing Moods," "Headstart for Happiness" and "Hanging on to a Memory" on The Tube. What's particularly interesting about this performance is that it took place well before "My Ever Changing Moods" was released (or even announced) as a single, and while their fourth single, "A Solid Bond in Your Heart" was in the charts...
One of the best parts of my job is seeing cool new comics before they go on sale.
Case in point: Haunt #19.
This is the first issue by the new creative team of Joe Casey and Nathan Fox. They're taking over the book after an 18-issue run by Robert Kirkman, Greg Capullo, Ryan Ottley and Todd McFarlane, and the character itself is the result of a creative collaboration between Robert and Todd. In other words, not an easy act to follow.
But damn. They do it.
And they do it really, really, really well.
Obviously, not everyone was introduced to comics when I was, but reading Haunt #19, for me, even as the guy publishing the book, is like picking up my first Frank Miller Daredevil, or the first issue of Walt Simonson's Thor. It's a complete about-face, in the absolute best way possible.
Even if you don't think you're looking forward to this, well, you are.
It's out November 30. Make sure your shop has a copy reserved for you.
A friend texted me this morning and said, "So... Frank Miller."
My body grew cold with fear: Was Frank Miller dead?
I did a quick search online. Nothing. Then I went to a couple comics book news sites.
And thankfully, Frank Miller is not dead. But I found this.
Needless to say, I do not agree with Frank. Nor do I think knows what the hell he's talking about. Are some of these protestors, as he describes them, "an unruly mob?" Definitely. But a great many of them are actually ordinary working Americans tired of getting the shit end of the stick thanks to the overwhelming influence of corporations on our government. I've seen these people. I know some of these people. They have jobs. They don't live in the parents' basements. Some of them are seniors. Some of them are veterans.
Are they all upstanding citizens? Well, obviously not – there have been some ridiculous acts carried out in the name of these protests, and they're not excusable. But most of the people involved? They're just sick of being told the middle and working classes should shoulder the burden of pain whilst the wealthy get tax breaks and bailouts. And the truth of the matter is, everybody should be sick of that.
Some of the comments on Frank's blog post are a little over the top. People saying he's "dead" to them, or that they're ashamed of him, that he's tarnished their assessment of his work or whatever. That's bullshit, frankly.
For a little while longer, anyway, we live in a country where everyone is free to express his/her opinion, and while I think Frank's views are a little bonkers, that doesn't change the fact that I think he's one of the greatest American comic book creators to ever walk this earth.
I will always have a tremendous amount of respect for Frank Miller's work.
Someone sent me this article about comics writer Bill Mantlo today, and I don't know that there's any better way to describe it than sad.
Bill was the victim of a senseless hit and run accident almost 20 years ago, and since then, he's been the victim of the insurance industry. Some of the comics Mantlo wrote – Marvel Team-Up, Micronauts, Cloak & Dagger – are part of my most cherished comic book memories from my youth (indeed, Marvel Team-Up is one of my very first comics), but even if he wasn't, this is no way to treat anyone.
The full article is here. I highly recommend reading it, whether you have fond memories of Bill Mantlo's comics or not.
And you can find out more about The Hero Initiative here.
This is kind of apropos of nothing, but I was just listening to this and marveling at what a fantastic piece of songwriting it is. So, here's The Divine Comedy doing "Our Mutual Friend," the studio version of which can be found on their 2004 album, Absent Friends. Your life wold be richer for owning it.
This seems like a stupid thing to post, but I'm not on Google+.
I am also not on Facebook, and I am not on LinkedIn.
I am also most definitely not on Myspace.
I bring this up because I get a ridiculous amount of email from people wanting to add me on these things, and that's nice and all, but no thanks. I understand that a great many people love social networking. I do not. I was on Facebook at one point, and Myspace before that. I was even on Friendster, way back when. I even had a Last.fm account at one point.
But I don't now, and nothing against you, but I'm not going to any point in the future, neither near nor distant. You can think that's silly or stupid or whatever, and you're certainly entitled to your own views, but I'm just not interested in that stuff.
Joe Frazier passed away last night at the age of 67.
It's weird the things you learn about yourself as you grow older. I somehow care much more about sports now than I did when I was a kid, and for me, legendary figures like Smokin' Joe Frazier are iconic in a way current sports simply aren't. I couldn't tell you a damn thing about modern boxing – couldn't name a single boxer – but guys like Frazier, Muhammad Ali and George Foreman were heroes of the ring when I was a very young boy in the 1970s.
I wasn't old enough to watch Frazier beat Ali in '71, but I remember the Thrilla in Manila in '75. Frazier lost that fight, but he bested Ali in '71 and at a non-title match at Madison Square Garden in 1974. Ali was a great boxer and an amazing showman, but Frazier was an Olympic class athlete and just incredibly cool.
You're not going to be able to see these images as they were intended in the December issue of Diamond's Previews, because images that include swastikas can't be shown in Germany. With the Glory image, it's just a case of removing the offending iconography, but with the Pigs cover, it's virtually impossible to do that, so the entire image had to be blurred...
This is nothing new. Swastika-laden images have been prohibited from appearing in publications sold in Germany for decades at this point. I'm not sure I understand what the point is, though. World War II did happen, and Nazis did exist. I understand not wanting to encourage modern day Neo-Nazi groups, but censorship isn't a particularly effective weapon against hate groups of any kind. Plus outlawing specific Nazi iconography seems strangely revisionist, as though it's best to just not acknowledge the impact that symbol had, or the evil associated with it.
Once upon a time, a well-known comic book writer told me that he was sick of Nazis being used at default bad guys in movies and comics all the time. Personally, I don't think they can be depicted as villains often enough, and I found it a little offensive that virtually all references to Hitler and the Third Reich were removed from Marvel's Captain America film earlier this year. When Jack Kirby and Joe Simon created Captain America, it was in direct response to current events, to World War II and the villainy of Hitler and the Nazis. The Red Skull was a nazi, not some member of some obscure science cult. The whole point was that the Nazis were the bad guys.
Ignoring the unspeakable acts in our past that make us uncomfortable doesn't accomplish anything but obscuring the hateful truth behind those acts.
1. David Crosby - "Laughing," (If I Could Only Remember My Name, 1971) 2. Neil Young - "I've Been Waiting for You," (Neil Young, 1969) 3. Noel Gallagher - "Dream On," (Noel Gallgher's High Flying Birds, 2011) 4. Simon Townshend - "I'm the Answer," (Sweet Sound, 1983) 5. Stevie Jackson - "Man of God," ((I Can't Get No) Stevie Jackson, 2011) 6. Pulp - "This Is Hardcore," (This Is Hardcore, 1998) 7. Lindsey Buckingham - "Trouble," (Law and Order, 1981) 8. The Beach Boys - "Good Vibrations," (The Smile Sessions, 2011) 9. Pink Floyd - "Wish You Were Here," (Wish You Were Here, 1974) 10. Fleetwood Mac - "She's Changing Me," (Heres Are Hard to Find, 1974)
MTV.com's MTV Geek interviewed Robert Kirkman, Erik Larsen, Todd McFarlane and myself about Image Comics a few weeks back when we were at New York Comic-Con. If you feel like watching it, you're in luck, because I'm pretty sure that's all six segments right down there.
(And it's silly, I know, but I'm kind of amused that we sat down in alphabetical order by last name completely by chance...)
When Brandon Graham first pitched me on having Simon Roy draw Prophet, I have to confess, I wasn't all that familiar with his work. Brandon brought me up to speed right away, though, and I was more or less blown away. You can see more of his wonderful work here, but that up above is his cover for the second issue of Prophet, due out February 2012...
Rudy Van Gelder is one of the, if not the, most important recording engineers in history. He recorded everyone from Miles Davis to Thelonious Monk to John Coltrane, and though he did work for numerous labels, his name is practically synonymous with jazz label Blue Note Records. Record collectors crate-diving for vintage pressings of Blue Note classics always look for his stamp – either "RVG" or simply "VAN GELDER" – and it's almost impossible to over-emphasize the importance of his contributions to the sound quality on the sessions he recorded.
The characteristics of music may have changed over time, but Van Gelder remains admired for his work. There's a quote I read a while back that goes something like, "Rudy Van Gelder's DNA is in every jazz record made today," and that's probably the best way to put it. He's easily the most emulated sound engineer in jazz, if not ever. Obviously, he worked with the very best talent, but one has to wonder how much different an album like A Love Supreme would have sounded if recorded by someone less skilled. Van Gelder was Coltrane's engineer of choice, after all, and I think that alone speaks volumes about this amazing craftsman.
Today is his birthday, and I think it's awesome that, at the age of 87, he remains active, remastering Blue Note albums he originally recorded decades earlier, both for CD and vinyl.
If you're not familiar with Van Gelder's recordings, here are a few of my favorites to look out for, if not on vinyl, then on the 24-bit RVG Edition CDs: