31 May 2012

I'VE GOT MINE

You know what's better than getting new comics on Wednesday? Getting comics that won't be out for another two weeks on Thursday!

Today, we got advances for the first issue of Ken Garing's Planetoid, and I could not be more stoked. A mutual friend of Ken's and mine had turned me on to the book, noting that the first issue was available digitally, but that Ken was looking for a publisher to do the print version. Ken and I exchanged a few emails that afternoon, and bam! we were in business.

It's always thrilling to publish someone like Ken. Planetoid is his first comics work, and I put it in the same league as debuts by Jonathan Hickman and Nate Simpson. Ken does everything – he wrote it, he drew it, he colored it, he lettered it – and whenever I come across someone like that who is just starting out, it's just kind of amazing. And he's just going to get better!


If you haven't seen any pages from Planetoid yet, check 'em out below! It's out June 13.



DOING IT RIGHT

I really like putting faces to the names behind our books. When I was reading comics as a kid, I often had no idea what any of the writers or artists who created my favorite comics looked like. There were illustrations of Stan Lee and other editorial figures every now and then, but it wasn't until the '80s when Jim Shooter started running the occasional photo in Marvel's Bullpen Bulletins pages that I really started to see the people behind the scenes.

Now you can see almost anyone you want, 24 hours a day on the Internet, but I think giving people a glimpse into the working lives of so creative people is a neat idea. This month's "Experience Creativity" ads cover almost the entire spectrum of comic book creativity: Jim McCann is a writer, Rus Wooton is a letterer, Nathan Fox and Ryan Ottley are artists, and Richard Starkings is both a writer and a letterer. (And an artist, actually – you should get a sketch from him next time you see him at a convention!) 

As with so many of the photos we've run since the beginning of the year, there's a lot of variety in this month's images, but what's really interesting is how they each do what they do, the contrast between the old school pen and paper approach and up-to-the-minute technology: You've got Jim and Richard working out story notes in their notebooks, but Rus, Nathan and Ryan are all working digitally on their computers. Even more interesting (to me, anyway) is the fact that even though we're looking at Richard as a writer, scribbling onto his notepad, Rus directly benefits from Richard's influence as a letterer, because Richard pioneered digital lettering with Comicraft back in the '90s. Meanwhile, even though Nathan and Ryan are both hard at work on their computers in these two shots, neither of them are exclusively digital. In fact, the vast majority of Ryan's work is still done the old fashioned way.

No matter how they do what their individual jobs, though, each and everyone of them is clearly doing it right, because the one thing they all have in common is the exceptional quality of their work. Jim first made a name for himself as a writer with Return of the Dapper Men, but he's currently writing an incredible new series called Mind the Gap. It's illustrated by Morning Glories cover artist Rodin Esquejo, and if you haven't had a chance to check out the first issue yet, you should seriously drop what you're doing right now and go find a copy. The second issue is out soon. Nathan, I've written about before, because along with Joe Casey, he's responsible for making Haunt one of the most consistently surprising books on the stands right now. They took over the series #19 and immediately transformed into something completely different from the series creators Todd McFarlane and Robert Kirkman had envisioned, and it just gets better with each issue.

Ryan Ottley and Rus Wooton actually work together – Ryan is the artist behind the best superhero comic in the universe, Invincible, and Rus letters it. Something else that joins them together – and I actually don't think I've told either of them these, mainly out of sheer embarrassment – is the fact I didn't think either of them were right for the book when they started. That wasn't because I didn't like their work. In Ryan's case, Invincible was originally drawn by series co-creator Cory Walker, and I was a huge, huge, HUGE fan of Cory's work. I still am. When he chose to step aside from the book after the first handful of issues, I was convinced that was the end of Invincible. I told Robert I just couldn't see the book continuing to much success without Cory's artwork – the idea of replacing him was just unfathomable to me. Ryan was just starting out at the time, too, so I was comparing Ryan's work to Cory's, and I just didn't get how it was going to work. But work it did, and within issues, I was calling Robert up to sing Ryan's praises.

It was a similar situation with Rus: Robert Kirkman had been lettering the books he wrote since he started publishing through Image, and I was really impressed with his abilities. Often when writers letter their own work, "serviceable" is about as good as it gets, but Robert had a real eye for it. When he told me he'd grown too busy to handle the lettering chores himself, I was disappointed. But he brought Rus on board, and Rus took the style and approach Robert had established for his books and give it a real polish. He's been lettering Robert's books every since, and just as the fan in me looks at the likes of Cory, Ryan and The Walking Dead artist Charlie Adlard as fairly indispensable, I can scarcely imagine how their books would look without Rus...





30 May 2012

IS THERE LIFE AFTER BREAKFAST?

Sometimes when I travel, I feel like I leave behind more than I return home with.

Case in point: Last week, when I was in Ludlow, my friend Paul whipped up an awesome breakfast consisting of Ludlow sausages, locally grown tomatoes and mushrooms and eggs from just across the road, that were literally laid that day. We outside, just feet away from a small stream, our late morning conversation accompanied by the sounds of grazing sheep.

A week later, I'm happy to be home and back to work, but somehow a little unsatisfied with my surroundings and less content in my daily routines than before I left...

WEDNESDAY GIRL

Eva Green

29 May 2012

THAT HOLLYWOOD GLOW

At the Diamond Retailer Summit in Chicago last month, I talked about how excited I am to get into the office and check our orders each day. I wasn't exaggerating: Even though yesterday was a holiday, I spent the better part of it at work.

And yes, the first thing I did when I got in was check the numbers. It was the first thing I did this morning, too.

At this point in the month, we're awaiting initial orders for titles shipping in July. We won't have a final tally for a few days yet, but I like to track the preliminary figures as they come in. I put together a spreadsheet that includes whatever sales info is available, alongside an estimate of where I think the numbers will end up.

So far, there's a lot of good news for Image in the preliminary numbers for July, but the books I'm most interested in at the moment are The Walking Dead #100 and Thief of Thieves #6. Both will experience significant growth from June to July, building on gains made during previous months, and it's interesting to analyze the whys and wherefores behind that. Both are bucking traditional metrics after all: It's far more common for a series' sales to go in the other direction following its debut.

The Walking Dead, in particular has been on a real tear lately. Orders increased almost 25% from issue 96 to 97, making the latter issue the first in the series to sell over 40,000 copies. Issue 98 came in over 50k, and 99 is tracking even higher than that. Issue 100? Well, it's still early, but it looks like it's going to demolish those numbers in ways neither myself nor series creator Robert Kirkman could have ever anticipated. Consider the fact that The Walking Dead #1 came in at just over 7,000 when it launched back in 2003 and the mind reels.

Thief of Thieves, meanwhile, is traveling uphill as well: We're on the fourth printings of issues 1 and 2, and we're doing third printings of 3 and 4. Issue 5 was the highest ordered issue of the series so far, and it's looking like issue 6 is going to top that. It's currently the second best-selling Robert Kirkman title here at Image, easily outpacing the longer running Invincible in sales, not to mention Kirkman's all-ages adventures series Super Dinosaur.

And therein lies the rub.

Both The Walking Dead and Thief of Thieves are good books. I say that not as the guy who publishes them, but as an unabashed fan. Zombies aren't my thing by a long shot – and I think it's well-documented at this point that Image nearly passed on The Walking Dead initially because of its subject matter – but the world Robert has created hinges on far more than mere gore. I think even horror fans would agree that nearly 100 issues in, it's not the zombies that keep them coming back, but the richly developed characters and unpredictable situations. As a long-time fan of crime comics, I was more pre-disposed to Thief of Thieves, but even so, Robert and collaborators Nick Spencer and Shawn Martinbrough are doing amazing work. These two books are seriously two of my favorites in all of comics right now.

But here's the thing: Invincible and Super Dinosaur are just as good.

Though the series numbering would lead you to believe otherwise, Invincible actually started before The Walking Dead. It was Kirkman's second stab at an ongoing superhero series at Image after a short-lived book called Tech Jacket and it launched a full 10 months earlier. It was even ordered higher than The Walking Dead  30% higher, in fact. Today, it sells roughly 30% less than Thief of Thieves. Super Dinosaur sells over 50% less.

Now, if you don't already know what the difference is between these books, don't worry, I'm going to spell it out for you: The Walking Dead is a popular television series on AMC, and it was recently announced that Thief of Thieves is being developed for TV by the same network.

Growth on The Walking Dead had been steady for years, but it spiked with the announcement of the TV series, and then again when the show actually aired. When Season Two concluded, sales spiked so severely we couldn't keep up with demand on the single issues and our trade paperback stock on several volumes was eliminated almost overnight. And even after all that, when AMC staked their claim on Thief of Thieves, we were unprepared for the impact on sales. It has been tough to keep that book in stock.

There are way worse problems to have, obviously, and I'm not complaining, but it is a little disconcerting that the dividing line between The Walking Dead and Thief of Thieves and Invincible and Super Dinosaur is the attention the former two titles have received from Hollywood. Is that a good thing for those books? Absolutely. But it's a bad thing for comics as a whole, when we sit back and let mainstream popularity guide how we as industry order and sell comics and how we as a community buy and collect comics. In essence, we wait for someone outside comics to tell us something is worthwhile before accepting it ourselves.

And that's just plain backwards.

For a little over a decade now, the comic book industry has looked a lot like California during the Gold Rush. There are more and more comic book-based films ever year, there are television shows in the works, video games, and even when comic book properties aren't actually optioned, the writers and artists who make this industry what it is are finding that their talents are just as valuable – if not more so – in other mediums.

Comics is overflowing with creativity – it's what draws other media to our business. They want what we've got.

But despite that, despite the fact comics are viewed more positively now than perhaps ever before, we still crave validation – from Hollywood, from the mainstream press, from anywhere other than our own guts. We seem intent on letting outside forces shape our tastes, but the reality of the situation is that we are the taste makers. Whether it's The Walking Dead, Sin City, Scott PilgrimBatman or The Avengers, we are ahead of the entertainment curve. We create the trends, not the other way around.

So Invincible is an awesome book – anyone who reads it will tell you so – but I guarantee you, the minute it is optioned as a film or goes into development as a television show, it will sell better than it ever has. Super Dinosaur will absolutely increase in sales as soon as there is a cartoon or an animated film or a toy line.

Similarly, look at the sales on licensed comics – on Buffy, or Transformers, or Star Wars. Pit something new and vital and homegrown against one those books and it will lose almost every time. Instead of embracing the cool new thing now, we wait until someone else decides it's the cool new thing somewhere down the line.

In the case of Thief of Thieves, that wound up being a matter of months. With The Walking Dead, it took years. I don't regret the success of either, but like I said – Invincible is just as good. Fatale is just as good. Near Death is just as good. Prophet is just as good. Glory. The Manhattan Projects. Danger Club. Saga. And those are just the books from Image. There are more amazing comics now than ever before, and we shouldn't have to wait for any of them to get the bask in the glow of Hollywood's shimmering lights before they receive the kind of exposure they deserve.

Comics are a power unto themselves, and nobody knows that like we know it. The sooner we realize that, the sooner we can use that power more aggressively to shape this industry in more constructive and sustainable ways. When something like The Walking Dead hits, instead of just enjoying that singular success, we can ensure it carries over to the myriad other comics that could appeal to just as broad a readership.

As a friend said to me earlier today, the Hollywood glow is an afterglow. We have what they want – not tomorrow, but today. It's right here, right now, and in great abundance. Let the rest of world wait to find out about the next big thin when it hits their TV screens or the local cineplex – we have it on the stands now. Grab a copy and find out for yourself.

28 May 2012

WEIRD SUMMER

If you thought the first few issue of Prophet were good, just wait until you see how things develop over the course of this summer. Brandon Graham keeps pushing the series into strange and exciting new directions, and it's turning into one of those series that gets better with each issue.

The amazing Fil Barlow contributed the cover for issue 29, and boy, is it ever a beaut. 

Check it out:


And here's a double-page spread for Prophet #26, which is 100% pure Brandon:

BANK HOLIDAY MONDAY

FOUND FOUND FOUND

Sometimes you have to stop looking to find something.

I had a search saved for this turntable – Sansui's SR-929 – on eBay for close to a year, then yesterday, I was looking for something else... and there it was.

27 May 2012

IF PARADISE IS HALF AS NICE

I'm a city boy at heart, but most of the last week looked like this for me and I loved it:

25 May 2012

TAKE 54

It's Paul Weller's birthday today – he's 54 – and instead of one of my by now predictable top 10 lists, here's the great man answering questions from his fans in what struck me as one of the better interviews I've seen with him online...




...plus another recent one for Absolute Radio...



...and my favorite of his videos spanning five decades...





23 May 2012

WEDNESDAY GIRL

Tao Okamoto

21 May 2012

ARE YOU READY FOR THE COUNTRY?

As many times I've been to the UK, I've spent scant little time outside London. Today, though, I'm heading up to Ludlow for a couple days...

There's a particular appeal to the English countryside for me that comes from late '60s music lore and that whole notion of bands like Traffic and Humble Pie getting it together in the country, so of course, there are specific songs in my head as I prepare for my journey north. These are the 10 best...

1. Traffic - "John Barleycorn," (John Barleycorn Must Die, 1970)
2. Ronnie Lane's Slim Chance - "Harvest Home," (One for the Road, 1975)
3. Pink Floyd - "A Pillow of Winds," (Meddle, 1971)
4. Stephen Duffy & The Lilac Time - "Pruning the Vine," (Runout Groove, 2007)
5. Humble Pie - "Down Home Again," (Town and Country, 1969)
6. The Jam - "Tales from the Riverbank," (single b-side, "Absolute Beginners," 1981)
7. Led Zeppelin - "Tangerine," (Led Zeppelin III, 1970)
8. Fleetwood Mac - "Sunny Side of Heaven," (Bare Trees, 1972)
9. The Incredible String Band - "Way Back in the 1960s," (The 5000 Spirits of the Layers of the Onion, 1967)
10. Van Morrison - "Everyone," (Moondance, 1970)

20 May 2012

SUNDAY'S PRETTY ICONS

Tammi Terrell and Marvin Gaye

18 May 2012

ANNIE

As you may have noticed, I've been fixating a bit on The Like lately. Their 2010 album Release Me, has been an almost permanent fixture on both turntable and iPod alike over the past couple weeks, and every time I listen to it, I lament the fact the world didn't appreciate them enough. That record is something of a minor masterpiece in my opinion – so many great songs about the trials and tribulations of adolescent love, all filtered through through the rosy lens of classic '60s songwriting values. I was talking to Sina Grace – also a fan, and perhaps not coincidentally, friends with a couple of the girls in the band – about Release Me recently, and despite the fact he's in his 20s and I'm in my 40s, we both respond to the songs in very much the same way. That's probably because we – like untold others – have lived through the situations laid out in these songs. I mean, listen to "Walk of Shame" or "Release Me" and tell me you haven't been there.

The Like looked fantastic, too, and none of them more so than keyboard player Annie Monroe. Of course, that may be because there's simply more of her too look at: She has done a fair share of modeling work, and most of the above images were taken by her boyfriend, photographer James D. Kelly. Annie's personal style is such that these photos could easily be mistaken for snapshots from the '60s, and Kelly has a real knack for presenting Annie as something of the quintessential Mod goddess. That she isn't more well-known is a genuine mystery to me, and the fact that alongside the equally stylish and photogenic Z Berg, Tennesse Thomas and Laena Geronimo The Like didn't take the world by storm whilst lesser talents have gone on to international fame and fortune is nothing short of confounding.

17 May 2012

MR. RICHARD

And here's something a bit more current from Old Blighty: two tracks from the new album by Richard Hawley, Standing at the Sky's Edge. A bit of a departure from the sound he perfected on Cole's Corner, Lady's Bridge and Truelove's Gutter, but every bit as majestic...


GOOD MORNING BRITAIN

I'm back in the UK for my second visit in three months, this time for the Kapow! show that is happening this Saturday and Sunday. I've spent an inordinate amount of time listening to The Like recently, but this morning, I've got Britpop on the brain. These are the 10 tracks that sum the mid-'90s up the best for me:

1. Blur - "Popscene," (single a-side, 1993)
2. Stephen Duffy - "London Girls," (Duffy, 1995)
3. Elastica - "Connection," (Elastica, 1995)
4. Suede - "Metal Mickey," (Suede, 1993)
5. The Charlatans - "Just When You're Thinkin' Things Over," (The Charlatans, 1995)
6. Ocean Colour Scene - "The Day We Caught the Train," (Moseley Shoals, 1996)
7. Gene - "Be My Light, Be My Guide," (single a-side, 1994)
8. Pulp - "Sorted for E's & Wizz," (Different Class, 1995)
9. Oasis - "Some Might Say," ((What's the Story) Morning Glory?, 1995)
10. Supergrass - "Sitting Up Straight," (I Should Coco, 1995)





14 May 2012

LOVE AND MARRIAGE

Once upon a time, I was a married man.

I put it like that, because this was way back in the 1990s, and it seems like a lifetime ago. There are, in fact, times I forget I was married altogether. And I don't say that to be glib, but because the time that has elapsed since my divorce is now almost triple the time I was married.

We got married too young.

We met when I was just a couple years out of high school, and then lived together for close to five years before actually tying the knot. I was only 25 then – and I was but 30 when we filed for divorce. All in all, we were together just around 10 years.

After that, I was in two long-term relationships: The first one, immediately after my divorce, lasted three years; the other lasted seven. Since then, well, women have come and gone, but I think it's safe to say I've been in little danger of getting married again over the last little while.

I've been known to joke about not getting married again, but it's never because I think marriage itself is a joke. It's more because getting divorced was so incredibly painful.

I asked for the divorce, and there has never been a day I thought I made the wrong decision, but it was easily the most unpleasant experience I've endured in my entire life. It took a year for the divorce to finalize, but it wasn't until many, many years after that I actually recovered from that ordeal. And I know for a fact the two relationships I was in after that suffered tremendously as a result.

So, to cut a potentially longer story off at the pass: I'd gladly get married again. I'm not so keen on a second divorce.

If you've been divorced, you likely know the feeling. And statistically, it's likely you have been divorced – something like 50% of all marriages end that way nowadays.

For the most part, we go into those unions full of love and with the best intentions, but at some point, love breaks down, and our lives are torn asunder. Sometimes, things simply don't work out.

That doesn't stop people from getting married.

And it shouldn't.

Countless people get married and that's that. Many people have happy marriages. My own parents – married as teens, no less – are still together, decades on now, and spending time with them is an absolute joy. In fact, most of the people I know who are together for the long haul seem incredibly happy. I'll poke fun at them sometimes, because they can't go out drinking or go to the movies or brunch, dinner, whatever, but I only kid with them because to admit the obvious – that I'm actually rather envious – is somehow the less appealing alternative.

Marriage is important, though, and I think that anytime two people are genuinely in love and want to share their lives together, it's one of the most amazing things in the world. And I won't lie: I wish I could experience that.

More to the point, I wish everyone could experience that, because if two people are joined together in life, then that's two fewer people in this world that aren't divided.

And it shouldn't matter if it's man and woman, man and man, or woman and woman. If two people love each other and want to make this world a better place by coming together through marriage, there is absolutely no rational explanation for standing in their way. It makes no sense at all to prevent two people who want to share their lives together, who want to build a family, from fulfilling their dreams.

However, there are some – and I suspect we're going to hear a lot from them over the weeks and months to come – who would argue that allowing everyone the same rights is a threat to the institution of marriage. Their arguments are nothing new, but this is an election year, and last week President Obama stated once and for all his belief that marriage is a right that should be shared by everyone.

Looking at today's headlines, I see a lot of them are about "gay marriage" and "same-sex marriage," and it's true – that's what is being debated. What's really at stake here, though, is equality, because right now, there is a group of people who are being denied the same rights as others. Gay couples are being told they can't get married, that they somehow aren't the same as straight couples and should not enjoy the same rights.
That's wrong.

But it's nothing new for our beleaguered nation, because just like I was married once upon a time, there was also a far-flung time when women couldn't vote, where basic civil rights were not shared by African Americans, and when interracial marriage was illegal.

Times changed, though, those wrongs were made right, and I think most of us would agree we're all the better for those changes.
"Gay marriage," "same-sex marriage" – ultimately, it's just "marriage," and we shouldn't be creating laws to prevent it – we should be looking for ways to encourage it.

Rules and laws exist to prevent bad behavior. Stealing is bad behavior. Assault is bad behavior. Vandalism. Child abuse. Murder. Molestation. I could go on and on.

But marriage?

Speaking as someone who has tried it and failed, marriage is model behavior – something to strive for.

13 May 2012

SUNDAY'S PRETTY ICONS

The Like, 2010: Tennesse Thomas, Z Berg, Laena Geronimo, Annie Monroe

MUSIC FOR MY MOTHER

Today is, of course, Mother's Day.

I love my own Mother dearly – she is, in fact, one of my favorite people in the whole wide world – but I've always had a hard time with "Hallmark holidays" like Mother's Day and Father's Day. If you're not familiar with the phrase, the implication is pretty simple: Both holidays are really more about increasing profits for greeting card companies, florists, etc., than anything else. There's something not quite genuine about all that in my eyes, and I really just can't stand the fact I receive record levels of junk mail (physical and electronic) urging me to buy, buy, buy in order to show my affection and appreciation. My Mom knows I love her and think she's awesome – she doesn't need to get a card that says that on a specific day.

That said, she probably doesn't need a top 10 list of my favorite songs with "mother" in the title, either, but I've gone and compiled one anyway...

1. The Beatles - "Your Mother Should Know," (Magical Mystery Tour EP, 1967)
2. The Divine Comedy - "Mother Dear," (Victory for the Comic Muse, 2006)
3. Manic Street Preachers - "Are Mothers Saints?" (Life Becoming a Landslide EP, 1994)
4. Pink Floyd - "Mathilde Mother," (The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, 1967)
5. Humble Pie - "Every Mother's Son," (Town and Country, 1969)
6. Kelley Stoltz - "Mother Nature," (Circular Sounds, 2008)
7. Sly & The Family Stone - "Mother Beautiful," (Small Talk, 1974)
8. The Decemberists - "My Mother Was a Chinese Trapeze Artist," (5 Songs EP, 2001)
9. Sleeper - "Dress Like Your Mother," (The It Girl, 1996)
10. Tears For Fears - "Mothers Talk," (Songs from the Big Chair, 1985)


11 May 2012

REPEAT

This is old content – originally written in August 2011 – but a couple people suggested I re-publish this in light of my post regarding Jack Kirby from earlier in the week. Similarly, a couple friends have asked me about Jack, and what role he really played in the creation and development of the Marvel Universe. It's easy to forget sometimes that even if somebody grew up reading comics, they didn't necessarily pay as close attention to what was happening behind-the-scenes as those of us who wound up working in the business. In many cases, they have no idea who created which characters or what battles have been fought for creator's rights. Sometimes they know the name "Jack Kirby," sometimes they don't. They nearly always know who Stan Lee is, though, and in most cases, they just assume he was the lone creative genius behind Marvel Comics. And they're always surprised to learn that's not the whole story...

THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT

Jack Kirby's birthday was Sunday, but I was flying back from Toronto that day and once I got home, I was too tired to write anything of substance about anything, let alone one of the most important men to ever put pencil to paper in the name of comic books. I thought about Jack Kirby, that day, though, because to a large extent, he created the world I live in.

The comics he created, first with Joe Simon, then with Stan Lee and then later on his own, speak for themselves:

Captain America
The Boy Commandos
Boys' Ranch
Young Romance
Fighting American
Challengers of the Unknown
The Fantastic Four
The Incredible Hulk
The Mighty Thor
Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos
Iron Man
The X-Men
Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Silver Surfer
New Gods
The Forever People
Mister Miracle
The Demon
Kamandi
OMAC
The Eternals
The Black Panther
Machine Man
Devil Dinosaur
Captain Victory
Silver Star
Destroyer Duck

Some were hits, some were misses, and I'm likely leaving many out. I'm also not counting up the number of characters he created or co-created that never headlined their own series. Nobody has generated the sheer number of series and ideas that Jack Kirby developed whilst working in comics. You can say you don't care for his artwork. You can say you don't care for the comics themselves. But there's no denying the amount of work he generated or the impact that work had on the business of making comics.

And nowhere was that impact more greatly felt than Marvel Comics.

Between 1961 and 1970, Jack Kirby, working alongside writer and editor Stan Lee, literally saved Marvel Comics from going out of business. What's more, he and Lee created the framework for a gigantic entertainment company with a library of characters so great it was bought by the entertainment company to end all entertainment companies, Disney. Yes, there were other artists working at Marvel during that period, and Steve Ditko most certainly had a hand in the creation and success of Spider-Man, but it was Fantastic Four that launched the Marvel Age of Comics. People say "and the rest is history" a lot. In the case of what Stan & Jack started with the F.F., that's 100% true.

Jack Kirby left Marvel Comics in 1970, though, by all accounts frustrated by the amount of credit Stan Lee got for work they did together. Sure, he was Jack "King" Kirby, but Jack could see the writing on the wall at the House of Ideas and it said "Stan Lee Presents."

At this point, it's a decades-old dispute pitting Stan vs. Jack. There was even a court case recently, decided in Marvel's favor, and no matter what your position, it all ignores the very simple fact that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created those characters together. It's mind-boggling that so many people have trouble acknowledging that fact, or that Stan Lee has brazenly laid claim to an entire backlog of characters and concepts that were the result of a partnership. But just to the left of the desk I'm typing this at, there's a shelf filled with vintage Marvel paperback collections from the '70s and the revisionism is as plain as day:

Origins of Marvel Comics by Stan Lee
Son of Origins of Marvel Comics by Stan Lee
Bring on the Bad Guys by Stan Lee
The Superhero Women by Stan Lee
Marvel's Greatest Superhero Battles by Stan Lee
The Amazing Spider-Man by Stan Lee
The Fantastic Four by Stan Lee
Doctor Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts by Stan Lee
Captain America, Sentinel of Liberty by Stan Lee
The Incredible Hulk by Stan Lee

When I first started reading comics, Jack Kirby's artwork stood out. I loved Fantastic Four and when I discovered Jack's work on the book through the reprints of his issues in Marvel's Greatest Comics, I somehow knew those stories were better than the current series. If Jack did the cover on something, I bought it. I remember being disappointed by issue after issue of Invaders because there were all these great Jack Kirby covers, but he never drew a page of the interiors. And it didn't take me long to figure out how important he was to Marvel Comics.

I grew up wondering why it never said "Stan Lee & Jack Kirby Presents" on the books, or simply "created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby." And when I was older and began hearing about Jack's struggles to have his artwork returned to him from Marvel, I couldn't help but be amazed at how shoddily he was being treated by the very company he'd helped save from almost certain doom at the beginning of the '60s.

Marvel Comics would not exist as it is today, if at all, without Jack Kirby. There would be no Fantastic Four to celebrate it's 50th anniversary. There would be no Thor movies, no Captain America movies, no X-Men: First Class. There would be no Avengers to be disassembled and then re-assembled and then thrown into a Civil War or pitted against a Secret Invasion. No Human Torch to die in the Negative Zone. No Iron Man, no Ultimates, no Ant Man, no Hulk. No Nick Fury for Samuel L. Jackson to reinvent onscreen.

And yes, a hundred times yes, Stan Lee was part of all that, too, but if you can't see the incredible injustice that has been done by essentially reducing Jack Kirby's roll in the development of the Marvel Universe to that of a guy who drew a bunch of cool comics, then you don't have a soul.

I know I wouldn't be working in comics if not for the impact Jack Kirby's work had on my life.

If you work at Marvel Entertainment in any capacity, multiply that impact by something like a million.

09 May 2012

YOU'RE WITH STUPID NOW

James Sturm wrote a great piece about why he's boycotting the Avengers film for Slate, and while I recommend reading that, what I really want to bring people's attention to are the moronic remarks in the comments section. It's essentially the incoherent rambling of people with no sense of history and no sense of right or wrong, people content to mindlessly carry water for the all-too common notion that we should all just lap up whatever shit comes down the pipe.

The comment that best sums up the relentless ignorance and negativity for me is this one:

"Wait, so we should boycott Marvel because it acted like a company?

"I feel for the Kirby family, but if I boycotted every company that did everything anti-ethical I'd be, like, living in a hole in the ground and trying to weave clothing out of bark. No corporation is clean, period."

Except... that's not exactly true. In fact, I'd argue it's quite far from the truth.

While I certainly don't adhere to Mitt Romney's mistaken notion that corporations are people, too, I likewise don't buy into the belief that all corporations are inherently evil. It's not a black and white world, and there's good and bad on both ends of the spectrum. What's more, there's are stark differences between evil and greed, between malevolence and irresponsibility. I would never argue that Marvel is evil, but as I've noted in in the past, I think the fact Jack Kirby has never been rightfully credited or adequately compensated as the co-creator of many of Marvel's most popular characters is not only reprehensible, but incredibly irresponsible.

Beyond that, though, this ongoing resignation to blindly accept things as they are, no matter how bad, is both frustrating and disturbing. Once upon a time, the United States was a country that celebrated individual achievement, yet in this thread of comments, we have dozens of people not only defending Marvel's historically poor treatment of a man who literally saved the company for all but certain doom, but denigrating him in the process. There is absolutely no respect or compassion is shown for a man who worked himself up from poverty to follow his dreams. No  sympathy for a man who literally survived the battlefields of Word War II and then returned home to become one of the greatest figures in the history of American comics, only to be treated so shabbily by the company he helped transform from sinking ship to soaring titan.

At one point – and I'm paraphrasing here – someone says he never cared for Kirby's artwork, so who gives cares if Marvel gave him a raw deal. There are people arguing they Kirby knew the deal when he "signed up" to work for Marvel, seemingly unaware of the fact that Stan Lee knew the deal as well, but was somehow rewarded differently. One commenter goes so far as to repeatedly insist Kirby was not involved in the creation of characters like The Avengers at all, despite the fact there is ample evidence to the contrary.

Remarkably, there are other, even less informed opinions aired in this thread, and it's something of a testament to just how pointless comments sections seem at times. It's just people talking to be heard, regardless of the fact they clearly don't understand what they've read and have nothing of value to say. It's a sad commentary not just on Internet culture, but on our society as a whole when people wear their ignorance and intolerance almost as a badge of honor. Mob rule by a bunch of people in "I'm with stupid"shirts, all so willfully clueless they never stop to think the person next to them is wearing one, too.

"Wait, so we should boycott Marvel because it acted like a company?

"I feel for the Kirby family, but if I boycotted every company that did everything anti-ethical I'd be, like, living in a hole in the ground and trying to weave clothing out of bark. No corporation is clean, period."

What utter bullshit.

I addressed this somewhat in an earlier post, but seriously, when did we become such a cowardly society? When did we decide nothing is worth fighting for? That there is no right and no wrong – that morals, ethics and manners are essentially meaningless?

I don't think boycotts are the answer to every problem, but you know what? I don't begrudge people like James Sturm or Steve Bissette for advocating them. Boycotts can be effective, and a lot of good has been done, not just in this country, but around the world, when people have come together to their voices heard. Meanwhile, name a single great advance that was the result of cynical fools shaking their heads in contempt while someone else stood up for what they believed to be right. Nothing ever changed by just sitting back and accepting bad behavior.

And from my perspective, buying into the notion that Stan Lee was the sole creator of the Marvel Universe is encouraging bad behavior. As Sturm points out in his piece, Marvel was not a one-man show. Jack Kirby co-created those characters. Steve Ditko co-created those characters. But Lee received much better treatment than either of them, and with Marvel's full support, has engaged in more or less re-writing an important chapter the history of comics. And I don't say that as someone with an ax to grind with Stan Lee – it would be stupid to suggest his contributions were not valuable, but it's equally dumb to perpetuate the lie that he did it on his own.

I grew up reading nothing but Marvel comics. I still have tremendously warm feelings for a great many of those characters, and remember many of those stories with incredible fondness. Marvel's books fill my shelves, and over the course of the last year, I filled an entire spinner rack with the comics from the '70s that first inspired my intense love of this medium. But I don't buy Marvel comics today, and I won't be seeing The Avengers. Not because I'm boycotting it, but because, for all the good feelings I have for those characters and comics of my youth, I have even more respect for Jack Kirby. Without him – without the characters he created and helped create – I wouldn't be in this business. And more than likely, neither would Marvel.

Sadly, not many people grasp the full scope of Marvel's poor treatment of Kirby and his family. Even fewer seem capable of comprehending the ridiculous lack of respect for a figure central to Marvel's ongoing success. Not everybody lives and breathes comics, though, and I understand that, but if that's the case: Why feel compelled to fill the comments section of an editorial seeking to explain the situation with so much ignorance? 

Agree. 

Disagree. 

Whatever. 

But at least know what you're talking about. And don't condemn people for having principles, or wishing to see a decades-old wrong made right. It's just stupid.

HOOK YOU UP

I love me some Charlotte Hatherley. After three magnificent albums under her own name, but her latest project is called Sylver Tongue...


WEDNESDAY GIRL

Lauren Hutton

07 May 2012

L.A. NIGHTS



Canter's Deli, 1953

06 May 2012

SUNDAY'S PRETTY ICONS

Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra

05 May 2012

STUFF

I think I've mentioned before that the shelf to the left of my desk is full of old collections of Marvel comics that were published in the 1970s. Well, that and DVDs. Oh, and the hardcover collections of Jack Kirby's DC Comics output from the '70s – the Fourth World books, Kamandi, OMAC, The Demon, The Losers... Oh, and there's a homemade Darkseid figure that Jonathan Ross gave me last year. I have a soft spot for all that stuff, and there's just enough space in these built-in shelves to collect it all into one place. 

These old books from the '70s are kind of the pride and joy in terms of my overall collection of comics, though, primarily because many of them are things I saw and wanted as a kid, but never had. The books Marvel put out with Fireside Books, especially. I never had a one of those, but I remember seeing them in bookstores, and I had a friend who tore one of them apart to turn its contents into what he felt qualified as the individual issues. That same friend had a copy of Fireside's Fantastic Four book, too, which compiled  Fantastic Four #'s 4, 48-50 and 86, and that was my first exposure to the original "Galactus Trilogy."

Books I actually did own were Pocketbooks' "Pocket Comics," collecting the early issues of Fantastic Four, Amazing Spider-Man, Incredible Hulk, Tales of Suspense-era Captain America and nearly all Steve Ditko's Doctor Strange stories from Strange Tales. I had most of these, but eventually got of rid of them in one of my many ill-advised purges. When eBay first started, buying them all back was one of my first goals.

There's something really cool about the design on all the Fireside books. The same collections were reprinted by Marvel back in the '90s, but with more "contemporary" covers and they just pale in comparison. Yes, the painted cover art is very '70s looking, but it has personality – each one says something about the times.

For instance, Origins of Marvel Comics features what are presumably the hands of Stan Lee at a typewriter, and apart from the grating inference that Smilin' Stan was solely responsible for the creation of the Marvel Universe, the typewriter itself is something very firmly based in that time period. As little as a decade later, typewriters were seen as a relic of the past, with word processors and computers taking their place, but the one pictured here is very much of the '70s.

The word balloon motif used on the author credit for Son of Origins and the title of Bring On the Bad Guys is kind of cool, too, and I feel like it was the first time I'd really seen that done back then, but the main thing that interests me about these covers is the characters they focus on. For instance, on Son of Origins, the sole member of the X-Men to appear is Jean Grey aka Marvel Girl, as opposed to say, Cyclops or Professor X. This was right around the time the new X-Men featuring Wolverine, Storm and Colossus were only just gaining popularity, so including a member of the X-Men at all likely wasn't a high priority, but I'm willing to bet the reason Jean was included over Scott was to add another female character to the cover, both for balance and for a concession to equality.

And with Women's Lib being a hot topic in the '70s, that same reasoning was probably behind a collection of stories featuring "the fabulous females of Marvel Comics," too. Is there a version of this available today? I'd look, but I kind of shudder to think what the cover illustration would be now. Even with as little as she's wearing, I don't think Red Sonja has ever looked more wholesome than she does here.

The smaller "Pocket Comics" collections are less interesting to look at in terms of cover art – it's all just pull art, nothing new to see here – but they're still neat little books. Even though I was well-trained in the art of hunting down Marvel's reprint mags to read up on the past adventures of my favorite characters, these books pretty much educated me on the very earliest Marvel stories and were nothing short of a godsend.
I don't know if this was the first of these books or not, but it was the first one I bought, via mail order even. I'd read a couple of these stories before, but having Fantastic Four #1-6 together in a single volume was nothing short of mind-blowing for the pre-teen me. I never understood why only a single FF book was published, but I happily picked up the dual volumes of Incredible Hulk and Doctor Strange.



Both the Doctor Strange and Amazing Spider-Man books – and there were three volumes of Spidey, collecting ASM #1-18 – were more or less my introduction to Steve Ditko. I'd seen some of his work in then-current comics like Micronauts and Machine Man, but I immediately recognized this was better. I hadn't been a huge Spider-Man fan up to this point, but I loved the stories in these books. 

I honestly can't tell you why these books are so important to me, but I love being able to look over at them while I'm sitting at my desk. There's just something comforting about them, and while I'm no luddite, I always feel a twinge of sadness when I consider the likelihood that generations to come are going to miss out on the unique memories created by print. I'm willing to admit I could be wrong, but I tend to doubt that pouring over files on a computer or a tablet will evoke the same type of feelings looking at these wonderful old books do...