Rob Reger, “creator” (if it were ever appropriate to put extra scare quotes around a word, this would be the time) of Emily the Strange, is another of the big success stories. He’s built a multi-million-dollar empire, including a series of comic books (that’s right, I’m keeping this on topic) on a single illustration lifted directly from the awesome Nate the Great children’s books–and when the real creators started asking stores not to carry Emily the Strange merchandise, Reger sued them. Balls. That’s how you get ahead in this business.

- Shaenon Garrity

The weird thing is that Sim has spent the past ten years or so, ever since the drugs ate his brain for good, going on and on about how much he abhors all things feminine. Yet his first project, post-misogynistic-heel-turn, is an effortful, not especially vicious pastiche of the most stereotypically feminine pop-cult extrusion he can find. More than anything, Sim’s work on Glamourpuss reminds me of those evangelical Christian guys who go “undercover” at gay pride events across the country so they can take photos and report breathlessly on all the terrible, terrible sodomy on display... Everybody knows these guys are gay. Even their congregations know. What I’m saying, I guess, is that Glamourpuss would be more fun if Sim would just admit that he’s honestly fascinated by the stuff he claims to be satirizing or exposing or whatever. If he’d come clean about loving shoes, makeup and blowjob tips as much as he loves Alex Raymond illustrations, we could have an awesome comic, or whatever it is, here.

- Shaenon Garrity

More NonSense: Tablet Edition

Apple iPad.
 The thing that bothers me most about the iPad is this: if I had an iPad rather than a real computer as a kid, I’d never be a programmer today. I’d never have had the ability to run whatever stupid, potentially harmful, hugely educational programs I could download or write. I wouldn’t have been able to fire up ResEdit and edit out the Mac startup sound so I could tinker on the computer at all hours without waking my parents. The iPad may be a boon to traditional education, insofar as it allows for multimedia textbooks and such, but in its current form, it’s a detriment to the sort of hacker culture that has propelled the digital economy. - Alex Payne
the iPad appeals to a very deep and longlived fantasy in the consumer electronics world: A device that does it all. At least, if all you want to do is consume media... [it] has all the problems of television, with none of the benefits of computers. - Annalee Newitz

Love 'em or hate 'em (There's not a whole lot of room for in-between), you just can't ignore 'em. Which is why Apple's revealing of the iPad tablet is still a "game changer" in the sense that it's already forcing its competitors to rethink their own future offerings.

I don't have a whole lot to say about the iPad's possible impact on the publishing business, or print comics in particular. My own initial reaction to it was along the lines of "iPod 3.0". This was a predictable and logical next step. The launch of the iPod marked a shift at Apple from personal computer manufacturer to consumer media facilitator. As someone who grew up with the former, the iPad isn't something I need: It's not very customizable; it doesn't run Photoshop or Lightroom or The Gimp; it doesn't use a pen or mouse. In short it's not the Cintiq alternative we graphics artists have long desired. It mystifies me, even though I know it shouldn't, that some people harbored unrealistic expectations that the iPad would be just that. But as a consumer device, it's a natural expansion of Apple's media offerings (music, photos, video, mail, web, voice, and now print). In fact, it's the most sedentary media device yet from Apple.
Penny Arcade by  Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik.

Now, it's predecessors the iPod and the iPhone (iPod 2.0) faced fierce criticism when they were launched. And those criticisms, interestingly, carry over to the iPad. Some of these have, at their core, existed since the time hackers complained about the original Macintosh. And yet Apple has found the right combination of feature-set, "magic", and marketing to convince consumers to inhabit their tightly controlled ecosystem. For better or worse, most of them seem to be okay with it. Apple's hoping to extend its success into the e-reader market. The iPad gambit could easily fail. The economy isn't in the best shape right now. There is the issue of the potential market size for tablets vs netbooks that could make the iPad a tough sell. Will the feature/price-set be still attractive to customers when its finally made available? And there is the question of the content offerings in the iBooks store. The biggest unanswered question underlying the success or failure of the iPad and its competitors is what is the killer app, or principal function, that will draw customers to tablets. Will it be the consumption of e-books and other media, or something entirely different that none of the players anticipated? But it also wouldn't surprise me if Apple leverages the existing iPhone market to somehow pull it of a third time; confounding critics and rivals yet again; opening up a new market; and even managing to convince some consumers to spend $800+ upsell on a tablet of all things that could drop in price at its next iteration.
Netbooks aren’t better at anything. They are slow, they have low-quality displays and run... PC software... [The iPad] is so much more intimate than a laptop, and so much more capable than a smartphone with this gorgeous large display. - Steve Jobs

If given the choice, it's a no-brainer to pick the iPad over the iPhone/iPod and netbook to read the average comics page. Speaking as a "tablet" user, I prefer its form factor for comfortable reading to the standard laptop. And for all the fretting over its limitations, I think it's premature to claim that the device will snuff-out technological innovation, open standards, personal creativity, or artistic expression, vis-a-vis other mass media delivery systems. Apple's certainly not going to be able to prevent many smart people from hacking the iPad after its release. The company's more vehement critics are just as prone to give it too much credit as its hardcore fans.

Jorge Colombo iPhone drawings.

In the meantime, I'll stick with my Cintiq while I'm waiting for the portable graphics tablet of my dreams.

Many people spend all day working in front of a computer, and they simply don’t like the idea of coming home to yet another computer that looks just like the one they use at work.

Just to comment on Daniel Tenner's post -  My not so computer-literate mom was the first to broach the topic of the iPad the day it was revealed to the public. To my mild surprise, she suddenly announced that she would buy one when it became available. It appealed to her as a reading device, and she's not in love with the laptop she uses for email and web browsing. So based on purely anecdotal evidence, I guess there's something to the argument that the tablet could be the uncomputer for the rest of us.


Joe the Barbarian #1

Joe the Barbarian by Grant Morrison, Sean Murphy, Todd Klein, Dave Stewart.
by Grant Morrison, Sean Murphy, Todd Klein, Dave Stewart.

"Every Town has them. Every school has them. Stereotypes...What do I look like?" proclaims the eponymous hero of Joe the Barbarian. Given that this is a Grant Morrison comic, one wonders if that statement is a prelude to future metafictional hijinks. That's because this inaugural issue is pretty straightforward and easily approachable. Joe is your typically alienated teenager with an absent father (he's conveniently dead), and an emotionally unavailable mother (she's too busy trying to keep a roof over their head to meaningfully communicate with her son). Joe's artistic talent earns him the usual casual bullying, with requisite gay bashing, from the school's redneck crowd. He's also suffering from some chronic illness that demands regular medication. Joe is so self-involved he doesn't  even acknowledge the one female classmate who's nice to him. This is as familiar a collection of cliches found in any teen drama; and a font of inspiration of many a Stan Lee-created Marvel series.

Equally familiar is the premise of the awkward teen being drawn into a fantasy-fueled world were the protagonist can get to play the hero he isn't in the mundane world (for comparison, check out this xkcd strip). But this is a Vertigo title written by the writer of past titles like The Invisibles and The Filth. That could mean some bizarre genre twisting somewhere down the road. I don't know. What is obvious for now is that Joe is a huge geek, and his fantasy world is populated by full sized versions of his action figure collection. It's a motley crew of every old-school male geek passions: furry teddy bears, military types,  superheroes, sci-fi characters, and Japanese mecha. This world may or may not be the byproduct of his illness.

Joe The Barbarian #1 page 8

Unlike the hyper-compressed Final Crisis, Morrison contributes little in the way of narrative text. Most of the exposition is handled by his artistic partners. Sean Murphy and Dave Stewart supply many silent panels with richly detailed and moody backgrounds. Murphy is particularly adept at capturing the rather awkward body language of adolescents. At the center of this issue is a four page sequence of Joe entering his house and passing room after room until he finally ascends up to his attic bedroom which is cluttered with all his toys. It very effectively conveys the character's self-imposed isolation from everyone around him.  Morrison simply underlines this sentiment with a few terse statements ending with "This is my room. This is my house." It's rather easy to see how Joe can slip into a private fantasy world when ensconced in his room; assuming that his fantasies are just pure make believe. Whatever the case, Murphy and Stewart effectively illustrate the transition between the two worlds.

At this point there's not much to indicate how the story will handle the tension between mundane vs fantasy. As a first issue, its purpose is to raise questions that leave the reader hungry for the answers. While not entirely original at this stage, Joe the Barbarian is intriguing enough to at least stick around for the next issue.

Joe The Barbarian #1 page 16


Luna Park

Luna Park by Kevin Baker, Danijel Zezelj, Dave Stewart, Jared Fletcher.
by Kevin Baker, Danijel Zezelj, Dave Stewart, Jared Fletcher.

Kevin Baker is the latest in a line of established writers from other fields who have used their reputations to break into comics. The resulting work, Luna Park, reflects his novelistic backgrounds in several ways: The subject matter is similar to the Coney Island setting of his book Dreamland (Thank you Wikipedia). The story is told with words in the third person by an omniscient narrator. The book's self contained narrative is complex and ambitious. The timeline shifts constantly back and forth between the present, several historical periods, and the dreamtime of myth and legend. Roughly two thirds in, the story suddenly mutates to expand on its central themes. It's an arresting section that upends the entire book. But the "gotcha" ending falls flat and doesn't quite succeed in holding everything together.

Alik Strelnikov is a Russian ex-soldier and veteran of the Chechen war who now works as an enforcer for a petty criminal organization based in Coney Island. But he knows it's only a matter of time before his boss is overrun by a more powerful rival. In the meantime he's haunted not just by the memory of the tragic events that led to him leaving the army and emigrating to America; but also by old Russian tales. The story in Aleksandr Pushkin's poem The Bronze Horseman in particular is almost as significant to him as the events in his life. The only thing Alik has to look forward to is the company of Marina - a fortuneteller/prostitute who works for another mobster. Whether in his dingy apartment or wondering the desolate Coney Island landscape; together they try to recapture the innocence of childhood through heroin and alcohol induced reveries.

Luna Park by Kevin Baker, Danijel Zezelj, Dave Stewart, Jared Fletcher.

If the reader is expecting a tragic crime noir where the participants best laid plans come to naught;  the cycle of violence remains unbroken; and men are ultimately betrayed by women despite the best intentions; that's what happens for the first two thirds of the story. Alik is a broken idealist still yearning for the quiet life denied to him even as experience has taught him to be skeptical of human nature. Baker is a seasoned storyteller ably partnered with artist Danijel Zezelj. His expressionistic style holds its own next to Baker's robust text. Under his capable hands Coney Island is portrayed with a certain gloomy state of decay and disrepair. It looks photo referenced, but never stiff. I'm less impressed with colorist Dave Stewart's typically muddy Vertigo palette.

Just as Alik and Marina's story is about to reach its inevitable conclusion, the book takes an unexpected turn towards metafiction. Reality fades away and story becomes the new reality. The tale of two lowlifes morphs into the sordid history of Russia with Alik and Marina revealed as recurring archetypes of hope, love, and betrayal. Alik's story becomes his father's; then his grandfather's; and then the story of the bronze horseman trampling on his hapless peasant victims. The history of violence extends back to Mongol invaders and Russia's mythical rulers and forward to the heart of Washington DC. Baker is reaching  for something epochal. But in doing so he renders his main characters insignificant in the last third of the book. That is arguably the point of Luna Park. Less convincing though is the theme that many of the events in Russian history are all part of some grand recurring pattern. It's easy enough when Baker is writing about Alik's family. But he's on shakier ground when he tries to find a connecting thread between historical events. Yes history is full of violence and bloodshed; but is that all there is? Are all Russians doomed to be crushed by the weight of their own history? It's such a generic insight. And the final example which ends the book feels too forced to be a convincing example.

Luna Park by Kevin Baker, Danijel Zezelj, Dave Stewart, Jared Fletcher.

I feel that Luna Park fails because the ending overreaches. The marriage of crime fiction and sweeping historical drama never quite gels. And for all the talents of its creators, It is ultimately a dreary book to read that fritters away any investment the readers might have on its characters.


Hellboy: The Wild Hunt

Hellboy #37-44

by Mike Mignola, Duncan Fegredo, Clem Robins, Dave Stewart

In the tradition of the best geeky, superhero comics storytelling, Hellboy meshes disparate elements together into a grandiose action adventure tale: The eponymous hero is always fighting a varied menagerie that included Nazi agents, Japanese vampires, European werewolves, or Lovecraftian alien monsters. But like many serials begun in the late nineties, it is framed by a larger story arc: In those early stories there was already a sense that there was more going on. Creator Mike Mignola took those monster-fighting episodes as far as he could before setting his protagonist free to explore his place in the larger cosmos. With Hellboy: The Wild Hunt, this phase of the character's development seems to be over as he's forced to make a choice between the various factions determined to start a war that could possibly destroy the world. The story is the latest in a series of revelations beginning with The Island that answers many previous unexplained elements; outlines the history of the universe Hellboy inhabits; and reveals his role within it. Mignola finally seems to have finished preparations for the presumably climactic end of the series.

Hellboy The Wild Hunt 8 pg 15

As with the previous Darkness Calls, the linework is by Duncan Fegredo. I sometimes miss Mignola's visuals, but Fregredo is a more than capable replacement. He's able to duplicate Mignola's angular character designs and idiosyncratic chiaroscuro; but his style is more realistically detailed; and his panels far more panoramic. While Mignola's backgrounds would progressively become more pared down and abstract, Fegredo uses establishing shots and often pulls back from the characters to illustrate the larger physical setting. Fegredo excels at highlighting interior details e.g. the underground passage of the Wild Hunt filled with decapitated giant heads; or the mysterious floating knights found in Morgan le Fay's castle.

Hellboy The Wild Hunt 1 pg 12

It's fortuitous that Fegredo took over as the primary artist when the series began to concentrate on certain female characters. The Wild Hunt deals with the aftermath of Hellboy's conflict with Baba Yaga and the witches in Darkness Calls; and his ongoing conflict with Hecate. In The Wild Hunt, Fegredo gets to portray three pivotal characters in Hellboy's development: The queenly Morgan le Fay; her adversary Nimue; and the adult version of Alice - last seen way back as a baby in the The Corpse. Fegredo imbues them with a physical presence usually not found in Mignola's character renditions. The villanous Nimue is a gloomy figure cloaked in perpetual shadow; Morgan carries herself with a certain inherent nobility that belies her evil reputation; while Alice possesses a down to earth charm that sets her apart from the other Hellboy characters. Her addition to the cast has the effect of softening Hellboy's typically reserved machismo. Her influence allows Hellboy to take positive action.

Hellboy The Wild Hunt 3 pg 2

The Wild Hunt marks a first step past the emotional conflict between the human and demonic sides that has often paralyzed Hellboy. From the beginning he's been beset by hints that he is the Beast from Revelations that will bring about the end of the world. When he left his surrogate family at the BPRD, the knowledge he gained only cast him further adrift. Morgan supplies Hellboy (and the reader) with a dizzying amount of detail about his Arthurian heritage; which helps fill in some important plot points and gives him an abstract ideal to fight for. But with Alice, Hellboy has at least found an emotional anchor and one human connection.

Hellboy The Wild Hunt 2 pg 9

None of this should be misinterpreted to mean that The Wild Hunt doesn't  have its fair share of ass kicking. Mignola has given Hellboy more than the usual "just doing my job" rationale when its hero was working for the BPRD. But this story functions as an interlude before the long delayed showdown between Hellboy and the forces of Hell commited to destroying the world.



Sorry for the lack of posts this year. I've been concentrating on trying to get my photoblog up and running, and I haven't kept up with my comics reading. Some new content should be appearing later this week; I hope.

update: alternate site

Philippine Camera Club, Rockwell, Makati
Philippine Camera Club, Rockwell, Makati
Philippine Camera Club members and pics from last night


More NonSense: 2D and Plastic Girlfriends

DAR! A Super Girly Top Secret Comic Diary by Erika Moen. Erika Moen and the end of DAR! A Super Girly Top Secret Comic Diary

What if Galactus was like climate change?

Gravity Wells: Another schematic strip by xkcd.

Ben Caldwell art blog.

Government comics.


Timothy Hodler on Art Spiegelman's book In The Shadow Of No Towers. The latest in a series of The Comics Reporter Holiday Interviews. All are worth checking out.
It is fascinating to me how much "alternative" comic-book artists have avoided the politics and history of the Bush era. It's a far cry from the underground days. I don't know whether that's good or bad, but it's understandable, as it's hard to make political art that is actually art. But I remember when Zap #15 came out, which included a Gilbert Shelton Wonder Warthog story that took on contemporary American politics. It wasn't really a particularly good strip, actually, but it still felt like something of an indictment of the timidity of so many current younger cartoonists. Then again, the culture has changed, and as I said above, I don't believe that artists have a responsibility to take on these things unless they feel the calling. It still seems remarkable that so few do feel the calling.
Alan Moore the alpha geek.

Jason Thompson on the rise and fall of the meido craze.

Bill Randall on the rise of manga in the West.

Gerry Alanguilan looks back at 2009.

The Internet

Plastic and 2d girlfriends meme Even though I spent Christmas with my family, I could have also spent it with my 2D And Plastic Girlfriends like a good otaku.

Nate Silver claims the Internet is underrated.

Will the studios please increase their online distribution?


Dan Kois picks Spirited Away as one of their films of the decade. And another critic uses Hayao Miyazaki to beat up Pixar. Pathetic really.

Geek Toys

John Siracusa poors some cold reality and analyzes the Apple Tablet rumors.


Dana White declares the UFC will rule the world by 2020. MWA-HA-HA-HA-HA! Dream on Dana.