Sunday, October 31, 2004

The horror equation

Australia's The Age has an interview with American Nightmare documentarian Adam Simon about the ebb and flow of U.S. horror films. It's a decent enough article. But scroll past that and you'll find a curious little item titled "The horror formula." It sounds vaguely familiar, but it may be worth repeating.

British researchers from King's College have figured out a mathematical formula that identifies the most effective way to induce terror in a film: (es + u + cs + t) squared + s + (tl + f) / 2 + (a + dr + fs) / n + sin x - 1. Suspense and realism, the equation shows, are among the key ingredients for a chilling movie.
They found that suspense is primarily generated through escalating music (es) the unknown (u), chase scenes (cs) and the sense of being trapped (t). Because suspense is such a vital quality in a horror movie, the equation is (es + u + cs + t) squared before shock (s) is added.

The Shining
, in which the suspense builds gradually through a child's eerie premonitions, was held up as the perfect example of the formula applied.

The experts argue that realism intensifies the mood of anxiety. Therefore the next part of the model adds together true life (tl) and fantasy (f) divided by two (tl+f)/2 to establish the right balance between a plot that is too unrealistic and one that is too mundane.

The smaller the number of characters (a) in the film, the more an audience can identify with them. A darkly lit scene (dr) and an isolated setting (fs) also raise levels of fear. But stereotypical characters (1) diminish the effect and it is actually possible to have too much gore (sin x).

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Bless this mess

Please excuse the mess while we redecorate.

I'm unbelievably inept when it comes to coding, so I should really just leave well enough alone. Anyway, I've activated the clunky Blogger comment feature until I can figure out how to get Haloscan functioning again.

Friday, October 29, 2004

"J-horror" if you're nasty

Speaking of Japanese horror -- "J-horror," as the cool kids call it -- National Geographic looks at the genre's growing popularity in the U.S., primarily in the form of movie remakes like The Ring and The Grudge:

"Japanese horror operates on a much more dreamlike level and has given Hollywood the license to not make sense. This actually works well for horror, because horror is about not being in control."

Getting to the root of horror (well, movies, at least)

There's an interesting, if brief, piece in The Times of London examining the German Expressionist roots of Western horror cinema, and the genre's not-so-subtle shift at the start of the Cold War:
Hollywood was quick to seize on Expressionism and its strong links with Gothic fairytales — its swirling fog and village settings. But Hollywood horror played up the fable-like aspect of these tales, so that the settings, even when contemporary, often had a mythical once-upon-a-time feel to them. Castles were usually involved, even in The Wolfman, with Lon Chaney, which opens with its star (before his hirsute transformation) driving a car. Horror was safely located in a fictional universe full of gypsies, forests and simplified versions of society: ruddy-cheeked peasants and their tweedy masters. ...

But the key generalisation about classic Expressionist horror is that the setting was exotic. The viewer was taken into a dark, warped, foggy world beyond the village limits. And this, crucially, is the reverse of modern horror, which brings the strangeness in from outside. One can pinpoint this conceptual shift to the 1950s, when America’s Cold War thinking hardened the fear and suspicion of otherness. Fifty years on, mainstream culture works overtime to celebrate otherness, so one of the biggest problems for modern horror stories is finding potent taboos to help to exploit this fear without giving offence.
The article covers a lot of ground, also touching upon the appeal of Japanese horror:
... Japanese horror films operate in a culture that still has a weighty reverence for supernatural notions, with fresher versions of what ghosts look like. It is still a land of believers who have yet to be rendered self-conscious by endless Scream parodies.

And yet the conceits and mechanisms underpinning Japanese horror are not fundamentally different from secular Western horror, eg, spirits return to haunt the living, either for revenge or out of anger. And the ineffable acts at the centre of these stories would be no less traumatic in the West — a child murdered by her own mother, a family murdered by its own father (he even drowns a kitten). This is very similar to the big secret in The Others: the mother’s suicide and murder of her two children while deranged.

What Hollywood is so taken by is the style and the mood of Japanese horror — the careful, patient, dread of ambient horror. Japanese horror films are stealthily quiet, with throbbing, discordant, unsettling soundtracks. The American remakes tend to have more obvious scores and more obvious Big Jolts.
And because The Times loves me, it tops off the article with a list of "10 Quiet Chills":

  • Frankenstein (1931): The Monster picks petals with the girl he will drown
  • The Birds (1963): Crows gather one by on
  • Rosemary’s Baby (1968): Finding Mia Farrow in the kitchen nibbling raw liver
  • The Exorcist (1973): Linda Blair wets herself and brings the party to a halt
  • Jaws (1975): A head floats through the hole in the boat
  • Alien (1979): John Hurt pokes his finger into the alien egg pod
  • The Shining (1980): The whirr of the boy’s tricycle around the hotel
  • Poltergeist (1982): A snack turns into worms
  • Silence of the Lambs (1990): Lecter’s finger brushes against Clarice Starling’s
  • Jurassic Park (1993): The ripple in the glass of water heralds the T-Rex

Go West

The Bismarck (N.D.) Tribune talks with the creators of Jefferson's Lewis & Clark Expedition: Heroes Unlimited, a 196-page graphic novel loosely based on the explorers' journals:

"Research was the hardest part. There was so much. When we started, we thought (the comic book) would be about 100 pages."

Death of continuity

The Boston Herald notes that there are more deaths and resurrections in superhero comics than "in a year's worth of daytime soaps." But it's not all bad, the paper concedes, pointing to JSA, the rebooted Legion, and the Ultimate line, among others as examples of good retconning:

As with everything in life, it all comes down to execution."

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Not another scary movie (list)

Have I mentioned that I enjoy lists? Just in time for Halloween, film critic Leonard Heldreth (co-editor of The Blood is Life: Vampires in Literature) has released his list of "15 films guaranteed to bring the chill of Devil’s Night into your living room." Heldreth cautions that these rankings are rough, not definitive:
  1. Psycho (1960)
  2. The Innocents (1961)
  3. The Haunting (1963)
  4. The Others (2001)
  5. The Changeling (1979)
  6. Carrie (1976)
  7. Dead Ringers (1988)
  8. Halloween (1978)
  9. Horror of Dracula (1958)
  10. Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
  11. American Werewolf in London (1981)
  12. The Exorcist (1973)
  13. Freaks (1932)
  14. Night of the Hunter (1955)
  15. Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
Heldreth also recommends four non-English language films (though I'm not sure why they're segregated from the main list): Eyes Without A Face (1960); The Devil's Backbone (2001); Onibaba (1964); and Diabolique (1955).

Spectacular ending

Marvel has announced that writer Paul Jenkins will end his run on Spectacular Spider-Man with Issue 27, at which time the publisher will cancel the series. Jenkins and EIC Joe Quesada cite health issues as the reason for the writer's departure. Here's Quesada on the title's cancellation:

"... Much like Ultimate Team-Up was a vehicle created for Brian Bendis to shine and then canceled with his departure, the same can be said about Spectacular Spider-Man. Spectacular Spidey was created for Paul and Humberto to tell their brand of Spider-Man stories. Without them attached to the series we've decided to close up shop on the title and call it a day with issue # 27."

Like the many-headed hydra, we should expect another Spider-Man title to appear in its place.

Golden Apple's Liebowtiz dies

Prominent retailer Bill Liebowitz, owner of Golden Apple Comics, died early Wednesday from cardiac arrest. He was 63. Newsarama, The Beat and have biographical information and official statements.

The president wears Spandex

Writing for Tech Central Station, Joshua Elder scrutinizes the anti-Bush Tex!, and the "president-as-superhero polemic" that dogged Ronald Reagan two decades earlier in the pages of The Dark Knight Returns, Captain America and Reagan's Raiders:

"Perhaps the most egregious use of the 40th president's name and likeness in a comic book came with the publication in 1986 of Reagan's Raiders by Solson Publications. The spiritual ancestor of Tex!, this biting work of political satire featured Reagan and his senior staff undergoing an experimental 'physo-nuclear conversion' treatment invented by Professor Cashchaser which gave them superpowers and outrageously buffed up bodies. Donning poorly designed patriotic costumes and wielding M-16s, the GOP's finest fought a series of woefully uninspired and unfunny foes like the World Terrorist Organization and Bolivian cocaine factory workers. Thankfully this train wreck of a comic lasted only three issues before ceasing publication."

Facing the Nation

The Harvard Crimson covers a panel on politics and pardoy at the Institute of Politics featuring Birth of a Nation co-authors Reginald Hudlin and Aaron McGruder.

Manga madness

The Fort Wayne (Ind.) Journal Gazette discovers the kids are mad for the manga -- mad, I tell you! Fourteen-year-old Trevor Walker knows what he likes:

“I like American comics, but I like other cultures’ stuff better. I don’t know why. The Japanese ones have a different feel … they’re edgy and graphic and cool.”

Luckily, Diamond's Kevin Bolk is there to explain things to the adults:

"There’s a (misconception) with many Americans that big eyes, visual tricks and a slick design sense make manga what it is, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Manga is a medium, not a genre. The stereotypical cute girls with huge eyes only represent a portion of what manga has to offer.

“I think anyone with an appreciation for good fiction can find a manga story they can enjoy. For this reason alone, manga is here to stay."

Marvel's revenue up, profit down

Reuters reports that Marvel Enterprises' third-quarter profit fell because of taxes, but revenue rose 60 percent, largely due to licensing:

"Third-quarter net profit fell to $34.4 million, or 30 cents per share, from $63.2 million, or 57 cents per share, in the year-earlier period, when it had a tax benefit of $24.3 million. Revenue rose to $135 million from $84.5 million. ...

"... Looking forward, Marvel said it raised its outlook for 2004 full-year sales to a range of $490 million to $500 million, from its prior range of $448 million to $468 million. It also raised its outlook for operating income to a range of $215 million to $218 million, from a prior range of $195 million to $205 million."

A more detailed breakdown notes that the publishing division's net sales rose 15 percent to $22.6 million, while sales of the toy division -- not to be confused with Joy Division -- jumped 84 percent to $43.4 million from the prior-year period, mostly because of Spider-Man 2 action figures and accessories.

For those interested in the film and television end of things, there's the usual accounting of release schedules and properties that are in development. (Scott take special notice: A Brother Voodoo live-action TV project apparently is in development.)

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Horror's new life

The Boston Phoenix notes that horror is experiencing a renaissance of sorts, after a lengthy drought that followed the mid-'80s explosion. In a timely turn, the paper points out that a new generation of writers is "moving away from the standard widow’s-peaked vampires, moon-howling werewolves, and decaying zombies." Here's Chiaroscuro webzine's Paul Tremblay:

"The direction of horror I see is little bit more ironic, a little less cliché. The characters come first. They might not be likable or be normal, but they represent how real people deal with tragedy — not how they deal with being eaten by a werewolf."

Occasional comics writer Christopher Golden also is interviewed about his varied resume, which includes everything from teen thrillers to adaptations of licensed properties.

Curious techno-thingy

For some reason, I can't "ping" my entries today, so nothing is showing up on the blog update. That's not good.

P.S. I hate Blogger.

P.P.S. I really hate it.

Thinking about the children

In what looks to be a weekly column at Newsarama, Buzzboy creator -- and all-around nice guy -- John Gallagher writes about the trials and tribulations of marketing an all-ages comic:

"I finally accepted the fact that kids don't go into comics shops very much. But they do go to libraries, and book stores -- so I collected the first four issues of Buzzboy in a squarebound trade, hooked up with Diamond books, and the next thing you know, kids were reading my comics -- finally -- through, and Barnes and Noble, and in the library. And comics shops took notice too, mostly because trade paperbacks were really starting to catch on for all those comics readers sick of waiting months and months between issues of their favorite miniseries, finally proclaiming, 'I'll wait for the trade.' (Thank you, Kevin Smith!)

"Now, Buzzboy sits between Bone, and Leave it To Chance collections, and that's a good place to be. And guess what, I sell a bunch of Buzzboys to big and little kids at big comics shows, like San Diego, and the Baltimore Comic-Con, and smaller shows like SPX. As soon as I stopped trying to apologize for what Buzzboy was not, and sell it for what it was -- a kids comic -- people started to take notice."

Hyperion to publish manga

Okay, back to comics stuff. reports that Disney's Hyperion Books has won a bidding war with Henry Holt to publish manga created by Misako Takashima, whose first published work appeared in the Manga Mover anthology. The multi-book deal will kick off in a year or so with the release of the tentatively titled Ride On! The retailer website has some thoughts on Hyperion's move into manga:

"Although the marketplace appears to be getting increasingly crowded, the influence of manga on American publishing continues to grow and Hyperion Books is unlikely to be the last U.S. publishing house to take a flyer in what remains the fastest growing section in many bookstores."

No love for the bloodsuckers

Dorian Wright runs down his list of grievances against vampires or, more specifically, writers of vampire fiction:
Let's start with the basics here, and look at the vampire figure in Eastern European myth. It's a bloated corpse, it's mouth flecked with blood, that spreads corruption and death throughout the community. It's a breakdown of the natural order, the stubborn refusal of the unwanted to leave people alone. It's not a pleasant thing. It's a disease metaphor, in fact. We'll get back to that later, but come on! What the heck is so romantic and tragic about a blood-bloated corpse.

Clearly, the vampire was in need of some serious renovation in order to make it a figure palatable to the masses. Luckily, Bram Stoker and his Victorian-era sexual fetishes came along and provided just the right refurbishments. Gone is the dead, fat peasant, and along comes the elegant nobleman. And he's not here to infect everyone with disease, no, he's just looking for love. Love that requires him to sneak into women's rooms at night and take them by force. What a bold and terrific improvement! Let's take a symbol of corruption and disease and turn it into a symbol for rape and sexual violence! Brilliant! And just for good measure, let's make it damn clear that the women being violated by the handsome stranger derive pleasure from it. Sheesh...
He goes on to rail against Anne Rice and other authors who've done little more than run the vampire-as-effete-sexual-predator characterization deep into the ground. I really can't argue with him. I still love Stoker's Dracula, and re-read it every so often. It's a -- dare I say it? -- brilliant work of fiction that says more about late-Victorian society than it does about vampire folklore. And I think that's the problem with so many of the numberless derivative works that have formed the bloated sub-genre, particularly in the past 30 years.

Stoker's novel drips with allegory, much of which means little to the casual late 20th-century/early 21st-century reader. It's filled to overflowing with Victorian concerns about social decline, class boundaries, immigrants, the supposed lower-class disregard for motherhood, the "sexual purity" of women, disease and how it's spread (miasma), and much more. Those Victorians apparently fretted a lot.

A century removed from Dracula, the metaphors have decayed in the minds of most writers so that only the carnal aspects remain. After all, sexual desire is timeless, isn't it? Rice and her imitators recognized the bankability of the erotic wraith that lingered, added a little velvet and lace, and -- voilà! -- an industry was born. Unfortunately, as Dorian points out, vampire fiction hasn't progressed much beyond that.

Still, perhaps we should be thankful for that metaphor, hackneyed or not. Too often in his recent appearances, the vampire represents nothing more than the generic Other, a vaguely supernatural object of dread for our heroes to defeat. He's an interchangeable antagonist whose replacement by werewolf, zombie or killer robot would do little to affect the plot.

Me? Like Dorian, I'm more of a werewolf fan. But if I'm going to read, or write, about a vampire, give me the Greek vrykolakas, with his skin "swollen and distended all over, so that the joints can barely be bent," or the tuberculosis-linked undead of 18th-century New England. Now those are monsters.

On a related note, National Public Radio posts an audio file of an interview with David Skal, author of Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen. I haven't listened to it yet, but it should be good.

They love the graphic novels

The Portland (Ore.) Tribune notes that upstart prose publisher Lean Press plans to release a three-part graphic novel.

Batman game, uh, begins

The big push has begun for Batman Begins. Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, DC Comics and Electronic Arts announced they've joined to bring a video game based on the film to multiple platforms next year. The movie and game will be released on the same day. DC's Paul Levitz, for one, is excited:

"We're thrilled to partner with EA and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment to capture the magic of BATMAN BEGINS in a ground-breaking videogame. This will mark the first time that a Batman video game has been developed to complement a film event, and we look forward to inviting players to step into the movie's reality and make the world of Batman their own."

Korea celebrates cartoons

The Korea Times looks at plans for the fourth annual Cartoon Day, the Nov. 3 event designed to promote domestic comics and animation. Festivities begin Oct. 29, with a street in Myongdong, Seoul, designated as "Cartoon Street." Events will include a parade, creator appearances and, of course, a cosplay competition.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Cuneo gets in the game

Video-game company Majesco, maker of BloodRayne, announced today that former Marvel president and CEO Peter Cuneo has joined its board of directors.

Like sands through the hourglass

It's shaping up to be a slow news day. Very slow. It's just as well, because there's real-world work I should be doing, and Blogger is giving me fits.

Oh! It's the one-year anniversary of Thought Balloons. (See? We love anniversaries, but certainly not more than I love lists.) I'd planned on writing something reflective and a little morose in honor of the occasion, but ended up watching Dracula, The Mummy and The Wolf Man on TCM instead.

In my first entry, way back in 2003, I puzzled over the poor quality of "All the Rage," and the thinking behind the WB's short-lived Tarzan series, which launched the same day. Riveting stuff, I tell you. In any event, some 2,485 posts later, here I am -- a year older and none the wiser.

That's about it for reflection. So, let's look forward: As I've mentioned, I'll be making some changes to Thought Balloons so that it better represents my interests. Along with general comics "news," you'll see more about horror (in comics and as a general creative/literary device), fantasy fiction (no traditional sword & sorcery, thankyouverymuch), and the "all-ages" market.

I also plan to post comics reviews -- something I've done infrequently, primarily because I become obsessive over even the shortest critiques. I find them more difficult than they really should be. (Odd, considering I used to write reviews, on deadline, for a living. Perhaps the extra time fosters the obsession.) I certainly shouldn't shy away from critiques simply because it's hard to write good ones; so I'll shoot for weekly reviews -- though they won't be for books that came out that week, primarily because I receive monthly shipments from DCBS. Plus, I'll only review books that interest me. I'll be damned if I'm going to waste time reading a bad book, then devote even more energies to writing about it.

Lastly, I'll be changing the design template, once I figure out a few things. With apologies to anyone using the same template, this thing is hideous. Of course, way back when we were blogging by gaslight about the latest penny dreadfuls, our template options were limited, and one was just as ugly as the next. Now, the choices are a little more pleasant, so I plan to take advantage of progress.

Thanks for reading.

Reaping money

This apparently is the week for lists (and, lord knows, we love lists even more than anniversaries). Today, Forbes magazine released a Halloween-appropriate tally of the Top-Earning Dead Celebrities. The fourth annual list, of course, is topped by Elvis Presley, who still pulls in $40 million a year through Graceland admissions, licensing and merchandising.

The top three slots remained unchanged for the second year, with Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz right behind Elvis, with $35 million annually from licensed clothing, Hallmark cards and advertising for MetLife and Pepsi. No. 3 is the lord of the rings himself, J.R.R. Tolkien, whose works earned some $23 million this year. (Forbes notes that the author's estate gets a cut of film grosses and video sales, but probably doesn't receive any of the merchandising revenues.) Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel moved up a slot to No. 5, with $18 million.

25 years of Viz

Reuters marks the 25th anniversary of Viz, the "politically incorrect" British comic that features such characters as Johnny Fartpants, Buster Gonad and Fat Slags. Despite a quarter-century of bathroom humor, the comic has never managed to crack the U.S. market. Here's co-editor Graham Dury:

"We have tried to push the comic in America but it falls very flat. I don't know if the Americans don't get it or just don't like it. There has been no lack of trying but in a market of 200 million people, we sell just 4,000 copies. But at least it does well in Australia -- mostly to Brit ex-pats."

Like many comic books, Viz reached a readership peak in 1991 with a circulation of 1.25 million. Now it draws about 150,000 readers per issue.

Manga museum planned

Via Anime News Network comes word of plans in Japan a museum of cultural research, tentatively named the Kyoto National Manga Museum. More than 230,000 manga will be stored at the museum, which is set to open in fall 2006 in a former school.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Horror stories: I've never known what to make of The Comic Fanatic. That being said, the site has compiled "20 Horrific Halloween Treats," a Niles-heavy list of "the best horror comics in the industry today." Although several are obvious choices, there are a few I've never heard of (and more than a couple that lead me to question the selection process):
  1. The Walking Dead (Image)
  2. Bogus Dead (Jeroman Empire)
  3. Zombie Highway (Bughouse Comics)
  4. Remains (IDW Publishing)
  5. 30 Days of Night, Darker Days and 30 Days of Night: Return to Barrow (IDW Publishing)
  6. Aleister Arcane (IDW Publishing)
  7. Wake the Dead (IDW Publishing)
  8. The Nail (Dark Horse)
  9. Army of Darkness: Ashes to Ashes (Devil's Due)
  10. Hack/Slash: Girls Gone Dead (Devil's Due)
  11. Before Dawn (Green Fly Productions)
  12. The Black Forest (Image)
  13. Sword of Dracula (Image)
  14. Phang and Mak (Silent Devil Productions)
  15. Jack the Lantern (Castle Rain Entertainment)
  16. Students of the Unusual (3 Boys Productions)
  17. Western Tales of Terror (Hoarse and Buggy Productions)
  18. The Wicked West (Image)
  19. The Drowned (Image)
  20. Angel Fire (Shattered Frames)
I'm sure this list says something about the state of horror comics, but I don't know what that is.

Fantasy island: The Boston Globe considers Britain's tradition of children's fantasy novels with adult appeal, from Alice in Wonderland and The Hobbit to His Dark Materials and even Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell:

"Academics date the beginning of fantasy writing for children back to the publication of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland in 1865. According to Professor Naomi Wood of Kansas State University, fantasy emerged as a reaction 'against the hyper-realism and didacticism in early children's literature.

"The arrival of Tolkien's The Hobbit in 1937 and the publication of Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in 1950 took fantasy literature to a whole new level. Confronting the dramatic transformations of the 20th century, the world of fantasy was a way for Tolkien and Lewis 'to go back and capture an England that to them was disappearing,' said Wood."

Mallard Fillmore predicts Kerry win: Editor & Publisher reports the conservative Mallard Fillmore comic is predicting John Kerry will be elected president. Of course, that doesn't mean cartoonist Bruce Tinsley wants that to happen:

"If weathermen forecast hurricanes, it doesn't mean they're in favor of hurricanes. A prediction is not an endorsement."

The sequence of strips, which began appearing in newspapers today, will continue for the next two weeks:

Tinsley creates Mallard Fillmore about two weeks before publication -- meaning that, every four years, he has to 'fudge' about which candidate might win. 'This time, I decided to go ahead a pick a winner,' he said."

Graphic Library line marches forward: Publishers Weekly (subscription required) reports that the September resignation of Jon Martin as president of Capstone Press won't interfere with the supplemental publisher's plans for a Graphic Library line. Matt Keller, president of parent Coughlan Companies, says the line will launch in January with eight titles, including The Sinking of the Titanic, The Adventures of Marco Polo, The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln and The Battle of the Alamo. The books are designed for students with a grade 3–4 reading level.

Capstone plans to publish 24 titles in its nonfiction Graphic Library line by next fall, then expand beyond history to biographies.

Bone of contention: At Newsarama, Jeff Smith discusses debuting Bone: One Volume at Comic-Con International, and the subsequent outcry from retailers:

"Well, obviously, I didn’t want them to be pissed, but I also know the retailers only get riled up if they sense something hot. Don’t forget, Cartoon Books premiers a new Bone collection at Comic-Con almost every year, and no one usually cares. When I heard grumbling, part of me knew we had a hit on our hands. ...

"... In the simplest terms, every book I sell at the show is a book that wasn’t sold by a retailer. That’s a legitimate gripe. Again, we weren’t setting out to undercut our business partners; we were just trying to get people’s attention."

The shipping news: Previews Review and Ninth Art take a look at the books scheduled to hit the shelves this week.

Things that go bump in the night: At Ninth Art, Zack Smith writes a nice overview of Ted Naifeh's wonderful Courtney Crumrin series:

"Since premiering in 2001, Courtney's oval, nose-less face has scowled its way through three increasingly dark, increasingly entertaining mini-series from Oni Press, abetted by the Herculean talents of her creator, Ted Naifeh. The result is some of the most wicked (and wickedly funny) fantasy comics of the last several years, the sort of stuff that can have you shivering in your seat on one page and cackling evilly on the next. Like Dahl's best work, it has a dead-on understanding of a child's point of view... and also understands that magic and wonder are not the kind of things that you can use without a price."

Fictional characters, big bucks: Forbes magazine has released its list of the top-earning fictional characters of 2003, based on toy/merchandise sales, video-game sales, publishing and box-office revenues, and DVD/video sales and rentals. (To qualify, a property must have debuted in a narrative story, such as a cartoon, book or video game; that's why the $4 billion-earning Hello Kitty is excluded.) It will come as little surprise that Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse tops the list with a 2003 income of $5.8 billion.
  1. Mickey Mouse: $5.8 billion
  2. Winnie the Pooh: $5.6 billion
  3. Frodo and Lord of the Rings: $2.9 billion
  4. Harry Potter: $2.8 billion
  5. Nemo (Finding Nemo): $2 billion
  6. Yu-Gi-Oh!: $1.6 billion
  7. SpongeBob SquarePants: $1.5 billion
  8. Spider-Man: $1.3 billion
  9. Wolverine (X-Men): $900 million
  10. Pikachu (Pokeman): $825 million
The "near misses" -- properties that were edged out of the Top 10 -- are perhaps just as interesting: Homer Simpson (The Simpsons); Dora the Explorer; The Hulk; Red Ranger (Power Rangers); and Buzz Lightyear (Toy Story).

Mozilla attacks: After several days of Internet Explorer problems, I've been convinced to switch to Mozilla. I'm still getting used to some of the quirks, so please excuse any blogging weirdness today.

Entering the fray: Comics journalist Tom Spurgeon has launched The Comics Reporter, a news and commentary webzine that's sure to make some of our blogs and websites obsolete. Go check it out.

Now if they'd only read them: The Canton (Ohio) Repository (registration required) looks back to October 1954, when the Mayor’s Committee for Promotion of Good Reading Habits sponsored Operation Book Swap, an initiative designed to coax kids to trade their pesky comics for "good" books and magazines:
Although a campaign against objectionable comic books was being waged throughout the country — Congressional hearings were being held in 1954 in New York, where many of the "bad" comics were published — the book swap in Canton was one of the first of its kind. The mayor’s committee, organized in 1953 and headed by the Rev. Robert P. Barrett, held its first book swap at the Stark County Fair in September 1954, and its success was so substantial that committee members quickly organized a second event. Both times, thousands of objectionable comic books were collected, and hundreds of recommended volumes were distributed.
By midday, the newspaper reported at the time, area youth had nearly exhausted the supply of 1,010 books -- "approved" titles such as Gulliver's Travels, Robinson Crusoe, Tom Sawyer and Kidnapped -- and 4,000 magazines, including Boys' Life and American Girl.

Some hits, but mostly misses: Newsday considers how '90s video-game giant -- and one-time comics publisher -- Acclaim Entertainment will be remembered. Here's a hint: It won't be fondly:

"Acclaim's obituary will show the cause of death as running out of money. But of the factors that led to Acclaim's Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing Sept. 1 -- wary lenders, litigious shareholders, poor management -- one cause stands out most: It ran out of hits.

"'The games were horrible,' said David Kaplan, 24, a tester for the company and a lifelong game-player from Dix Hills. 'Honestly, they were just terrible. They were insulting.'"

Daily Satrapi sighting: The Herald of Glasgow, Scotland, reviews Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

A man and Cartoons: The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review talks to Jonathan Lethem, author of Fortress of Solitude and Men and Cartoons, about relationships, and comic books as a cousin to film:

"The 20th century's greatest innovations are these narrative forms that combine words and images. And cartooning, comic books, graphic novels -- there is no right name for it -- is probably where film was in 1938. There are a few early giants that have emerged, and certainly the vocabulary is there. You've got people who are the equivalent of Howard Hawks or John Ford or (Jean) Renoir in France, already up and running.

"And yet the definition of the medium, the critical comprehension of it, is still kind of retarded. But there's no mistaking that it's going to take its place among the arts, which include a body of masterpieces beginning with R. Crumb and now Art Spiegelman."

Casting dispersions: The Honolulu Star-Bulletin considers the difficulty in casting actors for film adaptations of comic books:

"A well-written and illustrated book makes the characters come alive for the reader. The graphic novel Road to Perdition, made into a successful film, was so thoroughly drawn, researched and influenced that it appeared to be a tracing of real life. It made filmmaker's job both easier and less fun, as there was no room for creative wiggling. In the film, Tom Hanks often seemed straitjacketed. ...

"... Casting the right person in a comic-book role is tricky. Will they make the familiar character breathe? Or will they bury it in technique or squash it out of actorly hubris?

"Probably no piece of comic-book casting was more closely examined than Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker the Spider-Man, a character who is an icon of American mythology. But there were sighs of relief when Maguire was brilliant in the role. But casting grave Kirstin Dunst as hedonist Mary Jane Parker was bothersome. As for villains, Willem Dafoe was ticcy as the Green Goblin, but Alfred Molina was perfect as the conflicted Doctor Octopus."

Comics for kids adults: The Galveston County, Texas, Daily News notices the popularity of manga among kids, and wonders what other publishers are doing to appeal to a younger audience. Not much, says Astro City artist Brent Anderson:

“Sometimes, I think there’s nothing out there that’s really written — with quality — to kids. A lot of books seem to be written for the kids within adults. I would like to see more comics produced that are geared towards a younger age group.”

A second article takes the traditional "comics aren't just for kids" route, pointing to the more, uh, "mature" themes of books like the ever-popular Identity Crisis:

"For at least 15 years, the bar has progressively raised for comics as an entertainment medium to compete with other media for more literate customers."

Spreading the word: The Fort Worth, Texas, Star-Telegram spotlights Robert Luedke, who's spent the past two years writing and illustrating a graphic novel called Eye Witness: A Fictional Tale of Absolute Truth, "which blends a fictional spiritual awakening and Jesus' trial and crucifixion":

"When the general public hears 'graphic novel,' they think 'Superman.' That's the challenge getting it out. People working in Christian bookstores, people on the front lines, aren't sure about it. It's a little edgy for some of them. It's like Christian rock music 10 years ago."

Saturday, October 23, 2004

From Japan, with blood: The Minneapolis Star-Tribune examines Hollywood's long-running fascination with Japanese horror films, manifested most recently in the form of The Grudge (Ju-On) and The Ring:

"The current spate of chillers from Japan are the polar opposite of old-school fright films, which generated chills with the sight of a man in a rubber lizard suit stomping Tokyo. [Prof. William] Tsutsumi explores the long-running popularity of such films and their relation to currents in Japanese culture in his new book Godzilla on My Mind.

"'What we see now is the esthetic of anime [cartoons] and manga [comic books for adults] being very violent and graphic,' he said. 'The old movies were made in a simpler, gentler time. They're almost completely nonviolent. At worst, they were wrestling.

"'Godzilla exists in the context of "secure horror." The monster may destroy the town, but in the end society survives and the structures of authority are in place. You go home and say, "Ah, wasn't that terrifying, but we're all safe." In the more modern Japanese horror, the same message is not coming through.'"

Born again: Scripps Howard News Service talks with writer Geoff Johns and HEAT (that's Hal's Emerald Advancement Team for the uninitiated) member William Brackeen about the "return" of Hal Jordan in the upcoming Green Lantern: Rebirth.

Johns: "We can't just snap our fingers and make some lame story. If we did that then who would care? I had to look at what the smartest and most exciting way to bring him back would be. I had to put him in a place where he can be a hero, and he can be the Green Lantern. ... His whole breakdown seemed pretty random and pretty fast. At the same time, you can't say he didn't do all these things. He did, and you have to go from there."

Brackeen: "We knew if we stuck it out long enough that eventually somebody would be in a position to (restore) him."

Reshaping pop culture: In anticipation of the 2004 Japanese Film Festival, Australia's Sydney Morning Herald takes a look at the billion-dollar anime phenomenon:

"Almost without seeking the role, Japan has found itself cast as a counterweight to the United States, the traditional powerhouse of popular culture. 'In fact, from pop music to consumer electronics, architecture to fashion and food to art, Japan has far greater cultural influence now than it had in the 1980s, when it was an economic superpower,' wrote the Washington journalist Douglas McCray in his influential essay 'Gross national cool', published in Foreign Policy magazine last year.

"The handful of big Japanese studios to have found themselves at the forefront are there without much marketing effort of their own. And now with money sloshing in from Hollywood, it is an international mainstream phenomenon."

A look at the year ahead: I picked a bad time to take a break from blogging, if for no other reason than Publishers Weekly's (subscription required) graphic novel supplement appeared this week. There's a nice mix of articles, focusing largely on manga and the growth of graphic novels in the mainstream book market.

The special section is anchored by a 2005 forecast, in which executives from seven publishers discuss what next year will hold for them and the industry. Among the biggest trends, the experts agree, will be publishers targeting younger readers. Marvel publisher Dan Buckley says his company will experiment with several new formats to try to appeal to the 10- to 12-year-old boy market. "It's a tremendous opportunity for whoever figures out that group," Buckley told PW.

Paul Levitz, president and publisher of DC Comics, admits that kids' comics have faced a tough time in comics shops: "We haven't been able to find a place to sell kids' comics and we haven't had a generation of Carl Barkses or John Stanleys creating them. I think there's a little more hope now that we can find a place to sell them."

The executives also address fears of an approaching "manga glut." Tokyopop CEO Stuart Levy said his company, which released between 400 and 500 manga titles this year, will scrutinize its publishing plans: "We put out a lot of books, but it's not an intelligent move to put out more than this."

Other topics of interest are shelf-space crunch and the hunt for other marketing avenues:
.. mass market retailers like Wal-Mart and Target remain elusive. Although several publishers have made tentative moves here, no one has found the sweet spot. Marvel has had its YA Marvel Age collections in Target for about six months with positive but modest results.

Levitz also acknowledges the difficulty: "I don't know that there's a natural enormous opportunity for graphic novels. When you're approaching retailers like Wal-Mart, Target or K-Mart, it has to be what they believe in."

Tokyopop has also experienced slow going with mass market retailers. "I don't think we've figured it out yet," Levy says. "I don't think a mass market product has truly been developed yet. Maybe it will come from a new guy who gets a new format right for them."
In a sidebar, Publishers Weekly also lists this year's Top 25 graphic novels, based on combined sales from bookstores, comics shops and online retailers:
  1. In the Shadow of No Towers by Art Spiegelman (Pantheon)
  2. Rurouni Kenshin Vol. 1 by Nobohiro Watsuki (Viz)
  3. Rurouni Kenshin Vol. 3 by Nobohiro Watsuki (Viz)
  4. Persepolis 2 by Marjane Satrapi (Pantheon)
  5. Fruits Basket Vol. 1 by Natsuki Takaya (Tokyopop)
  6. Trigun Vol. 2 by Yasuhiro Nightow (Dark Horse)
  7. Rurouni Kenshin Vol. 2 by Nobohiro Watsuki (Viz)
  8. Hellboy: Seed of Destruction by Mike Mignola (Dark Horse)
  9. Fruits Basket Vol. 2 by Natsuki Takaya (Tokyopop)
  10. Naruto Vol. 3 by Masashi Kishimoto (Viz)
  11. Naruto Vol. 2 by Masashi Kishimoto (Viz)
  12. Tsubasa Vol. 2 by Clamp (Del Rey)
  13. The Book of Bunny Suicides by Andy Riley (Plume Books)
  14. Rurouni Kenshin Vol. 5 by Nobohiro Watsuki (Viz)
  15. Tsubasa Vol. 1 by Clamp (Del Rey)
  16. hack/Legend of the Twilight Vol. 2 by T. Hamazaki & R. Izumi (Tokyopop)
  17. Fruits Basket Vol. 3 by Natsuki Takaya (Tokyopop)
  18. Rurouni Kenshin Vol. 6 by Nobohiro Watsuki (Viz)
  19. Hellboy: Wake the Devil by Mike Mignola (Dark Horse)
  20. Naruto Vol. 1 by Masashi Kishimoto (Viz)
  21. hack/Legend of the Twilight Vol. 1 by T. Hamazaki & R. Izumi (Tokyopop)
  22. Trigun Vol. 1 by Yasuhiro Nightow (Dark Horse)
  23. Inuyasha Vol. 1 by Rumiko Takahashi (Viz)
  24. Yu-gi-oh Vol. 1 by Kazuki Takahashi (Viz)
  25. 1602 by Neil Gaiman, Andy Kubert and Richard Isanove (Marvel)

Other notable articles include a Q&A with Jeff Smith about Bone and his deal with Scholastic Books, and a look at the symbiotic sales relationship shared by anime and manga.

January surprise? Not so much: I find myself caring less and less about Marvel's output these days. The latest Dr. Strange vehicle intrigued me enough to preorder the first issue; luckily, I read an online preview before I made the mistake of ordering the second. I wasn't as fortunate with Black Widow, which I'm burdened with through Issue 3. I'm still not sure what to make of Madrox, but I'm along for the ride at least until Issue 4. After that miniseries ends, I'm free and clear of Marvel books (unless I give in and check out Marvel Age Power Pack in February).

It wasn't a conscious decision; I didn't wake up one morning and declare that, as God is my witness, I will break loose the shackles. It's much less dramatic than that: I'm just bored with Marvel. I can't get excited about another book featuring the solo adventures of someone's favorite X-Man, or another "radical" relaunch of a mediocre team comic that sold so well in the early '90s. I just can't. It makes me tired.

My Marvel malaise is best demonstrated by the January solicitations, which were officially released yesterday (yeah, I know they were "leaked" on Tuesday, but I like to see the cover images). Of the nearly 90 titles set for January release, only five things jumped out at me -- and none of those were the words "buy me":

1. Marvel's abandoning the vague and confusing Amazing Fantasy moniker and renaming it Arana: The Heart of the Spider, presumably to take better advantage of the mainstream publicity it's received for its young Latina hero.

2. Anyone wondering what Wolverine would look like as a teen-age transsexual prostitute need only look at the cover of X-23 #1.

3. The cover of The Pulse #7 gives a nod to Steranko's classic cover for Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #4 (Sept. 1968).

4. So, Thor: Son of Asgard is expanded from a six-issue miniseries to an ongoing series, only to be canceled with Issue 12?

5. When did Jubilee become a limited series?

Friday, October 22, 2004

Regular blogging will resume on Monday, at the latest. For now, enjoy this cover to Haunted Thrills #17 which, I think, depicts the Horrors Of Using A Public Restroom: "No -- no! Go away! You promised me more time!"

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Horror in the time of Clearasil: Angelina Benedetti, young adult materials selector for the King County Public Library, writes a nice introduction to horror for teens for the American Library Association's Teen Read Week: It’s Alive @ Your Library:

"Horror for teens is not really a genre. It is our reaction to the book, or the rat, that makes it horrifying. Even though the horror is confined to the page, we still react in a physical way, as if whatever is inside the story can crawl right out at us. It is that ability to feel the fear and come away unscathed that makes horror so appealing. We get all of the shivers and no blood on our hands when we set the book aside.

"Teens seem to have a need to feel that fear, as evidenced by the popularity of shocker, gross-out, supernatural and altogether scary books. Is it that the good guys and bad guys are easier to tell apart? Or maybe it is because those vampires and werewolves go through physical transformations that make puberty feel like a bump in the road? I think I am such a fan because the world is a scary place and the more I read scary books, the easier it is for me to deal with the six o’clock news.

"Horror has been a part of storytelling from the very beginning. Think of that awful scene in Homer’s Odyssey where Odysseus stakes the Cyclops’ eye. It has been a part of our teen collections as well. The 'classics' – Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and The Tales of Edgar Allen Poe—find new readers every year. The modern masters--Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and John Saul—beckon from beneath black and bold paperback covers. Newcomers Darren Shan (Cirque du Freak) and Amelia Atwater-Rhodes (In the Forests of the Night) have found their places alongside them. Graphic novels have joined the mix. You might not want to read 30 Days of Night by Steve Niles before going to bed. Niles’ vampires were safely feeding on the population of Barrow, Alaska, but I felt sure one was breathing down my neck the minute I turned out the light."

I'm not really back. I'm just pointing out there are only 10 more days until Summer's End November Eve Halloween.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

A little rest for the weary: I'll be taking a break from blogging for a few days to focus on a free-lance project and a couple of full-length scripts that have been crying out for attention. Thought Balloons will return later in the week, most likely with some significant changes.

In the meantime, look for my entries on werewolf movies as part of Eat More People's "All Hallow's Month" horror blogging.

Update: The first installment of my list of Top 10 Werewolf Films has been posted at Eat More People. The second part will appear later this week.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Dead like me: Pop Culture Shock has posted a five-page preview of Jill Thompson's Dead Boy Detectives (scanned from the My Faith in Frankie trade paperback).

Perlmutter movin' on up: Marvel Enterprises announced today that Isaac Perlmutter, Marvel's vice-chairman and largest shareholder, has been named CEO, effective Jan. 1. He'll replace President and CEO Allen Lipson, who is retiring after five years with the company.

It's pointed out, via The Beat, that Marvel changed its press-release boilerplate to boast "a library of over 5,000 characters"; just yesterday, it was touting some 300 fewer.

Image on the move: Comic Book Resources reports that Image Comics will move in November from its 13-year home in Orange, Calif., to Berkeley, closer to the home of publisher Erik Larsen. Here's Image's Eric Stephenson:

"Honestly, I think the move was inevitable. When Erik first took over, it was with the understanding the whole operation might be moving to the Bay Area at some point, and the truth of the matter is, running things out of two offices just isn't particularly convenient for anyone. There are a lot of things that can be done faster and more efficiently if we're in the same office as the publisher. In addition to that, the end of our lease on this space was coming up, so it's not like we were going to stay here indefinitely."

Strange dealings: Utterly unrelated to comics, but well within the scope of my obsessions: The Guardian reports that New Line has bought the film rights to Susanna Clarke's delightful Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.

Irv Novick passes away: Mark Evanier writes that legendary comics artist Irv Novick died this morning after a long illness. He was 88. Novick began his career in 1939 at MLJ (now known as Archie Comics), before moving on to DC Comics, where he worked on such titles as Wonder Woman, The Brave and the Bold, Batman and The Flash.

Review revue: Writing for Boston Review, John Crowley examines Walt Kelly's Pogo Vols. 1-11, from Fantagraphics Books:

"In most modern strips—and I don’t know if it is because the work seems too hard to modern draughtspeople, or because blank-faced affectlessness is the mode, or because the knack has been lost—the characters have little variety of emotional expression. Dilbert and Doonesbury are witty and poignant, but the faces are relatively unchanging; in fact, that’s part of the humor. Pogo people express a range of emotions as clearly as silent-movie actors, from steely resolve to mind-blown amazement to indignant rage to subtle shame to abashed confusion. Kelly’s pen is marvelously swift in the capturing of expression, and fine effects are achieved by a clash between words and face; transfigured storytellers are nicely captured but so are the bored or doubtful listeners behind. Of course the elaborate yet fluid chiaroscuro of Kelly’s black-and-white strips is itself largely a thing of the past—Robert Crumb in effect reinvented it for himself in the late 1960s, and the only recent daily newspaper strip that approached Kelly’s emotional variety in the drawing is, or rather was, Calvin and Hobbes, which owed a great deal to the Kelly style and still restricted itself to a small cast."

(Link via Locus Online.)

Daily Spiegelman sighting: The San Francisco Chronicle chats with Art Spiegelman about In the Shadow of No Towers.

Image in January: Image Comics has released its January solicitations, which include Four-Letter Worlds and the curious Pigtale #1.

Update: Steve Mohundro points out a fun preview for Pigtale #1 on Ovi Nedelcu's website.

"Rubber" ring: Washington University in St. Louis' Student Life looks at "The Rubber Frame: Culture and Comics," a campus exhibit focusing on the historical development of comics:

"It's hard to believe that the stack of yellowing 'funny books' collecting dust in your parents' attic has its origins in the political world of 18th and 19th century England and France, but c'est la vérité. The tradition of caricature and cartoonish political satire has its roots in the work of English Georgian artists and also renegade French artists' like Honore Daumier and Charles Philippon, who spent every waking hour lambasting King Louis-Philippe. In one particularly scathing critique, which managed to land Daumier in jail, he depicted the king as the giant Gargantua shitting out favors for his flattering sycophants. It might not sound like much today, but it paved the way for the political cartoons we see on a daily basis, including those by our own artists Yu Araki and Brian Sotak. Unfortunately for those kinds of artists, they could never hope to achieve proper, celebrated renown in the world of 'fine art.' They were simply 'tradesmen,' as Dowd puts it, 'and could never hope to achieve admission into the Royal Academy, except maybe through watercolor painting, which was still considered a lesser form.' For a fine overview of this predecessor of the comic book, check out the Special Collections room of the Kemper Art Museum at Steinberg Hall."

Pilgrim's progress: At Peiratikos, Rose and Steven sit down with creator Bryan Lee O'Malley, of Scott Pilgrim and Lost at Sea fame:

"... [T]he plan has been all along to make Scott’s life kind of like a video game of your actual life, but I wanted to ground it very firmly in reality for the first hundred pages, pretending nothing’s out of the ordinary. I want the characters to be real. I want it to be fun and surreal and reminiscent of your favourite videogames and manga, but I want it to ring truer. (More truly?) Really, I’m probably just in this to trick people."

Illustrated men: The New York Blade looks at the work of Kyle's Bed & Breakfast cartoonist Greg Fox and Dutch illustrator Tom Boudon, creator of Max & Sven.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Review revue: PopMatters reviews Supreme Power Vol. 1: Contact, Daredevil Vol. 8: Echo -- Vision Quest, Harry Johnson #1-2 and Optic Nerve #9.

Winick discusses HIV storyline: Comic Book Resources talks with Green Arrow writer Judd Winick about news that supporting character Mia Deardon is revealed as HIV-positive in a new storyline:

"On my watch, and hopefully on the watch of everybody who'll work with DC, there's no intention of having Mia take ill as a result of HIV. She will never die of AIDS related causes on my watch and hopefully on anyone else's watch. The point of this character is she's living with HIV, as many people do. There are people who have been living for 20 years through combination drug therapy and live relatively unencumbered lives. Some people are on the combination drug therapy and it's an enormous hassle and there are tons of side effects and terribly uncomfortable. It runs the gamut. This character is not about Mia dying of AIDS, it's about how she'll be living with HIV as many, many people do.

"We have every intention of Mia living a long and healthy life. Keep in mind that we have DC characters that have been around for 60 years and haven't aged a day. We sort of have to keep them in amber and we just kind of fudge and mess around with things like how did Nightwing grow up? Well, he did and Batman's only about 34 years old!"

"... Let's not forget, she's a superhero. She's HIV positive, but she's not Captain HIV with a big logo across her chest. She's Speedy! She's going to be Green Arrow's sidekick and she's a 17-year-old girl. These are the things that lead as far as I'm concerned. One aspect of her character is she is HIV positive. She takes medication every day, she lives her life and does her thing. Yeah, negative things happen to her, but also, in my opinion, as we point out in the book, it made possible some positive things. Green Arrow would not have allowed her to do this unless she had tested positive. That's what we're coming to. She's able to plead her case better and convince him to allow her to do this because she's HIV positive. It shows just how serious she is."

Fruits Basket still on top: reports that Fruits Basket Vol. 5 remained at No. 1 on BookScan's list of graphic novels sold in bookstores for the week ending Oct. 10. Rurouni Kenshin Vol. 7 bumped Art Spiegelman's In the Shadow of No Towers from No. 2 to No. 3.

Manga once again dominated bookstore sales with 45 of the Top 50 titles. Neil Gaiman's 1602 made an impressive entry at No. 18, while Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis 2 hovered at No. 11.

From web to ... newspapers? The Kansas City Star profiles PVP creator Scott Kurtz , who discusses his recent offer to allow newspapers run his comics for free:

"The theory is that getting in the papers will increase the audience for PVP and lead to increased demand for the books, T-shirts and other products.

"Kurtz doesn't really expect any large metropolitan papers to pick up PVP right away, but there's been interest among college papers and alternative weeklies, which might be better homes.

"'If for no other reason than PVP is not Family Circus,' Kurtz says."

Review revue: The New Haven (Conn.) Advocate reviews Dave Gibbons' The Originals.

Fighting for peace -- and a market: The San Francisco Chronicle checks in on creator Ayman Kandeel, AK Comics and "the first homegrown comic book superheroes from the Middle East":

"The comics premiered in the United States, but the company had difficulty gaining notice in the crowded superhero market, so it changed tactics and introduced them in Egypt, where it now prints about 8,000 copies of each issue. It hopes to reintroduce them in the United States next year."

Mega Bloks builds with Marvel: Construction-toy manufacturer Mega Bloks has announced its licensing deal with Marvel "to develop an assortment of playsets, vehicles and other building-themed products" based on Spider-Man, X-Men, Fantastic Four and other characters -- including, apparently, Namor and Silver Surfer.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Green Arrow to feature HIV-positive sidekick: The Associated Press reports that the latest issue of Green Arrow reveals that sidekick Mia -- a former prostitute -- is HIV-positive. Here's writer Judd Winick:

"Mia is coming to terms with it in the way most young people are. It isn't about death and dying. Young people, for good or for bad, are still pretty fearless. With drug combination therapy people are living a very long time. She seems to be unafraid of death, she's mostly feeling like no one is ever going to love her. She's HIV-positive and who's going to want to be with her now?"

Update: chimes in with its own story, adding some comic-book history to the mix:

"In 1992 indie comics publisher Image introduced ShadowHawk as the first superhero to have AIDS (he was injected with a syringe that contained the virus), but Speedy is the first mainstream hero to be diagnosed with the disease. When HIV and AIDS have been addressed in the mass-market comics, it's mostly involved secondary characters. The Incredible Hulk introduced an HIV-positive character in 1988, and in 1996 Superman discovered an orphan whose parents had died of AIDS."

And many more ... Happy belated birthday blogday blogiversary to H and Mag at The Comic Treadmill.

Mom protests Scooby's burial tips: The UK's Manchester Evening News talks with a mother who's outraged that an issue of Scooby-Doo World of Mystery she bought for her 8-year-old son contained a strip called "Four Steps To Being Buried Alive":

"Joshua loves Scooby-Doo, and up to now loved getting the magazine because he likes doing the puzzles. But people shouldn't be giving children silly ideas like this. It's disgraceful."

The strip depicts a man burying himself in a field, and includes captions such as, "Empty stomach by swallowing 90 metres of cloth, then pulling it out," and "Cut your tongue muscles so the tongue falls back, sealing the mouth. Ouch!"

A spokesman for publisher DeAgostini had no comment.

Something wicked this way comes: Previews Review updates with a rundown of some of the most promising books scheduled for December release. Some of the books I'd already ordered (Amazing Joy Buzzards, Battle Hymn, Wet Moon); others, I wish I had (Blue Spring, Building Opposite).

Judge narrows Michigan "display law": Newsarama reports that a Michigan District Court judge has dismissed a challenge to the state's new "display law," but in the process has narrowed the statute's application by clarifying the definition of "harmful to minors":
The First Amendment analysis portion of the decision explicitly states that work with clear literary and education merit, even sexual manuals such as Joy of Sex are not harmful under the law because, "those works [Joy of Sex, Lolita, Of Mice and Men, The Catcher in the Rye, Portnoy’s Complaint, and Sanctuary] clearly have literary and educational merit for minors." Comics with comparable content are also not harmful under this law.

The decision also clarifies the potentially ambiguous display provisions in the statute, noting that material must be blinded only if "harmful to minors" material appears on the covers or bindings of books, comics, or magazines.
The ruling means a retailer won't be liable if a minor happens to browse through "harmful" materials, as long as the bookseller takes steps to stop it once he's made aware of the situation.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has issued a statement about the decision.

Manga 101: The Philippine Daily Inquirer offers an introduction to manga, then reviews a handful of titles, including Eerie Queerie, Fruits Basket and Petshop of Horrors:

"In the world of manga, imagination knows no rules. You can very well find yourself addicted to manga soon after your first book, and craving for a daily fix of it like you do for your daily soap opera. After all, the drama, comedy, action and romance quotient run as high as TV serials. That's why it comes as no surprise that popular manga stories are routinely translated into animation."

Power trip: USA Today blogger -- and Heidi MacDonald arch-nemesis -- Whitney Matheson continues her comics crusade with an ode to Christopher Reeve and a roundup of superpowers some of her readers would like to possess.

Publisher pulls controversial manga: Japan Today reports that publisher Shueisha Inc. will suspend publication of a weekly manga about the 1937 Nanjing Massacre after protests from politicians. Shueisha said it will pull Kuni Ga Moeru (The Country is Burning), by popular cartoonist Hiroshi Motomiya, from the Oct. 13 and 28 editions of Weekly Young Jump.

Universal appeal: The Philippine Daily Inquirer uses Kingdom Come as an opportunity to look at the significance and allure of superheroes:

"Superman's appeal eventually became universal because of its religious undertones, with Superman standing in for Moses, Christ, or other deliverers. As Moses was sent down the river on a basket, so too was Superman sent hurtling on a basket-like spaceship to Earth.

"As Christ was raised by Mary and Joseph, two simple folks, so too was Superman discovered by humble farming parents and raised as their own. Sacrifice, selflessness, strength and rebirth are key themes of hero mythologies, but in Superman they find specificity as this superhero 'fights for truth, justice and the American way.'"

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Days of future past: At Newsarama, Matt Brady sits down with Joe Quesada, Marvel Comics' editor and chief, and Dan DiDio, DC Comics' vice president-executive editor, DC Universe (unfortunately, not at the same time). Here, both men talk about editorial plans for the near future:

Quesada: "... 2005 will almost certainly bring that [a return to the 'shared universe' concept] on, it will be almost impossible not to do it with so many things happening in the Avengers and so many major icons involved either directly or indirectly with the Avenger's part of the world.

"What's most fun about this is that our Marvel creative community is so into this as well, it must be in the air. … There are strings of e-mail I wish I could show you in which our creators are spitballing about events involving the Marvel U and trying to keep things cohesive. What's also wonderful about that is that within that you get even more collaboration and even more ideas. JMS gets briefed on a big event happening in one of our books and spins a plate or two that develops more ideas and then I hear from Joss and he has his take on it and we add more fuel to the fire and before you know ... it's great to be a Marvel fan!"

DiDio: "This was always a long term plan. It always was. There were several stages in what we did here. The first stage was identifying the talent pool that we had confidence in and felt could really improve and moves our books into the future. The second part was to concentrate on building a strong foundation of the individual characters – that’s where the conversation always comes back to, putting continuity aside for a moment - let’s really concentrate on what makes these characters great, what makes these characters strong, and what we love and remember most about them. We did that – we started to scratch away at the surface, and really identify the strengths of who our characters are.

"The third stage is to try and figure out how everything works as a world – what does the DC Universe stand for, and how do we create an environment that people re going to be excited about, and want to visit on a monthly basis.

"We haven’t hit that last stage yet, but we’re getting there."

Aren't you excited? Yeah, me neither.

The shipping news: What's this? Could it be? Christopher Butcher has updated Previews Review with an upbeat look of what's shipping this week. Highlights include The Walking Man, Locas, Cocopiazo, Ex Machina #5 and My Faith in Frankie digest.

Talking with Avi Arad: The Philippine Daily Inquirer profiles Marvel Studios CEO Avi Arad, who's dutifully promoting The Punisher to the unsuspecting international market:

"The Punisher is a big part of the Marvel Universe. We have characters who have super-powers, who are super-heroes, and we have characters who are just heroes. Vigilante is a term that can mean that they take the law into their own hands. What makes him a unique character is how he reflects the way we all feel about that. ... The Punisher is one of the top franchises we have, one with a huge following. Many people like the idea, believe it or not. This movie is a throwback to movies like Death Wish."

Comics in the classroom: The Christian Science Monitor reports on the increasing popularity of graphic novels in classrooms, where many teachers are turning to them to engage reluctant adolescent readers. Of course, some educators don't think that's necessarily a good thing:

"Once kids know how to read, there is no good reason to continue to use dumbed-down materials. They should be able to read poems, novels, essays, books that inform them, enlighten them, broaden their horizons."

Because, you know, all graphic novels are "dumbed down."

Politics unusual: Cox News Service looks at a comic book being circulated by Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to reach what he considers his loyal supporters -- the working class -- in an attempt to fight off charges of corruption from political rivals.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Title shift: In a move that likely means nothing to anyone outside of DC Comics, Paul Levitz announced that Dan DiDio has been promoted to vice president-executive editor, DC Universe. DiDio joined DC in January 2002 as vice president-editorial, where he worked largely out of the public eye until the February 2003 shakeup that saw Mike Carlin step down as vice president-executive editor to assume the newly created position of senior group editor.

Fruits Basket tops sales list: reports that Fruits Basket Vol. 5 has bumped In the Shadow of No Towers from the top spot on BookScan's list of graphic novels sold in bookstores. Art Spiegelman's highly publicized book already has sold more than 21,000 copies, and could become the No. 1-selling graphic novel of the year -- despite its fall release.

Manga continues to dominate the BookScan charts, with 46 of the Top 50 positions. "Interestingly," ICv2 notes, "the eight manga titles in the Top Ten were evenly divided, with four shoujo series and four shonen."

Fan following: At Ninth Art, Paul O'Brien looks at a comic audience made primarily of hardcore fans, with few casual readers, and wonders what that means to the industry:

"Fans, by definition, form an emotional attachment to the work, and tend to have pretty high expectations of what's to come. Moreover, they tend to have fairly well-developed and solid ideas about the characters and the stories. This is not to say that fans (or most of them, at any rate) are locked into one particular interpretation or status quo. The audience has aged over time, and most of them do want to see things change and move forward. Often, in some ways, they'd like to see more change than the publisher would like - the Spider-Man mythos ossified years ago, but the character retains a lot of fans from a period when it was driven by soap opera plots that still seemed to be heading somewhere.

"The catch is that the fans want to see things develop in a way that is consistent not merely with the letter of the original stories, but with their personal interpretation and expectations. A radical reinterpretation of characters or events gets into very dangerous territory with this audience, particularly if it has knock-on effects that require it to be treated as a significant part of the mythos. Swerving the storyline off in an unexpected new direction, or drastically changing the style of the book, can run into similar problems."

Indy Magazine named "Best of NYC": The Village Voice has named Indy Magazine as Best New Comics Magazine in its annual "Best of NYC" issue:

"The first issue of 'INDY' MAGAZINE focuses on the 2004 Angoulême comics festival in France; the second looks at the avant-comics adaptation of Paul Auster's City of Glass. Thankfully and unsurprisingly, Indy's 'long, articulate features, copiously illustrated' are also alert to luminaries like Art Spiegelman, Francoise Mouly (a 7,000-word interview), and Ben Katchor."

Nanjing manga sparks protest: Singapore's Straits Times reports that popular Japanese cartoonist Hiroshi Motomiya has come under fire for his weekly manga that depicts the Imperial Army committing brutal acts during the 1937 Nanjing Massacre.

Japan Today notes the publisher of Weekly Young Jump, which serializes the Kuni Ga Moeru manga, received a protest letter from a group of assembly members charging that the comic presents the Nanjing Massacre "as if it was the truth." The letter claims there is strong evidence the massacre did not happen, and no proof that it did.

Review revue: With the requisite "Bam! Pow! Zap!" headline, The Philadelphia Inquirer reviews Gerard Jones' Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book.

An anime first for Nebraska: The Daily Nebraskan covers the first AnimeNebrasKon, held Saturday at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The state's first anime convention, sponsored by the university's anime club, drew more than the expected 150 attendees (but the article doesn't say how many more).

Daily Satrapi sightings: The Indian Express reviews Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return.

Meanwhile, The Miami Herald (registration required) chats with Satrapi.

Creators fight Red Sox "curse": The Lowell (Mass.) Sun reports that lifelong Red Sox fan Larry Doherty, owner of Larry's Comics in Lowell, brought together a handful of comic-book creators to help "reverse the curse" of the hometown team:

"Three comic-book creators have taken the characters published in their independent comics and are outfitting them with Red Sox attire in specific issues. On hand to sign limited-edition copies of their work on Saturday were Mario Gully, creator of The Ant for Arcana Studios, Kay Cornell of Lowell, creator of Samurai Raccoon for Diversity Comics, and Rich Woodall and Matt Talbot, creators of Johnny Raygun by Jetpack Press of New Hampshire."

Review revue: The Chicago Sun-Times, the Salem, Ore., Statesman Journal, and the Decatur (Ala.) Daily review Greg Rucka's novel, A Gentleman's Game.

A love of horror: The Baton Rouge (La.) Advocate profiles Lafayette artist Kody Chamberlain, who's illustrating Steve Niles' 30 Days of Night: Bloodsucker Tales for IDW Publishing.

Christopher Reeve dies: Christopher Reeve, the man most think of when you say "Superman," died Sunday of heart failure. He was 52. The Associated Press reports he fell into a coma Saturday after going into cardiac arrest at his Bedford, N.Y., home.

Reeve broke his neck in May 1995 when he was thrown from a horse during an equestrian competition. He endured months of physical therapy to be able to breathe for periods without a respirator, and went on to become an advocate for spinal cord research. He returned to directing, and even acting with roles in Smallville and a 1998 production of Rear Window, among others.

But it was his role as the Man of Steel that Reeve probably will best be known. He first donned the cape in 1978, moving from a relatively unknown actor to an international star. He reprised the role three more times, but often worried about being typecast:

"Look, I've flown, I've become evil, loved, stopped and turned the world backward, I've faced my peers, I've befriended children and small animals and I've rescued cats from trees. What else is there left for Superman to do that hasn't been done?"

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Paying the bills: Derek Kirk Kim writes on his website (scroll down) that he just finished illustrating a Deadman story for DC Comics' next Bizarro book, and now is writing a 144-page graphic novel to be drawn by Jesse Hamm for a new Vertigo line. He's also just completed a Spongebob Squarepants comic to be released in conjunction with the movie:

"Lately I've just been doing a lot of bill-paying work that I can't serialize here is all. Now that I live by myself in downtown San Francisco, I don't have the luxury of being able to focus solely on my personal comics like when I was living with my parents in Pacifica with little to no bills to pay. Now I actually have to do stuff that, god forbid, makes money."

(Link via 24-Hour Pixel People.)

Friday, October 08, 2004

A lifetime mapping the Eternal City: The Associated Press looks at efforts by French comic-book artist Gilles Chaillet to bring ancient Rome to life in an immense, detailed map that he initially envisioned at age 9. Now, some 50 years later, he's spent 5,000 hours drawing the 11 foot-by-6.5 foot map; his wife has spent another 3,000 hours coloring it:

"It's the end of a long quest. ... There are other cities I also love, like Venice and my hometown, Paris. But there's not the same emotion there. ... I'd need a second life to do a second city."

Power plays: I have such a soft spot for Louise Simonson and June Brigman's Power Pack. For some reason, I clearly remember the day -- wow, some 20 years ago -- when I bought the first issue in the cluttered, dusty comics shop (which closed long ago and now is a tattoo parlour). So, I'm happy to see that fellow Power Pack fan Jason Kimble has found The Power Pack(ed) Fan Site, which includes character biographies, reviews, old creator interviews, scans of three complete issues, and even information on a TV pilot that only aired in test markets.