Thursday, December 14, 2006

Samuel Zagat

Look at him, how he sits there and reads baby stories.

Rooting around in the files...

Samuel Zagat (1890-1964) was a cartoonist and photographer, part of a small group of left-wing Jewish artists who flourished in the socialist press in the early part of the 20th Century. I had never heard of him before I found this cartoon in a disintegrating book about the New York Jewish immigrant experience a few years ago.

Zagat drew a strip called "Gimple Beinish" (1912-19) for the Yiddish daily Warheit /Varhayt in New York. He was also an editorial cartoonist for the Daily Forward. A book of his drawings was published in 1972.

The strip here, featuring Hanne Pessl, was originally in Yiddish and reads right to left.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Twilight of the Superheroes

Deborah Eisenberg, the U.S. Alice Munro, was on the CBC last week talking about her latest collection, Twilight of the Superheroes. The title story is about a cartoonist who lives through 9/11 and it has some interesting things to say about the idea of superheroes as a metaphor for Empire. Eisenberg states her case plainly in a Bookninja interview from last summer, where she discusses the Superman movie:

"It's both heart-rending and nauseating that the national impulse would be to seek solace and reinforcement at this moment, in, for instance, Superman as a representation of moral action. I can't claim to be an expert on the cast of Marvel Comics, or, in fact, to know much of anything about any of them, but nonetheless, they're present even in my inhospitable consciousness. So it seems that they must perfectly express something about our culture.

And I suppose that what it is they so perfectly express is our desire to understand our disproportionate power as power that's unambiguously and inevitably used for the benefit of humanity. Even in regard to the Unites States of the Second World War, this view might have merited a raised eyebrow or two, but now it's shockingly self-deceiving at the least, and pretty brutal. It seems to me that not only is there an enormous longing for what we imagine to have been a time of innocence in our recent history, but that there's also a sort of willful childishness, or, to put it another way, a self-congratulatory coyness in the way imagination is collecting around these figures now. Even the nostalgia doesn't seem quite authentic. It's as if there were something endearing, something loveable, about trying to maintain this view of ourselves as childishly innocent and good even though we know very well that it's not accurate – something gallant and charming. This is a form of bullying, in my opinion; a demonstration that we can afford (temporarily, anyhow) to hold on to these consoling charades of power-with-integrity, however degraded, even laughable,we understand them to be.

Born in 1945, Eisenberg probably missed out on the first wave of superhero comics and was not quite 10 when "Superduperman" appeared in MAD. She was graduating from college when Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko were repopulating New York with superheroes and was well into her adult life when Batmania and Wonder Warthog were stirring up the kids, so she can be forgiven for mixing up her publishers. In any case, everyone knows that outside of a few arrested adolescents like Michael Chabon and Jonathan Lethem, serious writers don't read superhero comic books. Nevertheless, Eisenberg still makes a few interesting points. Even if mainstream kids comics can't be expected to engage with adult themes and political issues, what about Hollywood? I've seen enough of the current crop of superhero movies to know that they are trafficking mainly in the same thing the comics have got by on for generations --escapism, power fantasies, and nostalgia. I'm less familiar with the current superhero comics world since the heavyhanded Watchmen metaphors of the 1980s --the world of The Authority and Identity Crisis. Outside of Dan Clowes' "The Death Ray" (or for that matter, David Boring), are there any contemporary superhero iterations that deal with their own limitations as a genre in ways that are not just pat or satirical? Is it even really possible or necessary? Are superheroes bad for us? Adorno said "After Auschwitz it is barbaric to write poetry." Should we say, after 9/11 it is barbaric to draw superheroes?

I leave the final word to that other great philosopher, Sergio Aragones:

"It's the super-hero syndrome, exactly. [...] It's out of our power to solve. It's defeatism --you can do nothing about it. It's like "I surrender." The only way I can solve my problem is with a super-hero, or an astronaut, or somebody from outer space, or God helping me. And this is like throwing your gloves on the floor. When you have to fight, then you think you have a solution, but when you don't want to fight any more, that's when you go to total despair and then you go looking for some super-heroes to solve your problems. Which is very bad. I don't think those movies give any good messages. That the only love you find is with mermaids or with things from outer space. No! No! No! Reality is what can save you."


Wednesday, December 06, 2006


Another fundraiser for the Wright Awards.

This time around, it's Chester Brown's original pencils for the Wonder Woman page he donated for the previous auction last summer. It's a fascinating view of his working methods. The difference between these loosely assembled drawings and the finished art sold earlier is striking (Chester's pencils are pretty tight but I think he still edits when he inks --Wonder Woman's ass looks rounder in one of his pencils).

Chester uses many smaller pencil drawings to compose a page. He draws each panel --and sometimes each figure in each panel-- separately. He does the same thing for all of his lettering and word balloons. He then lays all of the separate pages into the order they are supposed to read in, places a piece of paper on top, and traces over them onto his final art with a brush. He documented this process in his short story "Showing Helder" in an early issue of his comic book series Yummy Fur.

Anyway, the Wonder Woman drawings are now being auctioned off on ebay:

The organizers of The Doug Wright Awards for Canadian Cartooning are delighted to announce their third fundraising auction: a one-of-a-kind piece of original art by groundbreaking Canadian cartoonist Chester Brown.

Considered a pioneer of the 1980s alternative comic renaissance, and undeniably one of the form’s most original and refreshing talents, Toronto's Chester Brown agreed to lend his distinctive style to the superhero genre as a gesture of support to the Wright Awards. The result was a stunning interpretation of the comics' first female superhero: the Amazonian princess known as Wonder Woman. Inspired by a page from one of Wonder Woman's earliest appearances, these drawing are the Original Pencils used in the creation of the artwork from our last auction. These pencils provide a rare glimpse into Chester's creative process. By looking at these pencil drawings, you can follow Chester as he composes a page of original art, from rough sketches to word balloons. There are over thirty individual drawings included in this auction, each averaging approx 6" x 4"!

This artwork marks the Montreal-born artist’s first-ever piece of superhero art ever - a fact that makes it both historically significant, and a guaranteed collector’s item.

The Wright Awards were established in 2005 to recognize and spotlight the wide array of talented cartoonists working across Canada. The premiere award event recognizing the art of graphic novels and comics, The Wrights are named in honour of Doug Wright (1917-1983) whose humourous strip Doug Wright's Family graced newspapers and magazines across Canada for nearly 35 years.

Chester Brown is one of the pioneers of the 1980s comic renaissance and one of the art form’s most acclaimed talents. He began self-publishing his critically regarded comic-book series Yummy Fur in 1983. In it, Brown serialized his first four graphic novels: Ed the Happy Clown (1989), The Playboy (1992), I Never Liked You (1994), and The Little Man (1998). His Louis Riel was published as a graphic novel in 2003 and was the first graphic novel to make it to the Canadian national bestseller list as well as bestseller lists worldwide

All proceeds will benefit the 2007 edition of The Doug Wright Awards for Canadian Cartooning, which will be handed out next year in Toronto.

Snow in the Comics

Part 1 of 3

by BK Munn

It's snowing again this morning, putting me in mind of snow in the comics. Trying to remember my experience of snow in the comics, the first thing that comes to mind is Peanuts which always was very seasonal in its rhythms. Although other daily strip cartoonists did winter-themed gags and even created snowy adventure storylines (I think the final episode of Caniff's Terry and the Pirates took place on a snow-filled runway), Peanuts is really the winter strip par excellence, a position that was ratified with the animated Christmas special back in the 1960s. Outside of the strips, U.S. kids comics creators like John Stanley, Carl Barks, and the Archie gang always published season-specific issues. As well, I'm sure I read the occasional superhero comic as a kid featuring a chilly, John Romita Spider-Man brawling over snowy New York City rooftops. But the first time I think I really noticed snow as an actual presence and plot device in a graphic novel context was Cerebus.

At some point in the early 1980s, Dave Sim seemed to decide to make snow a major character in his High Society graphic novel. I'm sure there was snow in earlier issues since much of the series was a parody of the Barry Windsor-Smith Conan comics and I'm pretty sure there was at least one issue of Conan that featured barbarians fighting frost giants in the wilds of Hyperboria, or wherever it was that Conan was from, but Sim's use of snow in these later Cerebus issues really struck a chord with my 13-year-old self.

The first snow-themed issue I remember is Cerebus #44, "The Deciding Vote". Fans (or maybe just Sim) later called this the "wuffa-wuffa" issue, after the sound the lead character made when walking with snowshoes. The plot of the issue, Cerebus following an old farmer around in order to solicit the geezer's vote for Prime Minister, took a backseat to the slapstick images of Cerebus trying to navigate his way through snowdrifts and the drunken antics of Sim's superhero parody character The Roach. Y'see, Sim the artist was telling us, Cerebus's attempt to transform himself from barabarian to politician is an uphill battle and even the elements are against him.

Things only got worse for the character as the book progressed: Cerebus' time in office seemed to take place over the course of one long winter, which meant that the snow hung around. Sim seemed to take great delight in drawing the characters in the midst of blizzards or contrasting the heated conversations of his characters with the serenity and quiet of the outdoors. The story, and Cerebus' political career, culminated with an invasion of the city by barbarians. Sim told the story in a series of long panels, ending with his now-isolated character walking off into the distance into a sea of white.

Snow popped up in the next few graphic novels as well. In Church and State, Cerebus becomes Pope, gets thrown off the side of a snow-covered mountain, and has to spend many pages climbing back up. Meanwhile, other characters stand around in the snow, looking pensive and plotting schemes of vast socio-political importance. During this time, Sim's assistant Gerhard really started to make his presence felt in the series, drawing highly-detailed walls, cityscapes, gargoyles, etc, all blanketed in layers of snow.

I think that, in part, Sim was initially sort of stuck with the northern fantasy world he had inherited from his pastiche of the world of Robert E. Howard. However, he eventually realized that he could incorporate aspects of this universe into the tale to his advantage, using the weather as a major storytelling tool (and in a black-and-white book, snow makes a nice contrast). As well, the world he was creating was starting to take on more aspects of the real world that he was interested in. I used to imagine that his fictional city state of Iest was a brilliant amalgamation of Kitchener, Ottawa, 1917 St. Petersburg, medieval Europe, Carl Bark's Duckburg, and Conan's D&D fantasyland. At the same time, I sometimes resented the enormous use of white space in Cerebus, an indication I thought of a certain amount of cartoonist laziness. And after awhile, the device takes on a strained air (not unlike the device of using a cartoon aardvark barbarian as the lead character in a 3000 page graphic novel about religion, politics, and gender relations). The depictions of falling snow still are very affecting, as long as one of Sim's gross caricatures is not in the panel, maybe because falling snow is still evocative of a certain sense of nostalgia (childhood, holidays, etc). Overall, and despite the general failings of Sim's project as a whole, I can still appreciate these early Cerebus stories for their modest attempts at depicting the Canadian landscape in graphic novel form. Really, a very sophisticated and sustained, at times subtle use of nature for such a young artform.

Next time: the forecast calls for more snow
Part 2
Part 3

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Amazing Heroes Top 100

a propos of nothing:

In a truly horrible old issue of the Fantagraphics fanzine Amazing Heroes (cover feature on the 1980s post-Kirby Eternals comic book for god's sake), we find this truly horrible top 100 list of comic book sales from January 1985. The most interesting thing to me today is that Superman (#92) sold less than Cerebus (#85) and that World's Finest (#99) sold less than Muppet Babies (#98). This in the same month that issue #2 of the original Crisis on Infinite Earth miniseries was on sale (#3) leading up to the death of Supergirl and the John Byrne revamp of Superman:

Those were the 80s!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Graphic Novel Review: Gilded Lilies

Gilded Lilies: Comics & Drawings
by Jillian Tamaki
Conundrum Press
124 pages
ISBN 1-894994-19-1
$20 Cdn/$17 US

I find it a source of daily amazement that beautifully packaged collections of comics are being published with such regular frequency. The latest exhibit is this little squarebond trade from Conundrum Press collecting some early comics narratives and drawings from cartoonist and illustrator Jillian Tamaki. The restraint and tastefulness of the book design, including the subdued blues and oranges of the cover, is really very pretty and makes me wish that everything on my bookshelves could look this good.

Tamaki is a Canadian cartoonist currently living in Brooklyn, NY. Her illustration work has appeared in prestige U.S. magazines as well as in places like The Walrus here in Canada. Along with her cousin Mariko Tamaki, she won an Honourary Mention from last year's Wright Awards jury for the comic book Skim, which is currently being expanded into a full graphic novel for House of Anansi Press.

Gilded Lilies features two longer solo strips by Jillian. The first is a 21-page rumination on post-Wayne Gretzky Edmonton called City of Champions. The second is the 76-page silent and dreamlike The Tape Mines. City of Champions is made up of a series of vignettes: quotidian scenes of Edmonton residents and their environment in the wake of Gretzky's departure from the Edmonton Oilers hockey franchise for the glamour and big money of Los Angeles in 1988. At first glance the Gretzky trade is a slightly weird premise for an artistic investigation into the character of a city but the short history that Tamaki sketches in the first few pages of the strip is deft and stikes just the right note of loss tinged with humour. A montage documenting the trade and its immediate real-world effects (Edmonton Oilers' owner Peter Pocklington being burned in effigy, newspaper headlines, crying children) is contrasted with a short text piece:

"Canadians are cautious optimists. We are suspicious when things seem too good to be true. There's stuff we percieve to be sacred --untouchable-- of course, nothing is. However, resigned cynicism is prt of our charm. And probably, just as Canadian anyway. Or whatever."

This is followed by scenes of ordinary people going about their daily routines, either with determined resignation or total obliviousness to the world of sports titans, politicians, and millionaires. It's hard to say, really. What is evident is Tamaki's ability to capture ambiguity and the feeling of urban space --street people, kids at play-- in a few strokes of her pen, conveying her own experience as a student in Alberta through tiny sketches.

The Tape Mines is a more complex narrative that charts the journey of a pair of youngsters through a surrealist, Alice-in-Wonderland-style series of adventures. Told entirely without words, the tale unscrolls organically, mostly without benefit of panel borders or any indication of time of place. The two young protagonists begin the story working as child labour, manually rewinding cassette tapes in an eerie forest "factory", but a series of increasingly bizarre events and transformations soon elevates their adventure into a modern Grimm's fairy tale. Tamaki's drawing style, utilizing slanting sloping figures akin to handwriting, propels the narrative forward without being too showy. A self-confessed student of George Grosz, Tamaki's sometimes grotesque figures, rendered in brush and pen with large areas of black and grey washes, have a generalized sadness about them that is compelling as well as spooky.

Taken as a whole, Gilded Lilies is a beautiful introduction to Tamaki's art, including early work and reflections on childhood, providing insight into the world of a self-possessed cartoonist that we can expect great things from.


-Tamaki interview at Illustration Friday, including a photo of the artist at work on a comic

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Hallowe'en Haiku

Back in the day
they made fun comics.
Nostalgia for ghosts and monsters.

(top to bottom: John Stanley's Melvin Monster, Curt Swan's Superman, and Steve Ditko's Captain Atom featuring The Ghost, 13, and Faustus the magical cat from the future)

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Class, Dismissed

More about the idea of class in mainstream superhero comics, this time from The Absorbascon, a blog that seems to have a thing for the 1980s Hispanic superhero Vibe:

But, somehow, somewhen, the world changed. NASCAR became a "sport"; poker became a spectator event on television; Las Vegas became acceptable; Target & Wal-Mart supplanted Saks & Bloomingdales. Men stopped wearing hats in the streets and started wearing them in restaurants. Women turned in their high heels for sneakers. Ties were replaced by bluetooths and gowns by jeans. People no longer aspire to higher class, but struggle to maintain a lower- class facade, no matter what their finances.

Back in the day, Carter Hall was an archeologically-oriented sophisticate; Ted Grant was a medical student, then a wealthy celebrity. Nowadays, Carter is some sort of barely restrained savage and Ted Grant is some beer-swilling Wolverine-lite, and a reader can only assume that criminals can literally smell either one of them from a block away.

The post tends to conflate the economic realities of class with the trappings of culture, style and attitude that we clothe ourselves in, and often equates education with class, but it sparks off an interesting line of thought and the comments section has some great discussion.

As well, The Legion Abstract has assembled a nice list of recent discussions on this topic here.

(above: College student The Atom contemplates the power of the proletariat, art by Jon Chester Kozlak, All Star Comics #33, 1947)

Friday, October 20, 2006

(not quite a) Graphic Novel Review: Nog a Dod

Nog a Dog cover
Nog a Dod: Prehistoric Canadian Psychedoolia
Edited by Marc Bell
Conundrum Press
288 pages
ISBN 1-894994-16-7

review by BK Munn

1. "A renovated sandwich takes your eyebrows to tuba practice."

Nog a Dog is something of an artistic manifesto for a group of friends who have been sharing their art back-and-forth in zine form over the past decade or so. According to editor and contributor Marc Bell, the book is a "filtering down" of work created "by a loosely affiliated group of Canadian artists." It's quite a work of conservation, since many of the booklets collected in this squarebound trade paperback were originally printed in very small quantities and were often disassembled and recombined by their intended audience.

2. "S/he turned up to fight crime with washroom keys."

Reading the book --a bewildering array of photo-montage, piggy-back art, doodles, word games, anti-narrative comics and paintings-- I get the feeling that I'm eavesdropping on a cultish jam-session whose members share a secret surrealist language of in-jokes and myths. But far from being the proverbial turn-off , the good-natured lame-ass clubbiness of the work serves as something of a doorway to a particular way of seeing.

3. "I'll dump these dirty umbrellas in T.O."

The book collects large chunks of material from over 40 zines --some in full colour but many in black and white. Having all of these books crammed together, living under one roof as it were, is something of a godsend --accumulating something that I would never otherwise see until some museum retrospective is published 20 years from now and all the energy of this art has dissipated. Even back when I was regularly ordering things through the pages of the old Factsheet 5 or Broken Pencil I often shied away from tiny drawing zines and artist's books in favour of comics. After all, I reasoned, 10 pages of stapled-together drawings is a poor substitute for ten pages of stapled together narrative. Now that the lines between comics and the gallery seem more blurred to me, I'm just overwhelmed and intimidated by the volume of work out there and fear it's impossible to keep track of these artists without some kind of guide. Luckily Bell has stepped in to try to organize a bit of the exuberance and put faces to names (or names to drawings). Many of the contributors will be familiar to readers of contemporary art comics: Marc Bell and frequent collaborators Jason McLean & Peter Thompson, Keith Jones, etc. Most I was unfamiliar with before this volume. Among the revelations for me were the dark dreamscapes of Jonathen Petersen whose drawing style here is sort of like Mark Beyer meets Yellow Submarine. As well, the chubby sketches of Amy Lockhart, who also provides the book's gorgeous cover, are comforting and disturbing at the same time.

4. "Personal obsession is the crowning glory of life."

There are comic strip-type stories here, notably by Keith Jones and Mark Connery, but I'm not sure I prefer these more orderly sequential drawings to the anarchy that the majority of the book represents. There's something else that is harder to pin down going on here, something that the wonderful world of sequential art in all its glory is not sufficient to express. Although in turns beautiful and baffling, repeated journeys through the book reveal a sort of meta-narrative at work, documenting the process better than Bell's sometimes confusing attempt at collation. The collection tells the story of how these artists have interacted, developing weird tropes, recurrent characters, and their own drawing chops over the course of this "project." Above all, the book says "Don't just sit there, draw something! Transform the raw materials of your world's monoculture --restaurant reviews, newscasters, JFK, Stephen Harper, The Lord of the Rings-- into something representing your own worldview."

conundrum press

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Sabrina Mania

Jay Stephens sings the praises of Sabrina the Teenage Witch and her creators George Gladir and the late great Dan DeCarlo over at his Monsterama Blog. Nowadays she is a tv star and her comic is drawn in a manga style but Jay remembers her back in the day. Also included is a look at Archie's Madhouse and the usual assortment of creepy comics and pop culture artifacts.

For myself, I've always felt there's something missing from the classic Sabrina comics stories --her fit in the Archie world has never been perfect, maybe because so much of her cast is so comic-book ugly (not that Archie and Jughead are any great prizes). The dynamic that enervates the other Archie teenage romantic rivalry series just isn't there. Maybe because the series has never been a priority for the publisher, even when it has been a cartoon show and live-action sitcom and Archie and the gang have languished.

Hallowe'en is coming!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


It's a Sad Sack world, we're all just living in it.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Graphic Novel Review: Mendacity

Free Image Hosting at

Mendacity: One Woman's Ordeal
Art by Sophie Cossette
Written by Tamara Faith Berger
Kiss Machine

What if Little Annie Fannie was a Moldovan Existentialist?

Mendacity is the latest in Kiss Machine's new line of "graphic novellas." A previous volume, last year's Skim, won an honourable mention from the Wright Awards jury for its smart writing and razor-sharp draughtmanship, so I was pleasantly surprised to find this new offering on the magazine rack of my local bookstore.

The comic tells the story of Inna Rosca, a bored young woman from Moldova who answers a classified ad for foreign workers in order to escape her abusive home life and the general political malaise of her homeland. Perhaps naively, she signs up with an outfit that turns out to be a criminal gang and she soon finds herself with a group of other women, without a passport and in the hands of a human trafficking ring.

What follows is a grim tale of life in an Israeli brothel where Inna is kept as a sex-slave, at the service of an endless stream of johns. Curiously, she maintains a sort of bored composure throughout, whether being gang-raped, listening to the elaborate philosophical rationalizations of her pimp, or engaging in more passionate sex with her lover and errant "rescuer," a married john named Hersh. Her constant companion and only solace is a book, "On the Heights of Despair" by the Romanian-born existentialist philosopher E.M. Cioran.

I almost don't know what to make of all this depressing story besides "life is bleak, especially if you are a Romanian prostitute in an Israeli brothel." I suspect the ideas of Cioran (at least his non-Fascist ideas) are meant to serve as a sort of philosophical underpinning to the narrative, his philosophy of the absurdity of life and human degradation a back-beat or counterpoint to the relentlessly depressing ordeal endured by Inna. The overt, resigned sexuality of the protagonist and her existential leanings remind me of Ana, the titular heroine of a graphic novel by the Argentine F. Solano Lopez. The Candide-like journey of Ana is equally as depressing as Inna's but Ana at least has the benefit of actually discussing philosophy with her mentor, Simone de Beauvoir, whereas Inna must make do with the cold comfort of the printed word and the murmured endearments and banalities of her lover.

The artwork is quite dark, with lots of solid blacks and awkwardly posed, angular figures that impart a slightly claustophobic, disoriented feeling to the narrative. At times I found the cartooning a little unclear --a tiny panel showing Inna being beaten by her new pimp almost looks like a disembodied hand is slapping the pimp, for instance. Unfortunate, not least because so much of what is said in Mendacity is either hypocritical or ironic, meaning character actions and other graphic aspects of the book have to carry quite a bit of the story. After all, it is in this way, through visual symbols, that Inna seems to find a way to assert some control over her life and body. Although her passport and letters home are intercepted, the talisman of her existentialist book and the various tatoos she inscribes on herself (rising sun, Star of David) manage to say much more about her personality and worldview than any words or even sexual act (and there is a quite a bit of sex in this comic). Ultimately, although we last see a tearful Inna having sex in a garbage-strewn alley, we can only assume that she has made some sort of peace with her situation, as she notes: "You have to have nerves of steel to do this kind of work."

Preview Mendacity at Kiss Machine

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Graphic Novel Review: Rabbit and Bear Paws

Rabbit and Bear Paws: The Sugar Bush
Written by Christopher Meyer and Chad Solomon
Art by Chad Solomon
Little Spirit Bear Productions
ISBN 0-9739905-0-3
$9.95 Can/$7.95 U.S.

Rabbit and Bear Paws is a weekly webcomic created by Chad Solomon, a member of the Ojibway First Nation. According to its website, "This fresh and funny comic strip for the young and young at heart is created and drawn with the guidance of his community elders in collaboration with writer Christopher Meyer. The first series of comic strips are based upon the teachings of The Seven Grandfathers (wisdom from the Anishinabek Community) and are rapidly gaining enthusiastic fans for their vibrant and entertaining images of Native traditions and oral history."

Rabbit and Bear Paws: The Sugar Bush is a 32-page full-colour graphic novel (in format it is more like a European comics "album"). The book tells the story of two young Ojibwa brothers who use a magic potion and their wits to elude invading English soldiers in 18th-Century Canada. Tiny, fast and prankish, Rabbit is the leader of the two brothers. Rabbit steals his grandfather's potion and transforms himself and Bear Paws, his much larger and slower brother, into animals in order to steal some soup from the village pot. Caught and sent to gather firewood, the pair eventually meet up with a troop of English soldiers and travel all the way to Niagara Falls before escaping with the help of some animal friends. Along the way they recount some stories of the legendary Nanaboozhoo.

In format, basic plot, and character, the book emulates the Asterix and Obelix adventures by Goscinny and Uderzo, right down to the introductory map and character descriptions at the start of the albums. The fact that Rabbit and Bear Paws is an homage bordering on pastiche doesn't mean that it doesn't have some interesting characteristics of its own. Most successful comics franchises have spawned numerous formulaic imitators that have gone on to great successes in their own right, evolving over time into distinct entities. Asterix itself (first published in 1959) is a reworking of Oumpah-pah, the American-Indian character originally created by Goscinny and Uderzo for the U.S. market but published initially in France in 1958 (heck, even Peyo's Smurf albums have a similar theme of magic villages ruled by wise elders and surrounded by many dangers).

But rather than rehearse the many many parallels between Asterix and Rabbit and Bear Paws, I'll mention a few of its more-or-less unique features. What sets Rabbit and Bear Paws apart is a concern with Ojibwa lore and a desire to impart not only the wisdom of the elders but a respect for same. To this end, the adventures of the two titular brothers are laced with references to creation myths, the Wendigo, and lots of talk about respecting nature and helping animals (the magic potion they steal from their grandfather temporarily transforms them into whatever animal they imagine).

Solomon's drawing shows quite a bit of promise: it is fairly accomplished with a slick line and attention to detail in the Uderzo, bigfoot tradition (the colouring in the book, especially the backgrounds, is a lacklustre computerized job). The writing, especially the preachy bits and much of the dialogue, reads as slightly stilted, and lacks the punch, humour and wonderful wordplay of its model, but is still serviceable for a story that is intended (I think) as something of a primer.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Deppey Adopts Gizmo News

Over at Journalista, Dirk Deppey shares some thoughts on the finally-available Sony Reader.

"Oh, and look, Tokyopop’s already signed onboard, albeit with just their OEL offerings. (Of course, clicking on the “View More Manga & Graphic Novels New Releases” button in the graphic-novel section just leads to an error message, something else with which early adopters can identify.) Also recognizable to early adopters: a price tag of $350, surprisingly close to the consumer tipping point, but not quite there yet."

To quote Archie Bunker, "Oh Jeez, I can hardly wait."

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Class Conflicts in Superhero Comic Books

Steven at The Roar of Comics makes some interesting points about class in superhero comics, with particular attention to Superman/Clark Kent:

Superman did and does fight for social change. In the Superman Archive, he clearly starts out as a populist hero, a champion of the working class, taking on war profiteers, state-run orphanages, crooked boxing promoters and poor mining conditions. Watch Superman lead a party of upper class twits into a mine and then bury them alive to teach them a lesson and tell me that's not a guy who fights the power.

And today he fights against class elitists like CEO (and ex-PRESIDENT) Lex Luthor and monarchic dictators like Darkseid. Compare that to Batman's typically lower class, obviously criminal, more anarchic villains. Superman fights against those who would impose their own version of order on the world, while Batman fights those who would destroy the order HE imposes on Gotham.

And while Matthew's right, it would be morally repugnant for Superman to enforce social change, Clark Kent can and does champion those changes from his job as a reporter for the Daily Planet.

Clark, after all, had a lower middle class rural upbringing and a strictly middle class life style once he became a reporter. Sure, it's a "glamor" career that makes him somewhat famous, I'm guessing he doesn't actually make that much money (Lois might). He might not have Peter Parker's money problems, but Clark almost certainly knows what it's like to worry about the bills.

But Superman is the exception here, not the rule. By nature, a superhero is someone whose unique abilities places them apart and above, sometimes literally above, most of society. That these unique beings then go on to be vigilantes, placing their own personal definition of justice above that of the police and democratically elected government, is elitist, aristocratic, and borderline fascist (I'm looking at you, Batman).

My own feelings on the issue were sketched out here, but I would tend to disagree: Superman is the basic template for all things superhero, including manifestations of class, and while not exactly aristocratic, he is certainly "king" of the castle in the superhero world and in the real world of corporate properties. Also, I'm not sure what a "class elitist" is but I'm not going to pick favourites in a fight between a middle-class vigilante alien who can make diamonds and a capitalist kingpin.

(All this started from a post about class in the future at Legion Abstract, apparently.)

As well, interested readers should check out this article by the great Jeet Heer on Red Son, a mediocre Superman comic from a few years back that re-imagines The Man of Steel as a communist.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Transogram Kandy Kitchen

Just found this ad from an old Gold Key or Dell Porky Pig comic. The loose page was just fluttering around the deserted Aberfoyle Antiques Market last Wednesday (the market is only open Sundays). Quite odd that this torn comics page was the only piece of litter in the whole place.

Anyway, I had never heard of this toy before --the Transogram Kandy Kitchen. Transogram was one of the greatest U.S. toymakers.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Monday, September 04, 2006

Labor Day Cartoons, Comic Books, & Superheroes

(I thought this would be a good time to repost The Working Class Heroes Project from last year:)

"The super-hero comics of the 1940s also had this rough, working class quality. A cartoonist like Jack Kirby is a perfect example. His characters -- Captain America, for example -- were an extension of himself. Kirby was a tough little guy from the streets of New York's lower East Side, and he saw the world in terms of harsh, elemental forces. How do you deal with these forces? You fight back! This was the message of all the comic strips created during the Great Depression of the 1930s, from Popeye to Dick Tracy to Superman." --Robert Crumb, quoted in The R. Crumb Handbook

Working Class Heroes

In honour of Labour Day in Canada and the U.S., a few notes on the dearth of actual, blue-collar workers among the legions of superheroes created since the 1930s. The Working Class Heroes Project is a work in progress.


Most superheroes were created by working-class cartoonists in the sweatshops of the 1930s, 40s, 50s and 60s. Ironically, very few superheroes are actually working-class. Outside of Bob Burden's
Mystery Men, where are the superheroic truck drivers, mechanics and steelworkers?

While many superheroes held down day-jobs as white-collar workers or professionals of various stripes, very few secret identities would qualify as blue-collar, industrial workers. At their point of origin, and as wish-fulfillment fantasies, superheroes are generally a privileged lot, and seem to fall roughly into four categories: playboy millionaires/royalty; educated professionals (doctors, journalists, pilots, scientists); professional athletes, entertainers, and broadcasters; and agents of the state (soldiers, police).

As Ariel Dorfman writes in The Empire's Old Clothes, "the superhero's triumph is based on the omission of the working class, the elimination of a community or collective which could transform the crisis and give it a meaning or new direction."

Here, then, is a tentative list of the rude mechanicals and producers of wealth who moonlight as superheroes, be they prole or lumpen.

(Thanks to Jeet Heer and the various Oddball Comics and Superman fans who have contributed thoughts on this project).

The List:
Shoeshine Boy/Underdog -- shoeshine boy
Luke Cage/Powerman --Hero for Hire
Johnny Chambers/Johnny Quick --newsreel camera operator
Fred Drake/Stuntman --stuntman and movie double/extra
Pat Dugan/Stripesy --chauffeur to rich kid Sylvester Pemberton (Star-Spangled Kid)
Freddie Freeman/Captain Marvel JR --crippled newspaper delivery boy
Barbara Gordon/Batgirl --librarian
Louise Grant/The Blonde Phantom --secretary to P.I. Mark Mason
Buford T. Hollis/Razorback --truck driver
Ma Hunkel/Red Tornado --housewife/mother/grocery store owner
Kato --limo driver
Dinah Lance/Black Canary --florist
Hollis Mason/Nite Owl I --mechanic
Obelix --menhir delivery man
Peter Parker/Spider-man --photographer
Diana Prince/Wonder Woman --princess who works as nurse
Penrod Pooch/Hong Kong Phooey --janitor
Popeye --sailor
Chuck Taine/Bouncing Boy --delivery boy

Please feel free to add additions or corrections to this list. I am especially interested in heroes from the "Golden Age" (1930s-40s) or earlier (even Hercules cleaned stables --and David herded sheep).

Quirky Caveats

Masked adventurers and comic-strip stars welcome. Please note: for the purposes of this list, I am only interested in heroes with working-class jobs (ie, blue-collar/pink-collar/"proletarian"). I will accept tradespeople, factory workers, farm workers, unemployed/poor, craftsmen, etc. NO white-collar workers, rich people, politicians, government agents, or cops. I will accept Private Eyes and small business owners ("petit bourgeois") in a pinch.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Jerry Siegel's Second Act

Jay Stephens talks about Jerry Siegel's Terror Twins --two beatnik (or are they mod?) supervillains from Gold Key's The Owl-- at his Monsterama blog.

This series of comics is long past the major part of Siegel's very impressive "Second Act" in U.S. Silver Age comics and almost his last stop as a professional writer (the comic is pretty bland but not downright horrible or anything, just stupid, uninspired 1960s "camp" from a broken, middle-aged man) but it still has a certain fascination...

His work from this time period is still very easy to find --most of the non-DC work is not collected and prices on the old comics Siegel worked on are relatively affordable. His work for foreign publishers is harder to find, but Titan books recently published a hardcover collection of his Spider strips.
There is also a fairly thorough bibliography of Siegel here. While my favourite stories remain the Superman family tales from the 1960s, these later efforts still reveal alot of Siegel psychology. You don't get much of the feelings of loss, nostalgia, and aging found in the DC work but more of a sense of earnestness oddly coupled with that lifelong need to parody.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Philips READUS E-Reader Scroll Prototype - Gizmodo

Courtesy of Gizmodo, the Philips READUS E-Reader Scroll Prototype, a hand-held device with a screen that rolls out like a piece of paper, for that tactile fake paper reading experience. A potential challenger to the ipod and Sony ebook products. Maybe one day we will read Elvis Road by the Elvis Studio on a device like this. Maybe not.

Webcomics Economics

Webcomics creator T. Campbell digests the sad news that most people don't make any money creating webcomics ("especially if they have nothing to do with videogames" is the commonest wisdom I hear). Sure some people have jobs with startups and hyped businesses like Clickwheel, but on the creative side, not alot of black ink. Campbell looks at the idea behind webcomics collective (he is a member of several, it seems) and his verdict is generally negative:

This is bad news for those who, like me, have likened Keenspot and Modern Tales to "the DC and Marvel of webcomics" or "the comic-strip syndicates of webcomics." This was certainly true in intent and for a while it seemed true in execution. And after that, we wanted it to be true, because we were particularly good at being members of collectives or because we just wanted to make and make and make comics without having to complicate our taxes.

Bad news for us, and yet... great news for everyone doing webcomics, because the businesses that are doing best in webcomics are businesses of one. And all you need to be a business of one is the decision to be.

It's still weird the ammount of cheerleading and "team comics"-style hype these webcomics people engage in. Quite a bit of mystical vision-eering about the possibilities of comics on computer screens similar to the "comics can be anything you want them to be" era of print comics cheerleading circa 1980-2000.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

PayPal, ECommerce, and Comics

It took me awhile to get on the Paypal bandwagon. I've been using ebay in various capacities since 1997 but it wasn't until a few years ago that I finally broke down and started accepting Paypal payments for auctions. Previously, as someone who didn't have a traditional bricks-and-mortar store and no credit card merchant account, I was stuck relying on money orders and the vagaries of cross-border postal systems. Now that payment is virtually instantaneous and I don't have to truck piles of weird money orders to my bank every week I wonder how I ever got along without Paypal.

On the surface it seems to be the most flexible and reliable online payment technology and my prediction is that Paypal (or whatever it evolves into) will be one of the largest banks in the world in another 10 years.

It's ease of use and popularity (as documented here) are legendary , which makes it all the more puzzling why it hasn't been more widely adopted for other forms of e-commerce.

My own largely postitive experience (I'll get to the negatives in a minute) and general love of Paypal received some food for thought recently when I read the Joey Manley interview in the latest Comics Journal (Issue #277). How is paypal being experienced by the online comics communtiy? Manley, the webcomics guru and founder of several successful webcomics sites and services (Modern Tales, Serializer, and the new AdultWebcomics) was interviewed by the Journal's Dirk Deppey about the future of comics on the web. Many of Manley's sites accept some form of paypal payments, and Manley explains his basic preferences to Deppey, an otherwise uninhibited and tech-savvy webhead, not to mention crac-a-jack journalist and editor:

DEPPEY: I've even got problems with Paypal. I refuse to get a full account with them because I won't give them my bank numbers and whatnot.

MANLEY: Well, that's understandable. We've never attempted to sell anything by micropayment, and there's a reason for that. I don't have a lot of faith in that model for the kinds of things I try to do. I do have a lot of faith in the idea that a certain kind of material will thrive online if it can be supported by its readers directly forking over cash. That can be in the form of print compilations, that people buy, that can be in the form of T-shirt sales, or it can be in the form of subscriptions, or possibly micropayments. I haven't seen a micropayment system that works for me either, and think it's unfortunate in some ways that the failure of Bitpass to really set the world on fire has sort of discredited the underlying idea of micropayments for everybody, always.

Manley has a well-documented history as a participant in the micropayments debate and criticisms of Bitpass. A few years ago, when micropayments advocate and cartoonist Scott Mccloud published an essay on the future of webcomics and micropayments, he started a debate on the viability of his proposed model for comics ecommerce. Manley weighed in with a general dismissal of micropayments, describing them as unviable for less-popular content (he also expressed doubts about advertising). But Manley has kept an open mind, investigating new options as they appear, including Paypal competitors like Clickandbuy. Nowadays, Manley's websites mostly follow a subscription model balanced with lots of free content, and flexibility given to the users of his products.

The artists that work with Manley, including Guelph's own Jay Stephens, are generally enthusiastic. Achewood's chris onstad is a recent convert to the Manley business plan, moving a selection of his work to Webcomicsnation's subscription-only platform:

"Webcomics Nation is the perfect solution for hosting subscriber material,” said Onstad. “The content management interfaces are extremely well-designed, and the whole product is very well thought out. From uploading art to managing payments, it’s very well integrated. It’s the best system I’ve seen for anyone trying to make a living off of their comics."

As well, Paypal announced last year it would be experimenting with micropayments, adding a new fee scale and making the system more flexible.

Paypal still has many drawbacks. One of which, as Manley recently noted on his blog, is that Paypal doesn't allow payments for adult content, making the roll-out of his latest porn/erotica-comics venture a bit problematic (Paypal is really missing the boat there, refusing to cash in on one of the biggest revenue sources on the web).

Additionally, the system of fees, privacy issues, and (at least for Canadians) problematic exchange rates are still big stumbling blocks, especially for small mom-and-pop type users who accept Paypal payments. Still, at least for now (and Google has announced a competing sertvie, Gbuy), it's the only game in town.

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Music of Jack Kirby

I've not really thought about what Jack Kirby's comics would sound like when set to music, and aside from the theme songs and music that accompanied various Marvel Comics animated cartoon adaptations from the 1960s and 70s, and various references in pop music, I've never heard any musical attempts to interpret the spirit of Kirby's art.

The Kirby Quartet, on the other hand, have developed an entire repertoire of music that they claim has "the same energy and passion" that Kirby brought to his drawing. Based in Toronto, the group is currently touring the West Coast with an upcoming stop August 8 and 9 in Vancouver for "two concerts to raise funds for First United Church Mission in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside." (info 604-736-6926)

The Repertoire
Ludwig van Beethoven, String quartet No. 1 in F major, Op. 18

Joseph Haydn, String quartet No. 43 in G Major, Op. 54, No. 1

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, String quartet in B flat major ("Hunt"), K. 458
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, String quintet in G minor, K. 516

Maurice Ravel, String quartet, in F major (1903)

Anton Webern, Langsamer Satz (1905)

John Zorn, Cat O’Nine Tails

Felix Mendelssohn, String quintet in B-flat Major, Op. 87

Kirby Quartet Home Page

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Sony ebook pushed back

The much-hyped Sony Reader portable ebook has had its release date delayed once again, eliciting groans from tech reporters and gadget lovers the world over. Not that anyone is really acting surprised. The new toy has had tons of critics since it was first announced. Many industry watchers continue to be sceptical of the proprietary nature of Sony's copy-protection software.

The ebook is Sony's followup to the Librie, the last launch to meet with a mediocre reception.

Many U.S. publishers, including manga giant Tokyopop, have already signed on as content-providers but it looks like graphic novel fans will have to wait awhile longer for the privelege of not trading electronic comics they purchase from Sony.

Sony's such a tease CNET

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Superman vs Wayne Boring

Wayne Boring is one of the most iconic artists to ever work on the classic Superman comics. Starting as a member of the Shuster studio, he soon became the primary Superman artist for National/DC and drew the daily comic strip for many years.

His influence has been far-reaching --his clunky, wide-shouldered version of Superman has been appropriated in parody and pop art and he has been the inspiration for a modern graphic novel classic --Dan Clowes' David Boring, about a young man who obsesses about his missing father, an obscure comic book artist.

Wayne Boring drew himself into a Superman adventure back in 1951. In the story, Superman wrecks Boring's studio to prove he is the real McCoy to a writer. These strips are not well-known today --we have the Speeding Bullet website to thank for digging them up:

Speeding Bullet

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Comics Sales: 1946

This one is very interesting. A trade ad from National Comics from 1946, disputing Time Magazine and Wall St Journal articles about declining comics circulation. The ad is hilarious, with an illo of a snooty capitalist reading the news and looking over his shoulder. Hard numbers from National (also a major distributor at the time) about the circulations of other comics publishers, ranked into categories according to quality/durability.

Full article.

Saturday, July 15, 2006


In my continuing effort to document cool things on the web about classic Superman comics --among the greatest and weirdest childrens literature of the 20th Century-- a few links to recent discoveries.

The continuing archival research into the first Superboy and the 1940 New York World's Fair "Superman Day" continues at the Superman Through The Ages website with newly scanned photos of the participants (mentioned previously here).

The latest thing is a discussion of a figure in the background of one of the photos, a young girl with a homemade "S" crest on top of what could be a Supergirl costume. The first fan costume parade?

Superman Through the Ages! Forum - The Very First Super Boy!

Another great find is this old ad for a Superman costume --dating back to 1954. Jared Bond has a website called The Speeding Bullet that is all about the Superman comic strip and lately he's been digging up newspaper articles and ads from the classic period (the best is a newspaper article about Joe Shuster getting arrested for trying to steal a car in Florida in 1940).

Lastly, there was a great series of interviews on the U.S. public radio show Studio 360 about Superman as an American icon. Gerard Jones talked about the life of Jerry and Joe, mostly reiterating points from his Men of Tommorrow bio but also making reference to Siegel's early intentions for Superman and Lois (hinted at in the aborted "K Metal" storyline). Jones mentions that Siegel wanted Superman to marry so he could write a "Nick and Nora Charles"-style series. Interesting, because this is what happened in one of my favourite 1970s kids comics, the Mr. and Mrs. Superman stories. Most of these stories, which take place in an alternate reality on a world called Earth-2, where written by uber-fan E. Nelson Bridwell and drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger in his clunky, charmingly old-fashioned (for the 1970s) style. In the stories, Lois helps her husband solve crimes while trying to set up house as newlyweds who also work together at the Daily Star. Sort of The Front Page meets The Thin Man, in tights.

The radio show also includes quotes from Jules Feiffer on Siegel ("a charming, lovely man") and Siegel and Shuster ("they got screwed"). Art Spiegelman has a few choice quotes, too ("there was only room for so many Chagalls" & "Superman is Jewish the way Clark Kent is Jewish").

Friday, June 30, 2006

The Beat is moving

Heidi MacDonald is moving her fun news blog about comics culture to the website of her current corporate masters at Publisher's Weekly. Since she has been working for PW for awhile and co-edits their weekly e-magazine about comics, the move makes a lot of sense and eliminates the need to constantly remind her audience who her employer is when reporting on PW stories or Reed Exhibits events (like the New York Comic Con). It's also a good move on the part of PW --they get an established, well-liked property with a huge backlog of posts and enormous community goodwill (not to mention one of the most experienced women journalists in the comics world --and one with a variety of interests beyond the myopic realm of superheroes and kids comics). Congrats to Heidi and here's to many more years of the Beat!

MILE HIGH COMICS presents THE BEAT at The Beat is moving

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Superboy 1940

Surprising bit of arcana concerning the early days of Superman that may be of interest especially to people curious about the ongoing litigation involving the Siegel family and the ownership of Superboy. It seems that the name "Superboy" was being used by the owners and promoters of Superman as early as 1940, when a Superman Day was held at the New York World's Fair. Long-time fans and collectors may know that a special World's Fair comic book featuring Superman was published, but many may not know that a Superboy and Supergirl, selected from real live boys and girls, were crowned on July 4, 1940.

Recently, the website Superman Through the Ages was contacted by Bill Aronis, who states in a letter that he was selected as "superboy" for a day by a panel consisting of Charles Atlas and other celebrities as part of a promotion for Superman comics. 15 at the time, Aronis responded to an ad on the back of a Superman comic and was chosen from among hundred of other applicants. He received a trophy and a tour of the National offices and met some of the creative talent behind the comic book.

The use of the name Superboy for this event predates Superboy's actual comic book debut in More Fun Comics #101 by 5 years. The use of the name Supergirl (won by Maureen Reynolds) predates the appearance of the comic book Supergirl by 18 years (the so-called "Magic Totem Super-Girl" from a story in Superman #123 or by 9 years (the so-called "Lucy Regent Supergirl Story" in Superboy #5 published in 1949), depending on which history you subscribe to.

Recently, the heirs of writer Jerry Siegel, who created Superman with cartoonist Joe Shuster, succeeded in winning co-copyright of the character Superboy. The Siegels argue that the concept and name of Superboy, and the idea for stories of a teenaged Superman, were invented by Siegel before he entered the army in 1943 (Siegel submitted Superboy concepts to National/Detective beginning in 1938, shortly after Action Comics #1 was published).

Read the full story here:

1940 New York Times Superman Day Article

photo above: the first Superboy?

Friday, June 09, 2006

Wonder Woman: Lesbian or Dyke?

A recent essay by Trina Robbins is now online. Trina discusses the lesbian overtones in the classic Wonder Woman titles and, as her title suggests, comes down on the "The inhabitants of Paradise Island were lesbians" side of the equation. Robbins reviews the reception of the WW comics based on a sampling of old letters page comments and finds a few choice quotes from WW's writer on the topic of his goals in creating the heroine. Always a fascinating topic, more so lately in light of the increasing attention to issues of superhero sexuality in the mainstream media.

Robbins doesn't really go into the flipside of her question (a topic popular not only with Wertham but also with contemporary readers like Chester Brown): "What is it that male readers find so stimulating about Wonder Woman's adventures?"

Wonder Woman: Lesbian or Dyke?

Above: Trina Paper Dolls and a panel from a Wonder Woman homage by Chester Brown

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

That's What You Think!

Thought Frequential was a dead blog?

That's what you think! And the Legion of Doom echoes that sentiment:

To celebrate the return of this infrequent weblog about comics, Frequential links to the latest potential viral website honouring the greatest tv show ever.

Superfriends was my favourite tv show for about 4 years when I was a kid, and here's why.

Comics Comics

Wow, Dan Nadel and Timothy Hodler have a blog and are putting out a FREE magazine about comics that should bring the artcrit and design sensibility seen in the Ganzfeld to an exclusively comics environ. Nadel seems to have a very unique (to comics criticism, anyway) take on art and his editorial style (basically: "this ugly drawing is comics --deal with it") is refreshing.

The blog is mostly a way to hype publishing efforts like PictureBox, Lime Publishing, and Nadel's Art Out of Time, but also has reviews (like a feature on Carl Barks) and excerpts from the new Comics Comics mag.

Hodler's essay on Barks has some interesting points. He argues that "His sense of space is outstanding" and that "this isn't complicated, theoretical stuff that needs a lot of explication to understand, anyway. In some ways, Barks' place in comics is similar to Robert Louis Stevenson's in English literature. They're both so masterful that sometimes they're taken for granted, their contributions to our culture overlooked or dismissed as children's stories."

I like those old Barks comics as well, but find it hard sometimes to get past the weirdness of the Disney brand (not to mention the weirdness of the animal conceit that the Air Pirates and Mad's "Mickey Rodent" had such fun with). Barks did manage some interesting social satire and his storytelling and dialogue are very sharp, but Robert Louis Stevenson? Maybe it's just because one of my old perfessors was an editor of the Complete RLS, but I don't see the complexity of plot or theme in the decidedly adult work of Stevenson mirrored in Barks. Now when we compare Stevenson's drawing to Barks...

Comics Comics

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Nana Live

Everyone's favorite band inspired by a Japanese manga, Nana. Nana is a comic serialized in Shojo Beat about two girls named Nana and the band they are involved with. I tell people it is like Sailor Moon meets Love and Rockets. But not really.

Thanks to Heidi at THE BEAT for linking to this video.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Little Lefty

Kudos to Allan Holtz over at Stripper's Guide for unearthing and profiling the forgotten socialist classic, Little Lefty, a comic strip from the U.S. Daily Worker by Maurice del Bourgo. Holtz provides some background and dates for this didactic version of Percy Crosby's Skippy, complete with samples.

Holtz has also started digging up old news articles about cartoonists, including Peter Arno's highly publicized divorce suit.

Stripper's Guide: Obscurity of the Day: Little Lefty

Friday, April 14, 2006

V for Anarchy

Lots of interesting anarchist related activity around the movie based on the Moore and David Lloyd graphic novel, V for Vendetta, beginning April 17th:
V for Vendetta
A for Action!!!!

4/17: International A for Anarchy Action Day!

While V for Vendetta has been playing for a few weeks in the US, its only just premiered in Spain and a range of other for countries. The time is now here to ramp up this effort! We're calling for creating actions worldwide to educate moviegoers on the promise of anarchy and to take a parting shot at the corporations behind the film V for Vendetta film for eviscerating the anarchist politics of the original V for Vendetta graphic novel.

12:30-1:30PM Time Warner Center, 59th St and Columbus Circle
1:45-2:30PM DC Comics, 1700 Broadway between 53rd and 54th Streets
2:45-3:30PM AMC Empire 25, 234 West 42nd St. at 8th Avenue (this may change closer to date)

Come to leaflet, hold posters and banners, take pictures and video (bring your cameras) of the action!

Details on the NY Action

We'll perform street theater, leaflet, hold a banner promoting the A for Anarchy website (, and hold posters —detournments of V for Vendetta movie posters courtesy of our creative comrades in Spain (visit their site at

To challenge the film's liberal politics, our street theater will feature a two-faced Clinton-Bush under the control of the ruling class and corporate power. The anarchist V will chase off these scoundrels and speak to the notion of a society without capitalism and the state.

We'll begin our action at the Time-Warner Center, home to the largest media conglomerate the world has ever seen (Time-Warner, with revenues last year of $43 billion), creators of the V for Vendetta film. It's no surprise that an institution at the heart of global capitalism would never expose mass audiences to anarchist thought. We'll be visiting their office not to protest them, because we don't expect them to "reform" or to be "more open to our message", since we call for nothing short of the wholesale destruction of the entire economic system they dominate. Rather, we intend to use their presence as a backdrop to illustrate the real agenda of corporate films like V for Vendetta, which co-opt the style of subversion yet never provide the kind of substance that would fundamentally challenge their interests.

Next, we'll visit DC Comics, the creative robber barons who used tricks of intellectual property to retain ownership of V for Vendetta, allowing their corporate parent, Time Warner to create a film that fundamentally betrayed V for Vendetta graphic novel writer Alan Moore's original anarchist vision. DC has a long history of bilking creators and destroying anarchist heroes—they did much the same with the original anarchist comic book hero—Superman! That's right, Superman. In the first 2-3 years of Superman comic books and comic strips, the Man of Steel was a far cry from the character we know today. Described by co-creator Jerry Siegel as "a thorn in the side of the establishment", this Superman's tagline was not, "Truth, Justice, and the American Way," but rather "Champion of the Oppressed." Instead of super-villians and space aliens, he used direct action to fight slumlords, munitions manufacturers and their lackeys in government, warmongering heads of state, and the execution of innocent people. Within three years, DC had seized control of the character and began transforming him into the toothless symbol of status quo "justice" we've known for decades.

Finally, we'll take our message directly to the moviegoing public by performing our street theater in front of the exiting crowd of a V for Vendetta matinee screening, inspiring them to connect the insurrectionary action of the V movie with an explictly anti-statist and anti-capitalist politics, and to recognize that eliminating oppressive governments isn't just for the movies!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

THE BEAT on uclick deal

MILE HIGH COMICS presents THE BEAT at Tokyopop and uclick team

Heidi writes up the second deal for Tokyopop in as many days. All this talk about comics on tiny cell screens makes me yearn for comics on tv! comics on walls! comics on blimps!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Music And Comics: Two Great Tastes That Taste Great Together? | Comixpedia

Music And Comics: Two Great Tastes That Taste Great Together? | Comixpedia

Tym Godek has the beginnings of a thought on the combination of music and comics (in a webcomix format, I assume).

While we all love the cute little bleeps and glurks our computers make while we explore webpages, I wonder how far a musical comic can go before we really do have to consider it more akin to film or video than a novel or short story. Of course, I read many comics as a kid that came with a record and didn't think of them as some new hybrid art form.

Try as they might no one has come up with a clear-cut, irrefutable definition of what "comics" is. The advent of web technology and the possibility of integrating elements such as animation and sound has blurred the picture even more. What is it that makes a comic a comic, and how does the addition of these other elements affect that? Is there something essential to comics that is lost in the attempt to integrate sound?

"Power Records: The action comes alive as you read!"

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Smart Panel Developments

The only thing keeping Marvel from becoming the most boring comics publisher in the world is this little tech gimmick:

The Great Curve: adding blogs?: "Additionally, Marvel will be offering a ton of new Digital Comics that can now be viewed on desktops all over the world. Fans can't get enough of the new comic format and are singing the praises of the never-before-seen Smart Panel comic viewer technology. Keep a lookout for new and improved Digital Comics in the coming months. "

Internet Comics=Boring?

itpblog � Blog Archive � Making Comics Boring, One Click at a Time
So why would I want to download a podcasted comic strip, just to click through it, sequentially, one frame at a time?

Sunday, March 05, 2006

T Campbell's history of webcomics

Hiedi MacDonald chats about this new book and refers to its legal problems. A history of webcomics? Already?

MILE HIGH COMICS presents THE BEAT at T Campbell's history of webcomics

Cartoon Mash-ups

Short article about legal backlash against online mash-ups and parodies of comics, animation:

Journal Gazette | 03/05/2006 | Bloggers, tech savvy spin digital remixes of pop culture
Like disc jockeys pairing the Beatles with Jay-Z or The Strokes with Christina Aguilera, visual mashup artists exploit odd juxtapositions. An old “Superfriends” cartoon is synced with dialogue from the cult slacker movie “Office Space.” Scenes from “The Shining” are cut and overdubbed with feel-good narration to make it look like a trailer for a sappy family movie. And is there anything less likely than Mary Worth reciting the lyrics to “My Humps” over coffee?
“It was just sort of the absurdity of marrying this very serious serial strip with that song, which is so ridiculous,” said creator Sue Trowbridge.
Tools of the craft are software such as Adobe Systems Inc.’s Photoshop and Apple Computer Inc.’s Final Cut Pro instead of paint or clay, but fans say it’s still art.
Joey deVilla, a Toronto-based blogger, calls mashups a form of folk art that follows the age-old creative tradition of borrowing from existing works to create something new.
“It is the digital-media equivalent of collage, except instead of pasting together pieces of other people’s existing work you’re pasting together other people’s films and music, “ Lyall-Wilson said in an e-mail.
Jason Schultz of the Electronic Frontier Foundation contends that there should be legal protection for mashups such as “The Shining.” After all, it’s a non-commercial parody that poses no threat to the movie. (Ironically, the clip can be viewed on, a recent addition to the sprawling Viacom media stable.)
“This is a battle over creativity,” Schultz said. “Do we want a world where the law criminalizes that?”
Legal issues aside, putting the brakes on mashup artists might be a job that not even Superman could handle. They’re just so easy to create and circulate, with scores of sites such as devoted to sharing online video.

Friday, February 24, 2006


In a press release last week, Komikwerks, the digital comics publisher, announced some new hirings and new deals, including print collections of online strips and ebooks. No word on the ebook distribution end of things, though.

According to Komikwerks co-founder Patrick Coyle, the new hires will hopefully spruce up the site:

“Fans have already undoubtedly noticed a change over the last month,” said Coyle. “There have been a number of new columns appearing on a regular basis, we have rants and interviews coming out with a greater frequency, and some of the online strips have moved to daily releases.” Coyle explained that content areas are the major focus for Komikwerks. “We’re not a news and review site. There are so many sties out there that do such a good job with that there isn’t really a need for us to concentrate in that area. So rather we’ve formed partnerships with Comics2film, etc. to let them provide us with quality comics news.

A good thing, too: many of the features and columns, including prominent headliners like Stan Lee's Soapbox, are long out-of-date.

As well, the company seems to be all over the place in terms of comics delivery platforms, without any sort of logic. PSP, ebooks, and webcomics all see, to be vying for attention. No new high-profile creators or series seem on the horizon for the publisher, either.


Thursday, February 23, 2006

Advertising Insights

Web Comics and Ads

Frequential became interested in the world of web advertising and comics after reading this exchange at The Comics Reporter about ads on the Dilbert webcomic discussed at webpronews.

In an email to Spurgeon, Todd Allen notes:
"Those Google Ads are on the Dilbert blog, not on the main Dilbert site with the strip. They're using standard, image-based banner ads on that site. Contextual Ads like Google Adwords are the de facto standard for blogs, so the fact Scott Adams is using them on a blog is pretty much a sign that the original columnist had run out of material.

Google Ads are served based on the text on a web page and in the text contained in certain tags in the HTML, so unless you have a lot of copy surrounding your online comic, it is questionable how well Google Ads will be able to function, relative to thier business model."

As well, other sites were honestly discussing their own advertising strategies. Jonah Weiland at ComicBookResources talked about the use of google ads at the CBR forums:

"Yes, today I instituted Google's AdSense program on the CBR Forums. I've been experimenting with them on the main site using only unsold inventory I have and have seen some nice results that have generated a little extra revenue.

After reading through Google's various FAQs I came across a suggestion to add Google AdSense ads to communities like the CBR Forums. The truth of the matter with forums is that generally the reader can train his/her eye to avoid any ads on the page. Thus, forums generate little income for the site owners. The click-thru rates for ads that run on the main CBR web site are much better than for the ads that run in forums. That means forums themselves are generally a money looser.

Now, with the ads placed at the bottom of a thread, there's a greater chance people might click on them, which is the key to success for any ad based Web site. (Remember, clicking the ads you see on your favorite Web sites helps keep that site running) Plus, through Google AdSense, we might be able to make the forums generate some revenue, although it's certainly not going to make us millionaires!

Google AdSense also does contextual based advertising, which means it will at least attempt to deliver ads that will be meaningful to the user. It scans the page it's hosted on and tries to feed you ads based on what you're reading. It doesn't always work perfectly, but it's pretty darn good.

It's an experiment that I'll be keeping a close eye on. I don't think it's too intrusive and doesn't harm the browsing experience. If I don't see reasonable results from the number of impressions we feed, then I'll take it off. If it does well, that will mean good things for all of us (i.e. expansion of the forums, the Web sites, resources we offer, etc.)."

Other tech wizards spend their time developing tools to make online comics searchable through Google:

Comics For Google Sidebar

By Nathan Weinberg
Comic Junkie has created the first third-party Google Sidebar plugin I've seen, one that displays the first panel of new comic strips for you to read.
(via Brad Hill )

The main webcomics syndicate, Keenspot, has a very sophisticated advertising strategy (and a small $25K annual budget) and specific ideas about making internet ads work for their cartoonists:

The option to include Keenspot-supplied Google Adsense text advertisements on their site is now available to our creators. We work with creators to implement the text ads using the most effective methods available. Keenspot plans to join the Premium Adsense service, which supplies a variety of Adsense advantages not available to clients receiving less than 20 million pageviews monthly. Keenspot also plans to pay to have the archives of every Keenspot comic transcribed in text form. This will not only allow each comic to be fully searchable, it will also allow Google Adsense to deliver more effective and targeted advertising on every page they appear.

More articles:

*Comixpedia discusses all forms of blog advertising here.

*A primer for using advertising on webcomics sites here.

*The latest news about unauthorized use of brand keywords in Google ads (lawsuit) here.