Agent of Change

A Blog by Cory!! Strode, who really should write something interesting here.

Archive for the category “Comic Books”

In Which Our Hero Discusses Comics and Milkshakes

In a Facebook comics discussion group, someone posted a picture of a Marvel publishing employee and her friends with milkshakes and said, “This is the problem with comics” as if we all immediately understood what he meant.  Others joined in and said yes, and I asked what he meant…and was met with snotty responses and name calling. 

I replied by saying, and I will admit I was being snotty, “I was just trying to determine if you were ageist or sexist.”

Which, of course, upset this snowflake, who felt he should be able to hate on women without anyone calling him on it.  They then went on and on about these KIDS are ruining Marvel, these WOMEN don’t know anything about comics and the like.

Never mind that Marvel was pretty much run by people in their 20’s through the 70s and into the 80’s.  Never mind that Marvel has expanded into libraries and schools over the last decade.  Never mind that ALL of publishing has fallen apart, with even major publishers like Gold Eagle and Harlequin having to shutter due to poor sales.

Nope, it’s women.  Young women.  They’ve ruined everything.

I don’t know how to break it to people, but physical media has fallen on hard time.  Borders used to be a multi billion dollar company before people quit buying books.  Blockbuster, Media Play, Musicland, Tower Records, Hastings, your local mall and on and on and on, all of them have been killed by the “new economy.”

The comics industry is trying to diversify, not just its content, but its revenue streams.  Tell me all you want about those icky girls are killing comics and I will gently point at Saga, which has a primarily female audience is making money hand over fist.  Tell me about how kids don’t read comics and I will point you toward the Scholastic book sales and how Marvel makes a LOT of money from them.  As well as library sales. 

I’m betting these He Man Woman Haters read a few comics edited by Karen Berger over the years, who expanded comics in the 80’s and 90’s in a way that grew the audience and made everyone in comics a lot of money.

Blockbuster had a chance to buy into Netflix early on, and passed as it didn’t fit their business model.  For all of the belly aching about Marvel, DC, who has kept a lot of the “old school” way of creating comics, has seen its sales drop as well.  Comic shops are part of a last ditch distribution network, and in many ways, if THEY don’t diversify their product lines and customers, they tend to go under as well.  We talk on the podcast I do all the time that if you shop JUST sells comics, you probably are doomed, since that market is shrinking as digital, Amazon and people abandoning physical media continues to grow. 

I guess those milkshake drinking young women are destroying them as well, which shows just how powerful they are, I guess.

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Why Previews Sucks or How To Sell Comix

I haven’t posted about comics for a while, but mostly it’s because of how busy I’ve been and haven’t had time to read all that much that’s new. Except Shirtless Bear Fighter.  Damn, that’s a fun book.  You need to go buy it.  Do that.  I’ll be here when you get back.

Are you back? Did you read it?  Wasn’t that fun?

Anyway.

We can all agree that Previews is a barely readable mess, right? A jumble of images and ads that may somehow be close to the page of the comic being solicited, but the vast majority are a tiny paragraph with a postage sized image that tells you next to nothing about the book, so that ordering a $4 24 page indy feels like a crap shoot.  But that’s not what annoyed me this month.

‘WE’VE GOT A GREAT NEW LINE OF BOOKS AND YOU HAVE TO BUY THEM. IT’S A WHOLE NEW LINE OF 8 MONTHLY COMICS THAT ARE LIKE NOTHING YOU’VE EVER SEEN AND OH BOY HOWDY, YOU NEED THESE AWESOME COMICS!!!!”

That may well be, but when all you have on the Big Ad You Spent A Lot Of Money On is how awesome the books will be and how I need to get in on the ground floor….I’m gonna pass unless I am a big fan of the creators. The hype tells me next to nothing about what the books will be about.  What do I mean?  Grab a nearby paperback novel.  Turn it over.  Now read what’s on the back.

That should tell you the genre, the tone and have a hook to make you think, “I want to know what this story is.” Some author’s don’t need to do that, but most do.  George R.R. Martin’s next Game of Thrones book won’t need a back cover blurb, but Jeb Bronie’s (get it?  Jabronie?  Never mind) better  have a kick ass cover showing a cool encapsulation of the conflict and the back cover blurb needs to grab me or it’s going back on the shelf.

That’s what your ad in Previews should be. If you’ve got a cover, show it, and it should be an image that makes the reader curious about what’s inside AND give an idea of the interior art.  In the 80’s, you could get away with a cover by Dave Stevens and interiors by Bob Hacksalot, but now, with comics at $4 a pop, that’s not gonna work as well.

In the description, don’t tell us it’s the start of an amazing 12 issue epic…that may actually make me say no, since I have a couple of long boxes of indy comics that ended mid story, and I remember those creators and just buy the trades from them now. Tell us the story hook.  Give us a question that the story answers or a reason to want to read it.

“The Gatlin Brothers have been one step ahead of foreclosure on their chicken farm for as long as they’ve owned it, but as the final notices come due, a plane carrying ten millions dollars’ worth of cocaine crashes out behind the barn. They are stuck with a choice:

Figure out how to sell the drugs, evade the authorities, keep ahead of the local gangs, hide from the cartel that is looking for their missing shipment, and save the farm…

Or,

Inform the police, lose the farm and get jobs at the local meat processing plant.”

In that little blurb, you’ve got the gist of the plot and a strong idea of what the story will be. Like the hook or not, you at least KNOW what you’re buying as opposed to:

“Writer John Doe, known for his work on Marvel Tie-In to a movie mini-series and indy book that came out three years ago and sold 7,000 copies and artist Sam Pencilpusher, who just graduated from the Kubert School and did uncredited backgrounds on Bob Artist’s DC work bring you a 6 part story with action, crime, drugs and suspense from the publisher who does a bunch of comics based on TV shows from 30 years ago!”

Maybe I’m overgeneralizing, but when I look through Previews, I see a lot of credits, but not a lot of hooks. It’s like when a movie trailer tells you a movies if from the studio who gave you a movie and a director who worked on something I haven’t seen. It narrows your audience, while the trailer that leaves you wanting to know what happens widens the audience.

You want sales to go up? Make Us Want To Know What Happens Next.

 

 

 

 

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I told you not to be stupid, you moron

What can we learn from Ardian Syaf’s mistake putting in anti-Christian and anti-Semitic messages in his X-Men comic art? A lot, really:

  • Getting there is only part of the battle. Once you get to where you want to be, treat it the same as you did on your way up.
  • As Aretha Franklin sang in “The Blues Brothers”: Think! Make sure that you are willing to answer for what you put in EVERYTHING to you. In the zombie novel I am writing now, a child is going to die in a pretty horrify way, and I didn’t just DO it, I thought about how it fit into the story, WHY I am doing it, and what is the best way to write it. Is that “inside joke” worth it if the meaning gets out?

People walking around everyday, playing games, taking scores

Trying to make other people lose their minds.

Well be careful, you’re gonna lose yours.

  • Don’t lie about what you’ve done. Mr. Syaf said that he didn’t do it, then that it didn’t mean what it meant. In doing so, he made it so his employer can’t trust him. If you have a franchise you are trying to rebuild, you want people on your team you can trust.
  • Do NOT cost your employer more money than they can make off of you. A hard, cold fact fo life in the capitalist world is that your employer needs to make money off of you. If you cost more than you possibly bring in, you’ll be gone in a gnat’s heartbeat.
  • THINK!
  • Are your political beliefs worth losing your job over? Social Media, interviews and the like are powerful promotional tools, but putting out controversial statements will alienate parts of your audience. Just ask the Dixie Chicks, Bill Maher, the ghost of Bill Hicks, various comics creators and others who put their politics front and center and saw audiences turn on them. I do not believe in the “shut up and sing” crap, but I DO believe that if you are going to be controversial, pick the time, place, audience and venue.
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Not why I podcast

I have been reading up on what I do and how it is seen, and comics podcasting has a bad reputation in some circles.  More and more I am seeing a variation of “It’s a bunch of wannabe comics creators trying to get publicity to break into the business” or “It’s a way for people to try to make themselves feel famous.”

As with any stereotype, there are elements of truth to it.  I have listened to many comics podcast from artists who talk about what they do and what projects they are working on.  I listen to a number of writer podcasts spanning from people who have been writing for 50+ years to people just starting out and trying to learn their craft.

But the whole “All podcasters want in the business”?

Nope.

Some are fans, some are broadcasters, some are retailers, some are creators, some are cosplayers and some are a mix of all of these and more.

My story is unique, as is everyone’s.

When I was in high school and college, I wanted to work in comics, the same way my classmates wanted to be rock stars, and we all knew nothing about the career.  We lived in a tiny rural area, and to go see an actual “rock star” perform or meet a comics creator, it was a nearly 4 hour drive to Chicago and I chose to see comic book creators when I went instead of rock concerts.

By the time I was in college, I was sending submissions to comics publishers, and while a few of the very small publishers were excited and offered me work, they went out of business before anything was published.

After a few years of this, I decided that I didn’t WANT to do comics any more.  Not because of the work to get in, but because I was also writing prose and enjoyed it much more.  I don’t think as visually as a good comics writer needs to, and I much more enjoyed working out a story with words, rather than describing to someone what the pictures would be.

I haven’t eliminated writing comics.  In fact, I have done a pair of webstrips.  The first was when the artist wanted to work with me on something, and asked that I create a strip for her to draw.  A few years after it ended, I took a couple of ideas I had for TV projects and slammed them together, as well as bits and pieces of the first strip and created World Wide News, which runs off and on when Dangerous Dan Mohr and I have the time, energy and ability to put it together.

But nowhere in my mind do I think that a major publisher (or even a minor publisher) will be picking it up.  I have some expansion plans for it that will return it to it’s roots, creatively, but I don’t see it being published by Image any time soon.

I get that there are a LOT of people who want to get into comics. It’s a field where most of the people who are fans want to dive in, whether it’s to do the Spider-Man story they’ve had in their head since they were 12, or to draw their own creations.  I also get that podcasting is a great way of getting your name out there for very little cost.

I also don’t podcast for it to be all about me.  Other podcasters I listen to want to be “famous”, and I reject that entire idea.  Fame for fame’s sake is nothing I am interested in.  Want proof?  Listen to Kray Z Comics and Stories and you’ll see that I don’t even give my actual name.  It’s not about me.

It’s about the stories involved in comics.

When I interview people, I will give my experiences to help connect with the person I am interviewing, but it’s all about them. Their stories.  Their work. What they do.

I started Kray Z Comics and Stories because I rarely saw my friend Joe Rider.  We both thought were were going to have jobs where we were on the road all the time, and it would be a great way to get together and talk once a week.  As time went on, I didn’t get the travelling job and the premise of the show stayed the same:

Two best friends chatting about their lives and their time reading, selling, and loving comic books.  That is the core of of the show and it always will be.  We’ve added things, but in the end, that is what the show is.  I did some convention appearances, and while they were a fun experiment, it didn’t add anything to the show, and felt as if it was draining the fun and enjoyment from what I do.

And I believe that if it isn’t fun, I’m not going to do it.

It is fun for me to talk to people.  It’s not fun to set up, deal with buggy equipment, crowds and asking those I care about to put themselves out for me. So, I called it a day so I can focus on delivering more and better content.

Because, it’s not all about me.

If you want to podcast for some other reason, more power to you.  Like any other artistic medium, there are no maps, no roads, just endless frontiers.

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Why there is no such thing as comics journalism

I am someone who likes comic books. I also like to read news about my hobby. I like to know how my favorite books are doing sales-wise because I know that sales are how they determine if that book gets to continue. I like interviews with comics creators to learn more about their upcoming projects or their creative process. I like to know what’s coming because comics are a medium where you have to order things in advance to make sure you receive them and to support the stuff you like.

Much like a sports fan, I like to discuss comics with fellow fans, listen to opinions and hear from other people who enjoy the hobby and art form.

Back in the 70’s and 80’s when I started getting serious about the hobby of comics, there was The Comics Journal. They had major flaws, but the one thing that they had going for them was that they did actual reporting and actual journalism in the comics field. They reported on sales figures, the decline of the newsstand market, issues with the direct distribution market, publisher’s internal workings and the hotly contested issue of creator’s rights. As the internet grew, they faded away as people could get information quicker, the interviews they had were overtaken by audio interviews, and their news felt old by the time it hit the stands.

So, who rose to take their place? No one. I have given up on getting actual journalism about my hobby and the field. There are some good industry sites like ICV2.com and The Beat, and Rich Johnson’s Bleeding Cool is a gossip site that reads like the comics industry’s snarky little tabloid that may or may not have insider information.

The rest? The Big Players just print press releases, throw in reviews and opinion columns and call it a day. Then there are the News with a Z sites (as they call similar wrestling sites at PWInsider.com, because they will say Wrestling NewZ in order to be hip, cool and extreme). They are usually hobbyists who think they have some inside scoop because they read it on-line, make inferences, think their opinions are facts, and call it news, like this bozo:

https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2016/06/marvel-backtracks-on-captain-america-revelation-af.html

Let’s take this apart to show why newZ isn’t journalism.

  • The writer did no actual research. He read some on-line interviews which he links to, but hasn’t even read the actual comic he is reporting on.
  • The writer has no proof for his assertion that Marvel changed a comic they published because of fan reaction. Let me repeat that. The writer says the following:

“After one issue, Captain America is no longer a Nazi. The only surprising thing here is how quickly Marvel backtracked on their initial choice, though it was clear Captain America would not actually be a Hydra agent forever”

  • He states that Marvel backtracked. He didn’t contact anyone at Marvel to get a comment on his supposition. He doesn’t offer any proof of his supposition. He just states it as if it’s fact. Kittens and kaboodles, there is no way on the planet Marvel saw the reaction to a comic, scrapped an issue that had been in production for at least 3 months, had a new issue written, penciled, inked, colored, lettered, put through production and shipped to the printer in time to be on the stands one month after the previous issue.
  • The writer shows a limited understanding of the Marvel continuity. The cosmic cube doesn’t brainwash, it actually rewrites reality and implants new memories. I know, nerd points, but still, if you’re going to go into a fit of nerd rage, get it right.

So, there you have it. A fact free “news” story where the writer puts out an uninformed opinion and it’s called a news story.

I didn’t go into journalism in college, much to the dismay of the faculty advisor, and while I am by no means an expert, I know that you need to give the Who, What, When, Where and Why, you need to give facts and you write in a specific style with the first paragraph given WHY the story matters and the rest of the story giving the facts and details behind that first paragraph. You call the people involved and get their side of the story if possible, and if they deny the facts you have, you state that.

Let’s say I am a journalist and I am going to write this story, just for an example:

I start by reading the press release that states all will be explained in issue #2. I then contact Marvel’s PR department and ask, “Did you change the story due to fan outrage?” and get their response, which would be no. I would talk to some creators and production folks to ask if it is possible to scrap a comic in production and change it in the time period allotted. They would also say no. I would then research the story itself and find out that the seeds for the story were planted first in Uncanny Avengers, and then even more so in the Pleasant Hill crossover. Then, my story would be about the fan outrage and how Marvel planned this all along (since that’s what they said) and give information on how the story was put together, how long it’s been planned and how it played in the industry. You could even do a story about how Marvel and DC need to do shocking events that get attention in order to draw readers and get some pull quote from creators about how stories for mainstream comics have changed and they need to make them events rather than the kind of standard “hero fights villain” stories of the 70’s and 80’s.

Instead we get “Marvel Backtracks”

Now you know why people laugh when someone says, “I know it’s true. I read it on the internet.”

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DC Rebirth: A Meta-Review

DC Rebirth was a good comic and I enjoyed it. It hit all of the warm fuzzy moments I wanted to see, pointed out why I quit reading DC in the months after the New52 and has me interested in where they are going. In that regard, it worked, and everything else I am about to write is really stuff that doesn’t much matter if they follow through on the promise of this story. Much like when Johns wrote Green lantern Rebirth, it made me happy. It was like when an old friend shows back up in your life.

I missed the DCU.

Even during the 90’s, and some truly terrible comic runs, I had a fondness for that universe, and people like Mark Waid kept it from getting completely “grim and gritty”. Then, with the New52, I drifted away as the characters just didn’t interest me any more. DC was run by a bunch of 90’s Marvel editors, and the books read like 90’s Marvel comics and my feeling at the time was, “Well, they just aren’t for me anymore. That’s OK.”

But now, Wally West coming back seems like the moment in Green Lantern Rebirth when Hal Jordan came back.

Now, let’s talk about the Meta-problems.

First – Using the Watchmen characters as the plot device bothers me, just as much as the Before Watchmen books that now gather dust in bargain bins. The characters weren’t created to have a life beyond their novel. Much like how I don’t want to see spin-offs and prequels to Citizen Kane or Casablanca, some stories just aren’t made to be franchises.  Besides, do we want to see Batman and The Comedian Tracking down a team-up between Joker and Moloch?

Second – At the time Watchmen came out, both DC and Alan Moore touted it was the most creator rights friendly contract ever written, and a year after the comic went out of print, it would revert to Moore. We can argue about the merits of the contract, as Moore was thinking it would be like other comics where it was published, maybe a collection came out and it went out of print and no one knew it would stay in print for 30 years. But DC deciding “Screw it, let’s use the characters in a big super-hero punching story” should continue the exodus of creators to working on the stuff they own and control themselves.

Third – The blame that darkness in superhero comics of the last 30 years, and how it overwhelmed the books at DC on Watchmen is bullshit.

Let me repeat that. It. Is. Bullshit.

Yes, Watchmen was influential. Yes, it kicked up the expectations of comic creators beyond the “give me 15 pages of fights and 3 pages of soap opera”. Yes, it showed there was an audience for mature storytelling. But Watchmen wasn’t a “Let’s do super-heroes who kill!” book, it was a SF story based off of the premise that what happens in a world where super-heroes exist. The scientific advancements, the complex legal and political issues all of it tied in. It wasn’t just “They kill people.”

I call Bullshit.

Especially from a writer who wrote stories where people routinely got their heads punched off for shock effect.

The reason comics got dark is because writers didn’t understand what was being done in mature comics. They didn’t understand that the Mature aspect of Mike Grell’s Green Arrow wasn’t the sex and violence, it was the realism of a man shooting actual arrows, a complicated love life and dealing with middle age. The mature aspect of Hawkworld by Tim Truman wasn’t the blood, but the politics and prejudice of Thanagar.

You want to blame someone? Easy, blame the editors who wanted the books to be dark, serious and grim. Blame the writers who didn’t know how to inject drama into a story. Blame the artists who gave that blood and grimaces and didn’t allow for a smile or sunshine.

It isn’t hard to do comics that are hopeful and bright. You just have to hire creators who will do them and get out of their way. There are a LOT of stories that deliver thrills, suspense, action and the like without it feeling like you’ve been dropped into a mine shaft of darkness surrounded by nightmares.

How about doing it?

I’ll loan you some Mark Waid Flash trades so you can get a couple of examples from a time when everyone wanted to write like Alan Moore.  I can also give you some copies of Saga, Squirrel Girl, Secret Wars (the new one), and an avalanche of Jack Kirby books.  Hell, read some Carl Barks Uncle Scrooge comics.

 

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Nerd Post!!

LOTS of nerdy news today that has kept my social media feeds jumping, so here are my takes on it. YMMV:

Captain America Plot Twist in the new first issue – I am shocked at how many people are taking this as a RetCon of major proportions, a betrayal of massive proportion and on and on and on… Folks, this is the shock start of a long storyline, although I have pretty much put the pieces together as to where they started setting it up. It’s like saying that “The X-Files is completely stupid now that Jesse Ventura and Alex Trebek are the TRUE Men In Black.” Don’t get mad because there is a plot twist in the first chapter.

DC Rebirth – Again, first part of the story, but I am concerned that they have opened the door to stupid crap like Silk Specter teaming up with Harley Quinn for wacky adventures. It will all boil down to a simply statement: Will the editors at DC hire good talent and let them tell good stories, because that is what has been missing from DC, IMHO.

Comixology’s “Netflix” style program – Looks like it’s just the starts of series that you can read for the $5.99, kind of like the low priced first issues everyone has been publishing lately. It’s an interesting start, but how do creators get paid? If it is just the first trade, is it worth the monthly fee? Too many unknowns here, but I will admit I love Marvel Unlimited with a passion.

WWE Smackdown going live on Tuesday with a hard brand split – I like this idea. Since the brand split went away, Smackdown has been the “follow-up match and afterthought show. I am worried that the roster is thin, and that Smackdown will get the 2nd tier talent, but done right, this can be fun. When Heyman was running Smackdown, the show was great and with the new talent coming up from NXT. However, the current roster is already thing, and the people running creative seem to struggle with putting together decent stories that people like. So, I am cautiously optimistic.

NONE OF THESE THINGS ARE IMPORTANT. However, I have opinions.

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Dude, do you even SHOP for comics?

The Star Tribune newspaper her in Minneapolis has a column about comics. I know, right? A daily newspaper in a major market giving column space to talk about funny books? Guess they want us nerd to start reading more than the movie listings.

They have a write up on comic books every week, and this one was an article by Joe Gross: And you can read it right here if you’d like.

The central premise of what he writes is encapsulated in this sentence: What was once a form that prided itself on being fast, cheap and out of control is now intellectual property worth millions, subject to the sort of five- and 10-year planning that would impress an aging Soviet.

Dude, do you even go into comic shops?

Yeah, Marvel and DC now have long range planning both story-wise and publishing-wise because they are businesses. Like it or not, they have to meet certain sales markers and corporate goals like any other arm of a media company. They build to big events because sales show it is what fans want, and when they are done right (Secret Wars, Civil War, Crisis on Infinite Earths, etc…) there’s nothing as fun and entertaining for a long-time super-hero fan than seeing a BIG EVENT where LOTS OF CRAZY STUFF HAPPENS.

But to claim that the entire art form is nothing but those sorts of events now makes you look like an uninformed moron.

Marvel has books like Ms Marvel, Squirrel Girl and The Vision which might tie in with big events peripherally, but are a singular vision of the creators involved. DC has similar books like Batgirl and their Vertigo line with books like Art Ops and Astro City.

And that’s the mainstream.

Head a little further down the rack and you get that 70’s style super-hero stuff with Savage Dragon at Image, mind blowing stuff like Captain Victory and the galactic Rangers, explorations of art in the new Grant Morrison edited Heavy Metal, the excellent storytelling of Saga, the batshit insanity of I Hate Fairyland and so on and so on and so on. Hell, Badger’s back and is just as nuts, but reads much better.

Get out of the Marvel and DC aisle if you are looking for stuff that is fast, cheap and out of control. There is more diversity in comics content since the Golden Age, the level of craft by the creators is higher than it’s been in ages, and there is pretty much something for everyone from kids comics to genre breaking art that demands more from the reader than most mainstream novels.

Oh, and if you want that 70’s stuff where they were making it up as they went along, you can always buy the trades of the old stuff. I doubt you’ve read it all, and while it hasn’t’ aged all that well, you can go back and get your nostalgia fix. It’s OK.

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