Friday, December 30, 2005

Why Does Original Art Have to be so Pricey ????

I know, I know.

It's art, it's one of a kind, it's rare and it's cool and that is why it costs a lot.

I don't like that answer, because I want more and I want it now!

Everything was ok a few years back, I could pick up a nice interior page from just about any artist not named Kirby or Adams for under $100. That does not seem to be the case anymore. Back in 1999 and 2000, I bought quite a few Dick Dillin pages for $35-$40. Now, I rarely see one sell for under $125.

Where I really shot myself in the foot, however, was getting into the original cover art market. That's a whole new ballgame, folks!

Rawhide Kid is one of my all-time favourite titles and a couple of years ago, Heritage Comics was selling a bunch of original cover with Larry Lieber art. Now Larry's art does not excite many people, but I have alway enjoyed it and felt he infused a good mix or draftmanship and emotion. I end up winning an auction for the cover art to Rawhide Kid #90 - which is a great one as it features a crossover with Kid Colt in a scene right out of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It is very cool. I have it framed and it is hanging on a wall at my house.

I can't remember exactly what I paid for it, but it was around $400. That may not seem like a lot compared to what Kirby, Adams and Ditko covers fetch - but it felt like a lot to the wallet and was certainly at least 4 times more than I'd spend on any art up to that point.

The problem is that now I want more covers - they are so great and look great framed and I must have more. There are two currently being auctioned by Heritage that have caught my eye.

The first is a nice Golden Age western cover for a Comics Media cover by Don Heck. Heck's horror covers for Comics Media are legendary, but his western ones are also very nice. This one features are sheriff getting shot in the back. And some people think the Code only impacted horror and crime books.

Heck is one of my favourite comic book artists ever - I have a couple of pages by him from much later in his career. One is from his stint on Justice League of America (his draws a nice Hawkman) and the other is from the DC horror anthology Ghosts. Both are nice but definitely unspectacular. I figure that this cover may end up being a bargain, since it is DC and Marvel artwork that really command the highest prices and I wouldn't be suprised if an early Silver Age Heck page from Tales of Suspense of The Avengers would sell for more than this cover. That being said, I think it will still end up north of my price limit. Too bad, because it is a beauty.

The second cover will likely sell for ever more, even though it was published 25 years later. People often think of Dick Giordano first as an editor, then as an inker and finally as a penciller. That is too bad, because Giordano is an excellent penciller and he design truly dynamic covers. During his pre-editorial days at Charlton, his covers shone like a diamond in the rought. Many of the covers he did for DC in the late 70s and early 80s are nearing icon status. All of that being said, Giordano artwork typically sells for far less than the artwork of many of his contemporaries.

This particular Wonder Woman cover appeals to me because I owned the book as a child. My parents would give me a certain amount of money to buy comics, but there always seem to be a little bit more money for bying books that my older sister might also enjoy. This is pretty much how my Wonder Woman collection got started - my inability to turn down free comics. It's a great action cover, and I want it now. Sadly, it will likely end up well above $1,000 and that's an expense I just can't justify right now.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

And cut! Print. We're moving on. That was perfect!



Some days I think that Ed Wood is the greatest movie ever made.

OK - I may be a little crazy on those days, but it is still a pretty wonderful flick. It is so funny and so sad at the same time. It is completely over the top and yet has some nice subtle touches.

My wife Kat gave me the Special Edition DVD for Christmas and we watched it last night. It was probably my 5th or 6th time seeing it, but I always see something new. This time around, it was Ed's hair. His hair seems to have its own personality, and serves as a window into Ed's state of mind. Whenever Ed has an epiphany, his hair seems to take on a 'mad scientist' look.

For all of the praise Johnny Depp gets these days, for me his early 90s work is his strongest. In two strong films (Ed Wood and Gilbert Grape), he plays the moral centre trying to keep a swirling cast of misfits glue together. That's a tough thing to pull off - and he does it splendidly.

Everytime I think of this movie, I smile simply by thinking of his enthusiasm. Wouldn't like be great if we all followed our dreams (however misguided) with such passion?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Fatherhood

In the early hours of on November 30th, I became a father.

My lovely little boy, Logan, was born as healthy and as happy as I could have imagined. My wife and I have spent the last couple of weeks trying to figure out this whole parenting thing and it is going surprisingly well.

People will always say that having children will change your life - no more late nights out on the town, no more romantic getaways. None of that really bothers me, as I know that my wife and I will find ways to spend time together and our love of travel will not be curtailed simply because we have a child. In fact, we already have a trip to Costa Rica planned for April.

The one thing that I have noticed, though, is that my ability to read and unwind has been severely hampered. Gone are the days of lying on the couch on a Saturday morning with a TPB in my hand. Now, I seem to be jumping up from the couch every two minutes either to change a diaper, soothe Logan or grab something for my wife while she is nursing. I swear it took me nearly two hours to get through a simply Daffy Duck comic the other day. I guess this will at least save me some money in the long run, as I'll only have a to buy a few books a month!

In all seriousness, I really hope that Logan continues to be healthy and happy and I hope to one day share my love of comic books with him. I know that they are not everyone's cup of tea - but I'd love it if we could forge a father/son bond over comic books. That's not too much to ask for, is it?

Friday, November 25, 2005

The Joy of Hex

Western fans have had a great fall comic book season. Not only was a new ongoing Jonah Hex title launched, but Jonah is also the star of one of the first DC Showcase Presents title.

Let’s start with the new. I don’t normally pick up new books, especially an ongoing series, because I just don’t think I have the time of patience to stay on top of things. Normally I’ll just wait to hear enough good things to pick up the TPB. When I saw Jonah’s ugly mug staring at me from the racks, I couldn’t resist. It’s great stuff – great art, superb script and it appears as though the creative team has a strong idea of the kind of ‘feel’ they want to give to the book. Kudos all around – and I am so stoked that westerns are getting another kick at the can.

On to the Showcase Presents volume. This was my first purchase of the DC ‘Essentials’ clone and I could not be more impressed. I really like the fact that DC decided to mix some of its true superstars (Supers and GL) with some characters that have more of a cult following (Hex and Metamorpho). The overall product it quite nice – good creator credits and the quality of the reprint is very nice. At this stage, I have only been through the first 10 stories or so, but they represent some of the finest storytelling (in any genre) of the Bronze Age. This is a great read, and I really don’t feel that the black and white format detracts from it too much.

The early Albano stories are very solid, as he only gives the readers hints as to what drives Hex. We learned much more from the frightened townspeople than from the man himself. This is how you set up continuing drama, each episode is both a self contained story and a building block. Another nicely played hand is the suggestion that nothing in the west lasts forever – as Jonah picks up a sidekick wolf for a very short amount of time. The finest tale in the collection so far is ‘Killers Die Alone’, in which the Albano/DeZuniga team is working in complete harmony. This is great, great stuff. It’s so good that I am actually forcing myself to only read one story per day, so that I can savour all of the snakebit, saddlesore greatness.

One odd, though not necessarily bad, choice was DC’s decisions to features some reprints of Outlaw for the final portion of this volume rather than continuing with more Hex. I own most of those pre-Hex All-Star Western issues, and I am glad the great art and solid writing will be finding a new audiences, especially the Jim Aparo western rarity. My guess, though, is that the average reader would feel happier with more Hex.

My fingers are crossed that we'll see a Diablo volume in the not too distant future, although Unknown Soldier would be at the very top of my wish list.

Friday, November 18, 2005

We've Lost Our Woody

Melinda & Melinda

I am always rooting for Woody Allen movies. I suspect a lot of people are like me. They hope he can do something that will remind people of why he was once a somebody, instead of just some old quasi-incestuous pedophile. Despite the interesting assemblage of young actors – this ain’t the movie to sets things straight. It sucks, and I mean ‘think about turning it off to watch Jeopardy’ sucks. The lead actress playing Melinda lets her Aussie accent tumble into every scene, except for those in which she sounds like Julie Delpy. I kept expecting her to say ‘farking’. Will Ferrell tries to do his best – but there are scenes in which is appears that he is playing Woody Allen in an SNL skit. Most of the acting is so wooden, you’d think every single person in the cast just found out that their dog had died. I like Amanda Peet, though. She’s usually the best thing in whatever movie she’s in. That probably says more about her project selection, though.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Giving a Thumbs Down to Allegedly Great Comics

Marvels

Normally I like pretty things, and this is very pretty. It’s a neat little trick they pulled off and all of the heroes look like people I know from TV. I am not one of these ‘Alex Ross is the anti-christ’ people, but this mini-series just doesn’t resonate with me. I am glad I own it, and I will flip through it from time to time but that's about it. I never understood why this cause such a fuss when it was initially released – but I guess 1994 was just about the low point in comic book history, so this must have seen like the second coming of Fantastic Four #1. The real problem is that for a project that aims to bring the reader to the street level of the Marvel Universe, it comes across as detached. The only thing I learned is that if you stick to close to the tights and capes crowd, you’ll put your eye out. The little ‘mutie’ was the best part, and I wish there was an ongoing series about her. Whatever happened to her?

30 Days of Night

Man, I read so many good things about this series and the premise sounded so bloody brilliant that I was got my hands on the first TPB as soon as it came out. Not a bad start, but the thing just went nowhere. How could something that sounded so exciting end up being so boring? I wanted that whole ‘Omega Man – trapped and surrounded’ sense of dread, but it was totally absent. On top of it, the vampires came across as Buffy extras.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

I love Frank Miller. I really do. The man has provided me with plenty of comic reading goodness over the years. I am a child of his versions of Daredevil and Wolverine. Dark Knight Returns pretty much blew my 13 year-old mind when it came out. I have never had a problem with his storytelling or his chunky pencils. This was the first and only Sin City book I bought. It sucked. OK concept, poor execution. It’s just sloppy, and not in a good ‘loose pencils/flowing narrative’ kind of way. It’s just bad sloppy. Too much, too fast – the comic book equivalent of premature ejaculation.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

What a Difference a Year Makes !

A long time ago, in galaxy far, far away there was an Earth-One, Earth-Two, Earth-X, Earth-X, Earth ad infinitum…

Each and every summer, comic book fans looked forward to the annual meet-up of superheroes from Earths One and Two – better known as the JLA and JSA, respectively. Recently, DC has collected these annual crossovers into several volumes of TPBs entitled Crisis on Multiple Earths. Even though I already own the originals of most of these in, I picked up the volumes 1, 2 & 3 of this not too long – thinking it would be cool to have all of the crossovers in one place.

Ok – that’s not really what I want to talk about. What I want to talk about is DC’s editorial shift in the mid-60s. No, I am not going to simply point out how stupid those Go-Go checks look, or how strange it was to see Batman on almost every single one of the company’s covers. I am here to question what the hell they popped into Gardner Fox’s coffee that made him produce crap like Justice League of America #47.

I am getting ahead of myself. Let us jump back into the wayback machine and dial up 1965 on the settings. That summer, young folk were treated to Justice League of America #37 and #38. Not only did that bring back Mr. Terrific and all of his Fair Play awesomeness, but it also gave us a very entertaining, very inventive story centering around Johnny Thunder and his loveable, dangerously obedient thunderbolt. The JLA finds itself neck deep in trouble when the Earth One Johnny Thunder (not the nicest guy) gains control of the Thunderbolt. There’s lots of good space-time continuum stuff here, and things are kept light and lively. It is a wonderful showcase of Gardner Fox’s writing abilities.

Now we jump ahead to 1966, at the height of Batmania. My main problem with the next crossover issues #46 and #47 is not the goofy sound effect laden cover to #46, but the terrible, terrible writing. I know this can’t all by Gardner Fox – he must have been getting his marching orders from somewhere. Someone was telling him to make it more ‘hip’. It comes across as worse than Bob Haney’s Teen Titans, because at least those were teenagers. Another travesty was the re-introduction of the Sandman, one of the coolest Golden Age character, as a guy with a gimmicky gun, rather than one simply filled with gas. It all comes across as a funhouse mirror image of a Marvel Comic. The plot makes no sense – Solomon Grundy and Blockbuster are suddenly ‘reformed’, and the dialogue is cringe worthy. Can you ever imagine Dr. Fate telling the Flash that his move was a ‘Spinner Winner’? How about the Atom telling the Spirit of Vengeance that he is ‘Spectre-acular’? Well, it happens here, folks.

DC published a lot of good stuff during the Silver Age – just not in 1966.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)

There is something very appealing about watching Alfred Hitchcock’s early movies. While they don’t have all of the style and panache of his later big budget efforts, every so often there is a moment in an early film that is just 100% great. Not only was Hitchcock a young filmmaker, but film itself (the ‘talkie’ in particular) was in its infancy. I imagine it would be like listening to Hendrix learn to play the guitar and hearing a great, new riff every now and then.

The Man Who Knew Too Much may not be the perfect film, but it has a lot going for it and comes across as a very inventive and endearing film. It moves along at brisk pace with a good mix of action and dialogue and clocks in at a very efficient 75 minutes or so. Of particular interest is the fact that this was Peter Lorre’s first English language role, and he had to learn his lines phonetically. Another thing about many early ‘talkies’ that is striking, is the lack of score. There is so much silence in the film that the white noise almost becomes the soundtracks. It’s actually a bit unsettling for the modern moviegoer, who has grown accustomed to continuous music.
All in all, it’s an interesting little film but damn do I love Peter Lorre!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Where Monsters Dwell – 2005 Edition

Spotted this on the shelf and could not pass it up. Although I may not be a child of the 60s, I am a child of the 70s and the 10 cent rack at Queen’s Comics in the Beaches neighbourhood of Toronto featured plenty of unwanted back issues of Marvel reprint titles like Where Monsters Dwell and Where Creatures Roam. I loved these books, mainly because they were so different than anything else I was reading at the time. They were a perfect contrast to the grand sagas in the Avengers and X-Men and the grittiness of Miller’s Daredevil. Somehow, these little 8-page morality plays, mostly written by the Brothers Lieber, are beautiful in their simplicity and execution. Another interesting thing is I became familiar with certain artists’ styles (such as Ditko and Heck) moreso than through their work on superhero books. My 7-year old mind never connected Ditko weird creatures with the early Spidey books.

What we’ve got here is essentially a love letter to the pre-hero Marvel monster books. Although the creators are having a bit of fun at the expense of the genre, it is all done with TLC and they thankfully steer clear of the lazy man’s form of humour of simply mocking seemingly antiquated books.

The real highlight for me is the Peter David penned story setting against a Hollywood backdrop. Sure, it’s not much more than a couple of sight gags in the end, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Another treat is the reprinted story from Tales to Astonish #1o with Kirby art – it serves as a nice bookend to the Giffen/Allred opener.

Speaking of that opening story, my main complaint about this book is that it really highlighted the shortcomings of computer generated colours. Whatever technique they used on the Giffen/Allred story looked terrible – like zip-a-tone gone haywire. The colour reproduction on the Kirby reprint was much more subtle and proved far superior in the end. Overall, this is fun stuff and has convinced me to open up the wallet and picked up the rest of the Marvel Monsters Group titles.

Memo to publishers: You have me buying new comics for the first time in ages – keep up with these quality projects and you will continue to have my business. Overwhelm me with ‘big event’ crap, and I’ll be heading back to eBay for my fix.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

A History of Violence – the Graphic Novel

A local comic book shop had a sale recently, and I spotted this ‘re-packaged as a companion piece to the movie’ graphic novel for $9.99 CDN. I know next to nothing about the movie except for that a man’s violent past comes back to haunt him. I knew the reviews were great and it sounded like a pretty intelligent piece of filmmaking, so I grabbed the opportunity to have a look at the source material at a very low price.

What can I say? This is good stuff, but very, very intense. I had no idea what I was getting myself into – it is very gut wrenching and more than a little gruesome in spots. Of course, none of the violence is gratuitous as it really adds to the ominous tone hovering over the storyline. The reader really feels what Tom feels – the cold fist wrapped around his spine.

After a discussion with a friend yesterday (who saw 24 films at the Toronto International Film Festival in September and proclaimed AHOV to be the best of the lot), I learned that the movie is quite different as the script deviates a good deal from the book, and parts that I couldn’t even imagine seeing on screen never do make it to screen.

Overall, I really dug this little book – the rather rough pencils help add to the atmosphere and the minimalist dialogue helps to propel the narrative. It’s serendipitous that both gangsters and small town Mid-Westerners speak in terse sentences. Good stuff – makes your skin crawl in all of the right ways.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

It's Miller Time


Dark Knight Strikes Again

I am not a big fan of sequels, and I fought off reading this TPB for a long, long time. The original Dark Knight Returns caught me off-guard at the perfect time in my life (I think I was 13 when it was released) and totally shifted my view of what comics could be. When I heard of the sequel, I cringed. I wasn’t picking up too many new comics at the time and the lack of good buzz and the cover price scared me away. I grew up on Miller’s Daredevil and Wolverine and didn’t want to witness a car crash.

Recently, someone whose opinion I respect a great deal (I’m talking to you, Joe Rice) told me that he really liked DK2, and when I saw a copy of the TPB for $10 at a used bookstore, I decided to give it a try. I was very pleasantly surprised. While the plotline is a little muddled, and I can see where some people were turned off by the artwork – I must admit that I feel like Miller has created a much better sequel than I could have imagined. Miller involves a much wider DC Universe in this one, and we are left with a gritty (there’s that word) Upstairs/Downstairs view of Superheroes. His re-introductions of Ray Palmer and Barry Allen were particularly sharp. The art is energetic – personally I find Miller’s crude pencils to be very appropriate for this near-apocalyptic future. The dialogue is sharp and Miller does a great job at showing the conflicts within the characters as each has a different perspective on ‘doing the right thing’.

I have got to give Miller his due – he is not one to rest on his laurels. This book was so fresh that it’s almost as if Miller hired some 18-year old ghost writer/artist. Is it as good as Dark Knight Returns? No. Does it succeed as a piece of comic book storytelling? Without a doubt.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Secrets in the Shadows: Art & Life of Gene Colan


My wife Kat gave me this nifty biography for my birthday. Colan is one of the truly underappreciated greats of the funnybook business and it’s nice to see him get the bio treatment. The nicely packaged book runs chronologically through Colan’s life and career. Highlights include in depth looks at his Tomb of Dracula and Howard the Duck days, including interviews with his collaborators. The section I found the most interesting dealt with the highs and lows of Colan’s transition to DC. I had no idea that it was such a controversial move and that fellow creators (mostly John Byrne – what a dick!) were highly critical of his work. The DC experiment ends badly and Dick Giordano has to play the role of executioner.

My main criticism of the book is the layout. While things are organized chronologically, some of the sidebars are badly placed and the examples of artwork are not always relevant to the matters being discussed on the page. In addition, there is often repetition between the articles and the text of interviews – I would have rather those sections of the articles be deleted to remove the redundancies. I would have also like to focus more on Gene’s pre-60s work as well as some of the more minor project in the 70s.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable read and the artwork reproduces very well in black & white. It is good to see Twomorrows putting together these books, but I must say that their shipping rates are out of this world and they do not package books properly. I don’t mind my copy of Alter Ego being a bit dinged up – but not a book I plan on keeping on my bookshelf.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Taking a Chance


Human Target

I had read good thing about this series and was able to get a full run from #1-21 for about a buck a book. As I have mentioned before, and I’ll mention again, I don’t really read too many new comics. The price is really the biggest factor – as well as the lack of bang for your buck. Honestly, I feel like I can breeze through any modern day comic in under 5 minutes. That’s just not good value for your entertainment dollar. I have resigned myself to at least trying to get the highest quality 5 minutes.

This series has a lot of style and enough substance to make a fan out of me. As I am really only familiar with the character from his 70s days, it was nice not too feel too lost not having read the earlier mini-series and graphic novel. I like the 21st Century version of Christopher Chance – a good mix of brains and brawn. The series gets off to a good, but not great start with Chance in Hollywood – we get a look at his background and motivations, but none of it really interferes with the constantly moving storyline. The 9/11 themed ‘Unshredded Man’ arc came up short in my books. The premise was so fantastic that I feel that an opportunity for truly great story was missed. The next arc, which was baseball themed, was even weaker and I got the feeling that Milligan was using one of Bush’s State of the Union addresses (9/11, Corporate Scandal, Steroids). The series then picks up with #6 – a single-issue story involving a priest. There’s nothing I love more than a good story told within 32 pages, and Milligan and Co. pull it off here. It actually shouldn’t be too hard to make a good, short story considering this was a back-up characters for years. The next arc is also good – involving people hiding from their criminal past. We get to see Chance acting a bit human, which is fun – and we get to see him outwitted, which adds some drama.

All in all, this is good stuff. Even the issues I felt were subpar are very readable. At times, Milligan gets a bit too ‘Vertigo’ with the language – too many F bombs spoil the broth. The artwork is excellent and both of the artists used so far give the title a distinct look. Cliff Chiang's art is somewhat Darwynian, and that works well – especially the way he plays with shadows. I think I prefer Javier Pulido, though, as his artwork – which strikes me as a Alex Toth/Dan De Carlo hybrid – infuses the pages with a kinetic energy that moves the narrative along. I really look forward to making my way through the rest of the stack and discussing my thoughts on the later issues.

A Birthday Turkey

The long weekend was spent with nearly the full family at the family hobby farm. We celebrated my 33rd birthday – got some good swag including a couple of back issues of the old Comic Book Artist, Neil Gaiman’s new book and the recent Gene Colan biography. Kat made an awesome carrot cake for me. 33 feels old, but I am feeling fairly energetic these days – so I think that I am doing all right for such an advanced age. Good weather all around – the leaves are changing and the colours were magnificent. We had a big Thanksgiving dinner Sunday and everyone seemed to be in good spirits. Long weekends rock!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Buy Low, Sell High

EBay Sales

What a weird experience! As I mentioned before, I am selling off a portion of my collection (stuff I am not totally in love with), to get some bash together for a ‘You had our baby’ gift for Kat. I still can’t make sense of how or why things sell or don’t sell. The one thing that seems to always attract attention is pre-Code horror. I am not talking EC or Timely here – even the second and third tier publishers. Last week I put a handful of Ace books – titles like Hand of Fate and The Beyond – good stuff with lots of Sekowsky art, but nothing spectacular. Overall, I’d say I got 70% of Guide on those books. That’s about as well as I can expect to do. I try to grade very conservatively, and that has helped bring back some repeat business. I’ve notice that once a buyer gets a feel for your grading and service – they are happy to come back for more. I know that’s how I’ve always made my online purchase. I had a repeat buyer pick of all 8 of the Ace horror books I had up, as well as a couple of other cheap Golden Age books.

On the negative side, Silver Age books do not attract the same level of aggressive bidding as the older stuff. I’d say most Silver Age books tend to go for 30-40% of Guide or so. In addition the gap between what you can get for a Fine book and a VF book is much smaller than is reflect in the Guide. It seems that people are happy with mid grade and aren’t willing to pay the premium for the high grade stuff. That’s cool – as that’s the approach I take.

Another strange thing I can’t quite explain is why something won’t attract any business one week and then sell like crazy the next. For example, I had a very nice issue of Our Army at War languish at $5.99 a few weeks ago, I re-listed it and it ended up selling for $11. The same for an old Terry and the Pirates book – no action at $5.99 and sold for $16 two weeks later. I can’t really explain that – just a timing issue, I guess. I have also been able to take a profit on some recent acquisitions. I sold some 50s war book for 3 to 4 times what I paid for them. I can’t explain that either – must just be good timing.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

This Spider is not Amazing

The Spider: Scavengers of the Slaughtered Sacrifices

Boy, did I ever have my hopes up for this one!

Cool Pulp hero? Check.
One of the better scripters of the past few decades? Check.
One of the all-time great pencillers? Check.

So what went wrong? Well, if you think that the title is overly long, wait until you get a look at this script. Don McGregor’s script is absolutely terrible – he uses so many words that every other line has a redundancy that is redundant. I get the sense that Don felt that if a picture says a thousands words, then a picture and a thousand words must say a million words. It’s just too much – there isn’t much of a plot and the dialogue weighs down much of the action. At times, I felt as though I was reading a Ditko script. To be fair, I understand that McGregor was strong-armed by Argosy into placing the Spider in a modern setting. That is tough, and a 30s piece would have been much better. That being said, McGregor’s ludicrous pop culture references dates the books terribly, and the theme of the evils of censorship is handled with all of the subtlety of a Ron Popeil infomercial. The only saving grace is Colan’s artwork. It is perfect. The real treat is that we get to see his ink-free pencils in this well produced black and white book. This was a serious missed opportunity. Sometimes I wish that I was still a 4-year old and could ‘read’ comics without bother with the word balloons. It saddens me that I cannot recommend this book to anyone. Avoid with extreme prejudice.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Lucinda Plays it Safe


Lucinda Williams

Went to see Lucinda Williams at Massey Hall last night. It’s still the best place in the city for concerts; the acoustics are phenomenal. This was my 3rd time seeing her and I was totally looking forward to it as the past two shows (one in 1998 and the other in 2002) were awesome. This was another good one – but a certain something was missing.

Lucinda was in fine form – her raspy vocals were perfect and her band was tight (except for a few flubs on ‘Car Wheels’). The show was a good mix of old and new, but my only real complaint was the audience. Way too many people calling out requests (which seemed to throw Lucinda a bit) and even worse the people yelling “Play whatever you want” or “Play What’s in Your Heart”. The latter sounds like the next Mitch Albom book. This was a particular old crowd – made me feel very young for a guy who’s staring down his 33rd birthday. I felt that these were people who couldn’t afford tickets to last week’s Stones tour. I am probably just sounding cynical – but there is a time when an artist has become so popular that you are in danger at running into friends of your parents at the show. Anyhow – it was good, just not as great as the previous shows. It was a fairly sedate set – none of the real gut wrenching rockers like ‘Lost It’ or ‘Changed the Locks’, nor the quieter equally gut wrenching ones like ‘Sundays’ or ‘Side of the Road’. I also would’ve loved a ‘Crescent City’ – but 3 shows down and I haven’t heard it live. Basically, there wasn’t anything from before the ‘Carwheels’ album – that to me says that Lucinda is a little too plugged into her audience. All in all, it was a good night – but just a bit too safe.

Bathroom Destruction

Kat and I are having our main bathroom redone. It will take a few weeks and the first week or so will be the most disastrous in terms of mess to our house (we are also having kitchen ceiling replaced and one bedroom ceiling replaced), so we are living at my parents’ house for the time being. After visiting our house after Day One of tearing out the old walls, I realized that there was no turning back. Hopefully, it will be a heck of a lot better, but it’s hard to see that far down the road. One of the more interesting things about doing any work on our house it to see what’s behind the walls. The house was built in 1888 and some of the old wallpaper back there seems to be original, or at least from the turn of the century. Unfortunately, still no stack of Golden Age books anywhere to be found.

Friday, September 30, 2005

All Aboard Atlas-Seaboard


Thrilling Adventure Stories #2

Not many comic book companies get slagged as much as Atlas-Seaboard. Born from Martin Goodman’s spiteful loins (isn’t that a nice image?), the company was an attempt to take a chunk of market share away from those backstabbing bastards at Marvel. The main strategy for accomplishing this goal was to create as many pseudo-Marvel titles as possible. The Atlas-Seaboard tale is a long one, and better told elsewhere. Their comic books were permanent residents of the 10 cent rack at my local shop circa 1980. That being said, there is some quality reading hidden in the Atlas-Seaboard titles – Ditko rehashing Peter Parker for the Destructor, Chaykin’s Scorpion and Ernie Colon’s stylish Grim Ghost.

Let me take a step back and ask this question. Would you buy a comic with a Neal Adams cover, interior artwork by Alex Toth, Russ Heath and John Severin? What if it also had story by Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson, the team that brought you Manhunter? You’d probably snap it up in a second, wouldn’t you? Thrilling Adventure Stories #2 is probably the greatest comic ever published by Atlas-Seaboard. OK – that’s not saying much, but it’s also one of the finest examples of what made the Bronze Age so great. It’s far from perfect, but there is so much promise here that it’s sad that Atlas-Seaboard folded so soon. I owned this mag years ago, but it was lost somewhere along the way. I recently picked up a nice copy up in a used bookstore for $5 CDN. Not a bad price for such an all-star roster.

The Goodwin/Simonson tale of fortune seeking Samurai is nice and moody, I would have liked to see another chapter. The Severin drawn WW2 story harkens back to EC’s Two-Fisted Tales. The Russ Heath story about the cop killers looks great, but is a bit generic. The same can be said for the Toth drawn story – a nice little morality play, but not great. Even the Jack Sparling drawn caveman story looks great. The shortcoming of this book is the writing – but every single 70s b&w magazine suffered from a real range in quality when it came to writing. As an overall package – this is a good one and certainly worth tracking down.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Moth of the Month

The Moth

The Beguiling has an interesting tactic when it comes to recent back issues – they package a bunch of consecutive issues together and sell them at a discounted price. I find that this is a good way for me to read books from the past few years. One of packages I picked up was The Moth #1-4. I had heard good thing about this, and had always meant to check it out. I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by this series – it has a great overall feel to it. I am a sucker for painted covers, and it’s nice to see them in the 21st century. At first, the concept of the superhero bounty hunter who co-owns a traveling circus seems fresh, but the more I read, the more I realize it was more of an amalgam of various older concepts. Hey, I dig the circus as much as anyone, but I half expected Johnny Blaze to show up.

Don’t get me wrong – most of what is going on in here is good. I especially like the focus on supporting characters and building up the Moth’s world. These comics really reminded me of Mike Grell’s early days on Green Arrow – and that is a very big compliment coming from me. I was just struck by certain similarities – just the whole overall ‘feel’ of the book. Steve Rude’s artwork is beautiful (natch) and he really seems to be digging the variety of settings and the mixture of dialogue and action. I do have a couple of complaints about the writing, though. The dialogue for the teenage ‘street urchin’ was terrible. When was the last time a 14-year old girl said ‘Rad’? That stuff was cringe worthy and I hope that Gary Martin starts to ask someone to update his dialogue. Secondly, the character of American Liberty is a bit too quick with the perfect one-liners. This is a problem with a lot of today’s film, television and comic books. The rapid-fire banter is fun for a while, but gets pretty stale. I imagine that she will be less one-dimensional once some of the secrets alluded to throughout the book are revealed. Overall, this is a fun series and I’d certainly pick up future issues. The somewhat old school art and storytelling that give the series a warmth that is lacking from many of today’s comics.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Kyle Baker – Nat Turner

WOW! WOW, WOW, WOW!

I read about this in EW – and picked it up on Friday during a lunchtime excursion to The Beguiling here in Toronto. This is a very ambitious work by Baker as he takes on a tough story and is working in the shadows of William Styron’s Pulitzer Prize winning, yet highly controversial, novel. From the outset, it is clear that Baker is going to tell Nat Turner’s story in his own way. This first issue (of four) begins in a West African village, and we are forced to witness both the cruelty and desperation of man, as we turn page after page of this lushly penciled dialogue-free book. This is heavy stuff, but Baker somehow makes it appealing. What impressed me the most was the ‘African’ vibe he gave to a lot of the art. There are a couple of panels that are most silhouetted figures, and it brought to mind the drawing of female figures on a batik I purchased in Burkina Faso.

This is as good as comics get, folks. Baker’s work here is as good as any of Will Eisner’s ‘topical’ work. Yes, you read that right. That’s as high as praise gets. In fact, after reading this book – it makes perfect sense to me that Kyle Baker is the natural choice to pick up Eisner’s still burning torch. I look forward to the next 3 issues and see where Baker takes this story. I am inclined to go back a re-read Styron’s book (and some of the criticisms of it) to get a better sense of the unique twists Baker is giving the tale. I probably don’t need to tell you that I highly recommend picking this one up, folks.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Heavenly Heath

Sir Kicks Alot
Ok – I don’t know if Kat and I are having a boy or a girl, but I just couldn’t pass up on this nickname. The kicking and bumping has been getting quite out of control lately – but it’s a hell of a lot of fun. I keep picturing the baby pounding on the walls yelling “Let Me Out of Here!” I have no idea how Kat is getting any sleep these days – except that maybe she is growing accustomed to the little earthquake inside of her. Weird stuff – but great.

Russ Heath
I was reading Star Spangled War Stories #122 last night. These are normally fun little stories with some energetic Andru/Esposito art. The lead story in this issue, however, was drawn by Russ Heath, and he (and I can’t believe I am typing this) raises the U.S. Military vs. Dinosaurs genre to a whole new level. Seriously, this is just gorgeous stuff. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. Anyone who has read early Sea Devils issues knows that Heath can take a fairly silly premise and turn it into a thing of beauty. This issue is no different – perhaps aided by the fact that half of the action takes places in one of Heath’s favourite places; underwater. As each year passes, I appreciate Russ Heath’s artwork more and more. He has become one of my top 10 favourite artists and will likely crack the top 5 at some point.

Heath has his own style, and it may have been slightly unconventional in the 60s (I can’t see him being successful in the Marvel Bullpen back then), but from today’s perspective his artwork is nothing short of classic. I would have loved for one of the comic book companies to have thrown big money at Heath to do a ‘period piece' book during the 70s. Can you imagine him telling WW2 based Captain America stories, or tackling a long run on the Unknown Soldier? That would have been incredible.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Good? Yes. Incredible? No

Batman Archives Volume 2
I have been picking up Archives here and there (along with Marvel Masterworks) when I can find them for under $20 on eBay. The retail price (especially with the ridiculous currency exchange) is just too much for me to bear. These are fun to read – but the quality of writing and artwork varies a great deal. Obviously, the quality is related to the Robinson:Kane ratio. These stories are mostly interesting from a historical perspective, as I enjoy watching the Canon of the Bat evolve. It’s incredible how long it took for characters like Alfred and Gordon to get fleshed out. They were very one-dimensional back then. Of course, comic book stories had such a straight ahead narrative, that there really wasn’t much room for character development. Another thing that strikes me as interesting is how often the cover is totally disconnected to the contents. We often think of this as a feature of modern comics, but back in the early 40s you might see a cover with Batman fighting a couple of generic thugs not knowing that the Joker or Penguin could be found inside. That’s some weak marketing.

I am only halfway through this volume, but the highlight so far is the introduction of the Penguin – who is a pretty ruthless villain, taking over a Gotham gang by Richard IIIing his way to the top. I also found it interesting the Return of the Penguin occurred in the very next issue. That implies that the two stories were written around the same time and DC was happy to bring back the Penguin without worrying about the sales of the initial appearance. ‘Supervillains’ were a rare thing back then, as most DC heroes were still taking on bank robbers and dognappers – so I have always wondered how the editors decided which characters were successful and how to bring them back.

The Incredibles

Well, I finally got around to watching this and while I enjoyed it a great deal – I was somewhat underwhelmed. The Pixar art is very cool, but some of the effects have too much of a ‘Hey Look at Me!’ vibe (a la Lucas) and ultimately distract from the flow of the movie. The real upside was that the movie still kept some heart (something the Shreks of the world lack). In my opinion, that’s part of the legacy of Iron Giant – a movie that still surpasses all of the other animated stuff being released these days. This movie was very good, but not exceptional – I don’t know how much of it will linger in my mind. I do, however, look forward to following Brad Bird’s future projects as he is obviously one of Hollywood’s better young filmmakers.

M@B
I picked up Matt Blackett’s collection Wide Collar Crimes a few years ago, and flipped through it again the other night. He is a 30ish Torontonian who draws a 3-panel comic strip for one of the city’s free weekly papers. I don’t know how to described it – it’s not really funny, but in it own way, it is funny. He basically documents the strange and not so strange things that happen everyday to anyone living in a large city. It’s an enjoyable strip if you accept it at face value. The reader needs to get into the rhythm of things and stop asking ‘where’s the punchline?’ I spoke with the creator a couple of years back at a convention here in Toronto, and he seemed keen on connecting with people – but I haven’t see him at a convention since then. Anyway – anyone interested in checking out something a little different from a local Toronto artist should go to: http://www.mattbcomic.com/archives.html

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

TV Can Be Good

Back in the office today and not loving it. My head is still a little foggy, but the law does not sleep! Actually, I slept ok last night – first time in a long time. Here’s what I think about stuff:

My Name is Earl
I had high hopes for this show, and they were met for the most part. Pretty funny stuff – I just hope they can keep it fresh. Jason Lee is lots of fun. Kat has developed a bit of a crush on him – and that’s ok with me. Does anyone do trailer trash better than Jamie Pressley? I’ll keep watching.

The Office
Was late getting into the US version – caught in on DVD last month. My local video store, The Film Buff, has a great selection of TV on DVD and it has become my preferred way of watching shows. I am sure that the UK version is even better (I haven’t seen it – which probably helps my view of the US version), but this is funny, funny stuff. I like humour that makes my jaw drop. “It says ‘Bushiest Beaver’” was the highlight of the show. Looks like the best hour of TV for the week.

Seven Soldiers #0
This book came highly recommended by Joe Rice, as well as Alex Cox, the co-owner of Rocketship in Brooklyn. Those two are contributors to an excellent blog http://listencomics.blogspot.com/ , which is included in my links. I am always a little hesitant to get into a series that is stretched out over many titles and will likely extract $100 from my wallet, but I thought I’d give it a try. I have a soft spot for the original Seven Soldiers – and even own a couple issues of the old Leading Comics. I am also a big fan of Vigilante (love the old Gray Morrow back-ups in Adventure and World’s Finest), so I am always happy to read something involving Greg Saunders. The premise is a good one, and there is a depth to the story that encourages the reader to dig a little deeper (this also involves buying more book, but alas). As I understand, this #0 is only a prologue and the characters introduced here will be replaced. That’s good – because I wasn’t too impressed with some of the revamped characters (namely Boy Blue and Dynamite Dan) and felt Williams’ art on The Whip was a bit pneumatic. I did however like the handling of Vig, and Gimmix (formerly the light hearted Merry, Girl of a 1,000 Gimmicks). The whole ‘barely participated in a few superhero scraps, but happy to milk it on the convention circuit’ angle is great. As a writer, Grant Morrison knows his strengths and he plays to them often (sometimes a little too often), but he was able to take some loose ends and tie them up fairly nicely here. I also enjoyed Williams’ artwork – but some of the layouts were a bit over the top. Overall, it was a good read, and I’d probably give it a ‘B’ or ‘B+’. I don’t know if I’d pick up the rest if it weren’t for Alex, who said that the series was one of the best things he’s ever read in comics. That’s a strong statement, so I will be buying the rest of it. I truly hope that it turns into the kind of series I will want to devour time and time again.

Alter Ego #52
This is my final issue of my subscription. Kat got it for my birthday last year, so hopefully she renewed. This was one of the better issues of the past year – and I was very interested to read about two contributors who don’t get much ink – Joe Giella and Jay Scott Pike. Joe Giella’s takes on Mike Sekowsky and Frank Giacoia were illuminating – always interesting to find out that these creators were also people with normal (and abnormal) problem. The Pike interview was of particular interest to me as he is a real enigma in the comic book world. I have been picking up Atlas romance books wherever possible lately – as they have some of the nicest artwork ever. Pike is truly a master, and has somehow remained relatively unknown. I’d love to get my hands on some of his ‘jungle’ work from the 50s. I somehow doubt that we will ever see an Essential Jann of the Jungle. Oh well, one can dream.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Typical Tuesday Rant

All right – feeling a little bit better today. The best part of taking some sick leave from work is the change to flop on the couch with the converter in one hand and a funnybook in the other.

Comics
I recently picked up some newer material (a breakthrough for me), and had some fun getting a feel for the current comic book scene. These included:

Plastic Man: On the Lam – Kyle Baker
It’s just like me to jump on the bandwagon after it's a flaming wreck, but I have always been interested in this now cancelled title, but had never gotten around to reading it. Brooklyn based comic guru Joe Rice recommended this title to me in a lukewarm fashion – stating that the series improved as it rolled along. I have got to say, that I liked it a lot. Was it perfect? No – but it was fresh. Much fresher than anything I’d read in a while. As I am a big fan of the Jack Cole version (and will likely post my thoughts on Art Spiegelman’s book on Cole at some point), I have always been disappointed with DC’s treatment of Plas (save for a couple of wonderful Brave and Bold appearances). This collection hit most of the right notes – a good mix of humour and action. Some of the sight gags were a little much, but bonus points were earned for the Nick Charles bit and the jab at the overly dark Dark Knight. Nice job overall – I think I’ll hunt down the rest of the series.

Just read in EW about Baker’s Nat Turner book – sounds unbelievably interesting.

Solo – Darwyn Cooke
Like most sane people, I really dug DC: New Frontier, so I was happy to pick up this recommended book by Toronto native Cooke. It’s an interesting package – basically a series of vignettes playing to the auteur’s strengths. Cooke does a great job infusing new life into old characters (how’s that for clich├ęd writing?) – and I really liked his take on Slam Bradley and The Question. Man, would I ever love a Question series or mini-series by Cooke. The more I think about it, the more Cooke reminds me of a pre-lunacy Ditko.

Movies
This Gun For Hire (1942)
I have been really into Film Noir lately (maybe that’s why I enjoyed the Darwyn Cooke comic so much), so I was happy to see that TV Ontario had this playing on their Saturday Night at the Movies a month or so back. I taped it and finally got around to watching it. This movie has a great pedigree – based on Graham Greene story – starting Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, but somehow it doesn’t all add up. Don’t get me wrong – it’s enjoyable from start to finish – but the plot is simply too muddled and the characterization of the anti-hero Raven (Ladd’s character) is straight out of a Ed Wood script (he slaps women around, but feeds stray cats!). Veronica Lake, who is so great in Sullivan’s Travels, is ask simply to stand around and look nice and her musical numbers are cringe inducing. The movie is saved somewhat by the last 30 minutes where much of the action takes place in a darkened Los Angeles rail yard, and the final showdown involved art deco office buildings, scaffolding and gas masks. Not bad, but not great.

Monday, September 19, 2005

I've Got a Virus

No, not a computer virus.

I am sick - maybe it's viral. I dunno, I'm a lawyer not a doctor.

That being said, my general dopiness and housebound status has led me to set up this blog.

My goals?

Like anyone else - talk about stuff they like. For me, that's mainly comics, movies, sports, books, travel, my wife and our upcoming baby.

Today - I am mainly thinking comics. I was just in NYC on a business trip and had the chance to stop by a new comic book store in Brooklyn called Rocketship. It's a great spot and I encourage anyone within striking distance to stop by.

As you will soon learn, I don't really buy new comics. I had a real falling out in the mid to late 90s, and have had a tough time handing over the dough since then. I have generally concentrated on buying back issues on Ebay - building my collection of Golden and Silver Age books. I'll also pick up reprint TPBs here and there, but usually only when I can get it for a good price.

At Rocketship - I picked up some newer material and I hope to share my thoughts on it here at some point in the not too distant future.

With Baby #1 on the way, I have actually been selling some comics in efforts to raise some coin for a nice gift for my wife, Kat. She has been very curious about all of the time I have been spending on the computer scanning comics.

Although I am sad to see some things go, I have reached the point where I have some many comics that there is nowhere to put them. I thought that I would take the books that I don't really love and see what I can get for them.

The whole eBay auction process was a little scary at first. I have always been a buyer - never a seller. I worried about getting burned and people complaining about my grading etc... I am happy to report that so far (touch wood), everything has gone smoothly.

Here's what I have discovered: there is a real market for 40s and 50s horror and crime (that's no huge surprise), but I have had a tougher time getting decent prices on Silver Age superhero titles. Granted, keys and even minor keys have sold (got twice what I was expecting on a Iron Man & Sub-Mariner #1), but normal 60s books can just sit there unsold at $4.99 even in high grade. I guess that's to be expected, because I have been buying great book for next to nothing over the past 6 years on eBay.

Even though there has always been a market for pre-Code horror, I always assumed it was for EC, Atlas and maybe Harvey. I was happy to see people snapping up titles from publishers like Ace and Trojan.

It's a pretty labour intensive process - with all of the scanning and trips to the post office, but it will be worth it in the end if I can make enough for a nice gift for Kat.

That's what I am thinking today - more of a comic book marketplace kind of mindset then anything else. I'll be back to talk about actual books, writers and artists before too long.

I am off for some medicine and maybe a nap.

Welcome and feel free to share your thoughts.