Bring on the Surfer Bats!

October 31, 2012 by
The Southern California Surfer Bats #1
By Ryan Shepard & Ian Crowe

If you were a kid in the late ’80s, you loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon show. Don’t bother telling me different; it was the law back then. In fact, Federal love subsidies made the production of animal superhero teams so cost effective that Saturday morning TV was flooded with them. Perhaps you remember Street Sharks, Biker Mice From Mars, Extreme Dinosaurs, C.O.W.Boys of Moo Mesa, Dino Squad, Dinosaucers, Samurai Pizza Cats or The Mighty Ducks (not the movies; the cartoon show about humanoid ducks who come from a world where hockey is the supreme religion (it was a weird time)).

You’re reading a comics blog, so you probably know that the Ninja Turtles started out as a gritty black-and-white independent comic parodying Frank Millar’s run on Daredevil. What you may not know is that the comic book was also massively popular, so much so that it spawned a slew of imitators, like Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters, Pre-Teen Dirty Gene Kung Fu Kangaroos, Cold-blooded Chameleon Commandos and dozens more I can’t actually remember off the top of my head.

Funny animal comics were actually pretty big in the ’80s; an old comic shop ad I have lists the price for a #1 issue of Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters at $13. But that was the ’80s; by the ’90s, the black-and-white bubble had popped, and the comics-buying public realized they had bought a bunch of instantly dated, not terribly funny cash-ins. As comics taste changed from the flash in the pan of fighting animals to the timeless art of Rob Liefield, the Ninja Turtles Parody genre largely dried up.

Until now!

Ryan Shepard and Ian Crowe’s Southern California Surfer Bats aims to take us back to that mutant filled time of our youth. How well does it work? Let’s listen to the SCSB Theme Song and take a look.

Well, first off, let’s talk about the elephant in the room here: This art’s not very good at all! That’s really all I have to say about that, except dude, go a little easier on the gradients.

So, with the art out of the way, allow me to summarize the story. The time is 1979, the place is Venice Beach, and our heroes Slater and Jenny are too busy making out to notice that a Nike-shaped spaceship is crashing into the beach.

The next day, we meet Emmette, an old-school nerd complete with bowl cut, sweater vest, and bow tie. He asks the somewhat Muppet-like Jenny to go to prom with him, but she gently turns him down, since she’s already going with Slater.

Emmette’s not just a nerd, though, he’s also a mad scientist! He puts a tracking device on Jenny’s car, but signals from the alien ship interfere with his tracker, and when he shows up at the crash site, he finds enough alien technology scattered over the beach to feed his mad-science habit for years to come.

Meanwhile, the aliens, having been injured in the spaceship crash, are forced to take over the bodies of some nearby bats in order to survive.

Then everybody spends the next ten years and eight pages not doing much of anything.

The End.

And that brings me to the major problem I have with this comic: There aren’t any surfing bats in it. I mean, how does that even happen in a comic called Southern California Surfer Bats? I came to see humanoid bat monsters catching gnarly waves and foiling Emmette’s totally bogus plots.

I think this is a particular disease that American comics tend to fall into a lot, both in print and on the web. Since comics are very often written with the expectation that they’re going to run for dozens of issues, creators seem to pace them out as one long story, forgetting that we readers are only going to be getting tiny chunks parceled out over long periods of time.

So you get things where web comics that only put up one page a week will have an eight-page fight sequence, forgetting that, for the audience, that’s two months with no advances in plot or characterization. Or you get Southern California Surfer Bats, which delays all the money shots until issue two.

All of the exposition and set-up in this first issue is justified, and if I were reading it as the first 23 pages of a 48-page comic, I wouldn’t even blink at it. But I’m not; I got a review copy of issue #1, and issue #2 isn’t coming for at least a couple of months.

Honestly, I can get past the art, and the occasional typo, but darn it, I want to see some Surfer Bats!

My fear for the new season of Community . . .

October 29, 2012 by

. . . is not that it won’t be as good, but rather that it will be. Which sounds weird, because I love Community and will be sad and will miss it if it returns and isn’t the same. But at the same time, if the show’s creator, Dan Harmon, can be fired for being too difficult for the studio/network to work with and for being a self-described asshole and crazy person, and a team of showrunners can be hired to replace him and the difference is minimal, then what does that say for the assholes and crazy people of the world?

The characters of Community are great because they are so messed up, and the show is great because it is so messed up, and they are messed up because they are the product of a specific mind, vision and personal experience, which are themselves probably messed up. What’s left for the world’s prickly, maladjusted people if that can be replicated by professionals who play well with others and don’t appear to be crazy?

I guess this is just another of my illusions about the world falling down (and I’m only just recovering from the realization when I started working in an editorial department that editors drinking whiskey out of their desks all day seems to only be a thing in movies from the 1940s and ’50s—imagine my disappointment). A part of me really wants to think that the entertainment I love could only come from the damaged people that make it, and I do seem to gravitate toward entertainment created by people who aren’t shy about sharing their damage. I know that this isn’t entirely true, since I’ve worked with plenty of professional, seemingly well adjusted writers and artists in my job as a comics editor. But if Community comes back and still feels like Community, that would shake my understanding of the world a little bit, just like how drunk I’m not at work every day shook it (I hasten to add that this is not the entire reason I became an editor).

No one I’ve explained this to has been sympathetic, largely because this is the complaint of a crazy person, albeit one without any particular creative talent. I should want the show I love to stay good. I want the best for the cast and everyone else who’s still with the show, since they’ve brought me so much entertainment and pleasure. Dan Harmon has other projects starting up (and his uproariously funny podcast) and doesn’t particularly need my loyalty in this respect. But I still believe that even more than it is anyone else’s, Community is his show and a product of the particular, unique way in which he is crazy—I understand that it’s perfectly likely that the new showrunners are equally crazy, but not in the same way, and apparently in a more network/studio–pleasing way—and as sad as it would be if the show was no longer as good without that particular crazy, it would just be disturbing if it was.

My God, I am placing so much more emotional energy and anxiety into the return of a TV show, whenever it comes back, than is remotely healthy. Once again, Internet, family, loved ones, people who are worried that I might be drinking at work: I’m sorry.

A Life Lived in Comics Day 26: That Time I Went to the Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum

May 15, 2012 by

Despite my listing the several manga series I follow in Day 24, Japan itself has always held less fascination for me than it seems to for many in the nerd set. Don’t get me wrong—my years of fandom for and later assistance on Usagi Yojimbo has instilled an interest in Japanese history in me, you can’t go through film school without cultivating a love for Ozu and Kurasawa, and I think everyone I know enjoys Miyazaki. But it’s not like the people I’ve known who seemed almost to find in Japanese culture the answer to their own alienation from America’s. Japan the place has never seemed more or less interesting than any of dozens of parts of the world that I’d like to visit.

So it was strange during the years that I dated and briefly lived with a Japanese woman that the first question people would ask me when I mentioned her was, “Oh, do you speak Japanese?” It was just assumed that her ethnicity and culture were part of the attraction, when in fact they were incidental. Though born in Japan, she had come to America at the age of three, and her unaccented English, I gathered, was far stronger than her Japanese, which was frozen at about the middle-school level. In our years together I learned maybe three words, and Japan wasn’t high on her list of priorities either, unless it was to argue that the food is the best in the world and the horror films the scariest.

But so it was that I ended up visiting Japan in October 2006. She went to see her extended family about every year and a half, and it had never really occurred to me to go, as some far more enthusiastic friend or other was always eager, but on this particular trip she asked me to come. My attitude towards travel is, whether I’ve long desired to go or not, if I get the opportunity and can afford it, I should. This is the same reason that a year later I accompanied a friend on a road trip from San Francisco to Fort Bragg, NC, and why, in 1998, I had gone on a school-sponsored summer trip to China for a couple weeks. Similarly, I had never given traveling to China much thought, but had an incredible time, and I’d actually be much quicker to return there than to Japan, for the dual reasons that it felt more different from home and because, 14 years later, I suspect that it’s massively changed from when I was there.

In the years since we split up, Japanese culture has become a bit more present in my life, between assisting on Usagi and starting to read a lot more manga, but at the time my main touchstone was my passion for the work of Osamu Tezuka, whose Phoenix and Buddha had changed my concept of comics during college. Asked what I wanted to do and see while we were there, I deferred to her with one exception: we must visit the Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum in Takarazuka, Tezuka’s hometown. We did a lot of the standard things, too: visited the Imperial palace and the Tsukiji fish market, saw lots of temples, ate takoyaki and Osaka ramen, toured the Sapporo brewery and the Tōei Kyoto Studio Park, where samurai TV shows are filmed, walked Akihabera Electric Town, all that stuff.

But the thing I anticipated was the Tezuka museum. Considered in Japan the God of Manga, Tezuka’s importance to manga and anime has no direct American comparison. It is as if Jack Kirby and Walt Disney were a single person, producing a fantastically outsized number of comics pages (estimates go as high as 150,000) that reinvented the way stories were told in the medium, and going on to become one of the most beloved producers in animation, running a studio that created many of the classics of the genre. At once a brilliant entertainer of children, Tezuka also created strange, dark, experimental work I read again and again when they finally came to America. I’ve since learned that the average manga reader in Japan focuses primarily on what’s new, and older works are not widely read. The exception are Tezuka’s classics like Astro Boy and Black Jack.

We turned out to be perfectly situated for a visit to the museum, as our home base was in Osaka prefecture, and Takarazuka is a short distance away in neighboring Hyōgo prefecture. I remember it being a fairly brief train ride. We had been primed a few days earlier when we discovered the Tezuka Osamu World store in the Kyoto rail station, and there we took pictures with statues of Astro Boy/Tetsuwan Atom and Black Jack, whose series had yet to be published by Vertical, meaning I was only vaguely aware of it (I’ve been rendering Tezuka’s name surname last in Western style, but of course in Japan it’s the other way around).
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A Life Lived in Comics Day 25: MIND into Matter

May 10, 2012 by

Exciting day Tuesday. Still getting over being sick; left early Monday, came in late today. Arrived to think I must have a leak in my office because a trash can was on my desk, but it turned out to just be that the carpets had been vacuumed. But once I get everything back where it’s supposed to be, the other thing on my desk is revealed: advance copies of both the regular version of MIND MGMT #1 and the Gilbert Hernandez variant cover. There they are above, as well as a copy opened up to show how it looks on the inside, though readers who picked up the 3 Story: Secret Files of the Giant Man one-shot will already know. I originally took this photo to send to Matt and his agent, but it made sense to show here as well.

I’m biased, but it’s a hell of a first issue, with a great main character, tons of wacky ideas, great design and bonuses, and a killer final caption that lets readers know this series is different even from anything else out there.

It was a half day, so not surprisingly I got about half a normal day’s worth of stuff done. One thing was taking a crack at my first MIND MGMT letters column. I convinced Matt to do the one for issue #1 so he could write up his mission statement for the series, but from here on its me. Tougher than others I’ve had to do, both because those had established tones (though I slowly adapted them to fit me better) and because Matt is including extra stories on the inside front and inside back covers, meaning that there is only half a page for the letters column. I don’t know about you, but even though I like letters columns, I’d happily trade half of one for extra comics, but it does mean fitting everything into 500 words. Eventually came up with a hello that I like, fit in one of the advance letters Matt solicited, and found room for a shout-out to the upcoming conclusion of Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth.

Also of MIND MGMT note this week is the second of our free promo stories, coming out weekly until the first issue debuts. And that’s it for today. Not a whole lot else went on, and sickness has me falling behind. But, seriously, free MIND MGMT—what else could one want?

Next:  That time I went to the Tezuka museum.

Why’m I doing this again?

A Life Lived in Comics Day 24: Bakuman

May 10, 2012 by

On Monday I read both the conclusion to Bakuman‘s halfway point in volume 10 and the conclusion-conclusion in the latest Shonen Jump Alpha. Since Alpha launched in January with Bakuman chapter 162, just a few weeks behind the Japanese serialization, I’ve had the odd experience of following the same narrative at two different points simultaneously (volume 10 brings us up to chapter 88).

It’s not been an entirely unpleasant experience, since the actual plot points of Bakuman are less important than the smaller-scale twists, meaning that cliffhangers still held tension despite my knowing about later developments, and besides the ending has never been at all in doubt. It was fun to read a weekly series, even only for a few months, knowing that I was doing so not long after the Japanese audience, something that wouldn’t have been plausible before digital comics (of course, I’ll still follow Toriko and One Piece and am curious to see what replaces Bakuman). I suppose it would be better to have the story in order, which will soon be possible thanks to Viz speeding up the book releases now that the series is done, but I can’t honestly say it’s bothered me much. Just reading Bakuman has been so much fun that I haven’t given it much thought.

So, I should back up and explain what I’m talking about. Bakuman is a shonen manga series by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata following a pair of friends from middle school to young adulthood as they pursue their dream of creating the biggest, most popular manga in Weekly Shonen Jump magazine, the real-life magazine that Bakuman actually ran in. Meta. There are also romantic comedy elements, and while those are cute and enjoyable in a ridiculous way, the manga making is the main attraction for me.

Way back in volume 1, the thing that hooked me was how utterly mercenary the two kids, Mashiro and Takagi, are, with the series mildly subverting the common manga trope of the main characters striving to be the best something. Instead, they seem more interested in being the most successful, which is a variation on best, but still strikes me as a substantively distinct concept. Early on, their editor Mr. Hattori tells them that great manga is created by one of two types—”the genius type who draws what he wants to draw” and “the calculating type who masterminds a hit”—and instantly pegs them as the latter.

Ten volumes in, it’s beginning to look like part of Mashiro and Takagi’s character arc is a movement toward more personal work, and I’m excited to see how that leads into where we find them in the post-162 chapters.

It’s a pretty fascinating series to follow as a comics professional. The entire publishing system is different in Japan, and the role of the editor seems pretty different. Instead of a large slate of short-run publications and standalone ongoings, publishers have a few large magazines aimed at different demographics, and the series they develop run together in those magazines. Imagine if Marvel, DC, Image, DH, etc. each published just a handful of 500-page weekly magazines featuring 20 or so of their major properties and that was the main format they competed in.

Within the magazine, each of the 20 features compete with each other and are subjected to weekly reader polls, with the top serials getting the best treatment and the bottom few in danger of cancellation. This means that editors within the same magazine are competing with each other as well. In the exclamatory fashion of shonen, the editors are just as likely to shout about how they won’t lose to each other as are the mangaka (manga artists). Where other series might have fights or detailed explanations of the maneuvering of players going into battle, Bakuman instead dramatizes frequent white-knuckle waits for reader poll results to come in.

There’s also a huge emphasis in Bakuman on the cultivation of talent, with artists staying under contract even when they don’t currently have a series, under the assumption that with the guidance of their editor they will develop a new one. Of course, I have no idea how accurate most of this is, but the series depicts frequent story meetings, often taking place at the artists’ homes and studios.

Editor Hattori is treated as one of the heroes of the series, a great judge of talent and a master at leading writers and artists to the personal and creative breakthroughs they need. Younger editor Miura reminds me more of my own position, though I like to think I’m not as inept as he is, misjudging Mashiro and Takagi’s talents and too quick to accept the lesser work they create under his guidance. Still, I find myself rooting for him to get the hang of it, and recent volumes have seen him begin to see the mistakes he’s making and become more ambitious.

I wouldn’t want to see American comics subject to quite so harshly Darwinian process as the reader polls, though obviously sales are a kind of reader poll, but part of me does admire just how focused on delivering it makes the comics that survive. That particular obsession with making comics actually entertaining and not just rewarding for their clubbiness is something I wouldn’t mind seeing more of in the mainstream market. Western superhero comics are constantly repeating the old line of, “Don’t worry, it’ll be better next time,” taking for granted that readers are already hooked and will forgive a dull month or three, while shonen is deeply aware that any loss of interest could be the end and so focuses on hitting pleasure receptors this time. The best shonen manga is essentially crack, hitting readers with as much incident as they can fit into 20 pages, with reliable, addictive cliffhangers at the end of each one. The supreme example is probably currently Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys.

Bakuman is not only an excellent example (as was Ohba and Obata’s previous collaboration, Death Note), but it’s doubly thrilling in that it simultaneously dramatizes the process of creating exactly the addictive narrative that it is itself. While I don’t know how much I’d be into the new series the protagonists develop in volume 10, watching them develop it is intoxicating, and without spoiling the series’ ending, it’s great fun to watch them debating the question of whether and how to end a serial even as their own story is wrapping up. For all the series’ silliness and problematic sexual politics, it’s hard not to love, and especially difficult for someone who does something similar for a living not to relate to.

I’ve been reading a lot more manga since I’ve worked at Dark Horse. Some of that is the free availability of DH’s manga in the editorial library and now through our app, and some is certainly just the fact that my taste has been expanding at a steady rate for years and I was bound to start getting a lot more manga in my diet eventually. But I also think that a big part of it is that, while it is still reading comics, it’s different enough from the type of material that I work on (and I love noticing all the ways it’s different, from the different visual cues to the pacing to the way balloon placement is completely different) that it doesn’t contribute to burnout the way that going home and reading a bunch of Western comics might. I still get my comics fix without it just feeling like more of the same thing I’m looking at all day.

Manga series I’m currently reading include 20th Century BoysBakumanGantz, Gate 7, The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Saturn ApartmentsToriko, Yotsuba@!—my beloved Twin Spica has come to an end. And I know there are way more I should be reading. Suggestions welcome.

This is the last week of this monthlong project, so I’ll have to get around to my visit a few years back to the Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum soon.

Next:  More MIND MGMT logrolling.

Why’m I doing this again?

A Life Lived in Comics Day 23: Secret Origin part 3: Time Flies

May 9, 2012 by

In Part 1, the author first began reading comics and described his growing fandom over the years.

In Part 2, the author described how he went about preparing for and applying for his present job in comics.

And now, part 3:

In the summer of 2008, I was splitting my time between paralegal research, teaching cartooning to high schoolers, blogging, and fighting with my girlfriend. Our February trip to New York, where I attended NYCC and had my resume rewritten by C.B. Cebulski, was the last time I remember us enjoying each other’s company.

I spent my days in my underwear, listening to wiretaps of a couple of people traveling to different pawnshops in Oregon to sell assorted merchandise, which they were now accused of having stolen and carried across state lines. I made corrections to the official FBI transcripts, read interviews, and used software called Casemap to cross reference people, places, and events to help the defense attorney create a complete portrait of the timeline of the case. It was repetitive, frequently boring, but on the whole fascinating. Once a month we met for lunch and synched our hard drives. The rest of the time it was pretty solitary.

Except for my occasional trips across town to plan for the coming school year at the Northwest Academy, my high school where I was now about to enter my second year teaching electives. The previous year I had had a blast teaching a high-school level class on cartooning, and was signed up to repeat that, as well as teach the middle-school level and to revive my old, abandoned pop culture studies class that had failed to materialize a few years earlier.

In the high-school class, I created assignments where we dissected short silent stories, created character model sheets, read and discussed Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, and progressed from editorial cartoons to comic strips to three-page stories to eight-page stories. The comics fans in the class were a distinct minority, the rest of the class made up of the curious, which I enjoyed, as I watched them develop an affection for telling stories in the comics medium even as they didn’t necessarily cultivate much in the way of fandom. Unable to avoid bringing in broader cultural theory, we discussed how visual literacy was poised to become as important as verbal literacy in the coming years, and I was thrilled to see even the non-comics readers take to communicating through the medium.

(I was apparently mildly popular as a teacher and received good marks for my handling of the class, though I did have to spend some time conforming my attendance log to the master log after being less than diligent. The closest I recall to getting into any trouble was for my poor choice of listening material during a drawing period one day. We often listened to music while the students drew, but sometimes we’d put on other things, like standup comedy. We had Margaret Cho on (I know) one day when the principal came in to tell us that the school was on lockdown while a bloody fistfight went on out front. Cho was talking about being present at a friend giving birth, and the principle entered the room (which was in an adjunct building across from the main campus and mostly empty while we were there) just as Cho said the words, “Then her pussy exploded.” Had she come in just to check up on us, I’m sure I’d have been in serious trouble, but the lockdown had her preoccupied enough that she either didn’t hear or chose not to.)

In the meantime, I’d been applying for an assistant editor position at Dark Horse, and was somewhat on edge about the question of whether I would be the person hired sooner or the one hired later, since I had been told I’d be one of the two. Thing is, the economy was on the verge of collapse, and I worried the second position wouldn’t really materialize once things got bad. I was therefore very nervous when I got a call in the end of August from Dark Horse’s editorial director. I don’t actually remember the feeling itself, but I do remember him remarking on my tone of voice after he said who it was and I replied, “Yes?”

I celebrated a bit. A lot. I’d never had and have never since had enough whiskey to become sick not that night but the morning after, excusing myself from breakfast twice to throw up. I was in kind of a bad way generally at the time. After the fight a day or two later that led to the end of my relationship with my girlfriend, I spent the long weekend in a cocoon and only emerged to have my first day of work the day after Labor Day.

In the meantime, I resigned from the case, feeling a bit guilty, and helped NWA find a replacement for the comics classes. Fittingly, my replacement ended up being Shannon Wheeler, who had guest lectured an earlier version of the same class when I took it ten years earlier. For whatever reason, the high school version didn’t fill up this year, so he ended up corralling a rowdy bunch of teens, and I ended up at the Dark Horse offices September 2nd, ready to work but without bosses.

For reasons I forget, both Diana Schutz, DH’s executive editor, and Dave Marshall, her previous assistant, now promoted to associate, were out of the office my first week. I was assigned to read up on the comics I would be assisting on, go through the Chicago Manual of Style, and help out with odd jobs where I could. I think the first things I did for anyone were to transcribe a phone conversation between Zack Whedon, Evan Dorkin and Gerard Way for a MySpace Dark Horse Presents collection and retype a letter sent to the Hellboy letters column. I was also introduced to the editorial library, a room with (in theory) two copies of every DH comic and one copy of every book, and given the responsibility of restoring order to it, weeding out duplicates, and ordering replacements for missing books.

Dave got back first, and he started in training me on the basic assistant tasks. The first book I learned was Usagi Yojimbo, essentially the perfect training wheels comic. Cartoonists don’t come better than Stan Sakai, and Usagi is edited the way it always has been, which is to say not much. Stan doesn’t submit story outlines or thumbnails or any of that. He just gives us a two to three-sentence synopsis from which we can write tip copy. The first time we see an issue it is complete, and all that remains is to do minor cleanup, proofread, and get the design pages made. Still, the process from this point on is similar to other books, so it’s a low-stress way to learn the in-house steps.

Dave’s main projects at the time were getting Mass Effect off the ground and finishing a Mister X series. Mass Effect had been assigned to him partly on the basis of his affinity for the material, and it’s since become one of Dark Horse’s important franchises, but at the time it wasn’t entirely certain it would go ahead, for several reasons. Even when the first issue of that first miniseries, Redemption, came out, things seemed questionable. The sales weren’t there, and it began to look like Mass Effect would prove to be a big mistake. Then Mass Effect 2 was released to enormous sales and acclaim, and the comic became hot, selling out and doing well on eBay. I think that the first two issues of Mass Effect: Redemption are still the only comics I’ve worked on that have gone back to press for a second printing.

With Diana I first worked on Usagi, some Grendel collections, Beanworld, a reprint series of The Amazon, and two Frank Miller projects. One, The Spirit Storyboards, was solicited but never released when the failure of the film killed interest. It’s too bad, since the book’s designer did wonderful work, and the Miller art in the book includes some wonderful images, a reminder that the man is always experimenting, always having fun, even in a medium that at the time he likely wasn’t intending to be reprinted publicly. I hold out hope that the best material from that book will somdeay be repurposed elsewhere.

The other was The Life and Times of Martha Washington in the Twenty-first Century, my introduction to the kind of intensive, prestige projects that make up a lot of Diana’s portfolio these days. 600 pages and the size of DC’s Absolute editions, reproduced from a few different generations of materials (film, old format digital files, modern files), and featuring coloring tweaks from the original colorist, it was a huge project, and one that I spent a lot of hours in the digital art department going over. It was also among my first experiences coordinating with big-name comics talent, phoning artist Dave Gibbons in his studio about the new cover art and getting the signing plates to him. It also turned out to be great training on working on large projects with lots of moving parts.

I worked solely for Diana and Dave until late 2009, when I took on a few projects under Scott Allie and Sierra Hahn. I worked on Buffy for a few months, during the Brad Meltzer–written “Twilight” arc, in which the secret identity of the season’s big bad was revealed. On that book and Serenity I proved to be one editor too many, as they each had an editor, associate editor, and two assistant editors, so I didn’t stick around long. Still, it was deemed useful for my training to be exposed to different types of projects and a different editorial style, so I was found projects with each of them to do for a while. With Scott I worked on The Guild, and developed a fondness for the web series and the writing of its creator Felicia Day, and with Sierra I got to help reinvent the Terminator in Zack Whedon’s and Andy MacDonald’s 2029 & 1984 miniseries, which remain my favorite licensed series I’ve been involved with. The other major project I helped Sierra with was Green River Killer, an original graphic novel about the detective who worked on the Green River Killer case longer than anyone, written by his son Jeff Jenson and illustrated by Jonathan Case, and it is another of my favorites.

I also worked during this time with Scott and assistant Freddye Lins on MySpace Dark Horse Presents, where I edited my first short stories, Damon Gentry and Aaron Conley’s “The Horror Robber” and Andi Watson’s “Hen and the Door-to-Door Ogre,” and coedited Art Baltazar’s “Grimiss Island” with fellow assistant (now associate) editor Patrick Thorpe. Damon and Aaron had submitted some work to DH and as I was at the time the submissions editor (a right of passage for most assistants, replacing the editorial library and passed on to me by Patrick, the newest assistant until I was hired), I was the one who read it. During my time as submissions editor I hired people I found there twice, the other being Jake Murray, the cover artist of the Kult miniseries, which I started out as assistant on and became coeditor of. Andi Watson, of course, I had been a fan of for years, and have since had the pleasure of working with on new the new Skeleton Key one-shot. Patrick invited me to coedit the Art Baltazar story because of my Tiny Titans fandom.

Because I was probably one of the only people in the editorial department buying and reading Archie, I was also teamed with editor Shawna Gore on the Archie Archives series. This was the peak of my overextension as an assistant. I’m as busy now as I was then, but split fewer ways, which makes a big difference. Over time, Scott eased me off of his projects until The Guild was the last one left, and I finished that with this year’s Free Comic Book Day issue and the Fawkes one-shot, and as limited projects with Sierra ended, they weren’t replaced.

My first projects as editor came as they often do at Dark Horse, handed down from other editors or reassigned after editor departed. My first reprint series was Little Lulu, which moved naturally from Dave to me as he got more original projects, largely videogame tie-ins after his success with Mass Effect. Tarzan: The Jesse Marsh Years and Archie Archives were passed down to me from departing editors. Finally, MIND MGMT went to me to help ease Diana’s schedule, which at the time was dominated with the huge Manara Library reprint program and a few others.

Around this time I began getting the opportunity to originate projects. The first graphic novel I brought in is actually still in progress, so I can’t go into detail, but it was greenlit last summer and is moving along steadily. As my first project, it took a ridiculously long time to get it ready to present to the decision makers, a year all told from when it was first pitched to me to when it was approved. Part of that was my learning the process, part was getting the pitch into the right shape, and part was the fact that I simply couldn’t devote very much time to it because as an assistant my work on other editors’ books had to come first.

It doesn’t take me as long to navigate stuff anymore, and I felt bad for the creators who were having to wait for me, but in the end we did get approved. Since then a few projects I’ve championed have been rejected, a few others have found a home in Dark Horse Presents, and some others are in their early stages. Nearly all of the lengthy Tarzan planning I wrote about earlier in the month is over, and my time is split currently between helping Diana, training assistant Shantel to take over a lot of my work on Dave’s books, and managing Bucko, MIND MGMT, Archie, Tarzan, and the unannounced stuff. I’m finally starting to feel like a real editor.

All this time I’ve fought to get my life back from the personal low point that coincided with starting at Dark Horse. For about the first year I poured all of my time and emotional energy into the job and ignored the rest of my life. Not particularly healthy, particularly because while one can feel proud of what one does for work, it’s just not a way to get real emotional sustenance. I hopefully have a more normal work-life balance now, thought this monthlong blog project, which takes up way more of my time than it should, suggests otherwise. I definitely stunted myself a bit, and getting back into the dating world and developing new hobbies hasn’t come terribly easy.

I’ve become a better person than I was those years ago, not because I necessarily wanted or tried to, but because I pretty much had to to get through everything. Probably the job has been a part of it, as it’s much more social than my last one and requires a lot more getting along and motivating people. Things do seem to be coming together professionally in a way they hadn’t for a while, so hopefully the future bears that out.

Next: The end of Bakuman and what it’s like to read it as an editor.

Why’m I doing this, again?

A Life Lived in Comics Day 22: Free Comic Book Day 2012

May 5, 2012 by

Signs announcing today’s Free Comic Book Day at the Hollywood District Things From Another World. Also, there is a good chance that any event you attend in Portland will include pirates. There’s like a law or something.

Last year, Free Comic Book Day turned into a minature odyssey, with eight posts in one day, three store visits, and 18 capsule reviews. This year I decided not to go quite that crazy, so it’ll be one post with two brief store visits and reviews of the books I find especially interesting for one reason or another.

The stores

My neighborhood store, Floating World Comics, opened at 11. I left my house at 11, so I missed the pre-event crowd, though store owner Jason Leivian said there had been a long line outside before opening. Looking over at the table of free comics, still plenty there, but some noticeable holes, it was easy to believe. Floating World doesn’t impose a limit on the number of different comics customers can pick up, and Leivian wondered aloud if next year it might be time to decide on one.

Now having read Brad Trip, the store’s own FCBD entry, I took another look at the wall displaying its artwork. I still don’t know what to make of non-narrative comics, but Brad Trip is growing on me, and I feel like just a few more examples of surreal and abstract comics might be all it takes for me to warm to the genre.


Original art from Brad Trip, the surrealist comics anthology produced by Floating World and a few local publishers.

As I browsed the shop, I noticed the line at the register, which was fairly long. Continuing to look around and selecting a few Benjamin Marra comics (readers of A Life Lived in Comics will recognize that name as one of my current comics obsessions), including the broadsheet edition of Marra’s illustrations inspired by the film version of American Psycho, I waited until the line shortened a bit. By the register there were free chocolate chip cookies, baked by a customer, and a box of additional comics labeled Free With Purchase. Some good stuff in there, like the Madman Giant-Size Super Ginchy Special and Batman #700, but I’d previously read the things that caught my eye. I always love it when FCBD is a little more curated like that, though, with stores giving away things that they personally think new readers will enjoy, not just what the publishers make available that year.

Read the rest of this entry »

A Life Lived in Comics Day 21: Con Crud

May 5, 2012 by

I went to two cons in April, Emerald City and Stumptown. Other than being tired from the show itself, the parties, and the commute, I don’t remember Emerald City messing me up too much, and after some grouchiness Monday from the post-con comedown, I was fine by Tuesday.

Post-Stumptown seems to have thrown me, and the office, for more of a loop. It’s not surprising that, when people converge from a large variety of places into a single enclosed space, shake a lot of hands and give a lot of hugs, then weaken their immune systems with late nights and heavy drinking, it’s a pretty good situation for some bugs to spread around. In my experience the result isn’t usually anything major, but it usually sticks around a few days. So this week there have been a lot of scratchy throats at Dark Horse, and the entire editorial office has seemed to be in a general malaise.

Scratchy throat and a day of joint pain aside, it’s mostly hit me in terms of waking up far too early, throat dry and nose obstructed. Some days you wake up early and go back to sleep; other days you immediately recognize this is futile. So, for instance, when I woke up at 5:30 (my usual routine is between 7 and 7:30), I read for a bit and then headed for work, one of the first to arrive at 7:45. Friday was an early day as well.

When I don’t get enough sleep, it’s like my body overcompensates. I get a bit manic, louder and quicker to laughter than normal, but the flipside is that I start to crash midafternoon, and by the end of work I’m not up for doing much more. The Monday blog entry turned out to just be a post on burnout, Tuesday I turned down an invite to go out for a movie, Wednesday I actually did make it out for a drink with a friend, but only a quick one. Thursday I promised to write about First Thursday, but in truth I ended up missing most of it.

Waiting until 8:30 when Community was over, I missed the rush and headed straight to Sequential Art Gallery for Star St. Germain’s witty installation about modern dating, Date Lines. I poked my head in a few other places, but didn’t linger anywhere else except Floating World Comics, where I took in some original art from Floating World’s Free Comic Book Day offering Brad Trip and pick up several volumes of Cromartie High School marked down by 75%. Copublished with Spark Plug Comics Books, Revival House Press, and Teenage Dinosaur, Brad Trip is an anthology of surrealist comics, which presents a little difficulty for me, as I’ve not yet found my way into non-narrative comics, but it’s definitely compelling work, and I’ve been through it twice already. It also offers an unexpected callback to earlier in the evening, as one of the sequences uses lyrics from “Heartbeat” by Childish Gambino, the rap alter ego of Community’s Donald Glover.

A quick visit to the library to return an Archie book I was using for reference later I’m back home and crashing. Friday I once again wake up early, get to work early, and actually stay slightly late.

The day’s not particularly eventful, though advances of a Conan softcover and the next Beanworld hardcover come in, as do a bunch of things for Creepy, a new epilogue for Bucko, and some Dragon Age pages. I approve the digital version of MIND MGMT #1, write and submit tip copy for Conan the Barbarian #10, do balloon placements for Conan the Barbarian #7, and editor Sierra and I present a concept for promoting some Eisner nominees to Marketing.

At some point a box of DC comps appears in the break room, including stapled comics releases up through next Wednesday. Several people at DH receive DC comps, and a few share them with the office, allowing us to all give them a look and keep up with the New York part of comics. I tried out a few of the New 52 last year, including All-Star Western, Animal Man, Demon Knights, Justice League Dark, Men of War, OMAC and Static Shock, but eventually dropped off all of them, All-Star, Animal Man, and OMAC making it the longest at seven issues.

I was actually enjoying each of the New 52 series I was reading, but like everyone I have limited time and money and space, and I was finding that while they were pleasant enough reads, I would occasionally grab one from the DC comps, take it home, and discover I’d already bought and read and forgotten it. They’re disposable entertainment sure, but you only need so many series to fulfill that, and lately I’m finding that books like Rachel Rising, Mud Man, Reed Gunther, Prophet, Sergio Aragonés Funnies, SagaSnarked!, RASL, and Sweet Tooth are scratching that itch far more successfully.

What really turned the tide was when I realized that I had been not reading Grant Morrison’s Action Comics for six months and was neither missing it nor particularly wondering what it was like. If my favorite superhero writer could write the character he was born to write for that long and my comics-reading life was none the less enjoyable for missing it, then I probably didn’t need to be spending money on and cluttering up my apartment with Demon Knights and Static Shock.

I do like to take the opportunity of a box like this appearing to give things another shot, so I pull out the most recent issues of the series I’d been reading, as well as the four Second Wave series, the Vertigo series The New Deadwardians (which turns out to be very entertaining). I read DC’s New 52 Free Comic Book Day special over lunch, making it the second FCBD offering I got to try out early, and then pass it on to someone else.

It’s definitely a Friday, with goofiness happening throughout the day and a lot of people exhibiting a general punchiness. The day’s overness declares itself right before 5 when the hallways are stalked by assistant editor Jim Gibbons, wearing an Iron Man helmet and a pair of Hulk hands. From where I sit I hear a series of shocked exclamations emanating from different offices and have no difficulty guessing their cause.

I am a bit depressed throughout the day to hear everyone talk excitedly of their plans to see The Avengers over the weekend. I don’t judge them and I certainly don’t tell anyone they shouldn’t go, because the reason I’m skipping it has everything to do with knowing I’d feel bad if I went and nothing to do with believing I can send any kind of message to Marvel and Disney when the film will surely be among the highest grossing in history. But I do wish the troubled feeling that I have over such a massive corporate undertaking somehow having no room in its record profits to compensate the family of its cocreator Jack Kirby in any way were more widespread. Like I posted Thursday, whatever the legal rationale may be, it just feels like theft, and from a man to whom everyone in this business owes so much.

I leave around 5:30, braindead and exhausted. No blog entry happened, nor did much of anything else, other than catching up on The Daily Show while doing dishes, making some dinner, and reading a few of DC’s Second Wave books without comprehension (I’ll try again later) before falling asleep shortly after 9.

Next: Free Comic Book Day comics!

Why’m I doing this, again?

A Life Lived in Comics Day 20: Unavenged

May 3, 2012 by

The Avengers is the culmination of Marvel’s decades-long transformation of the ideas of individuals into sterile corporate IP. It is sure to be one of the highest-grossing films of all time, and Jack Kirby’s family won’t see a dime from it. Whatever the law may say, morally that is grand theft. The Avengers is an evil film.

A Life Lived in Comics Day 19: Self-Promotion 5/2

May 2, 2012 by

It’s funny. I feel like I subscribe to a lot of stapled comics, yet a week like this week where there’s only one waiting for me at the store is pretty common. When the Wednesday crowd made the crossing from Dark Horse to the Milwaukie Things From Another World, I only came back with Jeff Lemire’s latest issue of  Sweet Tooth. Good timing; I just caught up on the previous two issues last night, but I do always wish more excited me on a week to week basis.

Probably there are some good recent indies and minis, which I’ll check out on Saturday when I hit Floating World for Free Comic Book Day. There are several good events around town, but Floating World is my favorite FCBD spot because you can try all of the comics instead of having a limit of three or five or whatever, plus there are often small press and local FCBD books not found anywhere else in town. I don’t think I’m up for a repeat of last year, with eight posts in one day and visits to three stores, so Floating World it is.

Today was exciting for me, though, as Dark Horse released both Andi Watson’s Skeleton Key Color Special in print and digital and the first of Matt Kindt’s MIND MGMT Secret Files 8-pagers as a digital exclusive. Totally Matt’s idea, the Secret Files shorts are a weekly series of free stories meant to whet appetites for the first issue of the MIND MGMT ongoing series debuting on the 23rd. It’s something Matt had been talking about since I was first assigned to edit the book, but it wasn’t a certainty for a while, since like so many companies, Dark Horse was still working out the shape of its digital program.

By the time we had the green light, the timeline had tightened. I had worked out a schedule for the first six issues, and to make the three shorts work, we had to essentially drop a seventh issue into the middle of that schedule. I would never have attempted this with almost any artist out there, but Matt immediately sent a few ideas, I gave some feedback on them, and he sent a few more. One thing Matt Kindt readers know is that he is never short of ideas.

Between us we worked out what order the three shorts we’d picked should be in and he started sending scripts. The first gives a taste of MIND MGMT’s world through the eyes of an enemy spy, the second shows journalist Meru in action and delves into her previous book, and the last reveals where the agency came from. Our work method for these was pretty much as I described back in Day 11, except that for speed Matt went straight from the edited scripts to finished art and then I gave notes on that, and somehow he not only made the insane schedule I had to set for him, but he beat it, turning in the final, corrected version of the third short a day early. I actually ended up approving the digital version of the third story today, the same day that the first one was posted to the digital store.

The whole thing’s exciting for a lot of reasons, but one is that I think it’s a Dark Horse first. We’ve done some digital series before, like the Dragon Age and Prototype II game tie-ins that I assisted on, and we’ve done free advance previews of comics on the digital store, but I think this is the first time that we’ve created free, original content for the store to lead up to a new release. Again, it’s Matt’s idea, and it’s only because of his speed and talent that it was possible, but I hope my enthusiasm for the concept and continuing to bug all the right people until it was okayed helped make the difference.

I’m a big proponent of using free material to sell paid material, and am currently tasked with an initiative to make a few more DH books free online, at least for a while. I realize that it’s far from a settled question, but I believe that the paradigm of the Internet is that how much you sell is based on how much of a destination you are, and free content is the best way to become a destination. It’s no coincidence that digital comics stores like Comixology are constantly working to increase the amount of free material they offer.

Chris Anderson’s book Free: The Future of a Radical Price makes the case that the future of selling things is in the increasingly common Internet model of free services that charge a premium for the very top features, and while the vast majority of users won’t pay, the cost of keeping them on will be small enough that it’s well worth it to attract the smaller number of uses who do. This model is more about services than goods, but the book also includes fascinating case studies of how real profits have been made on the releases of free books, CDs, etc. It’s not all that different from Free Comic Book Day. Get me in the door with some free stuff, and I’ll almost certainly drop some money on minicomics and such.

Speaking of free, I did try out Mark Waid and Peter Krause’s Insufferable #1 today, so that’s kind of a Wednesday comic. It went live yesterday, but thrillbent.com was undergoing some scheduled downtime when I went to look at it, so I had to wait until today. Overall, I was more impressed by this than Marvel’s Nova comic that I tried out at work on an office iPad last week. Not counting the fact that really nothing happens in that comic, this one felt more assured and less like it was working hard to justify its digitalness by loading each screen with effects.

The Marvel comic has no sound or motion, but it uses fades and changing panels on every screen, whereas Insufferable uses them more sparingly, making them more effective. The first transition, in which a villain recording himself on video appears from static, is cute, but a later sequence in which panels appear and disappear one at a time to slow a moment down to microseconds is very effective. It culminates in a choice I’ve not seen before in a digital comic, hitting a point where there are two panels and a click to continue simply removes one of them, making no change to the other and adding nothing new. It’s one of the smarter uses of digital comics pacing that I’ve seen, narrowing focus for pacing and effect when the general mode is for each successive click to expand what we’re seeing.

MIND MGMT Secret Files isn’t like that. As you read it, you’ll notice that it’s suspiciously regular-comic shaped, because while there isn’t yet an exact plan for where these stories will end up, it’s a good bet they’ll see print sooner or later. As exciting as digital is, and I’ve found it in some ways more pleasant than reading stapled comics, the money is currently still in selling print comics. Waid and the Thrillbent team are currently supporting the effort out of their own pockets, though I wish them the best of luck in picking up advertising and eventually selling digital comics for money. I enjoyed Insufferable #1, and at the right price point I’ll be there for what they’ve got in store next.

The first prequel story has already gotten some great buzz, so May 23 is even more exciting!

On the flip side of my continuing (though admittedly light this week) acquisition of comics, I’m always looking to get rid of some, and I packed up my first shipment of random comics in response to a letter, set to go in the mail tomorrow. My offer still stands: want a dozen or so pieces of randomness? Write me.

Tomorrow: The ritual of First Thursday.

Why’m I doing this, again?


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