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CSBG Archive

Friday’s Frequently Asked Questions

I get a fair amount of column and comics-related mail. Not as much as Brian or our other Greg, but enough to keep me occupied one afternoon a week or so. Some of it’s review stuff, some of it’s press releases, and some of it’s questions from readers. The readers ask questions that are legitimate, they ask others that are less so, and occasionally they ask stuff that’s just …odd.

Just for fun I thought I’d answer a few here this week. Even the odd ones.

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Here’s one I see a lot lately: Why do you hate DC so much, you DC-hating bastard?

I don’t. As I have documented many, many times — here and here are the most prominent — the DC characters were my gateway to comics and superheroes. And finding those changed my life.

I will say, though, that I’m beginning to hate the people who insist that the fact I’m fond of Batman as a character apparently means that I signed some sort of loyalty oath or something. The latest iteration of this seems to be readers bellowing at me over DC’s current inability to tell the difference between “unfit for children” and “mature,” which I guess I started a month or so ago with the frat-boy column, enlarged upon somewhat again last week, and now our other Greg has fanned the flames with his disgust at the latest issue of Nightwing.

So clearly, the inescapable conclusion for some wild-eyed reader out there is that both Mr. Burgas and I must be in violation of our sacred pledge to never say or do anything to make people think any DC superhero comics are bad.

(Pause while your columnist takes a deep breath and shakes his head.)

Look, I’ve gone over this ground many times, and so have my colleagues here at CSBG. But okay. Let me try one more time, for the slow students out there: R-rated is not synonymous with “adult” or “mature.” For God’s sake, Roadhouse is rated R and it’s one of the most adolescent dumbass B-movies I’ve ever seen.

This has kung fu, rock and roll, hot naked girls, fistfights and explosions. If it also had dinosaurs and a car chase it would be the greatest movie ever MADE.

(Which is not to say that I don’t love Roadhouse. I adore it. It’s the classic hero’s journey, with Patrick Swayze as the young hero with a tragic past that has to save the princess Kelly Lynch from the evil emperor Ben Gazzara. More, Swayze serves a good and just king in Kevin Tighe, he learns from a wise Merlin figure in Sam Elliott, and he has a faithful squire in Jeff Healey. It’s incredible how many of those classical marks the movie hits. Except for the part where it’s about– wait for it– a bar bouncer. A guy who throws noisy drunks out of a club. That’s what makes Roadhouse so delightfully deranged. The foundation it’s built on is the lunatic idea of doing a classic hero quest movie about a Legendary Figure with a Tragic Past, and his struggle to uphold the Noble Tradition of… being a bouncer. It’s a measure of my own lunacy, I suppose, that we own the Deluxe Edition DVD of this movie. On purpose.)

….Sorry, got carried away there for a minute. The point is, as much as I adore Roadhouse I would never argue for it having actual artistic merit, and certainly not for it being “mature.” Anything but. It is raucously adolescent. The only difference between Roadhouse and, say, Nightwing #149, is that Roadhouse is at least fun.

That’s all I want. Fun.

Seriously. I don’t need the DC heroes to return to any idealized era of my youth, or dumb things down for the kids, or sanitize anything. What I object to is the joylessness. How many DC heroes have attended some kind of funeral in the last year or so, or brooded over someone close to them getting killed? Where’s the fun in that?

Although, for the record, I really have been enjoying Peter Tomasi’s Nightwing run up to this point, he’s done a lot of rebuilding there that’s been badly needed. That made the mess that was #149 especially galling. It’s exasperating, because for a few issues there, the book was really getting a sense of fun back.

I just want the DC spandex books I read to be fun. As in, “less morose.” You can have fun without getting silly. The Maltese Falcon is fun. Die Hard is fun. Burn Notice is fun. None of them are “silly” or “kiddified.” It’s not a binary, either/or thing.

But I am beginning to suspect that DC does take a binary view of it. As far as I can tell, they don’t seem to think there’s any kind of middle ground between Super Friends and Identity Crisis. It must be one or the other. Every time a DC superhero book starts to look like it’s ramping up towards being fun, like Nightwing or Action, suddenly someone dies horribly or something. You really get the sense that it’s some sort of house policy. “Your book’s not serious enough. Your protagonist smiles too much. Superheroes are serious business and you need to show that. Kill off a cast member.”

Grim-n-gritty worked with Watchmen and Dark Knight because of the novelty. But lately I see the Alan Moore style of reverse-engineered superhero characterization he used in Watchmen (the idea that if you put on a costume and fight crime, you’re really screwed up somehow) applied across the board, to books and characters that were never meant for that and don’t benefit from it. It sucks all the fun out of the enterprise.

When DC brings fun back to its main line of books, I imagine I’ll have nicer things to say about them.

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Another DC loyalist– I swear, I really am wondering if there’s some sort of cult– wants to know, Why don’t you beat up on some Marvel books for a change? Don’t you read any Marvel stuff?

I read a lot of Marvel stuff; in fact, I was rude about Astonishing X-Men here last week, for those that keep score.

But I don’t talk about it here much because for the last year or so I’ve been getting all my Marvel books used, on Amazon. So I’m not terribly current.

See, Marvel has taken to re-issuing stuff in hardcover, including those big Omnibus things, and whenever they do that, the prices of the previous collections of that material drop down to almost nothing. The earlier version gets remaindered and you can pick those remaindered books up for peanuts.

So I do eventually get to Iron Fist and Captain America and Thunderbolts and so on, but it’s about a year behind everyone else. On the other hand, I get those trades cheap. I just finished Planet Hulk, which retailed for some hideous insane amount like $34.99, only mine was $2 plus shipping. Once you get used to this kind of deal, you never go back. But it does put me way behind on current stuff, there’s a time lag before you can get that price. As a result, there’s very little from Marvel that I’ve read that hasn’t already been discussed to death. That’s one reason I don’t get to them much here.

The other reason I don’t do more Marvel-centric pieces is that, although by and large I enjoy the Marvel books I get, they’re not really blowing me out of my chair. I usually write about stuff that I really was impressed by and thus want to share, or that I was really annoyed by and thus want to vent. Neither one of those applies. Marvel’s superhero books are doing around a solid C-plus or B-minus with me right now. Even critical darlings like Captain America or Iron Fist strike me as being just “pretty good, enjoyed that, I don’t feel cheated.”

Although I think a lot of you should get off Greg Burgas’ back about Moon Knight.

Hey, this is okay, you guys, be nicer to Burgas about it.

The art’s not to my taste and the book isn’t a patch on the glory days of Moench and Sienkiewicz, but it’s well-written and it’s got an interesting hook.  I thought it was okay. Bit morose for me– there’s that word again– but I think Huston did nice work on those first two trade collections (which set me back a combined total of $6.89 including shipping, by the way. In hardcover.)

I have noticed something about the Marvel collections that irritates me a lot. The coloring is awful.

Seriously, whoever’s doing it– especially on Moon Knight and Brubaker’s Cap– needs to get into a different line of business. The colors are dark and muddy, making pages hard to read, sometimes even obscuring captions. I’m reminded of something my first boss said to me in a production art department twenty years ago: “These kids get a MacIntosh for Christmas, by June they hang out a shingle saying they’re a graphic designer.”

I always think of that line when I open up something like Winter Soldier volume two and can hardly see the art. Because it’s obvious whoever colors the books is doing it all on a computer and has no grasp of the fact that the colors on the screen look different than colors on a printed piece. Computer palettes on a monitor are based on “RGB,” meaning red, green and blue layered in different combinations to give you the illusion of full-spectrum color. But printed material is done based on “CMYK,” meaning cyan, magenta, yellow and black layered on one another to provide the illusion of a full spectrum.

Look it up, colorists.This information is all over the internet.

You really need to know this before you get to call yourself a colorist.

Most of us that labor in magazine and book production pre-press know this. We use charts that translate what you see on the screen in Photoshop to the corresponding Pantone ink designation.  Press operators, in particular, know how this works because they often have to mix colors by hand out of the inks they have on the shelf. Good artists and designers know this too, and do press proofs before the job is run so they can see how it will print. (There was once an infamously screwed-up proofing process done for DC’s collected V For Vendetta, the printers had a hell of a time getting the color where David Lloyd wanted it. I respected Lloyd so much as an artist after I read about that; I thought he was amazingly professional for wanting to do his own press check. That never happens in comics.)

Here’s the problem, though. Most current illustration software now lets the user call out his own colors using the Pantone system, by typing in the code for the ink color he wants. So far so good. But bad or lazy colorists often don’t bother to look at the actual printed version of the color code directory to make sure that the printed Pantone color is the one they want to use. They assume it’s the same one they are seeing on their screen. It’s not. Almost always, the printed color is darker.

I could go on, but that’s the gist of it. You can read more here if you are interested. The point is, Marvel’s art department doesn’t seem to have a grasp of the principle, and it makes the books hard to read. I bet I’d like David Finch’s art a lot better if it didn’t feel like I was trying to read something dropped in a mud puddle. I’m not sure if it’s the colorist that’s screwing it up or the printers themselves, but either way, it’s an amateur mistake, guys. There’s no excuse for it to keep happening over and over, especially with reprint collections when the mistake should have been spotted in the monthlies the first time around. Clean it up.

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Here’s one that made me smile. Your wife sounds so cool. How did you meet?

At the Alki Beach art studio. Julie was the pottery TA on the Tuesday evenings I was teaching the elementary-school cartooning class down there. She poked her head in the door to see what all the kids were laughing about. Later, during our fight with the city to save the studio, we ended up spending a lot of time together, and nature took its course.

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From a former student of mine: I’m having a really a tough time drawing a kissing scene, could you tell me how to draw people kissing?

Well, it’s a hard thing to explain by e-mail. But the short answer is that the faces alternate overlapping, sort of. Basically if you can see one person’s NOSE in front, then you only see the other person’s CHIN in front. I’ve attached some scans to show what I mean.

Ah, young love. Ah, middle-aged love.

All those shojo digests you have, there’s bound to be more examples available. Don’t slavishly copy what other artists are doing, obviously, but don’t be afraid to look and see how the other guys attack it as a design problem. You can learn a lot by looking at comic pages and trying to figure out why the penciller makes the choices he does.

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As long as we’re on the subject, every time I write about my class there are usually two or three people that want to know something like, How did you start the program? What would it take to get something like that going at our school/club/YMCA/other community outlet? What do you use for curriculum?

The story of how I personally backed into this vocation is here, but my practical advice is this: Non-profit youth organizations or schools fund things that are A) cheap, low-impact programs and B) demonstrably of interest to the kids they serve. Basically you want to prove that it CAN be done before you try to get them to do it.

If you’re a teacher or a librarian you probably already know the hoops you have to jump through to get something funded. If you’re not a teacher or a librarian, but rather, say, an artist who’s willing to try teaching a comics class for kids, then I recommend you partner up with a school or a local library. You need that infrastructure and– sorry, but it’s true– the air of respectability they lend to the proceedings.

Most schools and libraries are underfunded for this sort of thing. If you just want to volunteer, then may God bless you, you are doing His work. If you need to be paid or reimbursed, though, you need to thread the budget labyrinth and submit some sort of proposal, most likely.

The beauty part is that comics are cheap. It’s pencils, pens, paper, and photocopying, at least for us, so that helps your budget get through; especially if you can use the school or library’s own high-speed copier to do your stuff on. I go through this proposal routine every fall and even though I’ve been at it for fourteen years there’s still some new bureaucratic wrinkle they find to add to it each time. Hang in there. It’s worth it, and I assure you they’ll be thrilled to have you, though you may have to do a little stumbling through the bureaucracy before you find the right person to help you. At a school it’s probably going to be the after-school activities director if they have that kind of program– if not, then it’s whoever’s running the art department. At a public library it’s going to be the “youth librarian.” (The person may have a different title but saying “youth librarian” will probably get you where you need to go. They’ll know who you mean.)

As for curriculum… Lessons vary with different groups but I think these are the basics you MUST cover. I break it down into four areas.

CARICATURE AND MOVEMENT. In other words, the drawing part. This isn’t about getting them to draw so much as it is teaching them about the visual alphabet of a cartoonist. Faces and facial expressions: what happens to a face when it’s really happy? What kind of mouth, eyes, eyebrows? What gets bigger or smaller, what changes position? Now answer those same questions for sad, for angry, for frightened, etc. Start them with a very baseline cartoon face, expressionless, and make them change it. Also, this is where I talk about things like speed lines, impact bursts, etc.  There are different exercises for this but I try to make THEM draw as much as possible and then make corrections as necessary. “Show us on the board what angry eyebrows look like. Okay, do the rest of you agree with that?” That kind of thing. Walk them through as many facial expressions as you feel like doing, start with easy ones like angry or happy and on up through smug, embarrassed, hopelessly in love, etc. The idea is to make them understand that it’s not enough just to draw a face, that face has to convey a variety of emotions. It’s good to talk about body language and different poses, too. Even your most talented kids tend to learn to draw ONE face and ONE pose, and riff on it over and over. Make them do variety.

LETTERING, WORD BALLOONS, CAPTIONS. Hammer home the idea that the words are just as important VISUALLY as the pictures. Talk about sound effects. What kind of a noise does a rock make when it hits a wall? No, not bang or pow, the REAL noise. (Usually someone comes up with KRRCCKK or something like that, with a little prompting.) Okay, now, how do you spell it? (Coach them into coming up with a workable spelling.) Write it on the board: krrcckk. Okay, how do we make that look louder? Eventually, you lead them towards an all-caps rendition of KRRCCKK!! with blocky lettering and a cracked-rock texture. Explain that the lettering is as visual as the drawing, it’s words and pictures together that make comics.

Stole this off a font site, but it does look a lot like my whiteboard on lettering day.

Talk about word balloons and how their shapes change to create a whisper or a shout, the electronic shape for radio-speaker voices, icicle balloons for disdain, etc., etc. Make them do a drawing that incorporates a sound effect word they INVENT (no bam, no pow)and a lettering style to match the noise they create.

DESIGN.
Who’s your story about? Okay, so what does he look like? Bullies and villains are drawn differently than heroes and nice people. This can bounce off the caricature lesson but it also involves things like how you dress people, what landscapes and architecture look like, how you light things, etc. Give them a simple action — a man walks down the street — and make them design it to suit the mood. How does that look in a comedy story? An adventure story? A horror story? A hero walks vs. a villain walks. Any variations on these you can come up with. The idea is to show them how they can change the mood with ANYTHING and EVERYTHING in the drawing.

POINT OF VIEW and PAGE LAYOUT. Most kids will always want to do comics that are medium-distance shots, straight-across side view. Show them how dynamic it makes a page to change the point of view: establishing shots, close-ups, etc.

I use this as a handout on point-of-view day.

(By the way, it helps a lot if you can draw and do demos of all this on the board! I usually do “A man slips on a banana peel and falls,” first with the six-panel grid all straight-across side views, and then another one with as many different dramatic angles as I can think of.) Then I make them do a wordless page, with changes of point of view, and then they swap with their table mates and see if they can ‘read’ the page aloud to the class just from the visual storytelling.

After that, it’s “putting it all together.” I make them do story pages incorporating ALL of those techniques, they do thumbnail roughs that I look at and kibitz on, then they do final pencils and inks. Those final pages become our zines. All of this includes coaching on inking, layout, everything. I walk around the room as they work and sort of coach them along as they are doing it, bearing in mind that the STORY is all theirs, my job is aiding in its presentation.

Try to figure out a way to give them a final project where they can demonstrate all these. A ‘zine, or even a web page or a bulletin board in the hallway, but let them do work for an audience somehow. And be sure they always know that’s the goal. “You aren’t going to be able to run along behind them and explain all this, it has to be ON THE PAGE.”

Collaboration is fine but I like to make sure every kid in the room understands the principles involved. Comics is a language. Everyone in the class should be fluent, whether they draw well or draw badly.

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And finally, here’s one I see at least once a month: How come you guys are such prudes? Commander Steel’s package, Frank Miller swearing, your blog is always saying EWWW like a little girl. What’s that all about?

Well, obviously, it’s because we’re terrorists who hate America.

I always regret trying to answer this, but the short version is– come on. Why is it that we’re the weird ones for saying EWWW over some of this stuff? Defend it on a story level. Show me it’s necessary. Then maybe you’ll have an argument.

This question always annoys me because of its implication that if we think something’s over the top, then we’re somehow betraying the cause and opening the door for the next Wertham-style demagogue to swoop in and destroy comics.

That’s a complete straw man. We’re not objecting to the content itself. We’re objecting to its gratuitous nature. I could rattle off a laundry list of comics I own containing shockingly adult content, but that’s not the point. We shouldn’t have to prove to you why we think gratuitous sex, gory violence and rampant misogyny are creepy. You should be proving why it’s not gratuitous in the books you’re defending. Until then, let’s just agree to disagree and leave it at that.

Besides, I can’t be that big of a prude. I like Roadhouse. I can look the other way on gratuitous sex and violence once in a while if it’s a fun project. Remember, a sense of fun excuses a lot.

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And that brings us full circle. That’s the reader mail.

See you next week.

46 Comments

“It’s Last Call … for Action!” That totally cracks me up. I never knew that was the tag line. Road House, of course, features one of the 5-10 best lines in movie history: “I used to f*** guys like you in prison.” Classic!

Yeah, I don’t get the hatred sometimes. I wonder if people just don’t read the blog that often, and when they come across a blog post in which you might be down on DC, they overreact (wow, overreaction on the Internet – shocking!). That’s fine if you’re not a regular reader of the blog, but why don’t you consider what you’re about to comment? I also think that people still don’t realize that we have several different writers. It’s right there at the top of the post!

I also love the idea that we here at the blog are prudes. I recently praised Hard Boiled, for crying out loud. I love Faust, for crying out loud, which makes the latest issue of Nightwing look like a Children’s Illustrated Bible. It gets back to people coming here through links and not getting a sense of what each of us likes. Again, that’s fine if you’re not a regular reader (of course, we hope they stay!), but learn a bit about us before leaping to conclusions.

That part about the coloring of comics is fascinating. Ur so smrt, Other Greg! How u no so much?

I’ve noticed that since the blog moved to CBR, a lot of people react as if anything on CSBG was really “said” by the much larger CBR outlet. I think that’s the root of the exaggerated reactions, myself, since I was tripping over some old Blogspot posts today and noticed that the comments threads weren’t just shorter, there was also a very different tenor to them.

where the heck do you get tpbs for 2.00.? the cheapest i found has been 5.00. on some ebay stores.

where the heck do you get tpbs for 2.00.? the cheapest i found has been 5.00. on some ebay stores.

Amazon. It depends on the title, of course, and the older trades tend to be the cheap ones. Usually I’m just browsing and something catches my eye. Do a search on Amazon for “Marvel graphic novel” and sort by “Price: Low to High,” and I bet you’ll turn up some interesting books.

Of course, now I’ve given away the secret so it probably won’t be as easy to find cheap stuff as it used to be. Still, even $5 is a steal for a lot of this stuff.

That sounds great but I hate buying used books. Just ugh. People have held them in their germy hands and they may have licked their thumbs to turn the pages. Eeewwww.

Great column as always, Greg. I totally agree that muddy computer coloring is one major reason why so many modern comics are unreadable. (That, and artists who use computers to copy and paste the same panel over and over)

I object to your statement that Burn Notice isn’t silly. It is as silly as a goat doing a handstand on a unicycle.

Also, I’m not sure if anyone else brought this up, but the same guy colors Captain America and Moon Knight: Frank D’Armata. And yes, he is just AWFUL.

I dunno, Chris. Maybe we define “silly” differently. My idea of a silly spy story is something in the style of, say, the Matt Helm movies with Dean Martin. Burn Notice is nowhere near that level of absurd.

There are full episodes up on Hulu now, though, so anyone who’s curious can see for themselves.

Wasn’t there one episode where he rigged a cell-phone to fire a gun? Or a gun to call a cell-phone.

Either way it was ridiculous.

What I saw of ‘Burn Notice’ was basically McGyver in Miami, with the added goodness of Bruce Campbell. Not sure why I didn’t love it, honestly.

I completely agree with you, Mr. Hatcher, in regards to the “DC hate” issue. Some people have accused *me* of being a Marvel Zombie (of the not-undead kind) for boycotting DC since Infinity Crisis. They don’t get that I LOVE the DC Universe and it pains me to skip it, but that I just no longer trust to be able to safely read their comics since even a title like FLASH can end in an unexpected, brutal murder. It took me years to accept this for a fact (it started with Identity Crisis, I believe) but when I saw the massacre of characters on IC, I realized that, if not an actual policy, there’s definitely an atmosphere of “yes, that is allowed here now” in DC. Like you, I think violence and gore have its place in fiction- just not in traditional super hero comics. Save it for stuff like Watchmen or Authority.

And thank you for the coloring system explanation, that was fascinating! :)

Excellent comments on the coloring. A couple of today’s “artists” would be less popular if readers could actually see their artwork. Wait. Maybe that’s one of the reason’s some art is colored so poorly.

Perhaps the “anti-DC bias” of which you are accused would lessen if you did review those older Marvel trades you buy. In DC’s defense, though, I’d say that comics aren’t for kids today, they are for teens, and teens love the violence.

By my count, there are three colorists working for Marvel/DC today who actually know what they’re doing.

To Alan, I have two things to say: 1, teens are kids, and 2, who cares if they like it if it’s not any goddamn good? (There, I am now officially old.)

As far as coloring goes, D’Armata is responsible for your two examples, and probably a few other books that would come to mind. His work is often muddy, but I wouldn’t drag down Martin, Strain, Staples, and all the others at Marvel with those examples.

Hey, even Paul Hornschemeier put in some Marvel work this year.

I always chalked the coloring on Cap up to the style of the book, i.e. “this is noir with Captain America”, so it never bugged me.

” Grim-n-gritty worked with Watchmen and Dark Knight because of the novelty. But lately I see the Alan Moore style of reverse-engineered superhero characterization he used in Watchmen (the idea that if you put on a costume and fight crime, you’re really screwed up somehow) applied across the board, to books and characters that were never meant for that and don’t benefit from it. It sucks all the fun out of the enterprise. ”

Serious if unfortunately blunt question; so Watchmen’s critical success wasn’t because of the skill Alan Moore put into his reverse-engineering of superheroes, but the simple fact that he was one of the first to be noticed for it? And now that the novelty’s worn off, books like Ellis’ Stormwatch/Authority and Planetary, Millar’s Ultimate X-Men and Ultimates volumes, Ennis’ the Boys ( as of recent, at least ), JMS’ Rising Stars and Supreme Power, and other social satires utilizing superheroic figures are inherently bad?

Personally, I think that the value of the superhero as an iconic tool to critique America is worth a lot, and it has proven to have much more potential than just having Wonder Dog eat Marvin.

Hey Gregs (Burgas and Hatcher), did you guys know you’re thanked in the True Story Swear to God Archives, Vol. 1? Someone probably told you already. But I figured I’d post since there was a small chance you may not have heard. And sorry if I’m like the bazillionth person to point it out.

And just so I’m not totally OT, I can’t believe that people would actually e-mail you some of those things. It seems like hardcore DC fans get defensive just because Marvel has a little more street cred. And I’m in the same boat as far as being behind on what people are chatting about since I only read comics from the library.

[…] Referencing O.G. Greg aside for my contractually obligated tangent aside, let me actually write about this Elongated Man comic. Although I can not guarantee that there will be no more tangents. The rest will just be for me, not Cronin. […]

Two things I must disagree on. First, Marvel coloring on some books, specifically the ones done by Frank D’Armata. It’s intentionally very dark to fit the tone of books like Moon Knight, Daredevil, and Captain America. Feel free to not like it, but don’t assume that it’s due to a lack of skill.
Second, you shouldn’t put the onus on fans to explain why something is “necessary”. In a creative endeavor it is the writer/artist/director/etc. that decides what is “necessary” and if you don’t like it feel free to not read/see/watch/etc. it. I completely agree with you that something being fun can excuse it not being emotionally resonant, but sometimes you seem to miss the idea that different people have different ideas of fun. I like over the top Miller-ism and things of that nature. I laugh at things like ASBAR and Wonder Dog eating Marvin.

“Serious if unfortunately blunt question; so Watchmen’s critical success wasn’t because of the skill Alan Moore put into his reverse-engineering of superheroes, but the simple fact that he was one of the first to be noticed for it? And now that the novelty’s worn off, books like Ellis’ Stormwatch/Authority and Planetary, Millar’s Ultimate X-Men and Ultimates volumes, Ennis’ the Boys ( as of recent, at least ), JMS’ Rising Stars and Supreme Power, and other social satires utilizing superheroic figures are inherently bad?”

I don’t know if Hatcher agrees, but I see Watchmen’s enduring legacy as in superhero comics as less as “Watchmen is regarded as great because of the skill Moore (and Gibbons, he was there too) showed in using the form” than “a lot of people who read Watchmen and only emulate the grim ‘n’ gritty superhero part, not the virtuoso craft part.” And I think there’s been some great work done even in that vein, even if I don’t agree with all of your examples there. I used to be really obsessed with the whole “post superhero” subgenre, and still like some of it. But I think Hatcher has a point about people missing what was so great about DKR and Watchmen in the context of the genre.

When the contrast on a page is so poorly done that it makes the narrative captions illegible, I think you’ve crossed the line from “noir” to “incompetent.”

Serious if unfortunately blunt question; so Watchmen’s critical success wasn’t because of the skill Alan Moore put into his reverse-engineering of superheroes, but the simple fact that he was one of the first to be noticed for it? And now that the novelty’s worn off, books like Ellis’ Stormwatch/Authority and Planetary, Millar’s Ultimate X-Men and Ultimates volumes, Ennis’ the Boys ( as of recent, at least ), JMS’ Rising Stars and Supreme Power, and other social satires utilizing superheroic figures are inherently bad?

Inherently bad? No. You’re putting words in my mouth. If you’re going to mount a defense, at least defend the books we actually said were bad. As it happens, though, I think some of the stuff on your list is well done and some of it’s crap but very little of it qualifies as “satire” by any reasonable definition. If you’re going to claim something is social satire, let’s see the example. Satire of what?

Certainly, you can enjoy whatever comics you like. If your idea of a good time in mainstream superhero comics is seeing a dog eat a girl, or any of the other things we’ve suggested are out of line, well, knock yourselves out. But it’s ridiculous to suggest that these specific examples are really artistic breakthroughs and we’re just too dense to see it. Especially if your defense begins and ends with “it’s satire.” There is no satire going on in Nightwing #149. It’s snuff comics.

Hey Gregs (Burgas and Hatcher), did you guys know you’re thanked in the True Story Swear to God Archives, Vol. 1? Someone probably told you already. But I figured I’d post since there was a small chance you may not have heard. And sorry if I’m like the bazillionth person to point it out.

Actually, I had no idea. I hadn’t bought the book because we have the original comics. That’s very cool! Now I guess we’ll have to pick it up.

I can’t believe that people would actually e-mail you some of those things.

I probably fan the flames because I try to answer everything, at least if it’s relatively polite. (The guy that called me a ‘Quesada-loving queer’ I passed on.) I hate writing for free, though, so I figure I might as well get a column out of it.

I’m totally cool with the notion of preferring fun superhero comics, which I take is what you’re saying here, that you, Greg Hatcher, prefer fun superhero comics.

Just so long as we’re not getting into some sort of “superhero comics SHOULD be fun” deal (or hell, any sort of “superhero comics should be _______,” besides good, of course).

What I’m saying is the same thing I’ve been saying all along. Gore and T&A is not an instant shortcut to “adult” credibility. It is in no way an indication that your superhero story is now all grown up or making any breakthroughs. But that’s the mistake I keep seeing in these DC books. They still want to be adolescent power fantasies, only “darker.” That’s got nothing to do with actual adult content. It’s still at its core an adolescent power fantasy, only now it’s got gore and T&A.

To my mind, adult content is a story about things actual adults are interested in. My position is that it’s a hell of a lot harder to do that with a superhero story– an essentially adolescent genre– and that the stories that do succeed in being genuinely adult in that genre are few and far between. They don’t do it with gore and T&A; even if they do have a lot of sex and violence, that’s not what confers the ‘adult’ credibility. Miracleman wasn’t a serious adult superhero story because it had rapes and dismemberment and wholesale slaughter. It was adult because it addressed adult themes in an exquisitely crafted fashion and Alan Moore and his artists had the freedom to do stories with actual change and consequences.

The mainstream DC and Marvel characters don’t have that freedom, and from what I can see the creators rarely have the talent, to pull off that kind of thing. But instead of owning up to the inherent limitations of using a company character that can’t change for commercial reasons and just doing the best possible job within those limitations– something that generally gives us much better stories– we get these half-baked attempts at adulthood like Nightwing or Teen Titans or Judd Winick’s Outsiders or any of another dozen examples I could rattle off, stories done by people who have a bee in their bonnet about wanting to prove superheroes have grown up, but really have no grasp of what grown-up means. It gives us a lot of crappy, depressing comics as a result.

That’s my position.

…stories done by people who have a bee in their bonnet about wanting to prove superheroes have grown up, but really have no grasp of what grown-up means.

Don’t you think think you might be painting with a pretty broad brush there about some people you don’t know who wrote some comics you didn’t like?

I’m not saying you’re wrong to do so. I’m just saying.

Oh, but I totally agree with your general point that boobies and blood do not, in and of themselves, elevate a work to a state of emotional complexity or maturity.

They do, however, raise a story to the level of one of the definitions of adult content, but I will say the words “Suitable for mature audiences,” might be misused quite a bit.

Greg’s dead-on!

If the brush fits, paint with it!

It may be companies who mandate “dark” or “gritty” approaches, but it’s the creators who are responsible for the quality of the storytelling. I say the brush isn’t broad enough: is this criticism or isn’t it? Should comics be Good, or shouldn’t they?

Yeah, Greg, like I mentioned, I was presuming you weren’t saying anything of the sort, but when I kept seeing replies from people who seemed to think you were saying “comics should be fun,” I figured I should check. :)

“That sounds great but I hate buying used books.”

They’re not necessarily used; I’ve picked up hardcovers still in the shrinkwrap for $2 there.

It may be companies who mandate “dark” or “gritty” approaches, but it’s the creators who are responsible for the quality of the storytelling. I say the brush isn’t broad enough: is this criticism or isn’t it? Should comics be Good, or shouldn’t they?

Comics should be good. Although I’m kind of glad they’re not because a large selection of bad comics makes choosing where to put my money and time easier, but, I suppose if all comics were good I could just read the top books and not worry if a book I like was going to get canceled. Hmm.

All I was really saying was the perpetrators of said bad comics might not all be the emotionally stunted adults that Greg was painting. Some of them might just be inept. Or evil.

The weird thing is that DC was supposed to be done with G&G, like, ten years ago. Waid’s Flash paved the way– a hero who enjoyed his life and enjoyed being a hero and never decapitated anybody. Kingdom Come (whatever one thinks of it overall) was billed as this big redemptive moment when we saw why heroic heroes were better than Watchmen-ified heroes. And Morrison’s JLA relaunch was then the return to glory– Silver Age brought up-to-date and the world’s greatest heroes getting to be heroes. The Johns/ Robinson JSA relaunch was generally fun and heroic and non-morose too. (And, elsewhere, Astro City and Busiek’s Avengers were contributing to the same vibe.)

But the Waid-Busiek-Ross-Morrison moment got overtaken by the Meltzer moment, and Geoff Johns started playing both sides of the line. JLA got driven into a ditch; we had the long countdown to Infinite Crisis with a regular promise that this was the dark before the dawn; the OYL dawn had some moments, especially with Superman and Batman– and then it was time for decapitations, limb-ripping, Bart-killing torture-porning morose-o-rama to start in full.

I tend to think 9/11 had something to do with that, Jacob. It’s a stupid reason to do something like that, but if you look at the history, it fits.

I think sales, and only sales, are responsible for the violence & gore in big 2 superhero comics. Not a philosophical approach, not titilation for titilation’s sake, just sales. Killing super-heroes is more profitable than keeping them alive. It’s like a bizarre insurance scam.

@Loughlin: They why doesn’t Marvel go as far with it as DC? (Granted, they have Punisher Max and Marvel Zombies, but they’re the exception, not the rule.) Even Civil War didn’t kill as many characters as DC’s crossovers have (or as gruesomely.) If “Life Sucks” sells superhero comics so well, why is Marvel still selling as much as DC without it?

Marvel’s still in “life sucks” mode, although not as badly as DC. Captain America’s dead, no one trusts Iron Man, Daredevil’s still miserable, X-Force exists to kill, the X-Men are still dealing with hate crimes and betrayal, the Thunderbolts are hardened criminals, the heroes are dealing with constant betrayal during a Skrull invasion…

Of course, there are some bright spots. After years of misery and a Satanic divorce, Spider-Man comics are fun again, reportedly (haven’t read them, just going by internet reviews). Even if Hulk isn’t your thing, it tries to be fun, in its own way. Incredible Herc, Iron Fist, & Capt. Britain seem more lighthearted than your average 2008 super-hero book.

I think the overall tone of the Marvel Universe remains more negative than positive. DC’s decent into darkness seems more desperate, however, and their brighter books (Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, sometimes Superman) are fewer and farther between.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

October 12, 2008 at 8:30 pm

Don’t you think think you might be painting with a pretty broad brush there about some people you don’t know who wrote some comics you didn’t like?

He gave specific examples, so I don’t see how it can be a broad brush – read the issues he’s talking about, and it’s pretty clear what he’s talking about.

And one of the writers he name checks – Judd Winnick – said that after he’d Captain Marvel ‘No one will be calling him the big red cheese’.
He wanted Captain ‘Holey Moley’ Marvel to grow up.

“After years of misery and a Satanic divorce, Spider-Man comics are fun again, reportedly (haven’t read them, just going by internet reviews).”

They were fun before. Marvel had to make them not fun for two years in order to set up the Satanic divorce.

And they’re only fun now if you really, really like leftovers.

Greg,

On the subject of badly-collected series, DC really dropped the ball with the recent JLI hardcover collection… Not on the colouring, but on the text… Some of it is so badly printed that it’s actually illegible… to add to the irony, the orginal softcover collection of the same issues (minus the Suicide Squad issues) “The Secret Gospel of Maxwell Lord” from over a decade ago still reads much clearer and sharper…

The quality of the paper is much lower as well…

You’ll probably get to see what I’m talking about next year! ;-)

If you read JLI of course… :-)

@Jacob T. Levy “Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.”

The big difference between Marvel’s current “Dark Period” and DC’s is that theirs feels more like a story arc, something set-up to provide storylines for years, but that will inevitably revert to the old Status Quo. Iron Man THINKS he’s doing the right thing, Steve Rogers will return sooner or later (we all know that) the Thunderbolts will either escape government control or be shut down once their excesses are made public, and the whole SHRA will fall on its face once it becomes obvious that it’s the Heroes, not the Government who knows how to handle the REALLY big menaces (like the Skrull invasion.) Heck, the change has already started with Spider-Man, even if the way they did it there was stupid and annoying. (The X-Men’s lives will still suck, but then, they ALWAYS do.)

On the other hand, in the DC Universe there’s no singular cause for all the grimness; it just happens because the writers (and editors) want it so. It will only end with a new editorial mandate. Which is why so many people were ecstatic about the rumor of Didio being fired (which sadly was false.) I suspect Marvel will brighten up long before DC does. :(

“Miracleman wasn’t a serious adult superhero story because it had rapes and dismemberment and wholesale slaughter. It was adult because it addressed adult themes in an exquisitely crafted fashion and Alan Moore and his artists had the freedom to do stories with actual change and consequences.”

EXACTLY.

Greg is dead right about the state of modern Big Two comics AND Roadhouse.

I agree that DC’s darkening is nearly line-wide and seemingly permanent, whereas Marvel’s is not as pervasive, and reversible. I think DC can’t make anything sell except nastiness, as witnessed by comics like Brave & the Bold and Blue Beetle selling so poorly.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

October 13, 2008 at 5:28 pm

I suspect Marvel will brighten up long before DC does. :(

I doubt it – Marvel’s been the darker company since they started – it’s relatively new for DC, with the exception of Vertigo.

[…] Greg Hatcher’s column last week got me thinking about fun but mature superhero comics — where “mature” denotes a respect to a critically thinking audience moreso than a fondness for sex, gore and profanity — and Detective under Dini would be near my favorites in terms of balancing fun and credibility. Sure, there is some heavy stuff going on, but it’s justified by the story and hardly gratuitous unlike what happened this month in Nightwing to earn the scorn of Hatcher’s teammate Greg Burgas. […]

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