Axel-In-Charge: "Secret Wars" Jam Session Talking "A-Force," "Ultimate End" and More
Ten years ago, my friend Joe Rice and I were full of hot piss and flaming vinegar. The comics that were getting most of the attention online were, by and large, mediocre (or so we had decided).
And thus it was that our mantra “Mediocre is not enough… comics should be GOOD” became the name of a blog. We swung fists, wrote diatribes and jeremiads, and from time to time, produced something funny. This lasted a few months ( or maybe a year?) before we realized that calories were better spent elsewhere, and we passed the reins to Brian Cronin, putting away our keyboards like Sheriff Andy Taylor locks away a shotgun.
2004 was a different world. The internet landscape was less social media, and more message boards. Usenet groups were still hanging on. Delphi forums still were a thing people were happy to use. Twitter was not a way to become a loudmouth of note. Blogs could gain some attention just by getting linked to a few times from the much smaller pool of news sites. The world was not a wasteland of everyone holding a smartphone chiming in on every topic with a thumbs-down or a “TL DR”. Comment sections often had thoughtful responses, and I KNOW THAT SOUNDS INSANE NOW.
I stepped away from the infancy of CSBG and did a few things. I opened a comics shop, and I closed a comics shop. I got married and had a kid. I moved through four apartments. I got a new job. I had two D&D characters pass 13th level without grisly deaths. I made a popular webcomic with my friend (and fellow CBR alum) Tom Fitzgerald of www.tomandlorenzo.com.
But mostly the REALITY of making, selling, and working with comics took precedence over the bizarre parallel universe of the comics internet. When I owned my shop, and previous to that, when I worked in another high-traffic NYC store, I straw-polled customers from time to time, and found that an astonishingly low number of them spent any time reading about comics online. And even fewer still actively participated in any sorts of discussions. The percent that did read the comics internet was divided further by the percent that used it as anything past a casual scroll. I realized that the numbers of comics sold were not reflected in the amount of online chatter about any given comic, and vice versa. In other words, if two worlds existed of comic fans, the people shopping every Wednesday and the people on twitter all night, the twain were not necessarily meeting. There is a great value in sites like CBR, and the myriad of other news outlets, but too often people convince themselves that comics begin and end on tumblr, and the world is a much bigger place than that.
Also, at a certain point, the outrage began. In 2004, many months were spent declaring Ron Marz a war criminal for ruining Green Lantern. Letters were mailed and campaigns were mounted and garments were rended. To be fair, Marz is a monster, and should be stopped at all cost, but that was the most holy crusade of the era, and it was mostly (and rightly) seen as a huge joke. Today, a new outrage cycles through the atmosphere every 24 hours, like whale urine flows through Aquaman’s beautiful beard. Witches are hunted, goalposts are moved, reducios are ad absurded, and bad arguments choke a twitter feed to death. Individuals are made scapegoats, with all the ills of society laid on their back. Twitter crusaders shake their fists at the sky and declare us all sinners in a dark time of tribulation. This isn’t to say that there’s nothing worth getting upset about and there are certainly awful things in the world we should be shouting at, but to paraphrase clickhole.com, social media has homogenized our outrage. Fights that should be fought against actual crimes can get the same level of as response as an ornery tweet from a Notable Person that everyone will forget about by the weekend. And the darkest secret of all lives in this dimly lit corner… arguing and posturing online has never solved anything. I guess it can be entertaining from time to time, and I’m as guilty of it as anyone, but jeepers creepers it makes life exhausting.
It should be clear now that I’m out of practice when it comes to making a point online. I have meandered and wandered in this piece today, but it comes back to this; after ten years, what I’ve come to learn is that the best way for me to enjoy comics is just to go to the store, buy a stack, read them, and pass them along to the next person. I love comics deeply, and in a human-to-human conversation, I can get deeply passionate about them. But social media is focused on a lot of bullshit most of the time, and the signal to noise ratio is enough to trigger a migraine.
Ten years ago, we set out to fight a holy war and declare that “COMICS SHOULD BE GOOD”. Well comics ARE good, and they always have been! In a lot of ways, comics are better than ever. In the past ten days I’ve read THE INCAL, SOUTHERN BASTARDS, a PEANUTS hardcover, a reprint of classic STAR TREK comics, a new HELLBOY comic, a Michael DeForge collection, NAUSICAA in a gorgeous hardcover, a Carl Barks UNCLE SCROOGE collection, and SAGA. All masterpieces. There is a bounty of amazing comics every week, and comics I searched for far and wide as a kid are now available in deluxe, remastered editions. It’s a great world, even if a toe dipped in twitter paints an apocalypse of hurt feelings and self-righteous rage. Comics should be good, but so should the internet. Let’s work on that one next.
This year marks the 25th year of the CBLDF, and the 13th year of its active membership
That means the comic book community, including fans, stores, creators, and publishers have collectively decided to fight for free speech for a quarter of a century. It means that for more than a decade, those who support this fight for free speech have gotten a card to prove it. And that card comes with a world of importance.
The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund was founded when a store was targeted by local authorities for carrying adult material and selling it to adults. An influential and well-loved publisher circled the proverbial wagons and raised the funds to overturn a conviction. In 1986, comics were still facing the same bias and inequitable scrutiny they faced in 1948 , when groups decrying indecency in comics held public book burnings.
Since 1986 comics have faced library challenges, bannings, self-censorship, and media vilification. Even as recently as January 2012, local news reports banged the drum that dangerous and obscene illustrated fiction could fall into our children’s hands and warp their minds forever. We are still dealing with the same ludicrous trends and accusations that started in the 1940s and peaked in the 1950s, when Senate hearings almost destroyed the comics industry after a best-selling book of pop psychology laid a nations’ fears of juvenile delinquency out, putting comics entirely at fault. It’s easy to assume that things will never be that bad again, but as of this writing, a fan is awaiting trial to see whether or not he will go to prison for the comics he owned. In many ways, things are worse than ever. The biases and the witch hunts still remain, but the penalties can be far, far worse.
The fact is that in 2012 we are still fighting for Free Speech in comics. The consequences for obscenity charges range from fines to public outrage and character assassination to jail time here in the U.S. and even in a foreign country. This is terrifying. This should not be a problem that anyone has to face just because they buy, sell, own, create, or distribute comics. This art form does not enjoy the same freedoms of expression as film, music, or prose, and this should infuriate everyone who loves comics.
Look at your collection right now. Do you have copies of SANDMAN, or BONE? Then you own books that have been contested in libraries nationwide. Does your local comics shop carry anything with explicit adult content? Keep in mind that the adult content label is vague and ranges from LOST GIRLS to BONDAGE FAIRIES and from BLANKETS to R. CRUMB’S BOOK OF GENESIS. All of those books have suffered the scrutiny of censorship or self-censorship. The variety of comics that could bring an outraged local authority down on a retailer (and has, in some cases) is alarmingly wide.
This is not an abstract hypothetical, and it is not a slippery slope. These attacks happen regularly, and the consequences are real. For 25 years, the fight to keep comics free and uncensored has been constant and difficult. And as a fan, or a creator, or even just a passing reader with an interest in our Constitutional rights, the best way to be part of this struggle is by becoming a member of the CBLDF.
When you join the CBLDF, you become part of the fight. You have put your money down and made a stand. You join creators from all parts of the industry and fans from all over the world. You join some of the greatest stores in the world and some of the most vital comics publishers. You are telling the world, “I may not want to read this comic, but no one should go to jail for making, selling, or owning it.”
In 2011 alone, CBLDF members saw their donations at work in an incredibly diverse assortment of ways:
We were quoted in a Supreme Court opinion knocking out an unconstitutional censorship law. In BROWN v. EMA, an amicus brief filed by the CBLDF and written by General Counsel Robert Corn-Revere was quoted in the majority opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia. Comparing government mandated videogame labels to the Comics Scare of the 1950s, the history of censorship in comics was referenced as a mistake — a mistake that should not be repeated in other areas of pop culture.
We sponsored Banned Books Week. Aside from membership in the Media Coalition, the CBLDF expanded its active presence in the wider Free Expression community. We sponsored Banned Books Week, spoke about comics censorship at several library events, and exhibited at the American Library Association meeting, taking our mission to librarians, both educational and public.
We contributed the first installment of the $150,000 in legal fees needed to defend Brandon X. This terrifying case involves an American citizen who faces a minimum sentence of one year in Canadian prison and registration as a sex offender because Canada Customs alleges that the Japanese horror and fantasy comics on his laptop are child pornography. This case is vital because it raises precedent questions about the artistic merit of comics and the rights of readers and artists traveling with comics on their electronic devices. It challenges how child pornography is defined, particularly in relation to Japanese manga and the inherent xenophobia of judging the artistic merits of another culture’s pop entertainment from afar.
We saw a banner year for Retail Memberships. Working with Diamond Comic Distributors, our Retail Membership program saw the highest numbers since its inception. This means that there are more stores than ever participating in the protection of the medium, all of them part of a coalition that defends the rights of fans and creators. As the retail community grows tighter and more cohesive, with initiatives like Free Comic Book Day and growing membership in ComicsPRO, we are also seeing greater bonds with our retail partners.
Aside from these accomplishments, we attended more than 20 conventions and conferences throughout the United States, raising awareness of our important work. We also began expanding our reach onto college campuses and into libraries. We hosted educational events and started work on two separate resource guides for librarians and booksellers. All this and much, much more happened due to the generosity of our donors and our Members. The work of the CBLDF is vital, and it can’t continue without you.
Throughout the week, Comics Should Be Good will be spotlighting the various levels of CBLDF membership (you can see them now here). Please check these daily updates to see what level works for you, and please consider joining the fight.
Free Speech is worth fighting for.
Alex Cox is the Deputy Director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, and a co-founder of CSBG.
With the upcoming release of THOR, CAPTAIN AMERICA: FIRST AVENGER, GREEN LANTERN, and a cornucopia of other films hanging in the distance, COMPLEX magazine asked your humble narrator to compile the top 50 greatest comic-book-to-film adaptations.
And so I did. That’s the entire anecdote. Here’s the link. I think it’s a pretty solid list, possibly more for the omissions than anything else. I could be wrong… I admit this.
Achewood is pretty much the greatest webcomic ever. This is a fact proven by science and religion. TIME Magazine totally agrees! This is the only New York appearance by Mr. Onstad and Mr. Smuckles, so don’t miss it!
The event starts at 7 pm.
Raina Telgemeier is a superstar. Just ask any of the kids that shop at ROCKETSHIP. All summer long, one of the most frequently asked questions was “Do you have the new BABY-SITTERS CLUB yet?” Forget SECRET INVASION; Raina’s latest book was the most anticipated book of the season. Between adapting (and bringing a new generation of readers to) that beloved series, she also draws a terrific webcomic called SMILE, which will soon be published by Scholastic. She and her husband (cartoonist Dave Roman) are a fixture at most conventions with their “Comics Bakery” booth, and her lighthearted brushwork and smooth storytelling skills have made Raina a popular attraction for children and adults alike. While preparing for an upcoming BABY-SITTERS CLUB Volume 4 Release Party, she took the time to answer a few questions…. Continue Reading »
(cross posted at rocketshipstore.com)
Fred Van Lente has been a good customer and pal since the first day we opened the doors of the store. We’ve been on the sidelines to watch him finish writing his self-published ACTION PHILOSOPHERS, become one of the cornerstone creators of the all-ages MARVEL ADVENTURES line (including the hugely popular new POWER PACK series), and witness the rise of the INCREDIBLE HERCULES under his pen. HERCULES has been a sales juggernaut, and is one of the few books to come out of the WORLD WAR HULK event that has continued to gain momentum with fans. Last year’s MODOK’S 11 was one of the year’s best mainstream superhero comics, and currently, with a stove-top full of Marvel books on every burner, Fred has recently opened the self-publishing oven again with COMIC BOOK COMICS, a history of the comic book industry as drawn by his frequent collaborator, Ryan Dunlavey.
I always enjoy talking with Fred; he’s jovial and funny, smart and insightful, and happy to talk about craft, and the process of writing for a wide range of projects. Continue Reading »
This week, I ruminate on Democracy in Comics, Osamu Tezuka, and Meth-head Batman.
Part One: You can do it!
One thing that I love about comics is the fact that anyone can do it. Anyone can sit down with a blank sheet of paper, a fresh window on their computer, a stack of magazine clippings, etc, and create a series of sequential images that tell a story. Not everyone wants to, and not everyone will be good at it, but anyone could. This democracy in the comics art form makes me really happy; it feels like the tape-trading world of high school punk bands (oh shit- did I just totally date myself?), where a guitar, three chords, some drums, and an urge to write lyrics was really all you needed. Everything else was just garnish.
In comics, most everything is garnish. All you really need is a pencil, an afternoon to draw, and the wherewithal to follow through. There’s something to be said for a storytelling art form that is simultaneously incredibly complex, yet also wide open to anyone who wants to give it a whirl. I draw comics when I’m bored. I show them to my friends, and drawing them keeps me mentally stimulated throughout the day. It’s a brain exercise that is far more satisfying to me than Sudoku or a a Rubik’s cube. My girlfriend made a mini-comic last summer to trade at MoCCA. Anyone can do it.
I’ve reached a point in my life (birthday next week, depression to follow) where I am far more excited by a hand-stitched, home-made comic made by someone who has never read WATCHMEN, than I am by yet another by-the-books, middle-selling, professionally crafted comic by people who have spent their whole lives reading NEW WARRIORS. This is not a jab at superhero comics, which I love. Just a general malaise with the Sameness of it all. If someone who spends their days teaching pottery to kids, and has only ever painted in oils, decides to make a comic, that is something I’m interested in. That comic will have a angle and a point of view that is new to me. I find the approaches and craft decisions made by these folks to be entirely fascinating, and fresh, and energizing. This is as opposed to a book that is perfectly well made, but every line and word balloon placement speaks to hours spent devouring the works of John Byrne or Jim Shooter. I also spent those same hours, devouring those same comics, and now I want to see something drawn by someone who only ever read ANNE OF GREEN GABLES. Or maybe a medical doctor who was totally influenced by the early works of Walt Disney. Which brings us to… Continue Reading »
In Which I Ruminate on Stolen Bicycles, the Goddess of War, and Taking a Trip Uptown.
Part One: Boring Lifestyle Information (okay to skip)
In this past week, I have realized something fundamental, something no doubt obvious to the rest of the world; the anaerobic lifestyle begets time to read comics. Or, in other words, sitting on your ass prevents a stack of unread books from overwhelming you like The Blob. As several of you may know, I am not only a comics retailer, world class cat burglar, and general Bon Vivant, I am also a cycling enthusiast. If I have the time, and the world has provided a sunny day, you will find me pedaling madly across the Brooklyn Bridge, up the West Side Parkway, or anywhere that either a) strikes my fancy, or b) is located in proximity to whatever errand my girlfriend has assigned me.
What this ultimately means is that when I have two hours to myself, rather than enjoying a stack of lovely comics, I am sweating and getting a sunburn while trying not to hyperventilate. It’s one of the few small joys in my life, which is otherwise a slow crawl toward black oblivion.
However, while in midtown Manhattan last week, my beloved bike was stolen. It was entirely my own fault (dirty, dirty hubris and all that), which made the whole bleak scenario all the worse. On the train ride back to Brooklyn, I pulled the first volume of the Viz-big edition of DRAGONBALL from my bag, and read the whole dang thing straight through. Like that guy on the road to Damascus, I realized that maybe, just maybe, rather than this being the summer wherein I finally burn off twenty pounds and prevent the onset of diabetes, this will be the summer that sees me reading every book that is sitting in a pile by my “reading chair”.
With a newfound, less active purpose in life, I set off to do some damage. Continue Reading »
Alex Cox was supposed to begin his column today, wherein he would speak on books of interest from week to week. He was quite excited to write a lengthy review of FREDDY AND ME by Mike Dawson, which he loved very much and speaks highly of at many given opportunities. However, he has evidently been quite busy at work [increased foot traffic due to lovely spring weather, heavy releases of fine quality books, etc…], and also quite depressed [small lump on neck that is possibly cancer, new computer desk purchased by girlfriend that he hates but cannot complain about or she will yell, sighting of neglected elderly male, etc…]. Therefore, Alex has recruited a surrogate to complete his first column. I wish to apologize for his incompetence. – BC)
Comics should be F’N Awesome!!!
Hey hey, comic fan type people! My name is Gus (Mr. Gustav to my employees) and you probably know me from the seven successful bar/restaurants I own throughout the metro NY area. I don’t want to name them, but let’s just say that cocktails are twelve to Eighteen dollars, and there’s no happy hour, if you get my drift.
My latest spot is located in yelling distance of a certain comic shop, and ever since we opened, I find myself in there quite a bit, mostly shooting the breeze and keeping up with Captain America (my main dude), but also kicking back from time to time with the brave men and women of the BPRD. (I would totally high-five Abe Sapien’s fishy paw, no shit.)
So yesterday, I noticed that Alex (the counter guy, chubby, but not too bad) was rubbing his eyes and sighing a lot more than usual. I inquired as to his troubles, and I must have hit a nerve, because the guy unloaded! (full disclosure: I have been known to tend bar in my day, so I have the vibe of a
“friendly listener” type. I also speak in warm, soft tones. It helps the troubled dude open up, and makes the single ladies want to be in intimate surroundings with me. Sexually.)
After a laundry list of troubles that included some hypochondria, and a lot of complaining about some new computer desk, Alex mentioned that he hasn’t been able to start a column he’s been meaning to write. I said “Dude! I’m pretty much the smartest guy you know! I’m successful, loaded, handsome, and I happen to have a free hour today between a manicure and a lunch date with a Brazillian model (very hot)”. I told him I would get my feet polished up, then lift some of his burdens by writing a column for him, and then proceed to have some strip steak, a bloody mary, and satisfy my date (sexually). What can I say? I’m a humanitarian, and the poor guy looked like was about to cry. I can’t stand to see a man cry, by the way. Continue Reading »
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