Month: August 2011

Improv Comedy Group to hit Santa Monica theater in act of violence

The Magic Meathands (including me!) will hit the Westside Comedy Theater in Santa Monica this Friday night at 8 PM. Literally. We are actually going to assault the theater stage with our fists. We’ve been feeling a little angry recently and have decided that some pent-up violence committed against an inanimate and non-sentient object would help us feel better about ourselves.

After that, we’ll probably do some improv comedy. So if you want to stay, that should be pretty entertaining too. And after us, you can also stay to see The Waterbrains and Mission: IMPROVable, two very funny improv groups.

Tickets: $10.

The Gender Inbalance of Comics

House of Night #1 (cover art by Jenny Frison)

House of Night #1 (cover art by Jenny Frison)

The issue of gender in comics has been getting a lot of attention over the last few months. One of the recurring criticisms is the lack of female creators. The grassroots anthology Womanthology proves that there is an abundance of very talented comic book creators ready and willing to work, and that there is a very enthusiastic audience ready and willing to pay for such material. And yet most comics publishers still have a significant minority of female creators. Or in some cases, none whatsoever.

To get a better understanding, I’ve taken a look at nearly 25 comic book publishers and the products they are planning to release this November.

The only publishers that have an even split or majority of female credits are manga publishers Viz Media, Yen Press, Go Manga/Seven Seas, and Digital Manga Publishing. Publishers with a more literary or alternative focus, such as Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly, have 1/3 female creators. Of the major comic book publishers, proportionally Dark Horse probably has the best female representation, but still a minority. Despite criticism leveled against DC Comics for the lack of women creators in their New 52 marketing blitz, they are not the worst of the larger publishers. Archie Comics surprisingly has only one female writer.

Jenny Frison appears to be the busiest with 7 credits, mostly for cover art, such as the image here.

What does all of this prove? Manga captured a greater female readership for a reason. It’s a lesson that the rest of comics could stand to learn, just as it was learned by the producers of the sitcom Community. Despite all of the numbers, it’s not a quota. Hitting an exact 50% or more really isn’t the goal or the point. The idea is that if you want to speak to a demographic, you hire that demographic. And it works.

This doesn’t mean that men can’t produce work that appeals to women or that they shouldn’t be hired. There are plenty of examples and reasons why that doesn’t hold water. There are enough comics (and jobs) for everyone, especially if more people are reading comics because of the increased diversity.

And of course the other lesson is that real diversity and experimentation often happens first outside of structured publishers. That’s why there are so many fantastic female creators making web-comics with varying levels of financial success. The establishment will eventually catch up.

For a great look at how the industry got to this disparity, see this excellent Comics Alliance article. And for some great solutions, read Shaenon K. Garrity’s column at Comixology.

Click through if you want all of the nitty-gritty numbers. Corrections welcome. (more…)

Bringing Edward Gorey’s comics to life

Me being creepy for Drama After Dark

For the third time, I’ll be performing several Edward Gorey stories for Drama After Dark: A Night of the Macabre with Poe and Gorey on Saturday, October 8. Click that link to buy tickets but do it soon because it sells out surprisingly fast every year. Tickets are $35.

The entire event is held all over the grounds of The Huntington. Bring a flashlight to make your way around and discover different performances of Edgar Allen Poe and Edward Gorey stories. At times creepy, at times funny, at times both at the same time, it’s a great way to get into the spirit of Halloween.

Edward Gorey combined his wicked prose with Victorian-looking cartoon sketches to produce a twisted and peculiar world of perpetual bad luck for its inhabitants. While his work seems to come from the 1890s, his work was created and published starting in the 1950s. He remained active right up to his death in 2000. He’s not typically considered a comics artist since his work was structured closer to childrens books (no word balloons, one image and text combination per page, no panel borders), but I think there’s room to argue that point since there are plenty of comic books and graphic novels that have used those elements.

Odd Couple from Edward Gorey's The Listing Attic

Excerpt from Edward Gorey's The Listing Attic

Friday is Brought to You by Kleenex Head Kitteh

Things to do this weekend in and around LA:

COMEDYComic Book Summer Camp is the newest show from Captured Aural Phantasy Theater, which does hilarious readings of actual comic books from the maybe-not-so-good ol’ days. Check it out at the Nerdist Theater at Meltdown Comics on Sunset, Saturday night at 7:30 PM. Tickets: $10.

COMEDYLast Laugh Saturday is the totally uncensored, totally hilarious, totally free improv comedy show put on every last Saturday of the month by Held2Gether at Hot Java in Long Beach, Saturday night at 8 PM. Tickets: $0

Comics influence Los Angeles Metro’s new Expo Line artwork

Comics are all around us and you may not even realize it. Here’s one example.

The light rail Expo Line running from downtown Los Angeles to Culver City (and eventually all the way to Santa Monica) is creeping closer and closer to its official opening (after over a year delay). This week, Los Angeles Metro unveiled the featured artists whose work will be displayed at each station. Metro’s Expo public arts program has dedicated .5% of its construction budget to commissioning the creation of original art. Over 200 artists submitted proposals. Of the nine chosen, three either directly or indirectly reference or draw inspiration from sequential art, showing how even the fine arts are embracing the amazing language and aesthetics of comic books.

Loteria by Jose Lozano

Lotería by Jose Lozano (LA Metro)

José Lozano‘s Lotería is featured at the La Brea Station. While the concept is based on a Mexican card game, the visuals took inspiration from Mexican comic books that Lozano saw in his childhood.

From José’s artist statement:

“LA Metro Lotería depicts scenes, people, objects and situations having to do with the Metro riding experience. The color and style of the cards are reminiscent of Mexican comic books from my youth and the Sunday comics. I want to create something visually interesting and poetic from what seems to be mundane and ordinary.”

While Lozano has spent most of his life in Los Angeles, his first seven years were spent in Juárez, México, with his mother. Mexican comic books, cinema, fotonovelas and other cultural touchstones made a big impact on him and continue to influence his work.

Urban Dualities by Samuel Rodriguez

Urban Dualities by Samuel Rodriguez (LA Metro)

Samuel Rodriguez uses white silhouettes of bicycles to break up his images like panels in a comic book. His work is at the Jefferson/USC Station.

Samuel Rodriguez weaves a visual narrative that includes fragments of building facades, vintage rail cars, realistically rendered human figures, and fictional characters. These illustrations are representative of images that may wander into the mind of the waiting traveler. Each art panel is visually divided by the silhouette of bike frames, resembling the layout of a comic book.

In fact Rodriguez’s graphic design company Shorty Fatz first began in 2002 with xeroxed mini-comics, or “ghetto funny pages”.

Ephemeral Views: A Visual Essay by Ronald J. Llanos

Ephemeral Views: A Visual Essay by Ronald J. Llanos (LA Metro)

Ronald J. Llanos considers himself a visual journalist. He uses a loose sketch style to capture people he observes while people-watching, and then fleshes them out to create a documentation of the urban environment. This art at the Western Station was done by him capturing the people in the vicinity. So if you live in that area, maybe you’ll see yourself.

Ronald Llanos is a collector of images. He sketches while people watching at a café or navigating the city. Often, these character drawings reappear in self-published ‘zines.’ For Western Station, Llanos proposes to develop a visual narrative that spans the two station platforms like the open pages of a book.

That creation of a narrative and his use of self-published zines are very much in the spirit of comic books. In fact, his style reminds me of the fantastic Italian comics illustrator and graphic novelist Gipi. Even the subtitle of the name of his project, “Visual Essay,” could be considered a form or type of graphic novel. And comic book journalism is a growing field, as this excellent interactive comic by Dan Archer explains.

The Expo Line has been in the works since 2006 and most of the artists have been working on these projects for about three years. Nearly all of the Phase 1 stations had the art installed earlier this summer but the real unveiling won’t happen until the Expo Line officially launches later this year or possibly early next year. Metro says the Expo Line is approximately 90% completed and currently undergoing train testing for the next several months.

(via Curbed LA)

See It: Red State

I’m not in this and there’s really nothing to do with comics*, but I saw Kevin Smith’s new movie, Red State, at the historic New Beverly Cinema last night. Kevin Smith held a lengthy Q&A after the screening, which he’s doing twice a day all this week.

I’m not a hardcore Kevin Smith fan. I enjoyed Clerks when it was released and Dogma was good but he never really changed my life like he has for some. I haven’t even seen all of his movies, unlike many of my friends. With that bias disclaimer, and what I know of his work, this might be his best movie.

As Abin Cooper says in the movie, “It’s about to get grown-up in here.” Kevin Smith noted it himself in the Q&A that he feels this is his grown-up movie and I agree. This is a much more mature and ambitious work than I’ve seen from him, and it’s intentionally not looking to be a mainstream Hollywood seller. The central narrative gets handed off like a relay race throughout the movie, passing from one circle of characters to the next. There’s no love interest. It’s not an easily pegged genre (I thought it was a horror movie based on the trailer but it’s not). That’s not to say this is art house experimentation, but it’s the most unconventional and confident movie he’s ever put out, and stands in stark contrast when lined up with his other movies.

Much of the success comes down to some fantastic acting. Michael Parks as Pastor Abin Cooper is snake-oil slick, charming, and somehow actually believable as a murderous cult leader using religion to control his followers. A long scene shows Cooper giving his sermon, and while it was probably too long, it showed the calm resolve of radical thoughts so deeply held and ingrained. He could easily have played the role as a maniac, but he was smart in being a charming father and grandfather and a southern gentleman who just happened to think God wants all homosexuals killed. (Yes, an intentional swipe at Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church.) John Goodman is also great as the government agent assigned to investigate the Cooper Compound.

The Westboro Baptist Church has picketed the movie (they really like picketing things, as that Wikipedia link will tell you) and Kevin Smith told a great story of how the interaction with the Church escalated. He eventually invited them to a previous screening and said they could review the movie to the audience. They actually took him up on the offer but bailed seven minutes into the movie before their film analogs even arrived on-screen. But two young members of the Phelps family sat through the whole thing and spoke afterward, revealing that they had left the family and Church, and deeply regretted their involvement in the picketing of Matthew Shepard’s funeral and other hateful protests. They were just kids at the time and as they grew older they realized that God probably wouldn’t want them to pray for their enemies’ death. As Kevin described the incident, the two had been exiled from the family and Church, which resembled more of a cult than a religion. They confirmed that the family still involved in the Church very much believed in the hateful things they say, it’s not an opportunistic act.

While the movie probably won’t change anyone’s mind about the Westboro Baptist Church, it’s already created dialogue and awareness just in its short life so far. It’s also an entertaining ride and has one of the best final scenes I’ve seen in a while.

Red State will be released on video on demand September 1.

*Kevin Smith has written comics, so OK not entirely nothing to do with comics.

“The Truth Is People Are Leaving Anyway”

So says DC Comics Co-Publisher Dan DiDio in last night’s Hero Complex blog. But could DC’s massive relaunch gamble this September actually halt the exodus?

According to the article, Justice League #1, the flagship title and debut issue of the massive line-wide relaunch of the publisher’s entire superhero universe, has received pre-orders asking for over 200,000 copies. Six other issues from the 52 titles shipping in September have pre-orders over 100,000 copies. That is fantastic news. Monthly comic books haven’t seen those kinds of numbers in years. There are also pending digital sales when the publisher starts releasing online and mobile versions of those same print comics simultaneously in September.

The full quote:

“The truth is people are leaving anyway, they’re just doing it quietly, and we have been papering it over with increased prices,” DiDio said. “We didn’t want to wake up one day and find we had a bunch of $20 books that 10,000 people are buying.”

Typically people from the major superhero publishers keep things pretty rosy in public interviews and online conversations. You know things must be dire when the talk gets this frank.

Another crucial observation made by DiDio:

“The walk-in, casual fans have gotten away from us,” DiDio observed. “We are down to just the die-hard buyers.”

Bringing back casual fans is the key. It’s a massive key to resuscitating sales. I’m still not completely convinced that what is getting published in September is a big enough break from the publishing and editorial strategy they’ve worked under in the past to bring in a casual readership, but 200,000+ copies is a sign I could be wrong (and I’d love to be wrong on this). Of course, it could be comic stores overestimating interest in their orders. It could only last a month or two. But for now, things are looking very promising.

If only they acted sooner. Over the weekend, a 4-store chain of comic book shops in Arizona abruptly shut down. Stores have been quietly dropping away for a while now, but this was a well-known and well-liked chain praised as a smart retailer. These weren’t the grimy comic store dungeons people avoid like the plague. But the profit margin of running a comic book store is so small that one car through your main store’s front window followed by an economic downturn and lost customers, and five years later you’re done. Atomic Comics was a big account for Diamond Comics, the industry’s primary distributor.

Would DC’s relaunch have saved them? Will it turn sales around across the entire industry? That’s a big job for one publisher, even the industry’s #2 publisher. After all, their material doesn’t cater to everyone. But if other publishers can find a way to join in the hype and fill in the gaps, we could be on to something. Hey, I’m trying to be positive here. It could happen.