Month: February 2011

Learn to read comics with fan-made Power Records videos

As I’ve mentioned in the past, not everyone takes to the language of sequential art instantly. Some need to ease into it. One possible solution probably isn’t really a solution at all, but it makes for a unique way to read some early comic books.

In the 1970s, Power Records released a series of vinyl 45’s of a fully produced performance of comic book stories, complete with voice actors, sound effects and music. A couple of years ago, a crafty YouTube user, noielmucus, put these recordings to an edited presentation of each issue included with each record so that the dialogue and captions being spoken appear on screen. A great way for kids to read along. The pacing is kind of slow for today’s audiences and some voices are just plain weird (like the weird sped up effect on Mr. Fantastic’s voice when he uses his powers) but others are actually quite good. It definitely makes for a fun curiosity.

The Marvel Comics records gave a performance of three classic issues, so it’s a unique way to experience these stories of the origin of the Fantastic Four and the Incredible Hulk, and one of the earliest adventures of Spider-Man. But the DC Comics ones appear to be original stories made just for these records (although I can’t identify the creators). They feature Superman against the inter-dimensional imp Mxyptlk, the Joker making his own utility belt to fight Batman and Robin, and more complete silliness.

Apparently this collection of 10 are just the tip of the iceberg. Over 90 LP records and 45-rpm singles were created. A modern version of these for young readers might be worth looking into by some enterprising company. (If you need any voice-actors, let me know.)

Amazing Spider-Man #1 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko (1963) parts 1-5

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Crime Does Not Pay (except when it does)

The comics that changed history. Brilliant cover by Charles Biro. (Click image for more Dark Horse summer releases.)

Dark Horse Comics is releasing a “best of” compilation of the seminal 1940s crime anthology series Crime Does Not Pay this July, according to information the publisher released to Comic Book Resources (and other comics news sites).

Crime Does Not Pay was a huge hit in its day, as spearheaded by editors and writers Charles Biro and Bob Wood. As the first “true crime” comic book, it spawned countless derivatives and significantly altered the course of comics. It was the first non-superhero genre to really take hold in America, and the first to expand readership to a somewhat older demographic. Today people are ordering hookers and heroin if their comic sells over 100,000 copies, so it’s amazing to think that Crime Does Not Pay at one point had sales in excess of 1 million. The publisher theorized that due to friends lending out copies, they had a readership of over 5 million people.

Parents and other concerned citizens didn’t approve of the graphic violence and often glorified criminals, and the entire crime genre of comics, along with the growing horror genre, became a target of political leaders. By the mid-’50s, the United States Senate formed a sub-committee to investigate the relationship between comic book and juvenile delinquency. The entire industry was publicly embarrassed and essentially shamed into self-censorship. Everyone reigned in their content at the risk of losing newsstand distribution, far and away the dominant. While there was definitely a need for some kind of content warning, what instead resulted was that an entire medium was sterilized and made safe for kids. Needless to say, Crime Does Not Pay and the genre it had created lost what made it appealing to readers and was canceled within months.

This story has been told before and will be told again, but the actual stories of the Crime Does Not Pay comics have rarely if ever been reprinted in modern times. I’m very excited to be able to get this as an affordable soft cover graphic novel. Usually these kinds of things are released in massive hard cover tomes that tend to be too expensive for the mildly curious and too unwieldy for reading without a lectern. There will also be great bonus content, like an illustrated essay by comics historian Denis Kitchen detailing how Crime Does Not Pay co-editor Bob Wood’s later life could’ve made for a story in his own comic.

Click through for the full product description: (more…)

Happy Valentine’s Day

I’m busy pitching woo with the one I love, so to tide you over here are a bunch of comics or semi-comics pictures celebrating love and the Holiday That Hallmark Built. Enjoy!

Lois Lane debuts with Superman in Action Comics #1 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, June 1938. Clark Kent pines for Lois but she only has eyes for the Man of Steel. And the superhero genre's psychological issues with identity and romance are off and running.

Archie Comics #3, Summer 1942, art by Harry Sahle features one of comics' classic love triangles. Will Archie choose Betty or Veronica?

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Comics Events in LA: Week of 2/13/11

If you’re interested in finding out more about comic books and graphic novels, a great way to discover new stories is to check out a local comics event. There’s a vibrant comics community here in Los Angeles, where you can meet artists, writers, publishers, and other readers.

Here are some local Los Angeles events coming up that celebrate the sequential art form.

This week:

Sunday, February 13 – Friday, February 18: Steven Daily‘s Gag Me With A Toon 3, the third annual art exhibit featuring local artists re-imagining and remixing classic ’80s Saturday morning cartoons, continues at Meltdown Comics, 7522 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles 90046. Tickets: $0.

Wednesday, February 16: NEW COMICS DAY! Find your local comics specialty shop.

Wednesday, February 16, 8 PM: Comics podcast Bagged & Boarded with SModcastle’s Matt Cohen and Brendan Creecy with special guests writer Marc Andreyko (Torso, Manhunter) and True Blood actors Deborah Ann Woll and Michael McMillian, has a live show broadcast at SModcastle, 6468 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles 90038. Tickets: $10.

Wednesday, February 9, 8:30 PM: The Meltdown with Kumail Nanjiani and Jonah Ray (weekly comedy show) featuring stand-up comedians Scott Thompson, Nick Flanagan, Brent James Sullivan, Ron FunchesNick Thune, and piano-pop band Don’t Stop or We’ll Die, at Meltdown Comics, 7522 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles 90046. Tickets: $8.

Thursday, February 17, 7 PM – 9 PM: A panel discussion with screenwriter Dwayne McDuffie, executive producer Bruce Timm, director Sam Liu, casting director Andrea Romano, actor James Denton (“Desperate Housewives”) and others, will occur for the screening of All-Star Superman, the animated movie based on the comic of the same name by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, at the The Paley Center, 465 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills 90210. Tickets: free for members.

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It’s Friday. We can stop pretending to be serious now.

Nothing would make me more happy than to get up on a stage and be a complete idiot in front of you. You can even yell out ideas of specifically how I will be a complete idiot, and I’ll do it! And I’ll have others with me to also be complete idiots – the Magic Meathands. We like to call it “improv comedy” to sound like some fancy theater thing but really we’re just a bunch of idiots being complete idiots. And I mean that in the best possible way.

If this sounds like fun, you should get yourself over to The Spot Cafe in Culver City on Friday and/or Saturday night at 8 PM. (That’s tonight and tomorrow night for those playing at home.)

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Political figures understand the power of comics

They just had to use the over-played "Bam!," didn't they?

Even though comics can be challenging for some not accustomed to the language and form (as discussed yesterday), it’s still an amazingly powerful and direct form of communication. That’s why schools and libraries have embraced it as an excellent reading and educational tool. Even though the brain is processing a lot of visual information, it’s also still reading words. Apparently political figures are beginning to understand how effective their message can be communicated through comics.

This week, a joint press release announced that US Congressman John Lewis would be publishing an autobiographical graphic novel called March through comics publisher Top Shelf Productions. The Georgia Democrat will co-write with his aide Andrew Aydin, who handles telecommunications, technology and new media policy. The book, scheduled for a 2012 release, will focus on Lewis’ heavy involvement in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, of which he was a key activist. The news is historic in two respects. From the press release: “The publishing agreement is an historic first, both for the U.S. Congress and graphic novel publishing as a whole, marking the first time a sitting Member of Congress has authored a graphic novel. Top Shelf Productions is the first and only graphic novel publisher to be certified by the House Committee on Standards.”

Also, MIT economist Jonathan Gruber announced this week that he is publishing a graphic novel explaining the national health care reform package passed into law last year, according to The Boston Herald column The Pulse. Gruber is an adviser to President Barack Obama and was a major architect of both the national bill, as well as the earlier state health care reform in Massachusetts under former Governor Mitt Romney. The graphic novel, tentatively titled Health Care Reform: What It Is, Why It’s Necessary, How It Works, is scheduled for a fall release from the publisher Hill and Wang. They are the same publisher of the groundbreaking graphic novel adaptation of The 9/11 Report by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón, so they get that clear, concise sequential storytelling is able to present complicated information in a more digestible way. That book spawned a whole line of non-fiction graphic novels for the book publisher and others have followed their lead. Gruber’s editor Thomas LeBien told the Boston Herald, “There’s a long tradition of turning to them to take complicated information and render it accessible to the widest audience.”

He’s absolutely right. Comics have been used as government propaganda for decades, usually quite clumsy in their execution. But the more recent wave of political non-fiction comics and graphic novels use a level of craft and skill, often placing information and a compelling narrative over propaganda.

The key to getting these two newly announced graphic novels right is getting the right artist. Neither project has an artist yet. Hopefully they choose wisely.

The Ugly Truth About Comics: They’re Not Books

Batman reads a book, not expecting it to be a comic (art by Gene Ha, click for his website)

Kelly Thompson of the Comic Book Resources blog Comics Should Be Good is doing a study. She has reached out to 32 women to learn “specifically why women do and don’t read comics and what they do and don’t respond to as readers when they do read”.

You see, comics kind of have this reputation for not being all that welcoming to female readers. Maybe you’ve noticed it yourself. For a significant segment of the industry and its history, there’s good reason for that reputation. Superhero comics, often considered the mainstream of comics, are predominantly made by and for males. But for several decades there have been a growing number of comics designed to reach beyond the standard superhero demographic. And these days, the art form has never had a greater level of diversity, both in stories that could appeal to virtually anyone, and the people that make them.

Last year, Kelly did this experiment for the first time with 19 women trying out comic books: part 1, part 2, part 3. This time, she’s having 32 women try graphic novels: part 1, part 2. (Part 3 and 4 will post on the next 2 Mondays.) She gets feedback from each reader to see why they picked their comic book or graphic novel, what they thought of it, and also gets background info on their age, occupation and past experiences with comics. They’re long reads, but they’re worth it. Maybe you’ll relate to some of their responses.

It’s not a perfectly scientific study. Most of the women are progressive young women in their 20s or 30s. And they all come from Kelly’s network of friends, colleagues, and family. But I think it’s still very representative of people’s responses to comics, and some people’s resistance to comics, often regardless of gender.

One comment that came up several times was that some said they prefer to imagine visuals in prose novels than have an artist provide the visuals. I’ve heard this comment plenty of times to know that it’s not unusual. I think part of this comes from unfamiliarity with comics and the belief that reading a comic book or graphic novel should feel like reading a book, and that one should walk away from both with the same kind of feeling. But they are not the same art form or medium. This is not a 1:1 ratio.

Reading comics is not the same experience as reading novels. Even though it visually looks like you’re doing the same thing (holding a book in your hand or staring at a screen), your brain has to do different things for each medium. (And it’s important to note that “different” doesn’t mean one is better than the other.)

Despite the old myth that comics are for dummies, there’s actually a great deal of processing going on. Each panel on a page is presenting the reader with what first seems like two channels of information: words and pictures. But the two channels are permanently linked and are actually sending additional information based on how they interact with each other. The pictures aren’t simply just giving visual form to the words. The image is an artist’s vision of that chosen moment in time and each panel is rich with what I would compare with non-verbal cues when you’re talking with someone one-on-one. A character’s posture, facial expression, and clothes all provide information to the reader on a level that may never be explicitly stated. In addition, the environment that surrounds the character, the colors or lack of colors, the line weight and art style the artist is using, these all give information about the character and their world. Objects in the background or foreground that may not be essential to the story (and might not merit getting mentioned in prose) adds context to the character and his world. With prose, all of this information could be given in words, but being told about something by a writer’s carefully chosen words and seeing it through the filter of an artist’s carefully illustrated artwork are two different things. And the timing and duration of that absorption works differently. In prose, it can only be absorbed by the reader as they are reading it. In comics, all of this information can be presented simultaneously and consistently throughout an entire scene, as each panel reinforces an aesthetic or silent cue.

Another channel of information comes from the true magic of comics – sequential storytelling. Each panel creates a new dynamic between the one before and the one after it. While processing the information within each panel described above, your brain is also creating action, movement and/or the passage of time in the spaces between each panel. The brain is solving the problem of how the characters’ world changes so that everything matches up from panel to panel, moment to moment.

So all of that (and more!) is going on while you read what appears to be a simple comic book. That’s a lot of information to absorb on each panel, but fortunately the brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text. So it’s up to the task, but it might take some adjustment. Give yourself a chance to get comfortable with the language of comics before you write them off as “not books”.

CSUN teaches Superheroes Seminar

I’m short on blogging time, so I’m just going to link you to this great summary of a Superheroes Seminar that was taught by English Studies Associate Professor Charles Hatfield (author of Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature) at CSUN Northridge last semester.

Educational institutions have been embracing comics like never before over the last decade, and it’s really exciting to me. It’s actually something I’ve been heavily looking into and reading Hatfield’s thoughts on how his first superhero-themed seminar went, and how his students responded to the material, was really fascinating to me.

The superhero genre today, and certainly superhero comics and the market that supports them, have earned their reputation for gender asymmetry; they’re lopsidedly male-dominated, and their values, with some exceptions, crushingly masculinist. I say these things not to denounce, but simply because they’re true; just as romance fiction is generally considered “for” women, superhero comics are generally considered “for” men. In any case, this gender lopsidedness represents a challenge for the genre and in teaching it. Out of the eighteen students in the course, eight were women, representing a variety of backgrounds, dispositions, tolerances, and interests, and the discussion of gender in the class, from literally the first day to the last, was a vital part of our conversations.

2 Chances to Laugh

This weekend you can see two live improv comedy shows with me and the Magic Meathands at The Spot Café, 4455 Overland Ave., Culver City 90230.

Friday night: 8 PM, $5!

Saturday night: 8 PM, $7, with Jump Start!

Come have fun with us!

Comics Event in LA: Week of 2/6/11

You don’t have to sit at home alone reading to get into comic books and graphic novels. There are always great events going on that celebrate the vitality and creativity of comics. Just here in Los Angeles, there are more events I can ever make. But I try, and so should you. You never know what you’ll discover.

Here are some local Los Angeles events coming up that celebrate the sequential art form.

This week:

Sunday, February 6 – Friday, February 18: Steven Daily‘s Gag Me With A Toon 3, the third annual art exhibit featuring local artists re-imagining and remixing classic ’80s Saturday morning cartoons, continues at Meltdown Comics, 7522 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles 90046. Tickets: $0.

Wednesday, February 9: NEW COMICS DAY! Find your local comics specialty shop.

Wednesday, February 9, 5 PM – 8 PM: Aspen Comics Editor-in-Chief and writer Vince Hernandez signs copies of his new book Charismagic and writer David Schwartz signs copies of Fathom: Blue Descent at Collector’s Paradise, 7131 Winnetka Ave., Canoga Park 91306. Tickets: $0.

Wednesday, February 9, 8:30 PM: The Meltdown with Kumail Nanjiani and Jonah Ray (weekly comedy show) featuring stand-up comedians Eric Acosta, Matt Goldich, Andy Haynes, Natasha Leggero, and a video by Moshe Kasher and Brent Weinbach, at Meltdown Comics, 7522 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles 90046. Tickets: $8.

Wednesday, February 9, 10 PM: Comics podcast Bagged & Boarded with SModcastle’s Matt Cohen and Brendan Creecy with special guest Chris Hardwick of Nerdist.com has a live show broadcast at SModcastle, 6468 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles 90038. Tickets: $10.

Saturday, February 12, 8 PM: Heart of Darkness comedy show featuring Greg Barris, Reggie Watts, Chelsea Peretti, and Sean Patton, with music by Dima and the Doctor Juchins, at Meltdown Comics, 7522 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles 90046. Tickets: $8.

The future: (more…)