Month: March 2011

Honoring Comic Book Creators #whiletheylive

Tom Brevoort removes his hat to pay tribute

Following the sudden death of writer Dwayne McDuffie last month, Marvel Comics Senior Vice President of Publishing Tom Brevoort has begun a touching weekly ritual on Twitter. Every Wednesday afternoon, he selects a member of the comics creative community to honor while they are still alive to enjoy the praise. Using the hashtag #whiletheylive, Brevoort encourages everyone on Twitter to join in the tribute by sharing personal memories of the creator and their work.

“The idea, quite simply, is rather than waiting for a member of our community to keel over before we say nice things, we instead do it while they’re still alive, and can appreciate the outpouring of love,” Brevoort tweeted last month to kick off the first #whiletheylive Wednesday.

That first week focused on artist Gene Colan, who worked on Iron Man, Captain America and other classic Marvel comics of the 1960s. Colan has had health problems but continues to work to this day. Yesterday’s #whiletheylive recipient was writer/editor Jim Shooter, who was editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics from 1978 to 1987, and later editor-in-chief and creative architect of the fondly remembered (and recently resurrected) Valiant Comics. Others are artist Neal Adams (known for visually stunning runs on comics such as DC ComicsBatman in the 1970s), John Byrne (writer/artist known for historic runs on The Uncanny X-Men, The Man of Steel and others), writer/editor Denny O’Neil (known for his trendsetting work on Batman, Green Lantern/Green Arrow and other DC Comics), and artist Russ Heath (known for the Playboy comic strip Little Annie Fanny and countless war comics for DC Comics in the 1950s).

You don’t often see an outpouring of support and community like this in other industries, especially when there isn’t some kind of marketing push or uncontrollable event (like a death) behind it. All too often we take for granted the treasures that are still with us, and it’s about time we let them know how much they mean to us. It’s a wonderful gesture that I hope Brevoort and others continue. I also think it’s a wonderful ongoing tribute to Dwayne McDuffie, who didn’t get nearly enough credit and praise for his contributions to the industry while he was alive.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid – comics or not?

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Here at, we like to give you truly cutting edge coverage of the comic book and graphic novel world. That’s why almost exactly four years after its release, we’re taking a look at Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney, published by Abrams’ Amulet Books.

OK, maybe this isn’t the CNN of comics, but where there may be a lack in timeliness, I hope quality and analysis picks up the slack. (Side note: follow me on Twitter, and you’ll see me comment on, tweet and retweet comics-related stories I think are worth a closer look, so there’s your fancy CNN breaking news coverage! Sorta.)

So yes, the first book in the series was released on April 1, 2007, and eventually topped the New York Times Best-Seller List. All subsequent books have done the same. Much like the Harry Potter books, each release has become a bigger and bigger deal. And two movies adapting the first two books have done very well. In fact, the second one was released just last weekend and dominated theaters. It was around then that I thought maybe it’s past time I check this out to see the big deal. I’m also considering buying a TV set.

Having read the first book, I’m not breaking the internet by saying that it’s a very enjoyable read. It’s fun and funny. It’s a light read, a quick read, and it’s very easy to get sucked into the pages. Jeff Kinney writes with an authentic voice for the main character, a middle school kid named Greg Heffley, and he has a charming cartooning style to match. It’s real easy to see why this became a big hit.

So now the big question: Is it comics?

My answer: Sometimes.

To qualify as comics, and not simply an illustrated children’s book, there needs to be a sequence of images with or without words. In the case of most illustrated children’s books, the cartoons or illustrations merely echo what is being said in the prose. They may add aesthetic information, but they are not a sequential moment in the story all their own. Sometimes this is the case with Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but just as often, the cartoon drawing is the punchline to a joke or is a story beat of the story or adds details and information to the story that isn’t revealed in the prose text. And as is the case of the snowman scene (below), there is a series of drawings that sequentially tell the story at the same time the prose is doing the same, yet they aren’t completely redundant to each other. Both words and images are playing off of each other and forwarding the story with new information. In a sense, the blocks of text themselves become a part of the sequential storytelling of the images, almost like a comics panel. And I think in those moments, Diary of a Wimpy Kid is very much sequential art, or comic books (or graphic novels, if you prefer).

Part of the snowman scene (from - click to buy)

I believe there’s actually a level of formalistic innovation involved in those scenes. It’s not the first or only to try this hybrid form of prose and comics. In 2006, J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Ploog released a short-lived series of books called Abadazad through Disney’s Hyperion Books. They were an adaptation of their earlier comic book series of the same name which sadly ended prematurely due to the bankruptcy of its comics publisher CrossGen Comics. Disney bought the company up at an auction because of their interest in Abadazad. Unfortunately the experiment didn’t work out or the marketing efforts fizzled or both, and the series of books ended early. Of course, Diary of a Wimpy Kid first appeared online in 2004 (slightly different from the published version), so it’s possible Hyperion and/or DeMatteis and Ploog were influenced by that in their attempts with Abadazad. Either way, the execution wasn’t quite the same. Abadazad more often than not switched from full comics pages to full prose pages. There were occasional illustrated pages to accompany the prose, like a children’s book. This back and forth might’ve been what kept the books from taking off. With Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the integration is visually consistent throughout with only the increased frequency of cartoons causing the sequential effect I describe above.

So what do you think? Is Diary of a Wimpy Kid comics? An illustrated children’s book? Something else?

(As a side note, I was kind of astonished to learn that Jeff Kinney apparently still has a full-time job outside of handling the growing Diary of a Wimpy Kid empire. Considering the stellar sales these books have had and continue to have, and the big success of two feature film adaptations from Hollywood, I have to assume that he chooses to work because he loves it, and he’s not somehow trapped in some terribly restrictive contract where he’s only seeing a fraction of the profits he’s due. Anyone know more?)

Laugh on April Fools’ Day

The Magic Meathands (with me!) are putting on a live improv comedy show this Friday, April Fools’ Day, at the Westside Comedy Theater in Santa Monica at 8 PM. Don’t worry, you won’t be the fool. We’ll be more than foolish enough for everyone.

Immediately following us is the always hilarious Waterbrains and then the world famous Mission IMPROVable.

All three improv groups for the whole night will cost you only $10.

See you there!

List of Independent Alternatives to Closed Borders: Graphic Novel Edition

Pic via The Stonebrook Institute of Higher Thinking (click for their thoughts on Borders closing)

In case you haven’t heard, Borders filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy recently, and the first order of business in an attempt to reorganize was to close 200 Borders bookstores (interactive map), with an option to close 75 more at a later date. Subsequently, 28 additional stores were added to the list, scheduled to close in late May. Massive liquidation sales started at 20%-50% off everything in each chosen store, with discounts getting steeper as each week passes. The locations made up at least 30% of Borders’ entire retail presence. resumes as normal, and gift cards will be honored. For now, anyway.

Once your local Borders store is gone, where to go for graphic novels, manga and comic books? Fortunately there are an estimated 2400 comic book stores out there to pick up the slack. In fact, comics retailers would love your business. Earth 2 Comics, less than a mile from the Borders closing in Sherman Oaks, California, posted on their store’s Facebook page, “You know we can order any book in print for you, not just comics and [graphic novels]? You may also notice we are expanding our prose section.”

Here is a list of comics and specialty shops near the closing Borders stores, according to the database of and the power of Google. If I’m missing one within about 5 miles of a closing Borders store or any of the info needs correcting, please post below in the comments or email me and I’ll update it.

(Blatantly stolen and adapted from Edward Champion.)

Click through for the huge list. (more…)

Comics Publishers make Mainstream Push

There's a comic for everyone. They just don't know it yet. (Art by the late great Seth Fisher.)

Public awareness of comic books (or graphic novels or whatever you want to call them) is probably at an all-time high. Certainly higher than it’s been since the ’50s. But awareness has translated to people seeing and talking about comic book movies and TV shows, not actually reading comic books and graphic novels. Not in any significant and sustainable influx of numbers, anyway. Fortunately some comics publishers have noticed this and are doing some things about it.

Marvel Comics has entered into a partnership with Starbucks where their Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited service will be included free as part of the Starbucks Digital Network available via free Wi-Fi to patrons of nearly 6,800 Starbucks coffee shops in the United States. Marvel’s MDCU currently has about 8,000 comic books available digitally, with more added every week, so it’s quite a sampling. It will be part of the Entertainment channel, along with iTunes, Nick Jr. Boost, Yahoo! entertainment offerings, and other content providers. This has huge potential to lure in the simply-curious for some fun Marvel comic books. If it goes well, maybe Starbucks will add in other publishers to offer a greater diversity of material (ie, not just superhero comics). It’s an exciting start and a great idea. (Read more about Starbucks’ announcement.)

DC Comics also had big news yesterday. Cartoon Network announced plans for a block of on-air and online programming they are calling DC Nation. “A multi-platform, branded block of original programming and exclusive content based on the DC Comics library of legendary character properties, DC Nation is developed in partnership with Cartoon Network, Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment.  The all-new venture will harness the publishing, theatrical and television assets together for one powerful on-air block on Cartoon Network with exclusive online content.” The name is a reference to DC Comics’ in-house column of the same name that appears monthly in most of their comic books. Programming will include a CG-animated Green Lantern animated series and a brand new Looney Tunes show, among lots of other things (ThunderCats!). Cartoon Network is saying that it will be “populated with event programming, interstitials, exclusive behind-the-scenes of theatrical production and an insider look into the world of all things DC.” Maybe I’m getting my hopes up too high, but I’m hoping they will use this opportunity to promote DC’s line of comic books and graphic novels, and not exclusively focus on other media. (Read more about Cartoon Network’s announcement.)

And finally, LA-based Boom! Studios released a PDF of a comic book meant to be freely shared and passed on to friends. In a bold reversal of most publishers’ fears of pirating, Boom! is embracing the modern internet culture of sharing by actually encouraging people to pass it on to others. The comic, suggested for mature readers, is Hellraiser: At the Tolling Bell, a new 8-page comic by horror legend Clive Barker and artist Leonard Manco (Hellblazer). It serves as a prelude to the new ongoing Hellraiser comic book series by Barker and Manco. This is a pretty big deal because, as mentioned on his website, “Clive Barker has touched Hellraiser only twice: once to write The Hellbound Heart, and once more to write and direct the original Hellraiser film”. The preview includes a link to sign up for more free comics from Boom!, a great explanation of how the new Hellraiser series will work for the uninitiated (“Just as TV shows are serialized week to week, comic books are serialized month to month”), a list of premiere comic book shops in Canada and the United States, with links to their websites, and a link to the Comic Shop Locator and their phone number 888-COMIC-BOOK. The PDF comic is a very creative advertisement for the comic, and they take great pains to make it clear that it’s not a preview – what appears in the PDF comic is unique and not an excerpt of the first issue. (Read more about Boom!’s announcement.)

Three publishers creatively reaching out to new audiences. What a great step in the right direction. To these three publishers and every other publisher out there: more like this, please!

The Jeff Lewis 5-Minute Comedy Hour season 1 finale: Office

Look for me in the big season 1 finale of The Jeff Lewis 5-Minute Comedy Hour! Warning: there is adult language, so Internet Mom says viewer discretion is advised.

Written by and starring Jeff Lewis (Vork from The Guild) and directed by Sean Becker of Awkward Films. Me as the Intern. Also starring Alex Albrecht (of Diggnation), Jerry Lambert (ABC’s Sons & Daughters, Kevin Butler from Sony’s PlayStation 3 ad campaign), Ed Marques, Ted Michaels (Puppet Up!), Tara Perry (The Movie Maven) and Robin Thorsen (Clara on The Guild).

This was such fun to shoot. There’s a longer take of me fumbling around with the water for what seemed like 5 minutes. If they used it, they would’ve had to change the title of the show. Check out the rest of the season, the show is hilarious. Make sure to post lots of comments about how amazing I am but don’t make it too obvious. Just play it cool. And definitely don’t mention that I told you to do that. Then it would be really awkward.

Radiation Dose Chart proves Bananas are Evil

Mega-popular web-comic xkcd writer/artist Randall Munroe has created a really helpful chart showing radiation exposure comparisons. With the help of a Senior Reactor Operator at the Reed Research Reactor in Portland, Oregon, he compiled information on the relative radiation levels of things like daily life (none for talking on cell phones) to exposure at the accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl (lots). With the ongoing fears regarding the partial nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant following a devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, this should be of great interest to a lot of people. He notes at his blog though that there are bound to be mistakes since he is not a specialist and that this is intended for general information only. He also points to his friend’s own charts, which provides a Layman’s Intro to Radiation.

Chart by Randall Munroe (click to read full-size version)

According to his information, eating 1 banana is just as dangerous as living within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant for 1 year. Considering my past experience with bananas, I assume that means it is incredibly dangerous and merits immediate freak-out. Don’t let the bananas win.

(via Comics Alliance)

Sequence to Motion: The First Comic Book Movie and the Comic That Inspired It

Happy Hooligan by Frederick Opper (click for bigger)

We’re getting closer to the beginning of the big summer blockbuster season and once again, comic book adaptations are making up a very visible percentage of the big cinematic spectacles. But before Green Lantern, Thor and Captain America, before Iron Man, Batman, Spider-Man and Superman all had their own superhero movies, there was Happy Hooligan.

Over 100 years ago, newspaper comics were still refining the language of comics but at the same time they were becoming a hugely popular form of entertainment. It was basically TV for the masses before there was television (or even radio, for that matter) in America’s living rooms. In 1899, one of newspaper’s biggest moguls, William Randolph Hearst, hired a respected illustrator of humor magazines to add to his growing roster of newspaper cartoonists at the New York Journal. Hearst quickly found that comics significantly increased readership and was a powerful communication tool, and he was a fan himself. He paid better rates to steal creators from his competition, and would fight for less successful creators he believed in. Hearst’s respected illustrator was named Frederick Burr Opper and one of his big creations was Happy Hooligan, which debuted March 11, 1900.

The comic strip was about a disheveled tramp with the worst luck. Happy would frequently try to do good, only to fall (usually literally) to some accident conveniently witnessed by a passing cop who thought Happy was causing the trouble. Most comics ended with Happy being dragged off by one or more cops to serve some excessive amount of jail time. Someone in the legal system must have taken pity on Happy because the following Sunday he would be getting into trouble all over again.

Above is an example from August 24, 1902, preserved and represented by Barnacle Press, which has a veritable treasure trove of old newspaper comics. The physical comedy is played out seemingly second-by-second in each panel. The main fun is in following each step of the small disaster as it unravels, and how each chess piece moves around the space and interacts with the others. In this instance, the chess pieces are Happy, the woman, her horse, Happy’s brother Gloomy Gus (essentially serving as our point of view), the police officer that runs onto the scene, and the tree. The tree’s broken branches and Happy’s pocket knife also serve as secondary chess pieces (he always has his sharpened edc knife with him). Even the bush in the background seems to respond to the action in each panel. And Happy’s ever-present tin can hat adds to the whole. It might look like it vanishes but it’s still on his head at the end, flattened from the action in panels 6, 7 and 8.) You can re-read the strip following just one of the chess pieces. Speech balloons helped direct attention to certain chess pieces at specific moments. The “camera” holds at one angle throughout, similar to vaudeville theater at the time (Gloomy Gus even breaks the fourth wall and talks to the readers/audience at one point). But this also enhances the effect of following the action. We’re a witness to this unbelievable accident as though we were walking by. It also makes it easier to track the action, allowing each panel to serve as a before and/or after comparison of the panels around it. It seems primitive at first (the panels are numbered to make sure readers understood the reading sequence), but it’s really quite a wonderful bit of choreography, and was probably really eye catching to readers of the time. It still holds a lot of delight. I love the horse’s faces! And there’s something really bewitching about Gloomy Gus’s spotted hankerchief, which seems to know more than it’s letting on.

The comic must have hit a chord with people fairly quickly, because within the year the silent film producer/director J. Stuart Blackton (who also created the first American animated film) began making live action short films based on Happy Hooligan. Blackton himself played Happy, complete with torn clothes and a tin-can as a hat. Six shorts were made between 1900 and 1903. Sadly, nearly all of the shorts have either been misplaced or dissolved from the passage of time. Fortunately, The Library of Congress has been able to retrieve and digitally save about 1 minute of one of the last shorts in 1903. This scene was shot on June 15, 1903, at the New York studio of the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, the production and distribution company for the shorts.

Cute bit, definitely a classic. But from the start, you can see that movies already had a challenge in adapting comics that would dog them for a century. The visual effects just can’t recreate the madcap slapstick and physical choreography of the comic strip. And this was a good 35+ years before superheroes introduced superpowers and flashy costumes into the mix. Movie-making technology has come a long way since then but it’s still a challenge to get the visuals right. Just last week, the reveal of Wonder Woman’s costume for the new TV series caused much outrage and ridicule online. We’ll see how this summer’s movies tackle it.

Meanwhile, Happy Hooligan went on to influence Charlie Chaplin’s tramp and other lovable homeless characters with bad luck. Happy had three brothers, one of which was named Gloomy Gus (seen in the comic above), a term that’s still sometimes used today to describe an excessively depressed person. Happy also had three nephews that looked nearly identical and spoke in unison, likely influences for Donald Duck’s nephews Huey, Dewy and Louie. The strip has also been cited as the comic to establish the consistent use of speech balloons as the regular comics form of depicting dialogue. Before that, comics typically had dialogue below the panel as a caption. While the comic might take work for some readers to adjust to its aging style of storytelling, it will always hold a significant place in history.

More info about Happy Hooligan and Frederick Opper: Toonopedia, Wikipedia, Comiclopedia

To read more Happy Hooligan comics, visit the previously linked Barnacle Press, and NBM Publishing for their published compilation.