Month: September 2011

Friday is Brought to You by Scott’s Favorite Kittehs

Cats I've Known & Loved by Scott Shaw! (click for the full story)

The weekly random YouTube kitteh video has been replaced this week by this wonderful new web-comic by Scott Shaw! where he spotlights his eight favorite kitties. The one above I knew too and he’s right that Outlaw was one of the special ones. “Cats I’ve Known and Loved” is the latest chapter in Scott’s Now It Can Be Told! comic at the web-collective Act-i-vate.

Things to do in and around LA this weekend:

ART – The 3rd Annual ArtCycle showcases the emerging art and bicycling cultures of East Hollywood by taking over Santa Monica Blvd. from Vermont to Virgil. There will be art galleries, live theatrical productions and other creative experiences making up a lively street fair on Saturday, 2:00-10:00 PM. Tickets: $0.

COMEDY – Two improv comedy groups, the Magic Meathands (with me!) and [This Space Left Intentionally Blank], have a tag team show at the Mary Pickford Studio, Saturday night at 8 PM. Tickets: $7.

Gay Marriage Legal in Riverdale

Kevin Keller #1 by Dan Parent

Archie Comics is a lot like Disney.* Both are all-American, wholesome, and harken back to a simpler time. They both use a consistent and comforting house style instead of encouraging individual expression. Both have historically been pretty conservative and safe in what they depicted in their entertainment.

But over the last few years, Archie Comics has broken away from that last aspect, becoming surprisingly progressive while still maintaining the same Americana aesthetics. They broke away from the tried and true love triangle plot formula with Archie, Betty and Veronica (Archie Marries… by Michael Uslan and Stan Goldberg), they published a mixed race relationship between Archie and Valerie (The Archies & Josie and the Pussycats by Dan Parent and Bill Galvan), and they’ve introduced Riverdale’s first homosexual character (Kevin Keller by Dan Parent).

The first got a lot of headlines. The Archie Marries… story was essentially a “what if-?” story set in two possible futures while the love triangle held fast in the rest of Archie’s comics. It was a great idea but for those that didn’t want to see a 20-something Archie pick between Betty and Veronica, they still had plenty of comics that kept right on telling the same kind of Archie stories they’ve always told. The Archie Marries… story was such a huge sales boost that the stories have been continued in a new Life with Archie magazine. The mixed race relationship also got some headlines, and probably got some racists upset, but for much of the world it may not seem like that big of a deal. Plus it was just one story, and then Archie went back to being indecisive about Betty and Veronica.

But Kevin Keller has been a big deal in that Kevin Keller has been an addition to the regular cast of characters. And the move directly ties into modern events that involve a minority currently fighting for equal rights and recognition. And it did so brilliantly. In fact, Archie Comics may have handled the introduction of a gay character into a fictional world the best way possible – as though his being gay isn’t a big deal. And even more so, they used it for the gag of the story without being demeaning or insulting. The joke was that Veronica just didn’t get why Kevin didn’t like her, hilarity ensues as she makes a fool of herself. No After School Special, no Very Special Episode. Kevin Keller is just the newest addition to the Archie gang, and oh by the way, he has crushes on guys not girls.

That probably would’ve been enough, but in the subsequent 4-issue story, they acknowledged the gays in the military controversy by establishing Kevin as an Army brat that’s proud of his father’s service.

It was a daring step to make a permanent addition to the cast knowing how some people respond to homosexuals in the real world and in fiction. It’s still entirely common to hear or read comments from people unambiguously stating that gays don’t belong in entertainment because it’ll teach kids to be gay or some such nonsense. Considering that Archie Comics is one of the few comics publishers that actually still target children, that’s a bit of a gamble for them, and is the kind of thing that seems boycott-ready for certain groups. Fortunately, the sales response to Kevin has been so big, that Archie Comics is spinning the character off from his first appearances in Veronica to star in his own Kevin Keller comic book series starting February 2012.

Life With Archie #16

Now comes word from Archie Comics that in January, Kevin Keller will appear in the future stories of the Life With Archie magazine that continues the Archie Marries… tales. Not only does this further cement him as one of the regular cast members of Archie Comics, but they’ve also announced Kevin will get married in Life With Archie issue #16.

The debate over same sex marriage in the United States has gotten particularly heated over the last 5-10 years. Here in California, there was the notorious Proposition 8 to ban same-sex marriage after the California Supreme Court struck down an earlier proposition defining marriage as between opposite genders. Proposition 8 passed but has been frozen after a tidal wave of protests and lawsuits. Similar changes to state laws have been presented to other states across the country, some succeeding, some not. While public opinion seems to be gradually evolving toward acceptance of same-sex marriage, the fight is far from over and will no doubt heat up once again as the November 2012 elections approach. It’s a daring stance for a publisher that has historically told stories that reflected traditional values. So far it’s paid off for them, winning them new readers, media attention, and critical recognition. And if this story is handled with the same savvy as those first Kevin stories, they could end up providing some of the best examples of acceptance and equality.

*All credit to the Disney comparison goes to Graeme McMillan.

iBooks carries Graphic Novels even though they’re Not Real Stories

IDW Publishing made headway into semi-uncharted digital territory with their launch on Apple’s ebooks platform iBooks last week. The iBooks app comes preloaded on all Apple iPad tablets. With an estimated 20 million iPads sold, that makes for a significant potential readership.

IDW released nearly 20 graphic novels to the iBookstore, including the simultaneous print/digital release of Code Word: Geronimo, which details the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound by SEAL Team 6 as written by military insider Captain Dale Dye. Other graphic novels now on iBooks include IDW’s reprinting project of every Bloom County comic strip, and graphic novels based on True Blood, Star Trek, Transformers, G.I. Joe, and more. The San Diego-based publisher will continue to expand their catalogue in the coming weeks and months.

In addition to expanding comics into yet another digital marketplace, it’s also interesting to note that IDW has chosen to release graphic novels instead of single issues on iBooks. While ComiXology and other digital comics apps and services used by IDW and other comics publishers like Marvel Comics and DC Comics offer graphic novels, much of the focus is on shorter comic books, similar to most brick and mortar comic book stores. But with iBooks readers already expecting a book-length read, it’s smart to go for the longer form of graphic novels.

Currently Code Word: Geronimo is included in the iBooks store front under New & Notable, along with Jane Lynch’s Happy Accidents, Roger Ebert’s Life Itself and Michael Moore’s Here Comes Trouble. In fact, as of this writing, both Moore’s book and Geronimo have the same number of reviews, with the graphic novel rating slightly higher. Graphic novels appearing right beside prose books can be a powerful bit of messaging that comics are just as worthy a form of expression and literature as novels.

Of course, not everyone will receive that message. One of the two reviews is by a hoodwinked MikSud:

This is a comic. I thought it was a real story and account of what took place during the raid of Bin Laden. Utterly disappointed.

Maybe one day comics will be able to tell “real stories”. If they act nicely and don’t get too uppity.

Despite MikSud’s protests, more integration of graphic novels and prose novels in the digital space is bound to happen with the anticipated release of the first color Kindle, expected for a late November release. If comics publishers are smart, they will jump all over this with the deep Amazon and Android integration that could reach a lot of readers.

With Our Comedic Powers Combined…

The Magic Meathands (with me!) are teaming up with the improv comedy group with perhaps the most unique name – [This Space Left Intentionally Blank]. No, I didn’t accidentally post a rough draft, that’s actually their name.

We teamed up with them earlier this year, so I’m looking forward to seeing them perform again. While the group is full of some pretty savvy improvisers, I think that might’ve been their first official show together as a formal group. So it should be great to see how much more they’ve grown together.

Both groups will be performing this Saturday night at the Mary Pickford Studio in West LA.

Tickets are $7 for the whole night. The show starts at 8 PM. Check out more details at the links above and at our Facebook event listing.

Comic Books and Graphic Novels Remember 9/11

Like all other entertainment media, comics have released a number of conveniently timed stories in memory of the terrorist attacks that occurred in New York and Virginia on September 11, 2001.

Cartoonists Remember 9/11

Over 90 newspaper comic strips dedicated yesterday’s color Sunday comics to the attacks and those that sacrificed their lives. The strips are also being featured in special exhibits for one week only at the Cartoon Art Museum, the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA), The ToonSeum, and The Newseum. The Society of Illustrators held a lecture about the event last Thursday with cartoonists Rick Detorie (One Big Happy), Tony Rubino (Daddy’s Home) and Brian Walker (Hi and Lois).

The entire event was conceived and coordinated by King Features, which syndicates comic strips and other content to nearly 5000 print newspapers worldwide. They were joined by Creators Syndicate (here in LA), Tribune Media Services, Universal Press Syndicate, and Washington Post Writers Group.

The Big Lie

A slightly less reverential take on 9/11 is happening in the comic book The Big Lie by writer/artist Rick Veitch. The issue was released last Wednesday, and depicted a woman traveling back in time to 9/11 so save her husband from being trapped in the Twin Towers when the attack happens. During her efforts, questions are asked and information is revealed that looks beyond the official story of that fateful day. Veitch has said he doesn’t consider himself to be part of the Truther movement and simply feels that questions should be asked and alternate narratives should be considered. Joining Veitch is his frequent collaborator inker Gary Erskine and cover artist and editor Thomas Yeates.

The comic was conceived, financed and co-edited by Brian Romanoff of Nor Cal Truth. The Big Lie is being published by Image Comics. You can read a preview of the issue as well as an interview with Veitch at MTV Geek.

Code Word: Geronimo

Slightly more morbid is this original graphic novel depicting the kill mission that led to the death of Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks and founder of Al-Qaeda, the jihadist organization that pulled them off. While the actual details of the mission are classified, retired U.S. Marine Capt. Dale Dye and Dr. Julia Dye of Warriors, Inc. put together a reasonable best guess due to experience and sources. Capt. Dye has been a military advisor for Hollywood (Platoon, Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers). The 88-page hardcover graphic novel strays away from politics and focuses on the mission itself. The artists Gerry Kissell and Amin Amat weren’t interested in a gory depiction of bin Laden’s death, instead striving for realism. However the Dyes have referred to the need to “celebrate” the event.

A portion of proceeds from sales will be donated to the American Veterans Center. The graphic novel debuted last week both in print and digitally. It was included among the publisher’s first books launching on iBooks. The graphic novel was published by IDW Publishing in partnership with Charlie Foxtrot Entertainment.

Holy Terror

Keeping with cathartic violence in entertainment, writer/artist Frank Miller will release his long-gestating graphic novel Holy Terror later this month. Taking wish-fulfilling superhero fiction to its real world conclusion, Miller tells the story of a costumed vigilante (that definitely isn’t Batman, nosiree) who decides that 9/11 is the final straw and takes the War on Terror to the terrorists’ doorsteps.

The project dates back to soon after September 11, 2001, when Miller announced he would create a story about Batman seeking revenge by dismantling the terrorist network Al-Qaeda. The project was eternally delayed (and derided as simplistic propoganda and potentially inflammatory) but will now finally see the light of day without the Caped Crusader. The role of Batman has been recast as a new superhero called The Fixer (he’s “fixing” the terrorist problem, see?).

The action thriller graphic novel is edited by Bob Schreck (former DC Comics editor) and will be the first release from the new comics and graphic novel division of Burbank-based Legendary Entertainment. You can watch a trailer at Entertainment Weekly.

The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation

This came out five years ago but it’s still worth mentioning. This is a graphic novel by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón that adapts The 9/11 Commission Report, the government’s findings from their investigations into what led to and occurred on 9/11/01. It includes a powerfully effective timeline that shows the simultaneous events surrounding all four planes.

Friday is Brought to You by Placemat Kitteh

Things to do in and around LA:

COMEDY – Two improv comedy groups, the Magic Meathands (with me!) and Jump Start Improv, perform at The Mary Pickford Studio in West LA, Saturday night at 8 PM. Tickets: $7.

CONVENTION – The virtual comics convention DigiCon (previously called the Non Con) will be running all weekend long. Tickets: FREE

The Night Before now online

This moving short film was written by my friend James Cole. His screenplay was inspired by his own childhood with too many hospital visits. Since it’s award-winning film festival run in 2003, the 20-minute film has been used to train nurse practitioners for pediatric services and has screened at medical charity conferences. The Night Before was directed by Jay Holben.

Jim and I lived in the same apartment building in Burbank when my wife and I first moved to Los Angeles. The building was eventually bought up by a studio, which eventually kicked everyone out, renovated the building (painted it a really ugly yellow) and now use it for temporary studio housing. Jim was one of the first people we met and got to know in LA and he has always been so kind to us. It was really inspiring to see his wonderful script get turned into this beautiful short film.

First Kids Comic Book Store Opens in Toronto

Little Island Comics opens for business

Little Island Comics has opened in Toronto, Ontario, and it may be the world’s first comic book store specifically targeted to children. It quietly opened this week, with a more formal grand opening planned in the near future. The store is run by The Beguiling, an acclaimed comic book store in Toronto that has been open for 25 years now.

What a smart move!

Comic books needs kids, and fortunately more educators and parents than ever have been realizing that comics are a great reading and education tool for kids. But as you might’ve noticed, some of the material isn’t exactly appropriate for younger readers. Having a store exclusively dedicated to reaching this specific demographic, parents have a peace of mind that only the right material will reach their kids’ hands. And with workshops and other events planned for the store, it should build a wonderful community that encourages kids’ creativity and imagination.

It’s also great for a retailer to get so specific and specialized. With the digital side of comics growing, stores will have to find a good reason for customers to stop by beyond them carrying as much as everything that they can fit between their walls. Because there’s no competing with Amazon.com‘s warehouses or comiXology‘s ever-deepening library. So, survival will depend on the ability to engage customers and the larger community in specialized retailing like children’s comics. Or maybe literary and art comics, and mini-comics. A unique experience will be more important and more valuable than simply having every volume of Ed Brubaker’s run on Captain America.

Meltdown Comics in Los Angeles has done a great job at this. It helps that they have a massive space to work with, which gives them a much larger selection. But they also have international comics and mini-comics and more experimental material. And most of all, they’ve become a destination for events. Stand-up comedians regularly perform there now. Popular podcasts regularly do live broadcasts from the store. An art gallery in the back displays comics art exhibits of varying themes. Workshops are held there. Every week, there are a large number of events being held there. Meltdown Comics is a venue as well as a store. They are a physical destination that gives patrons more than any online shopping can give. Other stores in Los Angeles have similarly transformed themselves but none on the scale and success as Meltdown.

I’m hoping Little Island Comics has just as much success, and helps strengthen the children’s comics market.

Full press release after the jump. (more…)

Your Post-Labor Day Reward

Congratulations on making it through Labor Day! That was real tough on all of us. I think we could all use a little something to make it worth it.

How about a comedy show?

This Saturday night, I’ll be performing with the Magic Meathands to give you a full hour of completely made-up sillies. No script, just your suggestions and whatever our unbalanced minds can come up with. And right before us is the Beach Cities improv troupe Jump Start, so that means you get 2 full hours of comedy.

And I think we all know that you deserve it after Labor Day.

Tickets: $7
Where: Mary Pickford Studio, 8885 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles 90034
When: Saturday, September 10, 8 PM

More details.

Happy Labor Day

Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Woman of the Fantastic Four meet their son Franklin for the first time, Fantastic Four Annual #6, 1968 (art by Jack Kirby, words by Stan Lee)

(Click the image for an awesome theory at Major Spoilers that I’ve also had about Franklin Richards for years. But be warned: it’s definitely not for the casual comics reader.)