Month: October 2011

Tag Team Art Battle: Axel Gimenez vs. Chris Faccone / Hordak vs. Skeletor

Here’s a fun collaboration idea with some ’80s nostalgia to give it that extra oomph. Two artists jam on a piece of two characters battling it out.

Axel Giménez (Action Comics) started out drawing the below pencil drawing of Hordak, a villain from the Masters of the Universe franchise (he was the main villain in the spin-off She-Ra: Princess of Power cartoon). Click on the images for larger versions at Axel’s DeviantArt page.

Hordak by Axel Gimenez

He sent that off to Chris Faccone, who added in his half: Skeletor (the main villain of the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon), and then went ahead and inked the whole thing.

Hordak vs. Skeletor by Axel Gimenez vs. Chris Faccone

And then Chris colored the whole thing:

Hordak vs. Skeletor: Axel Gimenez vs. Chris Faccone (finished)

Who won?

Comics Speak Up for Darfur at United Nations

Nate Powell (Swallow Me Whole, Any Empire)

Award-winning graphic novelist Nate Powell (Swallow Me Whole, Any Empire) was among a panel of 9 Young Adult authors that appeared before the United Nations to raise funds and awareness for young refugees of Darfur last week. They spoke about their contributions to a new book called What You Wish For, aimed at bringing hope to a troubled region. Following their UN presentation, they appeared at a book signing at the New York City book store Books of Wonder.

The short story anthology What You Wish For includes a comics contribution by Powell, as well as stories by YA authors such as R.L. Stine (Goosebumps), Ann M. Martin (The Baby-Sitters Club), Meg Cabot (The Princess Diaries), poets like Nikki Giovanni, Gary Soto, Naomi Shihab Nye, and others, totaling 18 contributors. The book also includes a foreword by actress Mia Farrow, who serves as a Darfur advocate and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. The book was published by the all-volunteer non-profit organization Book Wish Foundation, with 100% of proceeds from the book’s sales going to UN Refugee Agency UNHCR. The agency will use those funds to build libraries for refugee camps in Chad, which is populated by hundreds of thousands fleeing from horrific violence in neighboring Darfur.

Nate Powell is the only person from the world of comics involved in the book. His story is called “Conjurers”. Powell’s graphic novels have been highly praised for good reason. Swallow Me Whole is a haunting exploration of teenage turmoil amid mental illness. It was selected as a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist in the Young Adult category (before there was a graphic novel category), and was named on YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens list by the American Library Association. It also won Ignatz Awards for Outstanding Debut and Outstanding Artist, and the Eisner Award for Best Original Graphic Novel.

You can watch the entire 2-hour UN panel presentation.

How Much Would You Pay for Superman?

Check to buy Superman (March 1, 1938)

How does $130 sound?

That’s what publisher Jack Liebowitz paid to own all of the rights to the character in 1938. Pretty good deal.

Above is the actual check received by Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to buy their new Superman character outright. The check is dated March 1, 1938, and also includes payment for work by the creative partners appearing in comics cover-dated June 1938: $210 for stories appearing in Detective Comics #16 (21 pages in the publisher’s flagship book at the time), and $36 each for work in More Fun Comics and New Adventure Comics (probably issues #32 and #27, respectively). The total comes to $412. Noticeably absent is payment for their work in Action Comics #1, also cover-dated June 1938, although it’s possible that the $130 payment includes both the rights to Superman and compensation for their writing and illustrating the story.

The check is going to auction next year at ComicConnect. On Monday, it was posted to Twitter by Gerry Duggan (writer of The Infinite Horizon and fellow Emerson grad), where it immediately spread like wildfire among the comics community.

Andy Khouri of Comics Alliance has a great write-up that covers the historical significance of this check resurfacing after being assumed lost for decades. It is the beginning of a long and depressing narrative of the fight for creator rights and fair compensation in comics, and the complex series of ugly legal battles between DC Comics and the families of Siegel and Shuster that continues to this day. In 2008, the Siegel Estate was awarded half of the copyright to Superman as he appeared in his earliest comics and newspaper strips, but that ruling is currently being appealed. The Shuster Estate may be able regain its portion of the copyright in 2013. (In what maybe should have been a red flag of the troubles ahead, both Siegel and Shuster’s names on the check were misspelled by Liebowitz.)

The check was also used as evidence in the first comic book copyright lawsuit, Detective Comics, Inc. v. Bruns Publications, Inc. In 1939, Detective Comics sued Bruns regarding the latter’s Wonder Man character, which DC claimed infringed on Superman due to the likeness of their powers. That case was found in DC’s favor, establishing a precedent that led to the more popular Captain Marvel getting similarly squashed 11 years later. These cases allowed Marvel Comics to use both of these names in the 1960s and ’70s without any opposition. It also resulted in the British license of the original Captain Marvel to be reinvented as Marvelman by Mick Anglo in 1952, which is the beginning of a whole other epic battle of legal entanglements that only recently got cleared up (allegedly).

(Hat tip to Scott Shaw!)

7 Billion People in 6 Pages of Comics

7 Billion, Unpacked by Lisa Hymas, Thomas Pitilli & Warp Graphics (Grist)

Even environmental news and commentary site Grist understands the power of comics.

Grist co-founder Lisa Hymas teamed up with illustrator Thomas Pitilli and design studio Warp Graphics to tackle the issue of over-population in a 6-page web-comic titled 7 Billion, Unpacked, which was posted yesterday to the non-profit organization’s website.

As Lisa explains in the intro, the world’s population is estimated to reach 7 billion people at the end of this month, according to the United Nations Population Fund. The comic is part 1 of Grist’s series of articles on the topic. It presents the impact and issues surrounding this milestone with clarity and accessibility in a digestible package. There’s even an extensive footnotes section for all you fact-checkers.

Grist has featured comics before (such as this excellent 8-page comic by Stuart McMillen about the ill-fated reindeer of St. Matthew Island) but to my knowledge this is the first time they’ve commissioned an original comic of their own.

(Hat tip to Dirk Van Fleet)

Magic Meathands auditions this Wednesday

And we’re back!

Thanks for reading my Read It! series over the last week and a half. I might do more of those from time to time, especially since I just read a bunch of great stuff (like Anya’s Ghost!) while on our flights.

Of course, all this big stuff happened in comics while I was back east, and I’ll be commenting on them soon, once I collect my thoughts and get over some jet lag.

For you LA-based actors out there, the improv comedy group I’m in, the Magic Meathands, are holding auditions this Wednesday night. This group is one of my all-time joys. It’s a great group of people with lots of creative encouragement and freedom. We usually perform once a week either at the Westside Comedy Theater in Santa Monica or the Mary Pickford Studio in West LA, as well as more non-traditional venues, such as homeless shelters, transitional housing and recovery homes. So yes, community outreach is a big part of being a Magic Meathand. We also do sketch comedy on YouTube from time to time, and have workshops and team up with other improv groups and comedy acts. It’s tons of fun! If you’re in the area and interested, email our director Bill Johnson.

Read It: You’ll Never Know by C. Tyler

You'll Never Know Book One by C. Tyler

My final recommendation for this past week and a half run is You’ll Never Know Book One: A Good and Decent Man by C. Tyler.

This is a beautiful and moving memoir about Carol Tyler’s efforts to find out what happened to her father in World War Two. It is truly among the most accomplished releases of the last five years. Maybe ten. It is such a testament to how communicating through comics is a unique and singular creative choice of expression. From the layouts of her pages to the physical production of the book itself, You’ll Never Know holds up in service of the story from cover to cover.

Fluid and expressive, Carol takes us through her journey to unearth the secrets of her father, who after decades of adamantly refusing to discuss the past, is suddenly ready to talk. Somewhat. In the process, she discovers more about her family and herself than she expected. It’s a challenging relationship that Carol reveals with such sincerity, it’s difficult not to relate.

The design of the book is meant to resemble a family photo album or scrapbook, and that’s exactly what Carol is making for her father. The story weaves in and out of two modes. The first is what could be seen as a behind-the-scenes look at what she had to go through to get this book made. The second is the scrapbook itself telling her father’s life history. A lot of storytelling devices are employed to accomplish this, but Carol’s skills as a cartoonist and illustrator, her cohesive style, warm coloring, and personalized lettering/calligraphy, all come together perfectly to tell such a layered story.

It’s a faster read than I expected, but it lingers in the brain because of its richness. It stays with you and makes you think of your own family. This book was heavily featured in our second Dig Comics segment, where it was used to show an adamant non-comics reader that there’s something for her. There’s a really lovely moment between Carol Tyler and this woman that I will probably always remember. You can watch the segment below, as well as a look at one of the pages. Click on the image for a series of images.

This graphic novel is the first in a trilogy. It’s followed by You’ll Never Know Book Two: Collateral Damage, released last year. The third and final installment is expected next year.

Read It: Chicken With Plums by Marjane Satrapi

Chicken with Plums by Marjane Satrapi

Persepolis is the better-known work and deserves all its praise (and I also highly recommend it), but I want to spotlight one of Marjane Satrapi’s other works that is just as moving.

Chicken with Plums is a graphic novel about the last eights days of her great uncle’s life in November 1958. Nasser Ali Khan was a well known musician in Iran but when his instrument (a tar, a lute or guitar-like instrument) gets damaged, he’s unable to find a replacement good enough and falls into a bed-ridden depression. The story is tragic but there are moments of humor and hope that prevent it from feeling like a dirge. Anyone who feels a connection or longs for a connection to creativity of some kind should get something out of this. Ali Khan essentially loses his muse, and the reveal of the whys and wherefores behind that loss is heartbreaking. In other words, yes I cried.

Satrapi once again masterfully depicts Iranian culture of the time, and in that respect it serves as a great companion to Persepolis. For sheltered Americans like myself, these kinds of glimpses into countries not are own are so valuable. From simply watching or reading the news, reading about names and events can start to have a dehumanizing effect. Things just seem to happen on a broader scale, all defined in simplistic terms of “good” and “bad”. This country did something. Oh, well is that good or bad? Zooming in, you discover that the Country didn’t do anything. Many human beings within the country are doing lots of things. And a lot of those things might be really familiar to a lot of the things that I do. It doesn’t mean there aren’t differences, it just means they are human differences. Families and friends, and the love and heartache between them, exist everywhere.

As with Persepolis, Satrapi has turned Chicken with Plums into a feature film directed by herself and comics artist/filmmaker Vincent Paronnaud. Unlike Persepolis, the movie is live action, although some animation is used as visual effects. The French-language Proulet aux Prunes replaces the tar with a violin but otherwise appears very faithful to Satrapi’s graphic novel. The movie debuted last month at the 68th Venice Film Festival and will screen throughout France next week. No plans yet for an English subtitled version but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time. Here’s the trailer so you can practice your French. It looks good.

Read It: La Perdida by Jessica Abel

La Perdida by Jessica Abel

La Perdida by Jessica Abel

This graphic novel initially reads like a travelogue or memoir of writer/artist Jessica Abel’s time in Mexico. In fact her art style feels like a sketchbook she’s making while she travels. But the main character is named Carla, not Jessica. Maybe it’s to allow her the freedom to fictionalize when necessary or to maintain some people’s anonymity. And then, over halfway through, it slowly and then abruptly reveals itself. I don’t want to say too much because the surprise made the final third a gripping page-turner and one of the most exciting discoveries I’ve read in awhile. Definitely read La Perdida by Jessica Abel.

La Perdida tells the story of the very absorbed Carla, who traveled to Mexico City in the hopes to “find herself”. Her estranged father is from Mexico and she’s attempting to discover her roots. But she ends up falling in with a sketchy cast of characters who are bitter about tourists and American commercialism yet don’t mind taking advantage of them by selling t-shirts to try to make ends meet. As Abel describes it on her site, “A story about the youthful desire to live an authentic life and the consequences of trusting easy answers, La Perdida—at once grounded in the particulars of life in Mexico and resonantly universal—is a story about finding yourself by getting lost”.

The graphic novel, published by Pantheon Books, was heavily informed by the time Abel spent living in Mexico from 1998-2000, which is when the story takes place. After you read it, check out her website. It has a great special features section that gives extensive background and supplemental information about her stay in Mexico and creation of La Perdida. It includes letters to home, photographs, a playlist, a cocktail recipe, sketches and more.

Read It: The War At Ellsmere by Faith Erin Hicks

The War at Ellsmere by Faith Erin Hicks

Private school is where to go for the best education, right? That’s what Juniper thinks. Her hard work has won her a scholarship to the prestigious Ellsmere Academy where she’ll finally be able to surround herself in studies and like-minded intellectuals that get along. Well… not quite.

The War at Ellsmere by Faith Erin Hicks is a perfect graphic novel for pre-teen or teenage girls. The book has a fresh tone that doesn’t take itself too seriously but doesn’t shortchange the characters’ emotional states. There’s humor but it’s grounded in the story, which expertly captures childhood dynamics among girls. There’s also a little hint of fantasy but it’s used sparingly and imaginatively.

Jun is instantly likable. She has a tough, cool exterior but it’s clear she’s worried she’s made a mistake going to private school. The cast is kept small, and everyone retains a unique look and voice, instantly recognizable. From the cover, Hicks’ art initially appears to have a Scott Pilgrim vibe to it, but it quickly becomes clear that she’s doing her own thing and doing it so well because she’s always serving the story. You always know how Jun is feeling because of her strong command of portraying facial expressions and body language – clearly, honestly. Her environments are so consistent, you never drop out of the story. It’s all so effortless and charming.

If you like that, check out Hicks’ current webcomic Friends With Boys, a fascinating tale about a girl entering public school after being raised home schooled her whole life. Once the entire story gets serialized online, it’ll be published as a graphic novel by the excellent publisher First Second Books, likely sometime in February 2012. Judging from what’s up now, it may surpass The War At Ellsmere.

Faith also has a sillier webcomic called The Adventures of Superhero Girl that updates every Tuesday. It’s also published in the free alt-weekly newspaper The Coast, published out of Halifax, Nova Scotia.