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Holiday Bonus: holiday blogging by Francoise Mouly & Bill Willingham

There are plenty of comic book blogs out there (check out the Blogroll on the right for some of my favorites), so I probably won’t do this too often, but with the holiday season in full effect, I wanted to point readers to two blog posts by comic creators about giving or receiving a book for the holidays, from BookReporter.com.

The first is by writer Bill Willingham of Fables fame. I’ll be posting graphic novel entries for his series relatively soon, but there’s also two Sandman spin-off graphic novels that he wrote.

The second is by artist Francoise Mouly. I don’t have any of her work here yet. Yet. That will change.

Whatever you celebrate this time of year, have a great holiday!

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Shade the Changing Man: American Scream

Shade the Changing Man: American Scream
By Peter Milligan (writer), Chris Bachalo and Mark Pennington with Brendan McCarthy (artists)
Published by DC Comics/Vertigo
Originally released April 1991

Availability: Amazon.com
Cover price: $17.95
Format: Soft cover, color, standard-size
ISBN 140120046X

Synopsis from publisher:
Can the man from the Meta Zone make sense of America?

SHADE, THE CHANGING MAN: THE AMERICAN SCREAM collects the first six issues of one of VERTIGO’s founding titles, written by Peter Milligan (HUMAN TARGET: FINAL CUT, X-Force) with art by Chris Bachalo (DEATH: THE HIGH COST OF LIVING, STEAMPUNK) and Mark Pennington (HELLBLAZER, DEATH: THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE) and a cover by Brendan McCarthy (2000 A.D.). Now is the perfect time to rediscover this quixotic and timeless character.

This fantastic re-imagining of Shade, The Changing Man — a character created by the legendary Steve Ditko (Amazing Spider-Man) in the 1970s — begins in an explosion of madness as 23-year-old Kathy George relives the horror of her parents’ deaths. Hoping for a reprieve from the constant nightmares and the ever-present threat of insanity that have hounded her since their deaths, Kathy instead is swept up in Shade’s arrival from his home dimension, Meta, into the body of the serial killer who destroyed her life. From there, Kathy and Shade begin a journey into America’s collective unconscious as they combat the malevolent force known only as The American Scream.

Notes:

This publication is the first and so far only volume reprinting the second Shade The Changing Man comic book series. All material in this publication was written by Peter Milligan and illustrated by Chris Bachalo and Mark Pennington. The cover for this publication was created by Brendan McCarthy.

The series continued until 1996 with issue #70. Writer Peter Milligan remained on the series until the final issue. Chris Bachalo and Mark Pennington remained as the art team until issue #26. Bachalo had a couple of fill-in artists step in for him: Bill Jaaska on issue #10 and Bryan Talbot on issue #14. Rick J. Bryant filled in for Pennington on issues #16 and #17. Jan Duursema and Bryant provided additional art to issue #20. Brendan McCarthy illustrated issue #22. Colleen Doran replaced Bachalo with issue #27. Duncan Eagleson and Mark Buckingham illustrated issue #30. Buckingham also provided inking for issue #31. Pablo Marcos inked issue #32. Chris Bachalo and Rick J. Bryant returned as the regular art team with issue #33. Some issues including segments by other artists, such as Glyn Dillon (issues #34 and #38), Peter Gross (#36), Scot Eaton (#39), Steve Yeowell (#42), Philip Bond (#43). Philip Bond and Glyn Dillon illustrated issue #40. Dillon filled in again for issues #41 and #46. Philip Bond illustrated issue #48. Mark Buckingham assisted with inking issues #49 and #50. Sean Phillips illustrating issues #51 to #53, the latter was inked by Dick Giordano. Mark Buckingham and Rick J. Bryant took over the art duties with issue #54. Michael Lark provided additional artwork for issues #56 and #59, and illustrated all of issue #58. Richard Case and Rick J. Bryant began a run with issue #61 and #62, the latter with additional artwork by Andy Pritchett. Jamie Togalson and Rafael Kayanan illustrated issue #64. Richard Case illustrated issue #65 and #66. Togalson, Kayanan and Case contributed to issue #67. Case and Pennington illustrated issue #68. Case and Phil Gascoine illustrated issue #69 and #70. These issues have yet to be collected or reprinted.

The first Shade The Changing Man comic book series began in 1977 and ran for 8 issues until 1978. The series was written and illustrated by Steve Ditko, with Michael Fleisher providing dialogue. These issues have yet to be collected or reprinted.

Reprints:

  1. Shade, The Changing Man #1 (1990)
  2. Shade, The Changing Man #2 (1990)
  3. Shade, The Changing Man #3 (1990)
  4. Shade, The Changing Man #4 (1990)
  5. Shade, The Changing Man #5 (1990)
  6. Shade, The Changing Man #6 (1990)

History Channel excerpt: 1950s Senate hearings

Dark Horse Comics – 1987

Dark Horse Comics entered its second year more than quadrupling its output.

Dark Horse Comics’ flagship title Dark Horse Presents, nominated for a 1987 Kirby Award, continued to draw in more established creators like Paul Gulacy, who had been doing work for Marvel and DC for years, and had success with his own Six From Sirius mini-series. He was the first guest artist to provide covers, but no interior work. The anthology was also becoming a good venue for creators to stretch their wings when elsewhere they were typically pigeon-holed into one job. John Workman, who was working regularly as a letterer and occasionally as a colorist for DC and Marvel, and had already done some lettering work for Dark Horse’s first issues, wrote and illustrated Roma. Steve Mattson had done some work for Eclipse Comics before coloring Dark Horse’s earliest releases. He got to write and illustrate his own features, first Doc Abstruse and then the Vitruvian Man. Mark Badger of American Flagg fame returned after his collaboration with J.M. DeMatteis in Dark Horse Presents #2 from the previous year. In DHP #10, he contributed the first appearance of The Masque. Co-created with Mike Richardson and Randy Stradley, the character would be altered two years later by John Arcudi and Doug Mahnke into The Mask, and would later be adapted into a successful 1994 film starring Jim Carrey.

Dark Horse’s second comic (and first monthly series) Boris the Bear continued to satirize comics and pop culture with riffs on Batman, ElfQuest, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (again), G.I. Joe, Rambo, and T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. Jim Bradrick’s Wacky Squirrel became a semi-regular back-up feature in the comic. But by early summer, new issues stopped coming out. Colorized versions of the first three issues were released, perhaps as a stop-gap. Several months passed before the twelfth issue was finally released, and then the series, which had been largely written or co-written with Mike Richardson, left Dark Horse and struck out on its own. A month later, Boris the Bear #13 was released by Nicotat Comics with Steve Mattson assisting Smith on script. The series continued under Nicotat until 1991 and then vanished into obscurity.

Despite the loss of Boris the Bear, a new comic’s arrival earlier in the year would eclipse Boris in both popularity and acclaim. Paul Chadwick’s Concrete, starring the character of the same name who had debuted in the very first issue of Dark Horse Presents, broke out in his own series while still showing up in DCP. The title was Dark Horse’s first milestone title and went on to win critical acclaim and numerous industry award nominations. The property continues to garner respectable sales in collected editions and new mini-series.

Ron Randall’s Trekker also graduated from the pages of Dark Horse Presents for a 6-issue limited series. A one-shot would follow in 1989 and then become all-but forgotten. This however was only the beginning of Randall’s collaboration with Dark Horse.

The American was a brand-new property from the mind of Mark Verheiden. Virtually unknown at the time, Verheiden would go on to be a successful Hollywood screenwriter and producer for the hit TV series “Smallville” and (the new) “Battlestar Galactica”. He would also write comics for DC Comics and return to Dark Horse on several occasions. While the 8-issue series did spawn a one-shot follow-up and a sequel mini-series in the 1990s, it has mostly faded away.

Mecha was one of Dark Horse’s earliest full-color comics. Visually reminiscent of cartoons such as “Robotech,” “Voltron” and “Battle of the Planets,” the comic could arguably claim the distinction of being Dark Horse’s first manga-esque comic. Dark Horse would eventually have great success in translating Japanese manga for North American audiences, essentially predicting the great manga influx of material beginning circa 2002.

The Book of Night was a 3-issue mini-series primarily consisting of reprinted short stories from Epic Illustrated by the fantasy and comic book illustrator Charles Vess. Each cover warned “Suggested for Mature Readers,” a first for the young publisher.

It was clear that Dark Horse was beginning to diversify their line-up. Another strong sign of the things to come for the publisher was the acquisition of the Godzilla license, which no doubt helped them land future high-profile and profitable licenses like Star Wars, Aliens, Predator, Terminator, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and more. A special one-shot was released with some of the most high-profile and acclaimed names in comics at the time, like Steve Bissette, Alan Moore, Keith Giffen, Rick Geary, Charles Vess and others.

Another expansion was a reprint one-shot of old sci-fi comics from the late 1940s and early 1950s. Basil Wolverton’s Planet of Terror contained stories by the influential illustrator from comics originally published by Marvel Comics and Key Publications. The comic included a cover by Alan Moore. Wolverton was a highly regarded artist whose work was later collected and celebrated by notable publishers such as Fantagraphics Books, but Dark Horse Comics was one of the first. Wolverton, who died in 1978, was inducted into the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1991 and the Will Eisner Hall of Fame in 2000. Dark Horse followed up this reprint with several others reprint projects in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as well as a series of prestige busts modeled after Wolverton’s unique illustrations.

Dark Horse Comics appeared to be doing well enough, but a break-out hit was needed.

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Best of ’06

It seems every comics-related site or blog is checking in with their “Best of 2006” lists. Not to be left out of the fun, here is mine, slipping in right under the buzzer (depending on your location on the planet).

My list takes a bit of a different angle, though. While the quality of the story and art, as well as entertainment value, are certainly taken into consideration, I’m approaching this with an eye toward historic significance. The list includes entries that made a significant impact on the industry or the art form for the past year. I’m sure there’s something really obvious that I missed. And I’ll be kicking myself for it. But here it is…my Top 5 list of 2006. Let me know what you think.

1. 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon (Hill & Wang) – Over-looked by a surprising number of industry observers, this publication significantly moved comics back into the realm of serious potential. A graphic adaptation of The 9/11 Report was an inspired idea, and the execution proved how effective the sequential medium can be at communicating a lot of information without losing the data.

2. Lost Girls by Allan Moore and Melinda Gebbie (Top Shelf) – One of the industry’s best writers and a highly underrated illustrator finally released their adult look at fantasy literature and sexual discovery. This trilogy works on several levels. It’s a fascinating exploration of moving out of childhood. But the book will probably be most remembered for the controversy it generated… and didn’t generate. A debate over how the rights of Peter Pan, owned by a children’s hospital, put publisher Top Shelf in an awkward position. But fears of nation-wide bannings never manifested. Perhaps freedom of speech still exists…

3. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel (Houghton Mifflin) – And yet, sometimes it doesn’t. This graphic memoir by cartoonist Bechdel, previously best known for the long-running comic strip “Dykes To Watch Out For,” was barely noticed at the time of its release until a local library in Marshall, Missouri, received demands from a resident to ban the book along with the celebrated graphic novel Blankets by Craig Thompson, originally released in 2003. The library’s board elected to form a board to review material, and removing the books from the library until the process is complete. Fun House then finished the year winning a nearly unprecedented number of accolades from Time (best book of the year), Entertainment Weekly (best non-fiction book of the year), Publisher’s Weekly (best comic of the year), New York Times, Salon, and others. It’s just too bad residents of Marshall aren’t able to check the book out through their local library.

4. Mouse Guard by David Petersen (Archaia) – The surprise small press hit of the year was easily this lushly illustrated and charming narrative. The quality of the book has been trumpeted elsewhere, and that is without question. But there’s an aspect of the single issues that makes it stand out further. The dimensions of the book break the traditional 6 1/2″ x 10″ that the vast majority of comic books have been printed at for decades. Printed as an 8″ x 8″ square, it alters the reader’s experience of the story and Peterson’s paneling choices. Like 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation, the book attempts to expand what can be expected from comics, and at the same time expanding what they can accomplish.

5. Fell by Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith (Image) – The comic industry was expanded in yet another way in 2006. British writer Warren Ellis directed his resources from the success of past comics to create an affordable and entertaining comic book series. The majority of modern comic book issues consist of about 22 pages of story and art for $2.99 with about 10 pages of ads, letter pages, and editorial content. Each page of story typically has anywhere from one to six panels of art. Typically each issue is one part of a four- to six-part story. Fell breaks that model by creating a comic book with 16 pages of story and art for $1.99 with six pages of “back matter” by Ellis and no ads. The story pages use a seldom used 9-panel grid layout to make up for the lesser page count. Each story is self-contained. The “back matter” consists of Ellis’ notes, commentary, and other content reminiscent of DVD extra content. The moody story, expertly illustrated by Ben Templesmith, has an episodic feel that seems to make it a natural for a television adaptation. And yet, it is uniquely a story most effective in the comic book form. And best of all, it’s attempting to make comics affordable again. It’s proven to be a success, with another Image Comics series, Casanova by Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba, in the same format.

Honorable mentions: 

Castle Waiting by Linda Medley (Fantagraphics)
Ed the Happy Clown by Chester Brown (Drawn & Quarterly)
Abadazad: The Road to Inconceivable by J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Ploog (Hyperion)
Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon (Vertigo/DC)
The Other Side by Jason Aaron and Cameron Stewart (Vertigo/DC)

Dark Horse Comics – 1986


Dark Horse‘s first year. Twenty years ago, Dark Horse Comics was just starting out, with only two titles – an anthology and a satire starring a teddy bear. How things would change!

Oregon-based retailer Mike Richardson assembled a bi-monthly anthology series called Dark Horse Presents using local creators who had recently gotten some professional credits under their belts from Marvel Comics, as well as some brand-new talent. Paul Chadwick, who had penciled some issues of Dazzler, Marvel’s disco queen super-hero, broke out from the beginning with the story of Concrete, a man whose mind is trapped in a large rock-like body. (The character would eventually spin off into his own series and go on to win multiple prestigious industry awards.) The second issue of DCP included a story by J.M. DeMatteis. Having written for both DC Comics and Marvel Comics, and with a creator-owned series called Moonshadow turning heads, DeMatteis was easily the most established creator the young publisher could claim at the time. Dark Horse Presents proved successful enough to switch to a monthly schedule in the following year, as it attracted more and more creators with higher profiles. It continued until 2000, making it Dark Horse’s longest-running title and America’s longest-running anthology comic to date.

Meanwhile, newcomer James Dean Smith’s Boris the Bear was a violently satirical book that took aim at unfunny funny animals (like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), the giant robot craze, and ownership and creator rights issues in comics. His rival Wacky Squirrel, introduced in Boris the Bear #4, would get his own series the following year. While somewhat forgotten today, the book turned out to be something of a hit and continued running at Dark Horse until Smith began publishing it under his own Nicotat Comics in 1987.

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Today in Comics History: “Somebody’s Stenog”


Today in 1918, A.E. Hayward’s comic strip “Somebody’s Stenog” debuted in United States newspapers through the Ledger Syndicate. It was probably the first comic strip about women in the office. The concept had actually debuted for six weeks in November and December 1916 in Hayward’s single-panel strip “Padded Cell” as a series called “Somebody’s Stenographer”.

Why are comics stuck?

The comic book industry has been struggling to break out of its hobbyist niche for some time. There are many factors that have contributed to its inability to return to the mainstream. Many theories exist as to why. One possibility is that the industry as it is currently structured maintains its stagnancy to benefit a few.

The comic book industry is dominated by the “Big Two”, rival publishers DC Comics and Marvel Comics. This means the comic book industry is an oligopoly, a fancy business term that means an industry is dominated by a small number of sellers. The sellers, in this case, the two publishers, are aware of each others’ actions and plan accordingly. Due to shared talent pools, office proximity (both companies are headquartered in New York City), frequent electronic communications, and other factors, inter-company communication and interactivity is certainly the norm. The decisions of one publisher influences the other, as witnessed by modern fandom for years. “Coincidences” in formats, story models, events, characters, and other elements are plentiful. While some may well be genuince happenstance, this can’t always be the case. Both companies are constantly aware of the other’s successes and failures, and no doubt plan publishing strategies accordingly. (Dark Horse Comics and Image Comics are sometimes lumped into the major forces of the industry, as the “Big Four”, although their respective market shares are significantly lower.)

A high risk of collusion for their mutual benefits between DC Comics and Marvel Comics exists with the above factors. It may exist already. Such collusion can create uniform price points or price fixing, eliminating the possibility of price competition. Restrictions in production can also result from collusion.

This can also lead to market division. Superhero comics are by-and-large the territory of DC Comics and Marvel Comics. The term “super heroes” was even jointly trademarked by the two publishers for several uses. In the past, all efforts by other publishers to compete in this genre have failed. Most other notable publishers now focus their efforts on other genres and/or styles.

Is there anything illegal going on? Are the two big publishers of comic books conspiring to stay on top? I don’t know. But there are several curious angles that need to be investigated.

(Much of these conclusions are based off business terms and information from Wikipedia, so needless to say, the above statements could very easily be flawed.)

Today in Comics History: Katzenjammer Kids


Today in 1897, Rudolph Dirks’ Sunday comic strip “Katzenjammer Kids” debuted in the American Humorist Sunday supplement of William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal. Inspired by Wilhelm Busch’s German children’s story “Max und Moritz” from 1865 (licensed by The Hearst Corp. for the strip’s creation), “Katzenjammer Kids” starred twin kid brothers Hans and Fritz who rebelled against authority. It was the first genuine comic strip, telling a story in a series of panels using speech balloons. A legal battle in 1912 led to Dirks leaving the strip to create the duplicate “The Captain and the Kids” for Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World. Harold H. Knerr took over “Katzenjammer Kids” until his death in 1949, succeeded by Charles H. “Doc” Winner, Joe Musial, Mike Senisch and Angelo DeCesare. The strip still runs to this day, written and illustrated by Hy Eisman (who also draws the Sunday “Popeye” strip) since 1986, making it the oldest comic strip still in syndication. (Sources: Katzenjammer Kids, Toonopedia and Wikipedia; image courtesy ComicStyle.net)

Today in Comics History: Cliff Sterrett


Today in 1883, Cliff Sterrett was born in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. Sometimes referred to as the Picasso of comic strips, he would grow up to create the strip “Positive Polly,” the first with a female lead. As it evolved into “Polly & Her Pals,” it eventually began exploring elements of surrealism, expressionism, cubism and even dadims. Pantomime was also explored. The strip ran for 46 years, ending with Sterrett’s retirement in 1958.

(Sources: ASIFA-Hollywood, Toonopedia, Lambiek and SteveStiles.com; postcard photo courtesy Steve Krupp’s Curio Shoppe)