Some things never change…

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(Note: This is a sample pic and NOT the comic store I visited.)

I had some extra time the other day so I did something that I rarely do now… I went to a comic book store.

Now, keep in mind that not only was I a part owner of a comic store years ago (circa 1988) but there was a time when I would go to comic stores several times a week.  At one time, roughly around 1993 or so, there were about 12 comic books stores within quick driving distance from me in Rhode Island.  Now, I think there’s about 5 (and two of those are owned by the same person) so the economy hasn’t been the best for comic stores.

Anyway, I bitch and complain a lot (as anyone who has read these blog posts realize) about how there’s not much good worth reading for comics these days.  So, every so often, I make the trip and stop in at my LCS to see if I’m not just being a whiny old comic fart.

Sadly, I wasn’t.

During the 70s and 80s, I read EVERY Marvel and DC that came out… even the bad ones.  Yes, I read all of Marvel’s NEW UNIVERSE titles and even such illustrious DC fare as PREZ and BROTHER POWER, THE GEEK.  I knew all of the characters, all of the history, even all the obscure trivia.  This time, I looked over the selection of Marvel and DC comics and did not see ONE comic that interested me or made me want to pay the expensive price they demanded.

There were a few independent comics that looked interesting but, invariably, the store only had the 2nd or 3rd issue or it was the 14th issue and there was no way I could afford to pick up the 13 previous issues even if the store had them.   Clearly, stores could no longer afford to stock a lot of the independents either as the selection was spotty and a completist’s nightmare. And if stores don’t stock the titles, how will anyone discover them?

As I looked through the stacks, desperate to find SOMETHING to buy, longing for that same connection that had sustained me through my youth, I could hear the conversations taking place around me.  The speakers were young men, probably around early to mid 20’s, and they were standing around the cash register much as I spent time so long ago.  And I heard conversations that brought back memories and, at the same time, disturbed me.  They were discussing who was ‘hotter’: Black Cat or Scarlet Widow.  Some relatively racy dialogue was sprinkled through which I’ll spare you here.  Needless to say, if you’re a guy who grew up reading comic books, you’ve probably had this conversation yourself at one time as I’ve had.

That’s when it hit me: I was out of place.  I didn’t belong there anymore and that shocked me.

You see, comic stores were my domain when I was their age.  Other guys strutted through bars or gyms.  I strutted through comic stores.  That was where I had the most confidence I’d ever had and could talk to others who felt the same.  It was my Cheers, my Arnold’s, my Pop’s Chock-Lit Shoppe.  But somewhere, at some time, that had all changed.

I was the one thing that I thought I would never be in a comic store: the outsider.

I didn’t fit in.  They were discussing the NEW DC or Marvel’s AGE OF ULTRON and I was about as clueless with them as other kids had been around me in grade school.  I’d lost my mojo.  I’d become the “old man comic fan” who I’d seen in my own shop so many years ago.

Quickly, I made my retreat.  As I drove away, I realized that this was the same feeling that had come over me the last few times I’d been to major comic conventions.  I couldn’t relate to the comics or the people.  These were the new fans, the ones that all the comic companies are fighting to attract.  The comics were tailored to what they wanted to see with the mindset and attitudes they admired and emulated.  And they were not mine.

I haven’t been back to a comic store since then.  I probably will at some point but, in a way, I lost a little something that day.  Something that, barring a time machine, I may never feel again.

DC Comics “Villains” Month, or “How much more money can we squeeze out of these people?”

1370241151000-Forever-Evil-1-1306030236_3_4_r537_c0-0-534-712Complaining about DC Comics is close to becoming a full time job.

Seems that just about every week, DC does something else that makes me want to smash my head on my computer desk.  There’s even a web page devoted to alerting you when DC does/says something stupid.  I’m not kidding.  It’s http://hasdcdonesomethingstupidtoday.com/

And it’s really worth checking out because I’m not the only one who thinks that DC comics is run by some very unfunny version of “The Three Stooges”.  (The current howler is how photoshop has been used for some upcoming covers and it’s really quite stupendously stupid when you see them all together.)

Anyway, fresh off the “ex-Catwoman” bonanza, DC has announced that September, 2013, will be “Villains” month.  Every DC comic will be taken over by a villain specific to that title for that month with the oh-so-unique ‘renumbering’ of the comic to tell you that “you’re not just reading a usual issue of this comic, boy-o!”

And, oddly enough, a USA TODAY article on the event gives even more information than the standard press release on DC’s site!  Because, you know, why would you tell your fans more than you tell the average reporter.  You can read the DC press release here and the USA TODAY article here.  If you want to.  I’m surprised that I actually did but I do it to save you the pain, dear reader!

And what is the big surprise that’s got the DC PR people dancing and singing in the streets?  Is it an amazing story-line?  Is it great artwork?  Is it a return to heroic values?  Nope, it’s 3-D covers.

4577_4_05Yep, 3-D covers.  If you’ve lived through comic books in the 80s, you probably hoped you’d seen the last of the gimmick covers.  After all, how can one top DC’s own gimmick of putting a plastic shard of crystal on the cover of every issue of ECLIPSO?  Or Malibu’s own gimmick of a bullet-hole through the entire issue of PROTECTORS #5?

But, when you stop and think about it, isn’t killing characters off just as much a ‘gimmick’ as fancy covers?

Anyway, this ‘Villains Month’ will give rise to a seven issue series called Forever Evil meant, I guess, to showcase the bad guys.  (I assume it’s a monthly because I can’t find anything to state what publishing schedule it’ll follow.) It will be written by Geoff Johns with art by David Finch and that’s about all I can tell you because there’s very little in any of these notices to tell you just what the hell it’s all about, Alfie!  Here’s the quote from USA TODAY:

Forever Evil is a chance for David and I to work on all the greatest villains in comic books. It’s literally everybody. I don’t even know if there’s anybody not in it,” Johns says. “We’re really exploring what darkness means and the different kinds of darkness that are within these villains.”

That’s about as vague as a senator’s testimony before a congressional inquiry.

Then, there will be three new mini-series debuting in October that will each last for 5 issues.  So, if we take a conservative amount of 40 regular titles that will have this tie-in for September, 7 issues for Forever Evil and 15 issues for the three mini-series, that gives us 62 issues for this storyline.

A storyline which, right now, we know nothing about other than “bad guys win”.  Which sounds strangely similar to Marvel’s currently ongoing AGE OF ULTRON.  But, you know, these comics ain’t cheap!  Looks like the September comics will all be $4 each while I’ll be nice and say that the other 12 comics will be $3 apiece.  That’s a conservative estimate of about $200 to follow the storyline.

$200 and I’m being charitable because they may have more issues or tie-ins that I’m not aware of yet.

I could buy four DC ARCHIVE EDITIONS for that or even more when my LCS has a “buy one, get one” free sale.  I leave it for you to guess which one I think is the better value.

BTW, see that graphic at the top of this rant which was released officially by DC as a tie-in to Forever Evil?  See what character is near the front of that line?  Because DC’s just slapping you in the face with the whole “Catwoman Dies” from last week because… well, because they can.

Don’t Get Me Started! #1

jjjI used to love comic books.

For a long time, they were really one of the most important parts of my life.  I practically LIVED for each week’s new shipment of comics.

I have two brothers who are older than me (10 and 9 years older, respectively) and they were into comics so, when annoying little brother came along, it was inevitable that I’d get into comics too.  And I was voracious!

I read everything!  I read Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Thor, Flash, House of Mystery, Chamber of Chills even NIGHT NURSE!  If it was Marvel or DC, I read it.  And I read anything else I could get my hands on.  Comics from Charlton, Gold Key, Dell, Archie, Harvey, Tower, anything and everything.

Not only that, but I studied comics.  I wanted to know everything about them.  “Who was that character in Brave & the Bold last month?”  I could tell you.  Who created Superman and how and when?  I knew it.  I wanted to know everything about comics not just the stories and the characters but the people who created them.

That’s when, I think, things started to sour a bit.

For those who aren’t aware, comic books have an awful history.  I won’t even get into the allegations that the mob was behind much of the early days of comic books and their distribution.  Nor will I talk about the shady deals and the unfounded lawsuits.  I won’t even talk about the comic book censorship of the 1950s that essentially shut down EC comics and stripped comics of virtually all of their creativity and relevance.  But I could (and just might someday)!

In the 70s, there really wasn’t anything you could call a “comic news network”.  There were a few fanzines but nothing like it is today.  Most of what we did have was concentrated around the stories and characters with not a lot of creator background.

That began to change in the late 70s and really gained speed in the 80s.  The first time I remember really taking notice of the way comic companies treated their creators was during the Siegel & Shuster incident.  As Warner Brothers was making the first SUPERMAN movie in 1978 (with Chris Reeve) and preparing for a massive PR campaign, I started hearing little news items.  It seemed that the original creators of Superman (Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster) were living in virtual poverty as a movie that would make millions was preparing to come out.

I was only 15 at this time and didn’t really know a lot about the behind-the-scenes life at comic companies despite having a brother who, by that time, was actually working in comics.  Long story short, the fan community (led, in part, by Neal Adams who was then a creator with a lot of clout with fans) revolted against DC and eventually Siegel & Shuster were awarded lifetime pensions and credit for their creation. (You can read more about this case online and a brief overview here.)

That day made me proud to be a fan.

And when Marvel Comics tried to keep from returning Jack Kirby’s artwork and the fans were there to support Kirby, I was proud again.

We fans had the creators backs and they, and the comic companies, knew it.

I’m not proud to be a fan anymore.

The reason is because, when issues like Kirby and Shuster come up now, the fans take to the internet and social media to express their anger and outrage.  But not against the comic companies.  They’re angry at the heirs of Kirby and Shuster for daring to not only ask for credit or compensation but for daring to risk the end to their beloved comics.

The vitriol I have seen expressed online is truly depressing.  And it’s not even just against heirs of deceased creators either.  Example: Ken Penders recently filed suit against Archie Comics for rights to characters he created for the SONIC comic book.  (You can read about the newest update on that case here.) Many comments on this case again side with the publishers.

There are many other cases like this happening where many of the fans are not on the side of the creators.  They appear, for all intents and purposes, like junkies worried that someone might shut off their supply.  Somewhere, somehow, comic companies have managed to win fans over to their side and I just can’t figure out when that happened.

There are a couple of reasons why I don’t buy and/or read new comic books from Marvel & DC anymore.  This is one of them.  I’ll talk about the other one, and why I feel guilty looking at my bookcase of high quality hardcover reprints, next time.

(“Don’t Get Me Started” is an editorial by Sam Gafford.  All views expressed are simply my own and do not reflect any other staffers here at the L.O.D.G.E.)

Alternate Opening for The Avengers, an Improvement

Marvel has released a deleted scene for The Avengers which reveals an alternate opening scene.  Instead of the light-hearted opening with Black Widow casually bantering with S.H.I.E.L.D. as she lays some smack down, the scene would have been a look at the aftermath of the final battle upon New York City.

This would have placed the remainder of the movie as a flashback and changed the tone of the film.  I believe this would have been a positive for the movie, providing a deeper and more mature story that not only showcased the heroes valiant final battle, but also a more nuanced view of the impact of superhero’s and their villainous counterparts on the populace at large.

Check out the scene in HD on Yahoo.

What do you think about the alternate opening? Would it have detracted by making the movie too serious, diminishing the playful adventure tone of the film?  Could it have helped to explain the role of S.H.I.E.L.D. and its relationship to the U.S. Government? Might it have provided a heavier, more serious overall tone to the movie that grounded the cartoon violence in the lives of average citizens?

Stan Lee, Most Interesting Man in the World

Now I understand why Tony Stark mistook Stan Lee for Hugh Hefner in Iron Man.

(via BuzzFeed)

Joe Kubert (1926-2012)

Joe Kubert

Joe Kubert has died.

For many readers of DC comics in the 1960s and 70s, Kubert was one of the most recognizable artists of the company.  You literally couldn’t pass the comic rack in those days and NOT find a comic that he either drew or did the cover.  His accomplishments were many and legendary in the field not the least of which is the fact that he created the only school to specialize in the teaching of “Cartoon and Graphic Art”.

I never met Joe Kubert personally.  I never had the pleasure of working with him.  Despite my fondest desires, I never attended the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art.  All I did was read his comics and be a fan.  Because of his decades of work in the field, I don’t think there was ever a time when I did NOT know who Joe Kubert was.

I was born in 1962 and don’t have many clear memories of the 1960s.  Oh, sure, I remember my friend’s names and playing games with them on our street in New Milford, CT.  I have vague recollections of television shows (like STAR TREK) and the toys I had and major events like the Moon Landing and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.  What I remember most of all were the comic books.

I grew up reading comics.  I think I probably started when I was about 5 or 6 years old and mostly because my older brothers (9 and 10 years older than I) used to read them.  My oldest brother, Carl, had a massive collection that he had started around 1959 or so and allowed me free access to all of them.  By the time I was 10, I had read his collection through at least 2 or 3 times.  Even though he had a great collection of Marvel comics, I was drawn to the DC comics.

And many of those that drew me in were drawn by Joe Kubert.

I started with the early Silver Age appearances of Hawkman.  I had no idea who the hell Hawkman was or that there had been another Hawkman decades earlier or that the same artist had worked on both.  All I knew was that those comics were amazing and, even at 10, I knew that they were cool.

The artwork drew me in immediately.  It stood out from the usual art in the Superman and Batman books.  It had a gritty ‘realism’ to it that I hadn’t seen before.  This hit me the hardest when I eventually moved onto Kubert’s war comics like Sgt. Rock and Enemy Ace (soon to become one of my most favorite characters).  This artwork wasn’t safe or clean like what I was used to seeing in superhero comics.  It was tough and earthy.  You could almost smell the sweat on Sgt. Rock and feel the noble dignity of Enemy Ace as he cursed the war he fought.

Throughout the years, as I would find more and more of Kubert’s art, what struck me most was the integrity.  No matter the project, Kubert gave it his all.  One of my first exposures to Tarzan came when DC began their TARZAN comic book with, of course, Kubert doing the art.  I devoured those comics.  Others will talk about how Burne Hogarth or Hal Foster were the best Tarzan artists but, for me, Kubert was THE Tarzan artist.  He defined how I saw the character and, when I close my eyes, Kubert’s artwork is what I see.  Because of those comics, I sought out the TARZAN novels and then the John Carter of Mars novels and so many more.

One of the sad realizations of today is that we are losing or have lost many of the great comic artists.  Kirby, Kurtzman, Buscema, Joe Simon, Eisner, Toth, Swan, Heck, Colan… the list goes on and on.  These were giants who walked among us and left us tales of gods and men.  Their like will never come again.  Today, I will sit down with a stack of Sgt. Rock comics, the hardcover collection of VIKING PRINCE and the SHOWCASE edition of ENEMY ACE and I will remember the greatness which Kubert left for us on those pages and be thankful that, for a brief time, he shared these with us.

Godspeed, Joe.

New Beginnings Prompts Looking Back, Episode 2

As I mentioned in Episode 1, I have moved into a new place that I am actually sharing with people after living alone for more than two decades.  This has been a wonderful experience and so to have I enjoyed blogging.  This new beginning has made me want to look back at how my attitudes toward genre have been shaped and how genre has shaped me.

In Episode 1 I talk about my first comic book in 1977 and how it didn’t impress me.  But by 1983 my world was very different.  I was in band and made friends with two bandmates, the brothers John and Rob.  John was a very, very good friend in school but we didn’t see much of each other after I left band in my junior year.  I wish I had stayed in touch with him, but we ended up at different colleges.  I was nonetheless very, very saddened by his passing in the early nineties.

When we were in high school, John and Rob lived in Island Park, a neighborhood of Portsmouth, RI.  In Island Park there was a comic book shop, Park Nostalgia.  John and Rob were avid comic book fans and prompted me to get into it as well.  The series they recommended most was Amazing Spiderman and Peter Parker, Spectacular Spiderman.  Both series were featuring a very cool villain at the time, the Hobgoblin.

My First Hobgoblin

I knew nothing about Norman Osborn, the original Green Goblin.  But Hobgoblin quickly made an impression upon me.  What I liked most about Hobgoblin at the time was his use of the scientific method to advance his powers.  I caught up with the Hobgoblin at the point at which he had perfected the super-strength serum. He had a battle van.  He eventually made important improvements to his finger blasters (he put in a system that randomized his aim in an attempt to overcome Spidey’s spider sense).  I had decided in Seventh Grade that I was going to become a Computer Programmer and Hobgoblin fit in perfectly with my worldview.

Soon after my introduction to Spiderman, the brothers made it clear that a big event was coming to comic books.  Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars was soon upon us.

My First Big Comic Book Event

In Secret Wars, I am introduced to another villain that is intent upon using the scientific method to his advantage.  Doctor Doom spends the entire series hypothesizing courses of action that will gain him victory, putting each hypothesis into action and in the end he almost achieves complete victory.  Again I was enthralled.  Doctor Doom spoke to me as a budding technologist.

But looking back now, another reason I was so into Hobgoblin and Secret Wars is that John was into them as well.  I had a friend to share my fandom with.  We weren’t alone, most guys at school were into both Hobgoblin and Secret Wars and Secret Wars got much gossip on the school bus.  And this brings me to now.

I have some very, very close friends these days.  I am living at one of those friend’s homes.  This is very, very cool.  Looking back I realize that genre, and the bonds of fandom that come with it are a big part of how I meet people.  I have Major Depressive Disorder, and part of my symptoms include Social Anxiety Disorder.  I have a very hard time meeting and warming up to new people.  But since 1983, genre has been a big part of the way I overcome my Social Anxiety.  I have met people through work, but no one from work came to my 40th birthday party and I didn’t really miss them.  My 40th birthday party had family, some family friends and many, many friends I had made first by sharing genre.  The presence of so many friends is what kept me away from suicide during the worst of my depression.  Being around for me friends is what made me seek out psychiatric treatment.  And so it can be said quite literally that genre saved my life.

And look upon these words themselves.  This is a blog about genre, but I am sharing some info about myself that I really don’t discuss much.  Genre is changing my life even as we write/read, making me grow stronger.

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