Category Archives: comics

Posts about comic book news or comics.

Review: Ayn Rand’s Anthem

tl;dr-don't waste your $$

EDIT: This review has now been slightly redacted and changed because my blogging peers tell me I took my criticism of New American Library, Charles Santino and Joe Staton too far. I hope anyone who read the previous version didn’t get terribly offended at my mentioning of money changing hands or speculation of how this graphic novel came to be, but I have commented on editorial style before, which was my justification for the original post. The rest of my opinions still stand.

Sometimes life brings you surprises. You hope that they are good surprises.

Then you open the package and realize that someone decided to make a comic-book version of Ayn Rand’s famous novella, Anthem, and your heart sinks a little.

A lot of people don’t like Anthem, but I’m not one of them. I think the book illustrates a good point about not forgetting individuality and ambition, especially in her post-technological apocalypse, communal world. Of course, Anthem was written during a time when Communism, and anything similar, was still widely feared. I liked it a lot better than Brave New World, which I read around the same time and felt totally uncomfortable with.

Anthem is about a man, Equality 7-2521, who doesn’t feel quite right in his communal society where he works as a Sweeper. One day, while out sweeping, he finds a tunnel filled with old technology, the existence of which was nearly wiped out in an ancient battle. Since then, the individual has been systematically cleansed from society and everyone does as they are told, down to when they have sex. Intrigued by science and equipped with a bright mind, Equality 7-2521 re-invents the light bulb, woos the pretty Liberty 5-3000, tries to re-introduce electricity to society to make life easier and becomes a total pariah, taking Liberty 5-3000 with him. The pair then finds an old house and re-builds an individual-driven society after discovering the word “I” and the existence of ego.

Back to the graphic novel adaptation, apparently done by Charles Santino and Joe Staton, both of whom I’ve never heard of. The press release included in the package tells me Joe Staton won an Eisner award at some point. Is that so? I certainly expected more from an Eisner winner because…

The first thing you’ll notice about this adaptation of Anthem is that the art on the cover looks awful and the interior art isn’t even inked, which might have made the style slightly more bearable. The art seems to be in that awful style of 70s and 80s cartooning that assumes everyone in the Middle Ages wore a tunic and boots. The men are manly and bodily thick, unless they are villainous or a wimpy side character thrown in for laughs, and the women are gorgeous, blonde and full-lipped. But despite all this, the art is really blockish and square-like, even when things should be more curvaceous. Everything just oozes of cheesy Saturday morning cartoon. (Did I mention this adaptation felt a bit scrubbed clean to me?)

On top of that, every page only has three panels each, meaning that the comic’s pacing feels more like a 4-koma manga that you quickly zip through instead of a deeply thoughtful narrative about a man’s fight against a society who oppresses him. I’ve never fervently wished for wide open spaces on the pages of a comic book in ages, but here I was wishing for something, ANYTHING, other than three rectangles a page. You think someone could have fit it in somewhere, it would have made for a great visual metaphor if Equality 7-2521 broke through a panel somewhere. (And then the panel structure completely changed afterward.)

My biggest complaint however, is that there’s no art to it at all, just characters doing stuff. If I were drawing this, I’d go all out and draw art deco motifs and Mucha-inspired characters when the narration turns away from action and goes into exposé. Does that happen? Nope, nope, nope. It’s not that Staton isn’t capable, I’ve taken a look at some of his other artwork for the purposes of this review, it’s just that someone (or someones) didn’t try very hard as they worked on this comic. It’s pretty obvious to me that Staton is definitely a culprit here.

But let’s not forget the story! This is where things get tricky. Anthem is almost completely narrated by Equality 7-2521 referring to himself in the royal we (because “I” doesn’t exist for him during most of the story). This could make for a very un-dynamic comic in the hands of someone unimaginative. Unfortunately, Charles Santino was definitely not feeling creative when he wrote the script for this book. Like I said, it’s just page after page of Equality 7-2521 doing stuff. There’s about 35-45% of the comic that is actually Equality doing things in tandem with the narrative where it makes sense. The other 55-65% is where Rand gets eloquent and Santino just keeps writing Equality doing super-boring stuff. So we wind up getting a lot of boxes of narration that sort of conflict with whatever is happening in the art and completely fail to fit the mood of the words and the art. Something tells me Santino just copy-pasted the important lines of the book and scribbled in some basic action in order to give Staton a minimal amount of direction.

And that’s just it, this work is minimal. Santino did the least amount of work necessary on the script and Staton did the same with the art. Is this because they weren’t passionate about the work? Probably, I am sad to say. Anthem does a lot of showing and a lot of telling, but somehow the two don’t ever seem to touch each other meaningfully and show readers what makes Anthem a good book. There is no love for the material in this adaptation. What a waste of the potential of a good book.

Don’t buy this graphic novel. If you’re interested in Ayn Rand, go buy the prose version of Anthem, because she is a good author despite the complete failure to re-capture her work here.

Where the heck is Steve Ditko when you need him?

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Hourly Comics Day

For some reason, I got it into my head on Tuesday to draw hourly comics for Hourly Comics Day, which is a day were you draw comics for each hour you are awake. (You’re supposed to do them within the hour, but eh.)

I don’t know what possessed me since it’s now been years since I drew regularly, but here ya go:

(Sorry for the craptastic scans. Not to mention the craptastic art and handwriting. Click on the thumbnails and zoom in to see them full-size.)

As you can see, my day was relatively unexciting absolutely fascinating, but I tried to make it funnier for you.

Here are so much better drawn hourly comics…

Sarah Becan

Yuko Ota

KT Shy

Magnolia Porter (See blog post below comic for links)

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Get Thee to a Borders!

Sorry for the super-shitty way I’ve been NOT posting on this blog. The past couple weeks have resulted in a mess of SO BUSY which caused a major downfall of my “get-stuff-done” ethic. I plan to correct this by not having any other choice but to get stuff done before the crazy whirlwind of copy-edits is flung my way next week. Allons-y!

No doubt you’ve heard some inklings of the bad tides Borders is headed into. Publishing blogs are screaming the news on Twitter every couple of hours about publishers demanding payments from the troubled mass bookseller so hard that it’s even made it to the Yahoo! front page. This morning was met with the news that Diamond Book Distributors is freezing it’s shipments to the company until Borders brings it’s account into good standing. What does that mean? No new manga at Borders for possibly a very, very long time. Shit.

Now I know it’s kind of hard to back up a massive book chain sometimes, but Borders is kind of the stuff that keeps the manga industry alive and kicking. According to Robert’s Corner Anime Blog (and presumably he got his findings from ICv2’s article), Borders’ manga sales make up for about 20% of new manga sales. If we lose Borders as a major manga bookseller, I’m going to go ahead and predict that manga publishers are going to cut down on their output. Why? Because Borders devoted a lot of shelf space to manga and now publishers will have to rely on Barnes & Noble, who gives manga less bookshelf space and won’t buy most adult-oriented titles, to reach a wide audience.

Borders buys tons of yaoi and BL titles, allowing the average fujoshi to get their kicks easily. I don’t think I’ve seen BL on Barnes & Noble shelves since they realized just what was under all that plastic wrap was making some uptight parents mad. Borders is also pretty good about stocking mature titles. I found Sundome and Ayako at Borders recently. I almost never find Vertical Inc. titles at Barnes & Noble. But basically, without Borders, companies like DMP won’t be able to sell their product as well. Obviously, if they can’t sell mature titles to major booksellers, they’re going to stop licensing mature titles. I’ve already seen this happen when a mature title is mentioned as a possible license. Can’t sell it at certain large stores? Pass! And Barnes & Noble won’t start giving more space to manga for one painfully obvious reason: manga aisle hobos. For every manga that inconsiderate fans read in the aisles instead of just buying, Barnes & Noble loses 2-3 sales on a guestimated average. (Manga aisle hobos never stop at reading one book, I’ve noticed.) Why should Barnes & Noble devote more space to books that are just going to be used as a library instead of purchased? I wouldn’t.

But what about online retailers and comic book stores? Well, online retail might be able to pick up the slack, but when you think about younger readers who don’t have their own disposable income or a credit card of their own or mommy and daddy’s permission to buy online, it’s clear that crucial audience will be cut off and will likely turn to scanlations. Comic book shops are hit and miss. I’ve seen shops with gloriously large manga sections and everything a manga lover could ever want. But I’ve seen plenty more comic shops were manga is a throwaway section and they only buy new stock from the stuff the staff prefers to read. This is usually great for people who like old manga, niche stuff, art manga or almost anything by Vertical, but if you’re looking to get your next volume of Naruto or Bleach, you’re not going to find all 60+ volumes on the shelves. Nor are you going to find your shoujo titles or yaoi. Why? Because small retailers don’t care and because manga takes up way more space than any of the single issues or trade paperbacks out there. And 40 copies of the latest Batman is going to sell lots faster than the same number of Vampire Knight volumes. Yaoi? BL? Probably not going to touch the stuff out of hard-headed principle.

The result of a Borders collapse and a higher demand for physical manga sellers can probably be met by shops that focus more seriously on selling all kinds of manga, but here’s why that won’t happen: It takes serious cash to build up that kind of stock. It would also take a lot of people opening up physical manga-focused bookstores around the country to fill in the gaps left by Borders and that will take too much time for manga publishers to quickly ease the blow. There will probably be more layoffs and monthly output will be slashed in half. Smaller publishers will crumble or be shut down by parent companies. Again.

The only possible bright spot? Publishers will switch more over to digital formats because there just won’t be space for physical books nor will there be the money to pay the printers.

If you haven’t been able to tell, it’s not fun writing these apocalyptic predictions for the U.S. manga publishing biz. We should all be rejoicing in happier news like new licenses, shiny digital releases and fledgling publishers who promise to bring over manga we’ve never seen before. But this is the sad truth: people just don’t read books like they used to. Perhaps because of large chains like Borders have made books too easy to find in multitude & taken away the joy of finding a treasure in a smaller shop, perhaps because the cost of books are so high, perhaps because America has sucked at making reading enjoyable for a large number of people through its education system. The recession is obviously a factor, but a book addiction remains a relatively cheap hobby that will probably still cost less than a jacked-up cable TV package. The big screen TV just takes up less space.

But I have a solution, at least for now. The only trick is getting enough people to do it.

I propose that everyone who reads this blog goes into a Borders sometime in the very near future (because Borders is going to eventually sell out of it’s remaining stock) and buys at least one manga or graphic novel. As you are purchasing your comic book of choice, tell the person ringing up their purchase(s) that you are buying this graphic novel(s) in the hopes that Borders will be able to remain in business and restore their good standing with Diamond Book Distributors soon. If possible tell this to a store manager or ask an employee to pass the message to one. Buy more than one comic book if you can. And, if you’re receiving decent service, tell the employees that you’re doing this in the hopes that they can keep their jobs.

If you’re worried about the money you might be spending, here have some coupons and a 5 books for the price of 4. Obviously you should try to limit the use of those coupons as allowing Borders to get the maximum profit from your purchase will benefit them more in the end. But it’s an incentive to do it if you’re on the edge about this due to cash problems.

I want a full report from all my readers of whether or not you plan to do this and if you do plan on doing this soon, what you bought and the reactions you received.

As for myself, I’m getting down to my nearest Borders after I have lunch and a shower. Hope I can find Ooku vol. 5 there and some other good manga that my local comic book shops never stock.

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Hereville Review on ComicAttack.net

As a favor to Kristin, who wrote a wonderful guest post for me while I was recovering from surgery, I wrote her a review of Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword for ComicAttack.net.

Obviously, you must check out the link to read my full review, but here’s a little bit about Hereville and what I talked about:

Hereville is a story about a young ultra-Orthodox Jewish girl who would rather be slaying dragons than learning how to knit. When she meets a local witch and rescues her pet pig, Mirka’s reward is the location of a sword that will allow her to carry out her dreams. But what will Mirka have to face along the way?

What I found interesting about Hereville was it’s focus on the ultra-Orthodox way of life. I understand that other people, especially non-Jews, may need the introduction to the super-pious lifestyle and customs, but found that the focus on religious life prevented Hereville from becoming the girl-kicking-ass-despite-everything story that I wanted. So much so that I have decided I am anxiously awaiting a Hereville 2 so it can fix the flaws of its first volume.

Of course there was much more to talk about in the review, so please check it out here. (And I promise there will be a nice, shiny, new blog post filled with an in-depth look at something manga-related that has been floating around in my mind as soon as I get all my work done!)

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Discussion: Why aren’t manga fans more open to OEL manga?

Hi everyone!

Sorry for the lack of posts this week. Things are crazy busy here with my job. Good news is that Hetalia volume 3 is going to be AWESOME. If you want an idea of what it’s like to edit the Hetalia books, you can check out my recent Twitter posts or check out the #Hetalia tag.

To make the wait easier, I’d like to share this article by Tim Beedle, a former manga editor himself, about why manga-inspired art and comics do not sell and, because of this, no longer get published.

This is a topic I don’t think has been discussed much on this blog before, so what are your opinions on OEL manga? Do you love them or think they’re cheap imitations? What are some of the titles you’ve picked up in the past? What would you like to see from OEL manga artists? What would you like to see from publishers on the OEL front?

These days there are few pubs that even bother. Viz hasn’t taken any new steps with its original submissions program in over a year, TOKYOPOP’s long since canned anything that doesn’t make them money, as have a lot of other publishers. Still, there are places like Yen Press and others that hire manga-inspired creators and allow them to do their thing and Scott Pilgrim is a ridiculously huge success.

What is it that makes an OEL manga or a manga-inspired comic work for people who buy manga and other forms of comics?

Your thoughts, my readers…

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A Weekend at Alternative Press Expo

Last week was NYCC/NYAF, but I wasn’t able to attend. Based on Twitter gossip, I’m sort of glad I didn’t! While it would have been awesome to be there and meet people, it seems like so many had complaints about the event and the poor integration of the anime portion of the event. Luckily, Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco fit my budget better, so the boyfriend and I made the trip up from L.A.

Unlike it’s sister convention Comic-Con International, APE is small and hyper-focused on allowing indie creators and small publishers show off what they got. Events pretty much consisted of one panel or workshop running at a time and were entirely about creators or focused on creating comics. I didn’t attend any except for the first day of Comics Collaboration Connection, which was like a speed-dating service for artists and writers. (More on that later.)

What struck me the most was the small size of the con compared to Comic Con International, as well as the absence of the unrelated fluff that SDCC is inundated with these days. It struck me as the type of event Comic Con International had been when it was first started, although no one was at APE to buy the latest superhero caper from Marvel or DC. Instead, most attendees were interested in schmoozing with their favorite indiecreators and buying what they had to offer. What I heard from past attendees, the dealer’s room was twice as big as it was last year, which I thought was impressive. There was certainly plenty of people packing the halls on both days, so I can understand why the decision to go bigger was made.

The Comics Collaboration Connection was a fun deal. I did it on impulse because I want to get back into writing comics, but my art skills never quite match my ideas. There were more writers than artists and, at first, the staffers fumbled a little with how they should restructure the event. Eventually, they figured it was best of the artists to sit and have writers wait in line to meet them. Writers could get in line and wait for their turn. There weren’t too many women in the writer’s line, but there were a sizable number of women amongst the artists. This was nice for someone like me whose influences are less super-hero-y and slapstick comedy than that of the male artists I met with. Everyone was quite frank with each other because everyone wanted to meet with as many people as possible, but I felt like the event was promising. Unfortunately, I noticed that on the second day of the con attendance for the event had dropped significantly for both artists and writers. (I didn’t participate that day.)

Because I wasn’t very interested in the panels, I can’t tell you how they went. I can say, however, that it was difficult to locate the panel room. A few other people I talked to didn’t know where panels were either. It wasn’t until I looked at a map after the con that I realized where panels were being held. I don’t know if that affected panel attendance, but the con staff could have made it more clear where panels were held on the floor.

Some fun people I met at the con were Sarah Beacon of I Think You’re Sauceome, Cari Corene of Toilet Genie, Jen B. who created an awesome minicomic about Alpacas, Michael Jonathan of Eros Inc., Spike of Templar, Arizona, Evan Dahm of Rice Boy and Ejen Chuang of Cosplay in America. That was only a fraction of the awesome purchases I made to keep me company while I’m recovering from surgery. (Eek, that’s happening in a little over 24 hours!)

APE is definitely a con for anyone who really loves indie comics in an unhealthy way. There’s plenty to feast upon and even if your favorite creators aren’t there, many other creators to check out, especially with the size increase. It left me wanting to get back into creating comics in order to join the ranks of exhibitors next year. Probably impossible, but the fact that the con stirred my creativity that much says something.

Unfortunately I walked away with zero pictures, but you’ll be seeing some of the awesome stuff I picked up on this blog for weeks to come, I’m sure.

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Is There Anything Wrong With Self-Censorship?

I know I’m a little late for Banned Books Week, but I had a discussion with Moritheil on Twitter the other day that turned from why people were more enraged about a certain webcomic’s rape joke and not a Colombian telenovela about an abused girl living in poverty to a debate on censorship and self-censorship. I feel like the debate needs a bit of further exploration.

First of all, I’m against any form of legal censorship. I would never ever want to legally ban a book, a theme or any other thing that would hinder creators from expressing something in their works. However, journalism ethical standards were pounded into me during college. Not only was I required to take a class purely on ethics, but many of my other degree-related classes talked about ethics as well. What I took away from those classes is that your article, novel or other form of creative work could very well hurt a person or cause them to harm themselves. Every professor I had classes with had a story where an article they wrote and published caused a subject to kill themselves or lose something that impacted them a lot, like a job, their family, etc. There were many other times when one of their subjects would threaten to do harm if they published the article. Whenever such stories came up, my classmates and I wound up being questions on what we would do. Did we risk publishing if it meant someone was harmed? Was there something else to be gained by going ahead and printing it? Even when there was some benefit behind it all, how did we feel knowing that we might have blood on our hands? It was heavy stuff to consider when none of us had ever published much more than local news stories.

While I wouldn’t say this issue comes up much on this blog, my twitter or the other places I write the most, I have been thinking about the potential emotional and physical impact creative works have on other people. There have been more than a few webcomics that have taken jabs at rape, women and other things that weren’t funny to a lot of people who got very mad about said jokes.

But forget for a second the people who are able to get loud and vocal about it, what about the people who don’t speak up? What about the men and women who were raped? What about the women who are mistreated every day by men? What about jokes about murder or suicide, for example, and how it affects those who lost someone? How does it feel to be a victim of rape, abuse and murder and read these jokes? It must hurt a lot, I imagine. Yet do creators stop to think about who they’re hurting as they write these gags? Doesn’t seem like it.

Comics creators are one of the creators that think the most about whom they’re creating for. Living with one creator, having read manga for so long, it’s obvious to me that a lot of them think about “will this sell” and “will my audience like this.” While a lot of comics creators love what they do immensely and do it in part to fulfill their needs to create what they love, very few never think about who’s going to be reading. But do they think about who they hurt at the same time? Sometimes, but I’d really like to see them do it more. Here’s where self-censorship comes into play.

I’ll reiterate that I don’t want to put any bans on any creators. What I would to do is encourage creators, especially comics creators, to think about whom they might hurt with a joke and make the choice whether or not that needs to be their punch line. Would they actually change their material because they stopped to think about it? I don’t know and it’s up to them.

On the other hand, plenty of creators do this all the time. They decide whether or not a certain subject would be appropriate for what they are doing, tossing out ideas left and right that they are against or think their audience would react poorly to.

Now, dear readers, do you think trying to encourage creators to think about those who might be negatively affected by their work is outright censorship? What about self-censorship? How do you feel about comics creators choosing to specifically avoid certain jokes and topics? Is it wrong for people to be enraged and hurt by creators who choose to include such topics? Are we oppressing these creators’ choices by saying we’d like to see more sensitive punchlines or are our values as a society changing ahead of some creators’?

What do you think?

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