The surprising wisdom of Todd McFarlane

If there’s one artist which defined the superstar artist of the early 90’s and of Image Comics especially it is Todd McFarlane. Creator of Spawn, which is now the longest-running independent comic in the USA, McFarlane has been in the industry for nearly 40 and frankly, doesn’t need to be working on a monthly comic anymore but he is because he clearly loves comics.

McFarlane is also deeply controversial, and amazingly to him, still relevant and he’s got a point. There are no superstar artists of his scale in the American comics business right now, which makes his comments on the industry vitally important if you’re a young artist wanting to be the next McFarlane.

I hesitate to call this video on Cartoonist Kayfabe an interview as at times it crosses into being a lecture which is much more interesting. So sit down with a pen and paper, take notes and enjoy…

Don’t pirate comics

Donny Cates is one of Marvel’s ‘hot’ writers, and he really doesn’t want you to pirate his material. This seems a reasonable request, as after all, your average comic creator isn’t raking in the coin unless they’re a Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns or indeed, a Donny Cates. Most creators are doing enough to make a living, but there’s a large number of people pirating work like Cates’s own Cosmic Ghost Rider.

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Now when you pirate something you might think you’re hitting it to Disney, or whatever mega-corporation publisher, but all you’re doing is stealing comics so creators don’t get paid, not to mention the entire chain of producing to selling comics loses money.  Also if you’re pissed off that <insert title here> is canceled, or that wee comic shop you went into is gone, then think of how many times you pirated a comic denying that sale to a title, income to creators and retailers and realise that you helped cause that. That in fact, you’re part of the problem and that you need to take responsibility rather than whining at creators pointing out the problem online.

Digital comics are cheap. There’s plenty of cheap comics out there if you’re near a shop, or a convention. There’s no need to steal from an industry where so many are struggling.

Happy birthday Cartoonist Kayfabe

Comics in the media is a minefield. Comics on YouTube is slightly betteronce one wades through the endless ‘geek’ sites featuring a host desperate to be seen by a major channel, or endless lists of comics, or videos like ‘Why XXXX is REALLY bad!!!’.Sure, there’s some good sites out there (and more of them another time) but comics are mainly served badly by YouTube. Stuff like What Culture does fuck all for the medium, nor do I think those involved with channels like that care about comics.

Then a year ago came along Cartoonist Kayfabe featuring cartoonists Jim Rugg and Ed Piskor. Their first video was about Wizard #1

From these beginnings, the channel has grown into the best comics channel out there anywhere on the internet. A big part of that is down to Piskor and Rugg’s complete enthusiasm and love for the medium of comics, and no, not just the usual suspects but things like early Image and 80’s black and white independents, including from the likes of Aircel.

Because the pair love comics, and because they’re coming to comics from a different perspective, even an auld hand like myself is learning things about how comics are created, marketed, sold and with things like their history of Wizard, I learned a few things about a time in comics which history does badly, and that my brain cells have lost memories of.

In short, if you have a genuine love of comics then you should be watching this channel which you can find here. Go over there now and join in their first birthday celebrations!

2019 Mile High Comics tour

I’ve spoken about Mile High Comics and its owner Chuck Rozanski often on this blog, but really I want to be let loose in his shop, if I can call something that looks like an airplane hanger a mere shop. I could literally spend a month in there and barely touch the edges of what’s there, but I love these videos of owners proud of their shops and what they’re doing with them.

So here’s Chuck showing us all round his ‘shop’ making all of us insanely jealous about what he’s got in stock…

What I thought of Absolute Carnage and other comics

In which this is the latest of a series of occasional blog talking about recent comics, and to start the big Marvel crossover event since the one they had in the spring, Absolute Carnage. Written by Donny Cates and drawn by Ryan Stegman this teams Spider-Man and Venom up against Carnage in a story that is virtually incomprehensible if you’ve not been reading Cates’s run on Venom, or dipped in and out of various Spider-Man titles over the years.

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If you don’t want to dive into Wikipedia, Cates does include pages of exposition in the first issue explaining what’s going on as Eddie Brock brings Spidey up to speed with what’s going on but it’s a scene that kills the story stone dead. Prior and post this scene, the comic is a pretty average superhero title with lots of fights as one would expect from a massive crossover event. The problem with these events now is they’re weighted down with so much continuity that they have to have these scenes to explain to reading just what the fuck is going on.

And what is going on is that Venom and Spider-Man have to fight loads of Carnage controlled symbiotes who are out to kill as many people as possible. It is basically what you’d expect, though Ryan Stegman’s art is nice, plus he can tell a story which is a sadly decreasing talent among many Marvel/DC artists. This is ordinary stuff, but there is one great scene at the end of the overlong exposition scene which shows Cates is capable of doing more than he is here.

Which brings me onto Silver Surfer Black.

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Written by Cates and drawn by Tradd Moore, the story is a typically angst-ridden Surfer story, which most Silver Surfer stories are. Again this spins out of another Cates written title, The Guardians of the Galaxy, to tell this story of the Surfer fighting an old evil. There’s nothing spectacular about the writing but dear me, the art is extraordinary stuff.

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Moore is a definite talent,  and his work here veers from surrealism to expressionism to whateeverism. It really is like watching a talent hit his prime, and Marvel need to be applauded for releasing this in the autumn in the same treasury format they released Ed Piskor’s X-Men work.

Meanwhile over at DC Comics, Brian Bendis is writing Event Leviathan, another crossover event wich also relies upon knowing lots of continuity but less so here as Bendis is crafting a detective story so much of the exposition flows better here, but it’s still a crossover that reliesupon characters stopping what they’re doing and telling others the plot.

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Bendis is a good solid writer, but hasn’t bothered to push himself in over a decade and he doesn’t here, but this is still decent enough stuff though it is Alex Maleev’s art which drags this up from the usual DC crossover. I especially love his version of The Question.

The problem with crossovers in 2019 is they give publishers a healthy sales boost during the spring and summer when they’re traditionally fighting against other streams of entertainment. Quality tends to go out the window but here at least, there’s three examples of good to great artists showing what they can do.

And finally, The Wicked and the Divine #45.

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Keiron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s superb comic comes to an end with a sort of coda set in the future when the gods are old and can mourn their dead. It is a firm, definate end. Over the coruse of the run Gillen and McKelvie carved a story which criticised and celebrated modern culture, society and the comic itself  as an artform. As a comic it was one which did a lot but recently never quite got the plaudits it deserved but it was one of the best published this decade.

It is a shame the market goes wild for an uninspiring crossovers while comics which try new things build a solid audience without the aid of empty crossovers. As a comic I wish more tried to explore the medium as The Wicked and the Divine did.

And that’s it. Another blog soon about some of the stuff clogging up comics shop shelves…

The joy of diving into back-issue comics

Here’s a brutal fact. Most comics are crap and not worth the price on the cover. As a semi-occasional dealer this is breaking one of the rules of comic dealers which is not to downplay what you have, but no, really, most comics end up slowly rotting somewhere because they weren’t bought, or over-ordered, or just crap. Dealers who have been around a while however are a teasuretrove of delights as their over-stocks could be utter gems, or their crap something you find to be a diamond.

Back in the days of Bristol’s nearly remembered, semi legendary comic shop Comics and C.D’s, I’d spend hours upstairs in the warehouse raking through endless long boxes to decide the fate of many a comic from a Destroyer Duck to Alpha Flight through to Wild Dog as to whether they lived on in the back issues proper or ended up relegated to the 50p boxes. Today most shops sales stock tends to be New 52 crap and recent stuff which was over-ordered which might, one day, be worth a pound.

The below is a great video of Jim Rugg, Ed Piskor and friends searching through the dollar boxes of a local shop for diamonds and they find many a diamond for next to nothing.

Even as a bitter, old, entrenched old bastard like myself feels a spark when finding something gloriously cheap. I mean I’d kill to pick those Jack Kirby 2001 comics up for a buck each but on this side of the Atlantic it isn’t going to happen. Nobody over here is that public spirited!

I bring a few boxes of overstocks/crap to the bigger shows I do. I do throw some gems in there as a public service but you’ve got to be fast or you’ll miss them. Come along next year at the Edinburgh show and you’ll see what I mean. Til then buy more comics, and search out those diamonds in the rough…

How will Brexit affect the comics industry in the UK?

As it stands, Boris Johnson will be leading the UK out the EU on Halloween, which is going to affect a load of industries, as well as every single one of us living in the UK. How it’ll affect comics is not something that’s headline news but it will be affected, and it will be something many dealers, con organisers and assorted parts of the industry will not be prepared for.

The most obvious affect is the state of the pound which right now is £1.00 gets you $1.21. It is basically, fucked for an industry which is reliant upon US imports so dealers will put up prices, which means people will cut back which means less money (and less sold books) in the market. A $3.99 import will have to sell around £3.6-80 to make any money, and believe me, the profit margin on new imports is thin as fuckity anyhow so a lot of dealers are going to work hard to make the business work. The likes of Forbidden Planet will be ok, but smaller dealers could well go bust.

But that isn’t the worst of it. Right now the entire scene is in an over-inflated bubble thanks to ‘geek’ culture, the Marvel films and the fact more people than before are interested in comics, or at least the characters. That bubble has been growing since 2008 and is due to pop so if you’re a comics dealer you may survive as there’s always going to be collectors, but we’re in new ground in regards much of the ancillary industries like cosplayers, artists, or pretty much any of the oddities that now populates the modern comic convention. Bluntly put, if you offer a shit product and you’ve been skimming by on the seat of your pants now, just wait til people choose between eating and whatever you offer them. I’ve been through at least three recessions as a dealer/publisher and there are always casualties even with businesses run well, but this recession promises to hurt and badly.  I made a deliberate choice to scale back the one day events in the last half of the year so I could concentrate on larger events or the really good one day shows because all the signs are there for the bubble bursting.

For con organisers this isn’t good. The less traders there are, the less money coming in. It then becomes hard to put on a show that isn’t a glorified mart with a few bleak looking cosplayers and someone selling bubble gum flavoured Deadpool shaped chews. The actual realities of Brexit means it will be harder and more expensive to ship in guests from Europe and America, assuming guests see the UK as an attractive place to come to.

It isn’t all bad. Bubbles need to pop to clear out the chaff but this will be more than that as the UK isolates itself from the world because some racist pricks heard Polish spoken on the bus once. This will be hard, and you’ll need to think hard what you want to do to survive and yet again, my only real hope is that Scotland becomes independent because otherwise I can see things being awful for years.