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A View From The Cheap Seats:
Comic Potpourri By Rich Watson
SMALL PRESS NEWS:
Quite a bit of small press items to write about this week, which is always good. First, you may have heard by now that the Small Press Expo announced that they would stay in Bethesda for at least one more year after all. That's fine by me, especially now that they're gonna make Sunday a full exhibition day as well. I just hope they'll still be able to accommodate everyone, because this is one show that keeps on getting bigger and bigger. Meanwhile, the MOCCA Art Festival announced that all tables are sold out for next year's show, June 22, here in New York. It promises to be an even bigger and better show than last year, so be sure to mark it on your calendar.
Creators with new comics that they want to promote should check out Jim Coon's Small Press Previews site. This is a pretty cool idea: SPP contains at least six different books every month. It can be downloaded, printed out in bulk, and handed off to small press-friendly comic shops (slipping copies inside the Previews catalog would be ideal). For further details, check out the website.
Next, Bob Corby provides the following updates for next year's SPACE convention: a free program book will be offered for the first time, which will include a panel listing, a floorplan, ads, and maybe some strips and articles. Currently, it'll be ashcan sized (5 ½" x 8 ½"), with possibly a color cover and a size change. Ad sizes and prices are:
Full Page 4 ½ " W x 6 ¾ " H $50.00 Half Page 4 ½ " W x 3 ¼ " H $30.00 Quarter Page 2 1/8 " W x 3 ¼ " H $16.00 Back Cover Color 4 ½ " W x 6 ¾ " H $500.00 (subject to change) Back Cover B&W 4 ½ " W x 6 ¾ " H $100.00 (this will only be used if no one is interested in color)
Art and ads should be sent to: Back Porch Comics, P.O. Box 20550, Columbus OH 43220. The deadline is February 15, 2003.
Also, Bob is recommending that exhibitors obtain vendors' licenses. Ohio residents without regular vendors' license can obtain a Transient Vendor's license by filling out form ST-1T from the Ohio Department of Taxation website. The one-time application fee is $25.00 and there is no further fee except for the sales tax you collect as long as you file every six months (even if you have made no sales in Ohio). Non-Ohio residents can get sellers' license (without a fee) by filling out form UT-1000, also from the Ohio Department of Taxations website. You can also get either form by mail: Ohio Department of Taxation, P.O. Box 182215, Columbus OH 43218-2215.
If you want to know about more indy-friendly conventions, Ian Shires and Rick Olney are compiling a list of them at the Small Press Association site The list includes local hotel rates, table costs, admission fees, and even a forum for site visitors to rate each show. I know that I would've loved to have had something like this when I started self-publishing, so believe me when I say that this is an extremely valuable resource.
And speaking of self-publishing...I received the first two issues of a new book called Opposite Forces, by Tom Bancroft, a former Disney animator. It's about what happens when a computer geek and the girl he secretly pines for both get zapped with powers stolen from a superhero by aliens. (Covers all the bases, doesn't it?) The art, as you might expect from an animator, is delightful. One could practically read this book with the pictures alone.
The story has an all-ages look, but it has a dark undercurrent to it. The superhero, Captain Dynamo, is a media whore who manipulates his actions for maximum effect and has contempt for the people he protects. Marty, the protagonist, is a slightly lecherous voyeur who talks to his dog for comfort and acts like a perpetual teenager. Intentional or not, there is quite a bit of subtext throughout this book that makes me wish was played up more in subsequent issues, however I suspect the artist's intent is to keep things light. Indeed, Marty acts childlike enough that I could see pre-teens (ages 10-12) enjoying this kind of story. The idea of couching adult themes in what appears to be a kid-friendly story appeals to me greatly; Richard Moore does it in Boneyard, for example, but he pushes the envelope a bit further. While Opposite Forces is enjoyable on its own merits, it doesn't quite go as close to the edge. Still, the attention to characterization and the leisurely pace make this worth a look.
I also got a mini-comic called Happy Town by Justin Madison that's a rather ambitious pastiche of multiple genres woven together in one story. The plot is too complicated to explain here (and the issue I have, number 6, was in the middle of a story arc) but it somehow combines superheroes, fantasy, sci-fi, crime, romance and maybe more. When taken one subplot at a time, it actually wasn't hard to follow, and the snowstorm that falls into everyone's lives unexpectedly is the perfect way to tie everything together. The art is very gentle and quite detailed; it looks like a cross between Craig Thompson and James Kochalka. If you like the work of Death by Chocolate and Threshold's David Yurkovich and Madman-era Mike Allred, this would definitely be up your alley.
[WARNING: I'm about to talk in detail about the film Star Trek: Nemesis. If you don't want to know what happens in it, I suggest you skip down to the next section.]
So I went to see Star Trek: Nemesis opening day (the 13th). This film did what the previous one, Insurrection, failed to do well: balance action with drama and make both equally compelling to watch. The story revolves around the fate of the Romulan Empire and its offshoot sister race, the Remans. The latter has lobbied the Romulan Senate for equal rights, led by an outcast human named Shinzon, who has a unique connection to Captain Picard, who's called in to investigate the situation. As it turns out, however, Shinzon has plans that go far beyond uniting the two races. The key to the movie lies in the relationship between Shinzon and Picard, which I won't reveal here but it's captured very well in the scenes they share. I remember reading somewhere that they wanted to give Picard his own version of Khan, and indeed, this movie will invite many comparisons to Star Trek II (right down to the climactic spaceship duel). I would say Shinzon is definitely one of the better villains in recent Trek history; he's got a tragic past, he's got a legitimate reason to be mad, and he knows how to push Picard's buttons. Additionally, Riker and Troi finally tie the knot, Data encounters a prototype of himself, and as for the ending...well, you better be prepared to bring an extra handkerchief or two.
Nemesis has a look and feel that's very distinctive from its predecessors. There's a great sequence where Picard, Data and Worf are travelling on a desert planet in a dune buggy that was shot with muted colors and grainy film stock. It felt very Mad Max (although I couldn't tell who was chasing them or why). There's a very disturbing scene where Shinzon's telepathic henchman attacks Troi at the worst possible moment. (She gets even, though.) The scenes between Shinzon and Picard, good as they are, are made better by the acting. I've learned that about fifty minutes worth of scenes got cut, which is a pity since some of it might have illuminated some stuff here and there (such as what made the woman Romulan officer betray Shinzon). The script's not perfect; there are continuity errors here and there, but aren't there always? Still, this was a very intense and dynamic film that I enjoyed. As for the ending… well, despite avoiding spoilers as much as possible, I had a strong suspicion as to what was going to happen (though I didn't know for certain). I honestly didn't think I would get so broken up about it. Right up until the moment itself, I still held out hope that it wouldn't happen. But it did. And now I find I understand what fans felt like a generation ago when the same thing happened to another Star Trek icon...and it truly feels as if I've lost a friend.
A related aside for Trek fans in the New York area: there's a place in the city that's currently selling used Trek novels cheap - but it's not a bookstore. It's a carpet shop, on 10th Avenue, just off of West 47th Street. If you go there, you'll see a sign on the front door indicating as much. The woman who runs the place has a bunch of old novels in a box that she's selling for $2.50 each - it's mostly Next Generation, with some Deep Space Nine and Voyager ones in there too. But you better get over there quick - I've already bought a couple of Peter David TNG novels, and I'll probably be back for more!
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GAYS IN COMICS:
Last month I attended a seminar about gays in comics here in New York. It was quite an impressive discussion - and a large turnout, as well. It was led by DC Comics editor and part-time cartoonist Joan Hilty (who brought along some free comics from her employer; regrettably, I didn't grab anything of worth). The panel also included recent Wonder Woman writer-artist Phil Jimenez, former Milestone artist Ivan Velez Jr., gay comics legend Howard Cruse, SequentialTart.com writer Denise Sudell (who moderated a similar discussion at San Diego this past summer), and underground cartoonist Jennifer Camper. The talk ranged from the panelists' personal experiences with comics growing up (Jimenez shared some particularly insightful comments about how much Wonder Woman meant to him as a kid) to defining the gay experience as it shows up in comics and other forms of entertainment. It went very well. Personally, some of my favorite titles over the past decade or so have had gay themes (Stuck Rubber Baby, Enigma, Pedro & Me), and as the climate for gay expression continues to grow, I think we'll get to see more and more stories like these.
It's a pity Joe Quesada and Ron Zimmerman didn't attend this panel; they might've learned a thing or two. The way the media has jumped all over this "story" concerning Marvel's forthcoming Rawhide Kid mini-series - which will reveal the Golden Age western character to be gay - is irritating, but not surprising. While corporate comics should not be afraid to approach real world subjects every now and then, such as homosexuality, I believe a problem occurs when the story takes a backseat to the issue itself, which is what I see happening here.
Funny how Quesada and company shout about this book yet ignore their own X-Statix, which has had a gay subplot running for quite awhile now - but then, that's not an idea Quesada can take credit for. Additionally, I see a lot of people saying that they don't want to read about real world topics like this in comics. I suspect - I hope - what they really mean is they don't want it in their comics, which is all well and good, but by not quantifying such statements, they run the risk of perpetuating the fallacy that comics are only good for harmless kiddie-fare, a fallacy that refuses to die (as the discussion on CNN's Crossfire plainly illustrated). And perhaps the worst part of it all is that a talentless hack like Zimmerman gets more exposure for this one title than a giant of a creator like Howard Cruse does for an entire body of work - an oeuvre that says more about the gay experience and is filled with more realism and sincerity than anything Zimmerman could ever dream of achieving. Am I prejudging? Yes - and I so badly want to be proven wrong. But I got a feeling I won't be…
SPEAKETH THE TRUTH:
A few words about Truth: Red, White and Black because my sister wanted me to talk about it. She and I were discussing it recently because she had read about it somewhere. I explained the basic premise of the Marvel mini-series (she mistakenly called Captain America "Mr. America") and she sounded genuinely interested. She hasn't read comics, as far as I know, since we were both kids (I distinctly remember she had a big collection of Harvey comics that I would read when she wasn't around), so if this can get her reading comics again, then that's certainly a good thing.
So far, not a lot's happened in the story, but I think for it to have any long-term impact, it needs to be referenced in the present day. We need to see Steve Rogers learn about this black super-soldier that came before him and what happened to him and we need to see his reaction to it. The worst mistake Marvel can make with this book is letting it become a simple footnote in the history of one of its greatest characters. That would undermine all the work they've done to promote Truth and make it relevant. Perhaps we'll see Rogers at the end, having uncovered this entire story. I certainly hope so.
OFF THE RACK:
Haven't talked about what I've read lately, so let's take a look: CrossGen's first two Key Issues - jumping-on points for new readers - were for The First and Mystic. I hated the former; liked the latter. We had a discussion about The First at the CrossGen forum at Comic Book Resources, where it was posited that this book is best read as camp soap opera. I can see that, I guess, but it doesn't make me like it any more...
The news that Astro City will finally return in February is joyous, indeed, but while you're waiting for it, you might wanna check out Power Company (DC), also written by Kurt Busiek. I started with issue 8, which he and penciller Tom Grummett hyped up as a jumping-on point, and I was intrigued, but still not completely sold on the premise of a superhero team run like a law firm. Issue 10 sold me. A lot of office politics, character studies, and a dash of weirdness made it almost read like an issue of Astro City...
The first arc of Herobear & the Kid (Astonish) ended with issue 5, and it contained some major revelations as to who created Herobear and Tyler's ultimate destiny. A great finish to a compelling and delightful story, and hopefully there'll be more to come soon...
If you're still not reading Patty Cake & Friends (SLG/Amaze Ink), you don't know what you're missing. Scott Roberts is taking these characters and adding more and more layers of depth to them to the point that the book reads like drama - and yet he still knows how to put Patty Cake in funny situations. Scott is working at a higher level, and this book has never been better than it is now...
Peter Milligan and Phillip Bond's Vertigo Pop: London (DC/Vertigo) may not have the same acerbic satirical wit as Milligan's X-Statix, but like that book, it examines the price of celebrity, in addition to meditating on lost youth. Pop culture isn't as central to this mini-series as it was to its predecessor, set in Tokyo, but it's an entertaining read nonetheless, and Bond's art is a joy as always...
Jay Faerber's new graphic novel The Hat Squad (Moonstone/Noir) is an enjoyable bit of pulp. Bits of dialogue sounded somewhat contemporary, and it was a little tough to distinguish the characters when they all had their hats on, but it's good to see him trying stuff in different genres.
So, since I won't be around next week to say it, let me take this opportunity to wish you and yours the happiest of holidays, and may you get as good as you give! I'll be back here in 14 to present my Top 10 Comics List for 2002, plus a year-end wrap-up and a very special announcement!
Finally, I want to send out congratulations to Amy Unbounded creator Rachel Hartman and her husband Scott, who just announced that they're expecting their first child. Best wishes to you both!
A graduate of New York's School of Visual Arts, Rich Watson has been a self-published cartoonist since 1993, and whose output includes the superhero drama CELEBRITY and the romantic fable RAT: A LOVE STORY. He currently resides in New York and gets his comics weekly from Jim Hanley's Universe and Midtown Comics. Talk to him and comment on his column by visiting his message board.