Monday, June 29, 2009

Boys and Their Swastikas

I already commented on this when the story popped up at Bleeding Cool last week, but today’s Newsarama article on the fact that Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s The Boys #34 evidently won’t be distributed in Germany suggests that there are still quite a few misconceptions regarding German law when it comes to the treatment of insignia used by unconstitutional organizations—such as, in this case, the swastika.

So here are some facts:

o The law in question was, in fact, introduced by the Allies as part of the “denazification” process after World War II.

o The law in question, as per its letter, “shall not be applicable if the means of propaganda or the act serves to further civil enlightenment, to avert unconstitutional aims, to promote art or science, research or teaching, reporting about current historical events or similar purposes.”

o Consequently, it’s not a case of the German government actively prohibiting the publication or distribution of, say, comic books with swastikas on the cover. Rather, the choice whether or not to publish or distribute those books is up to the people who publish or distribute them.

In this particular case, it means that Diamond chose not to distribute The Boys #34 in Germany—likely as a preventative measure, in case German authorities might not agree that the exception cited above applies to the comic.

But it’s not true that “the use of the swastika on the cover of the issue precludes it from being sold in Germany,” as Matt Brady claims in the Newsarama article. As Darick Robertson rightly points out, American Captain America comic books or Hollywood films involving Nazis have always been sold and displayed in Germany without any trouble. That’s because German law or authorities have nothing to do with it: It’s the distributor’s decision.

(That said, swastikas have been obscured in German reprints of the same comics, as well as in the German versions of computer games such as Lucasfilm Games’ Indiana Jones series to avoid getting in conflict with that law. But to those instances, the same applies: They’re preventative measures by the people who make or distribute the material, not censorship.)

If you’re looking for more information on the law in question, Wikipedia has a nice write-up to get you started.

Friday, June 26, 2009

J. Michael Estranged

Writer J. Michael Straczynski confirmed and explained his exit from Marvel's Thor to Jeffrey Renaud at Comic Book Resources.

Here’s the Top 5 things Straczynski explicitly does not say in the interview:

  1. He’s working on a Superman project for DC Comics.
  2. Neither Straczynski himself nor anyone else on the creative team is responsible for the delay between Thor issues. (This contradicts a recent comment made by Marvel editor Tom Brevoort.)
  3. He’s out of the loop at Marvel, even as far as the ending of his own run is concerned.
  4. Someone at Marvel said Boo on his writing on the long-delayed maxi-series The Twelve.
  5. The words “Joe Quesada.”

On a broader scale, Straczynski’s comments confirm that Marvel are now firmly back in a place where the necessity to have all-inclusive crossover “event” stories overrides the value of any individual creator’s voice or plans for a character or series—even in the case of a commercial heavyweight like Straczynski’s Thor.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Impressions from Munich Comics Festival, June 11 through June 14, 2009

Émile Bravo, fresh off winning the PENG! Award for Best European Comic with the German publication of his Spirou: Le journal d'un ingénu, with Hector Umbra watching his back.

Flix (Der Swimmingpool des kleinen Mannes), signing up a storm, and threatening to be buried beneath heaps of Hector Umbra.

Zwerchfell's Stefan Dinter at the controls of some devilish contraption, flanked by Veronika Mischitz (Kleiner Vogel Rot) and Martin Frei (Kommissar Eisele).

Hansrudi Wäscher, the German Stan Lee.

The Comicgate booth, with artists Ingo Römling and Jolly Rotten hard at work.

Some dude, late in the afternoon.

Kramers Ergot 7: The biggest book in town.

ICOM Independent Comics Award winners!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

ICOM Independent Comics Award 2009

The winners of Germany’s annual ICOM Independent Comics Award were announced at this weekend’s Munich Comics Festival:

Die sechs Schüsse von Philadelphia
by Ulrich Scheel (Avant Verlag)

BEST SHORT COMIC: Raues Sitten: Das Babybuch
by Leo Leowald (Reprodukt)

OUTSTANDING SCENARIO: Tara oder Der Marterpfahl, der Leben heisst
by Spong (Katzenjammer Verlag)

OUTSTANDING ARTWORK: Der Schicksalsgnom: Die Trilogie
by Robert Mühlich and Bastian Baier (Zwerchfell Verlag)

SPECIAL AWARD – REMARKABLE COMICS PUBLICATION: Orang Comic Magazin #7: "The End of the World"
edited by Sascha Hommer (Reprodukt)

edited by Thomas Koegel and Frauke Pfeiffer (Comicgate)

HONORARY MENTIONS: Fashionvictims, Trendverächter: Bildkolumnen und Minireportagen aus Berlin
by Ulli Lust (Avant Verlag)

Kommissar Eisele: Kripo Stuttgart
by Martin Frei (Gringo Comics)

Paralleluniversum: Urknall
by Ivo Kircheis (Beatcomix)

Schalke: Helden von ganz unten, 1904-1945
by Michael Vogt (Konturblau)


Congratulations to all winners, especially to Frauke and Thomas of Comicgate, whose efforts in promoting young talent in particular were lauded by the jury—it’s about time!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Dr. Grave: The Unholy Twelve

Antix Press, 2008, paperback, 112 pages, $ 14.99

Writer and artist: Ed Clayton
Cover artist: Guy Davis

(The book reprints Dr. Grave #1-4, originally published in 2000 by SLG Publishing.)

Before I get into the content, I think it’s worth mentioning that Dr. Grave: The Unholy Twelve is riddled with spelling and punctuation errors. Given that the material has now been released twice and by two different publishing houses, this is somewhat remarkable. “Personally, when I create a work, I don’t like anyone to suggest I move a comma in a sentence,” Ed Clayton tells Comic Book Resources. And I sympathize with that. But then again, a proofreader can be rather helpful. After all, you don’t want the first impression of your published work to be that you’re an amateur, right?

That aside, Mr. Clayton delivers a pulp-adventure pastiche that’s actually pretty well-told and frequently funny. It’s not laugh-out-loud hilarious, certainly, but it does fend for itself perfectly well in the humor department. When a raging demon indiscriminately vomits on people, bites their faces off and wreaks all other kinds of prolonged havoc in the small room of a monastery, I raise an eyebrow; when Dr. Grave is probing chaste Brother Gruber’s steadfastness with a three-page campfire lecture on purely hypothetical scenarios involving “soft, wriggling girls, bathing together in a cool brook,” I smirk; and when, in an Austrian tavern, Grave takes up the cudgels for “the Kaiser” to stave off his exposure as an American, I am, in fact, chuckling.

At the center of the work’s appeal stands its protagonist—a straightforward, no-nonsense pulp hero if there’s ever been one. Dr. Grave knows evil. Dr. Grave destroys evil. And Dr. Grave is not bogged down by tedious things like humility, self-reflection or moral ambiguity. He knows what needs done, and, more importantly, he’s convinced that he’s the one to do it. Everything—everyone—else is just means to an end. And, thankfully, Mr. Clayton has the good judgment to leave well enough alone and play Dr. Grave entirely straight: The story is as unapologetic about its hero as Dr. Grave himself, resulting in an intriguing, delightfully unconventional character.

Stylistically, Mr. Clayton’s black-and-white artwork sits somewhere between Sergio Aragonés and Ted McKeever, and it’s a perfect fit for the book. The author is a skilled page-to-page storyteller with a good sense of comedic timing and a knack for putting faces on the overtaxed and the befuddled—which, among other things, means that he’s very good at drawing Dr. Grave’s faithful servant Shandar. Indeed, the question what impossible and painful task poor Shandar will have to endure next quickly becomes a favorite running gag in the story.

Where The Unholy Twelve fails, though, is in making me care about what’s happening. Clearly, Mr. Clayton wants the book to be more than all-out slapstick and, clearly, the potential for that is there, if you look at Dr. Grave’s character and the way he’s handled in the story. But in the end, things don’t quite add up.

For one thing, the structure of the book is at odds with its tone. While the silliness undeniably has its charm in the individual scenes, it also means that I don’t really get the chance to become invested in the plot; and with a plot that lasts a hundred pages, that’s a problem. For another, the story is too flimsy to carry its own weight for the length of a book to begin with.

I could see Dr. Grave as a collection of funny strips; and I could see it as a full-length adventure comedy with a plot that does justice to the characters and allows them to be rendered with more depth. As it is, though, it seems Mr. Clayton couldn’t make up his mind between the two, and the result is a story that distracts from its strengths by stretching itself and its characters too far, and too thin.

Grade: C+ 

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Back in the U.S.S.R.

Well, in Germany, at any rate.

So the two weeks of radio silence turned into two months—sorry about that.

The bad news, now, is that I won’t be getting my comics weekly anymore, so no more weekly reviewing of the latest pamphlet releases. It was fun while it lasted, and I have to thank the crew at Captain Comics for serving me so well for eight months or so, and helping me fill in some gaps—finally got that John Byrne Fantastic Four #288 now that’s been eluding me for ten years, as well as those three issues of the Frank Miller and Ann Nocenti Daredevil runs I’d been looking for for ages. (I also appreciated the free donuts!)

The good news, though, is that I’ve been able to visit some other comics stores while I was on the road, and got a neat stack of books that I will be reviewing over the next few weeks.

My timing sucked, since I dropped by San Francisco’s Comix Experience just when Brian Hibbs was evidently somewhere else entirely on the continent—which, I was told, doesn’t happen very often. It’s a very nice store, though, and I found some indie books by Dylan Horrocks, James Sturm and Dean Haspiel, among others, that I wouldn’t otherwise have crossed paths with. On my way back downtown, I also paid a visit to Al’s Comics, where the clerk was on to me pretty quickly that I was feeding him my “long shots,” but still graciously found me a copy of The Winter Men #4 in one of his longboxes.

In Seattle, it took the combined inventories of Golden Age Collectables and Zanadu Comics to get hold of the first two issues of Phonogram: The Singles Club. Also, at Zanadu, the guys behind the counter wanted to send me to Ed Brubaker and Peter Bagge’s places when they figured out I was German, but failed because they couldn’t agree on where Brubaker lives. While the store looks a little stuffed right now, though, Zanadu’s another great place to discover all kinds of independent comics.

Finally, on my way east, I was lucky enough to step into Chicago Comics, which easily takes the cake as the Bestest Comics Store I’ve Ever Been To. The number of small-press and art comics they’ve got on their many, many shelves in addition to all the mainstream stuff is dizzying, and the store still manages to look open and bright in the process. I swear, they’ve got half the print run of James Turner’s otherwise completely sold-out The Warlord of Io and Other Stories, just sitting there on the shelf. I regret not making it to Quimby’s, but there’s always next time.