Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Wash: 12/16/09

o Heidi MacDonald interviews Marvel editor Jeanine Schaefer on the publisher's upcoming anthology miniseries Girl Comics.

Schaefer's take on the project:

It’s actually comics by women—and I mean, top to bottom: written, penciled, inked, colored, lettered. The logo is by a woman, all the interior design, production, proof-reading and editing is all by women.

[…] We’re making great comics by great women, period—when given the opportunity to create a story about whatever they wanted, the pitches I got back from everyone have been hugely diverse in tone and characters.

If you read the comment thread, you'll find that this is a very controversial topic. Certainly, I don't seem to recall that the other recent Marvel anthology that this is modeled after was named Boy Comics, so I can see where some of the concerns are coming from—particularly when Schaefer says things like, "once we started talking about celebrating the women of Marvel (both the characters and the creators)."

That sort of comment seems very strange to me, and I think it casts a rather unfortunate light on the state of gender relations at the Marvel offices. It produces in my mind the image of apes, scratching their armpits and jingling their hairy testicles in the good old Marvel Bullpen, their lips pursed in bemusement as they ponder the conundrum of How to Properly Celebrate the Ladies.

Maybe Marvel Apes, and not Strange Tales, is the proper pendant to Girl Comics?

What a horrible digression. I'm so sorry.

Anyway, when major publishers feel the need to market comics created by women as novelty items, that's a pretty sure sign that something's off-balance—although, looking at it from this angle, Girl Comics is a symptom more than anything.

On the other hand, it's debatable whether the market that Marvel and DC specialize in is really one that has the potential to be as attractive to women as it is to men. Don't get me wrong: I'm not ready to subscribe to the conventional wisdom that superhero comics necessarily have to be a men's genre; but regardless of any theoretical possibilities or impossibilities, and regardless of what anyone wishes the state of things to be, the de facto state of things right now is that it is a men's genre—a genre of comics largely created by men and for men.

Bearing this in mind, marketing a project like this one as, basically, "Hey, kids: women!" may not be a terribly enlightened or flattering way of going about things, certainly. But it's hard to argue with Marvel that it probably makes sense commercially.

o Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada discusses DC's recent announcement of straight-to-paperback Batman and Superman comics with Comic Book Resources' Kiel Phegley:

I don't know if they've announced page counts on these OGNs ["original graphic novels" –ed.] or not, but let's say for the sake of argument that the page counts is the equivalent of five comic books. If they were to take Geoff Johns' five issues of Batman and sell them monthly, they would probably end up making a lot more money than putting it out as a hardcover. Personally, we've never seen that model work for us financially.

Quesada goes on:

[F]rom the financial standpoint of a commercial artist, if I'm looking for a way to maximize my time versus how much money I make versus how much exposure I get—an OGN doesn't make sense. […] I could do a year's worth of work and put it out as one graphic novel, and I'll be on the stands in perpetuity (if it's good) but promoted for really only one month. […] And that'll boost my career for that month. The book will come out and sell to fewer people because I've had to put something like a $40 price point on it. […] And let's not forget, what if the OGN isn't all that good?

It's a point of view you hear fairly often among creators, but then again, DC probably knows that, too.

As I see it, what DC Comics is doing with these original book-length works—probably thanks to the recent management changes, but who knows—is an experiment. It's an experiment that's overdue, more precisely, even though nobody can be sure it'll make any kind of money—even though, in fact, it's emphatically unlikely that this will be equally viable commercially as the old periodical approach.

The reason why this experiment is overdue is that the direct-sales market, and with it the number of people who frequent comic-book specialty stores, is shrinking, and will continue to shrink.

Now, in the long term, I don't know that straight-to-paperback comics are necessarily the answer for the North American comics market—they probably won't be for Marvel and DC.

What I'm fairly sure of, though, is that they're one of the answers.

So, ultimately, in terms of testing the waters and finally confronting not just the audience, but also the retailers with the fact that the way it's being done now is not the way it'll be done ten years from now, I think this is a move that makes a lot of sense on DC's part—even if it won't pay off for them immediately, commercially.

o Confirmed: Matt Fraction is the new writer of Thor, starting with issue #610, out sometime in the first half of 2010.

What Fraction tells Hero Complex and Comic Book Resources sounds good, so I'm hoping that we're in for something like Invincible Iron Man, rather than something like Uncanny X-Men.

o Over at Newsarama, David Pepose quizzes Kurt Busiek, Marvels and Thunderbolts co-creator and former Avengers, Iron Man and Power Man & Iron Fist writer, on creating characters for Marvel.

o Newsarama's multi-part look at the rise of the Avengers franchise from a reasonably successful title to North America's most successful comic-book franchise since 2004 is worth a look, mainly for Vaneta Rogers' interviews with writer Brian Michael Bendis and editor Tom Brevoort.

I found Brevoort's appraisal of Bendis' approach to be particularly interesting:

[Bendis] came in and wrote Avengers unlike Avengers had ever been written. Everybody who had written Avengers up to that point, to one degree or another, looked back and went, well what did Stan do and what did Roy Thomas do and what did Steve Englehart do? What's the formula? How do you write an issue of Avengers? Whereas Brian just went in and said, I'm going to let these characters kind of bounce off one another and use my own innate sense of pacing and structure and just pace it differently.

That's true, I have to admit. I don't hold Bendis' Avengers-related work in any kind of esteem—I think it's pandering, shoddily made work that caters to the lowest common denominator and falls apart when regarded with any degree of scrutiny, personally—but I have to concede it's very different in its approach from previous runs.

Brevoort also shares his thoughts on what, precisely, distinguishes Bendis' approach from the approaches of his predecessors:

Brian very, very often will have a character say one thing while he's thinking something else. Or thinking the opposite. And that's all down to the artist to interpret that masquerade, that Luke Cage is really thinking black when he's saying white. And that's a very common sort of motif in screenwriting.

People don't necessarily say exactly what they're thinking and aren't quite that direct. And for the longest time, if you had word balloons or you had thought bubbles or you had over-narration in comics, that was absolutely definitive, to the point where there are plenty of fans still online who will say, "Yeah, but he said this.["]

Compare this with what Steve Gerber—and things always seem to come back to Steve Gerber—told Gary Groth of The Comics Journal, circa 1978:

In Man-Thing #1, I think, we showed [Howard the Duck] grabbing up a gun firing at some demons, quacking something like, "You better watch it, you guys! I happen to be a crack shot! (ha ha)."

Later, much later, we had Howard using a gun again, firing wildly, and several readers wrote in to ask, why is Howard having so much trouble handling this gun when we know from Man-Thing #1 that he is [a] crack shot!

Because you couldn't hear how the Duck spoke the line in Man-Thing #1, because there wasn't enough on his face to indicate the vocal intonation—the statement was interpreted literally by an embarrassing number of readers. You can't do an obvious bluff in a comic book without it being taken literally.

And here we are, 30 years later. The more things change, the more the American comic-book market stays the same.

o Now up: a review of Joss Whedon and Fábio Moon's Sugarshock.

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