Thursday, 24 July 2014

My favourite albums - Juxtapose & listening to Tricky

If you've been reading the weekly Sunday Music posts you know that for the last few weeks I've been posting Tricky songs every week. The problem is, that's only one or two songs out of six I post on a Sunday. Here's a solution. It's moving a little too slowly for my liking. It's been a while since I've made a new entry in the My favourite album series. This is a way to kill two birds with one stone.

Today I'll be talking about Tricky's 1999 release, Juxtapose.

Juxtapose was released in 1999; the first album to not feature Martina Topley-Bird on vocals. It is, I think, a big step forward in Tricky's style. Maxinquaye was such an impactful album that all the albums that followed it felt like reactions to it. Not attempts to copy it or improve it necessarily. The albums that followed Maxinquaye were all good; I personally rate Pre-Millennium Tension very highly. None of them quite stepped out of the shadow that the masterpiece that is Maxinquaye cast.

Juxtapose does step away from it. It's an entirely different style of music. Maxinquaye is over the horizon and in the past.
Contradictive by Tricky

This is the sound of a more mature Tricky. No longer an artist worrying about the trip-hop label being hung on him; he decisevly moves away from mid-90's trip hop. There's an argument to be made that trip hop follows the direction Tricky sets on this album, that doesn't change the altered course Tricky lays down here.
For Real by Tricky

Some credit for the album must of course go to producers DJ Muggs & Dame Grease. DJ Muggs is Cypress Hills' DJ & producer and has worked with a lot of other bands and artists. Including, oddly enough, Simply Red and, most famously, House of Pain. Dame Grease is probably most well known for his production with DMX and Nas. There's an entirely different feel to this album than all the ones that went before and a lot of that must be down to the producers.

She Said by Tricky

All that said, this is still unmistakably a Tricky album. His vocals are still delivered with that characteristic low almost growling tone. His lyrics are down to earth and often poignant. It is a Tricky album and it is a great one.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Sunday Music

A neighbour of mine is playing Elvis songs, a selection of his saccharine songs that must come from an album called 'Absolutely not the best of Elvis', at a volume that is frankly un-neighbourly of them. This is the problem with summer in northern England. We're so unused to the sun that we don't know how to handle it; I suspect my neighbour is playing Elvis in an attempt to appease the angry ball of fire in the sun.

Enough of my environment, now for the music. I know I didn't post any covers last time; I've included two this week to make up for it.

The List by Defiance, Ohio Defiance, Ohio is a real place, but the band are from Cleveland, Ohio. This comes from their third album The Fear, The Fear, The Fear. In this blog's first go round I featured Defiance, Ohio a time or two. For those of you who are new to them, they are a mostly acoustic punk band. Defiance, Ohio are close to the top of my list of bands I'd love to see live.

Lump by The Presidents of The United States of America I ended up with this song stuck in my head earlier in the week and I decided that it had to go here. If nothing else to get it out of my head and into yours.

Teardrop by Brad Mehldau (originally by Massive Attack) The first cover and the latest in my slow process to turn people on to jazz. I've posted a lot of Brad Mehldau over the years and come to love his virtuoso piano playing. This is a solo cover.

Serenade for the Renegade by the  Esbjörn Svensson Trio This may be my very favourite piece of modern jazz. The song itself is brilliant but this performance of it turns it into something more than that, to use an over-used word, it makes it epic.

All My Life by Frank Turner (originally by the Foo Fighters) The second cover this week and part of my attempt to slowly turn you all on to Frank Turner. Truthfully I suspect most of you are already fans of Frank Turner: if that's the case you'll still be happy to hear this.

The Moment I Feared by Tricky From Angels with Dirty Faces. I think we need a post or two focusing on Tricky's discography rather than just having a video or two every week here. Look for at least one of those in the upcoming week and for now enjoy this.

The comics I buy

There's no shortage of people who will freely give their opinions on many different comics. Sometimes these people buy the comics they talk about and other times they get review copies. (of course there are some people who talk about comics they've never read, but that's try of pretty much any medium).

I do wonder with a lot of these people, what comics they actually pay to read. Which comics they'd continue to read if they had no review copies and only their own money to spend. I decided to post the comics that I buy. Today I'll post the comics that I buy in single issues; there are a few comics I buy only in trade and I'll post about those next week. This isn't intended to be a long review of any of these titles, just a list of what I'm buying and who is making them. Eventually I'll do a more in-depth look at all these titles in blog posts of their own.

Hawkeye by Matt Fraction (writer) and David Aja (artist)  Published by Marvel.

Green Arrow by Jeff Lemire (writer) and Andrea Sorrentino (artist). Published by DC.

Superman Unchained by Daniel Snyder (writer) and Jim Lee (artist). Published by DC

Sex by Joe Casey (writer) and Piotr Kowalski (artist).  Published by Image.

Mudman by Paul Grist (writer & artist). Published by Image. The last issue, #6, came out in February 2013 but Paul Grist said a couple of days ago that more will be coming; it stays on the list of ongoing comics out of hope more than anything else.

Uber by Kieron Gillen (writer) and Caanan White (artist) Published by Avatar.

Miracleman by Alan Moore (writer) and Alan Davis (artist) Published by Marvel. Alan Moore is uncredited in the book, at his own request.

Hellboy in Hell by Mike Mignola (writer and artist) Published by Dark Horse.

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth Mike Mignola (writer), John Arcudi (writer) and Joe Querio (artist) Published by Dark Horse.

Abe Sapien by Mike Mignola (writer), Scott Allie (writer) and Sebastián Fiumara (artist) Published by Dark Horse.

Sir Edward Grey: Witchfinder by Kim Newman (co-writer), Maura McHugh (co-writer) and Tyler Crook (artist).

Baltimore by Mike Mignola (writer) and Ben Stenbeck (artist) Published by Dark Horse. The above Dark horse titles are all part of the same shared universe, Baltimore is not.

Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction (writer) and Chip Zdarsky (artist) Published by Image. Before this series launched searching for it on ebay brought up a lot of criminology text books. This comic is not about that type of sex crimes and is a comedy.

Satellite Sam by Matt Fraction (writer) and Howard Chaykin (artist) Published by Image.

Three by Kieron Gillen (writer) and Ryan Kelly (artist) Published by Image.

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan (writer) and Fiona Staples (artist) Published by Image.

Federal Bureau of Physics by Simon Oliver (writer) and Robbi Rodriguez (artist) Published by Vertigo

Velvet by Ed Brubaker (writer) and Steve Epting (artist) Published by Image

Evil Empire by Max Bemis (writer) and Ransom Getty (artist) Published by Boom.

Alex + Ada by Jonathan Luna (co-writer and artist) and Sarah Vaughn (co-writer) Published by Image

The Fuse by Antony Johnston (writer) and Justin Greenwood (artist) Published by Image.

Trees by Warren Ellis (writer) and Jason Howard (artist) Published by Image.

Shutter by Joe Keatinge (writer) and Leila Del Duca (artist) Published by Image

Transformers vs G.I. Joe by Tom Scioli (co-writer and artist) and John Barber (co-writer) Published by IDW.

The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen (writer) and Jamie McKelvie (artist) Published by Image.

(A quick note on creators. Some of these titles have had multiple artists do different issues; for this post I've just included the artist who is currently drawing the book)

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Weltmeister and fulfilling a promise

I said on Sunday that if Germany won the World Cup I'd post a particular song that my wife wanted me to post on Sunday. For a bit of background, my wife is German, I'm English and our kids are smart enough to support Germany when it comes to football and once England are eliminated I want them to win too. On Sunday night Germany did win the World Cup, their fourth, hence this post.

Germany had previously won the World Cup in 1952, 1974, as hosts, and 1990 while competing as West Germany. The 1990 World Cup happened after the fall of the Berlin Wall but before German reunification, which was officially completed on 3rd of October, 1990. (After the post-World War II split of Germany the West German team started up in 1950 and got to keep the legacy of the pre-war team. The East German team started up in 1952. They appeared in one World Cup, the 1974 tournament in West Germany. They were drawn in the same group as West Germany in the first round and beat West Germany 1-0 in the final group game to win their grooup. East Germany were knocked out in the second round while West Germany went on to win, as mentioned above. The match between the two sides was the only time they faced each other and was the only match West Germany failed to win in the whole tournament. East Germany won the Olympic football Gold medal in 1974 and I'll stop there before this turns into a too long digression about East German football).

I'd like to take a moment to recommend the film Good Bye, Lenin! set around the time of German re-unification which features the 1990 World Cup in a small but important role, without too much of the turgid football that tournament produced on display. It also has one of the best shot scenes in cinema history.

My wife has since amended her request to two songs, and I've added a third from my brother-in-law's favourite band.

The first song she requested is Extrabreit's cover of Flieger, grüß mir die Sonne, (Flyers, Say Hello To The Sun) which was released in 1990. Extrabreit were very popular in the early 1980's, coming along at the time of the Neue Deutsche Welle (New German Wave), but not really a part of it. (Neue Deutsche Welle was a movement based on British punk & new wave, although it developed away from that into something very unique. It also featured lyrics in German, something not too common in rock music in Germany at the time). The original version of the song was by Hans Albers, a phenomenally popular German actor in the 1930's and early 1940's, and comes from the soundtrack to the film F.P.1 antwortet nicht  (Floating Platform 1 Doesn't Respond). Again, I'll stop here before I spend an hour talking about Weimer film.

The next song is Die Elf vom Niederrhein (The 11 from the Lower Rhine) by Böhse Onkelz. Niederrhein is an area of Germany and the 11 from there are Borussia Mönchengladbach, sometimes just referred to as Gladbach, team. My wife is a Gladbach fan, hence this song.  Böhse Onkelz are from Frankfurt which isn't exactly close to Gladbach and there are two clubs in Frankfurt, Eintracht Frankfurt being the biggest and FSV Frankfurt playing in the second tier, so I have no idea why they are singing this song.

Lastly, this is Zehn Kleine Jägermeister (Ten Little Hunters) from Die Toten Hosen (literally The Dead Trousers. It's less literal translation is more like The Dead Beats). Die Toten Hosen are from Düsseldorf, the capital of Nordrhein-Westfalen, of which Niederrhein is a part. Die Toten Hosen are, at least as far as I'm aware, the most successful German punk band. This is their biggest hit, it came out in 1996 and reached No.1 on the German charts, they wouldn't have a second No.1 until 2012.

Although you're probably aware of Jägermeister as a drink it means 'master of hunters' and can be used to apply to gamekeepers.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

A guide to comics part 6 (Glossary)

If you only want to read one of these posts, this is the one for you. I add stuff to this list quite often so it's worth checking the bottom of this list every week or so and see what's new.

Finally, here we are at the 6th and concluding post in my introductory guide to comics. It's not meant o be exhaustive, but hopefully it'll give anyone new to comics, or without a lot of knowledge about the terms that are used when talking about comics, enough information to not be lost when I post about comics. It's said that there's a comic for everyone and I think that's pretty broadly speaking true. If you've never read one, or haven't for a long time, I'm sure there's one for you.

The last post in this series is going to be a list of terms that get used in comics that I haven't covered yet but first I'll post a short recap of some of the terms that have been covered. A Cliff's Notes version of the last 5 posts if you will.

Publisher  The company that publishes the comic.More like a record label than a book publisher these are brands in their own right.

Big Two Marvel & DC the two biggest comic publishing companies in America, they dominate that market.

Independent Smaller publishers in general but more specifically companies that are smaller than Marvel & DC but still have a significant level of availability in mainstream comic shops.

Small Press Small independent publishers that aren't always easy to find in shops.

Direct Market Collective term for comic shops rather than book shops or newsagents/newsstands that have a comic section.

Company owned comic A comic that is owned by the company that publishes it.

Creator owned comic A comic that is owned by the people who created it.

Licensed comic A comic that is owned by neither the creators or publishing company but a third party that license it to another company.

Creators Either the creative team that works on a book (the artist, writer, cartoonist inker, colourist, letterer, see part 2 for more information on these terms) or the people who created the characters.

Issue A single issue of a comic. These generally come out monthly. They're sometimes called floppies because they are bound with a slightly thicker paper stock than the inside pages.These generally have 22+ pages, not including adverts and letters columns. Think of them as single episodes of a TV series.

Trade paperback A collection of issues. 6 issues is pretty standard but the number can vary. These mostly collect a set of issues that form one story together. These are generally the comics you find in bookstores and at Amazon. Think of these as season boxsets of TV series. Often abbreviated to TPB or shortened to trade.

Hard Cover A trade with a hard cover. Often abbreviated to HC.

(Original) Graphic novel Sometimes used as a collective term for comics bound like books, including trade paper backs and hard covers. Technically a graphic novel is longer comic that has never been published in single issues. To differentiate from the collective term these are sometimes called Original Graphic Novels. These are abbreviated as GN and OGN respectively. 

Omnibus/Compendium Trade paperbacks or hard covers with many more issues in. The Walking Dead trade paperbacks contain 6 issues, The Walking Dead compendiums collect 48 issues.

Manga Japanese comics. This term is sometimes used to refer to other Asian comics too and Manga styled comics in other countries also exist, for instance American Manga. Manga is usually sold, in the west, in a more standard book size height than Western comics.

Bandes Dessinées Francophone comics from Europe, particularly from Belgium. I don't see this used to much by English speakers but it does pop up now and then. I've never seen this used to refer to a French Canadian comic, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen.

Album Another term for comics from Europe, again particularly Franco-Belgian ones. Basically a trade paperback, hard cover or graphic novel. Think Tintin or Asterix comics and you've got it.

Runs A series of stories by the same creators on the same comic. For instance Larry Hama's 155 issues of G.I. Joe for Marvel is his run on the book.

Arcs A story told through multiple issues. Generally what is collected into a trade paperback or hard cover.

Ongoing series A title that is published with no intention of it ending. For instance, Batman.

Limited series A title that is published for a set number of issues that was decided before the run started. Watchmen for example was planned to be 12 issues.

Mini series The most common type of limited series. Generally either 4, 6 or 8 issues in length.

Maxi series A longer limited series. I can't think of any that go above 12 issues, but they may exist.

One Shot A single issue story that is only planned as one issue. Sometimes these have more pages than a regular single issue, often double length. I suppose these are just a really short limited series.

One and done An issue of an ongoing or limited series that tells a complete story in and of itself. For instance Marvel's recent UK based Revolutionary War was an 8 issue mini series with issues 2 through 7 telling one and done stories that were set up in issue one and concluded in issue 8.

Web comic Easy, a comic posted on the web. They're mostly like the comic strips that appear in newspapers.

Digital comic Distinct from a web comic these are comics that are available to be bought digitally through a site like comixology but aren't designed to be read on a web browser. They're the mp3 or the comics world. Some only exist digitally, others are digital versions of print comics.

Golden Age The first American comics. Lasting from the late 1930's to the early 1950's. Lots of iconic superheroes, particularly DC superheroes, were created here; Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain America (for clarities sake Captain America is a Marvel property).

Silver Age A few years after the end of the Golden Age, this started in 1956 when DC published The Flash again with a new hero bearing the name. Lots of iconic Marvel superheroes debuted in this period; Spiderman, The Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, The X-Men, The Fantastic Four. It ended, by consensus, in 1970.

Bronze Age Ran from 1970-1985. Superheroes began to deal with more 'realistic' issues like drug abuse and poverty, as well as facing off against supervillains. During this time comics were sold less and less through newsstands and more through specialty comic shops.

Modern Age Started in 1985 and continues to the present day. Started with more 'grim & gritty' comics like Watchmen and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. I really dislike this term, comics from now are much different compared to comics from the 1980's and 1990's. Some people call the current comics era post modern, but that doesn't have a lot of mainstream acceptance. One consequence of the Modern Age was comics trying to shake the idea of being for kids and over compensating massively. The idea of having multiple comics in the same month with the same main character really took hold in the Modern Age and is still ongoing..

Shared Universe The characters from one publisher living in the same world. For instance Superman's Metropolis and Batman's Gotham aren't separate worlds but two different cities in the same country.

Event Comics Comics from a publisher that affect all or most of the shared universe. Almost always superhero stories these involve a large threat that all of the characters have to face together. Rather than Spiderman having to stop Green Goblin killing him all of the characters are affected by a world wide event. Think of The Avengers movie, and that's basically a comics event. These always promise/threaten to change everything forever but very rarely do.

Crossover Two or more characters from separate universes meeting in a story. One member of the Avengers turning up in a story about another Avengers member isn't really a crossover, more a guest appearance. A member of the Avengers turning up in The Walking Dead would be a crossover. Crossovers often feature characters that aren't owned by the same company or creator.

Underground Comix Started in the late 1960's and had their heyday in the mid 1970's. A type of small press comic that were sold in alternative book shops. Varying in size these are surprisingly difficult to define in a few words. These comics were often drug amd/or sex themed. Basically as far away from the standard superhero comics as you could get. Robert Crumb and Harvey Pekar, the subject of the film American Splendor, are two of the most prominent creators from this movement. Crumb's book Hup, from the 1980's, has recently been reissued if you want to get a feel for underground comix. My wife loves Hup but I've yet to read any of them. 

Alternative Comics The successor to Underground Comix. It overlaps with smaller independent comics quite a lot. As the name suggests, these are comics that are different to comics from DC & Marvel and company owned superhero comics in general. Probably the most famous alternative comic is Ghost World by Daniel Clowes.

Cheesecake At the suggestion of my wife. Cheesecake is an art style that features women drawn in hyper-sexualised poses. This is much more common in comics than it really should be. The rarer male equivalent to this is beefcake

Continuity All the events that have happened in a shared universe. This can apply to stories that only happen in only one book but it's much more of a concern in shared universes. DC and Marvel have been publishing for 50+ years and publishing dozens of titles a month for most of that time. That leads to a lot of continuity. Making sure things fit in to continuity is a big deal for some fans, who tend to be quite vocal. 

Retcon a shortened form of retroactive continuity. This happens mostly in comics that are based around continuing stories that have long histories. A retcon involves a writer saying that something that happened in past comics either didn't happen or happened in a different way than the reader thought. An example is Bucky Barnes, Captain America's sidekick. As written originally Bucky Barnes died in an issue published in 1948, seven years after his debut. In 2005 then-Captain America writer Ed Brubaker brought Bucky back, establishing that he'd never actually died but had been captured by Soviet agents while wounded. Not all retcons concern bringing dead characters back to life; they can be used to change things from a characetrs past that a writer or editor dislikes.

Comic Death the idea that in comics, no major or supporting character really stays dead. This is most prevalent in Big Two comics but it can & does happen in comics by many publishers. Some characters are essentially created to be killed, Spiderman's Uncle Ben for example, but pretty much every other character from a DC or Marvel comic can come back from the dead. Sometimes characters are resurrected by supernatural means and other times by the characetrs not being shown as dead on panel. And sometimes it was a clone/shapeshifter all along.

Grimdark a story or universe that is full of bad things happening, often in a misguided, (in my opinion at least), attempt to show that comics aren't just for kids and are full of mature stories. How mature grimdark stories actually are is of course open for discussion. DC are more often considered to publish grimdark stories; I only buy two DC books a month so I don't feel qualified to say if that's true or not.

Longbox A box to hold single issues of comics in. They're a bit wider and a bit taller than a comic and much longer, hence the name. There's also a shorter version called, that's right, a shortbox.

With that I bring the guide to comics to a close. I hope you enjoyed it, learned a little something about comics and, hopefully, have a bit more desire to read some. Or at least not skip my thoughts about comics when I post them.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

A guide to comics part 5 (Licensed comics)

In this penultimate of my by no means exhaustive guide to comics I'm going to talk about licensed comics. Originally I was planning on folding the subject into either the post about company owned comics or the one about creator owned comics, but it really didn't fit either well enough.

Licensed comics are comics that aren't owned by the company that publishes them or the creator working on the comics. The characters in the comic are owned by a third party who gives the rights to a publisher to produce these books and the publishers then hire creators to produce these books. There's a tendancy to consider licensed comics as somehow lesser than other comics and less good. This is nonsense, there have been great and terrible licensed comics, just as there have been great & terrible creator owned comics and great and terrible compnay owned comics.

Therew are a couple of different wat comics can be licensed. Sometimes this can be a big company licensing a property to a publisher, for example Hasbro & Transformers and GI Joe, it could be a character from novels being licensed by the author or his estate,  for example Robert E Howard & Conan,

It can even be one comics creator allowing others to use their creation, for example Rob Liefeld created a character called Prophet in 1992. After the cancellation of the Prophet comic book it was relaunched by Chuck Dixon in 1995 before lying dormant for years until Brandon Graham relaunched it. Even though Graham's work is wildly different from Liefeld's original run, it's still a character owned by the original creator. It doesn't fir neatly in to either creator owned or company owned comics so I've included comics of these types as licensed.

The thing that makes licensed comics unique is they can have pretty big name recognition and they aren't tied to a particular publisher. For instance Transformers was licensed by Hasbro to Marvel between 1984 and 1994. Then it 2002 Dreamwave Productions, now closed, got the license until 2004. The license moved to IDW in 2005 and Transformers comics have been published there since 2006, to, especially recently, critical success.

Transformers aren't the only toy line owned by Hasbro and licensed out, the company also own G.I. Joe (and My Little Pony which I mention in passing because my daughter is such a huge fan of anything related to it and consequently I know far more about it than I ever thought possible).

G.I. Joe was also licensed to Marvel by Hasbro but they started earlier, in 1982, before ending in 1994 and 155 issues. The success of this comic was down largely to writer Larry Hama (he also drew a couple of issues) and one day in the future I'll go into some more detail about how good his work on G.I. Joe was, even though it was basically based on a line of toys.

After Marvel, and 8 issues produced by Dark Horse in 1996, the license went to Devil's Due Publishing, between 2001 & 2008. The Devil's Due series served as a sequel to Hama's work at Marvel. In 2009 the license was moved to IDW, home of the Transformers license, and the story started again with no reference to the previous comics. At least until 2010 when IDW launched G.I. Joe A Real American Hero, with Larry Hama as the writer and the series starting at issue 156. This became a sequel to the Marvel work and made the Devil's Due sequel no longer a sequel. G.I. Joe A Real American Hero is still being published by IDW and still being written by Larry Hama. Remember, this runs alongside, but is completely seperate from, IDW's other G.I. Joe comic that started in 2009.

There's also been a strange situation where Devil's Due, then license holders of G.I. Joe, published G.I. Joe vs Transformer crossover comics and Dreamwave, then license holders of Transformers, produced Transformers vs G.I. crossover comics. Luckily with IDW holding both these license now that shouldn't happen again. IDW are publishing a Transformers vs G.I. Joe series this week, in fact I got an e-mail today telling me my copy of issue 1 has been shipped, and I think it looks fantastic.

Transformers vs G.I. Joe by Tom Scioli
I think this serves as a good example of how crazy licensed comics can be sometimes. I'm not going to mention too many other things except to note that, at least in my mind, IDW, Dark Horse and Dynamite are the publishers who produce most licensed comics.

One last example of the occasional strange publication issues around licensed comics. Star Wars comics were published by Marvel between 1977 and 1987. The license moved to Dark Horse in 1991 and they continue to publish Star Wars comics. However from 2015 Star Wars comics will move back to Marvel. The reason? Marvel are owned by Disney, Disney bought Lucas Films and so now Star Wars will be published by Marvel. IT's a blow to Dark Horse, many of their best selling books are Star Wars books and they are generally well received critically too. Disney did allow some time between buying Lucas Films and pulling the license from Dark Horse and I'm confident Dark Horse has used the time to wrap up the Star Wars stories it was telling and preparing for life after the license has gone.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Sunday Music

I'm posting this earlier than usual this week because I'll be watching the World Cup final this evening. I've promised my wife, who is German, that if Germany win I'll post some German songs during the week so you, hopefully, all have that to look forward to.

I've picked three songs from Merseyside bands first. Then a Bjork track that has the unfortunate distinction of being on the sound track to two less than great films, Tank Girl & Sucker Punch. NExt up is some synth-pop from the soundtrack of Drive, which is a great film and we finish withanother Tricky track, this time featuring PJ Harvey on vocals.

Dreaming of You by The Coral

Pressure Point by The Zutons

Fortune Teller by Space

Army of Me by Bjork

A Real Hero by College featuring Electric Youth

Broken Homes by Trick feat PJ Harvey

Saturday, 12 July 2014

A guide to comics part 4 (Creator owned comics)

Last time, in part 3, I talked about company owned comics. Today I'll talk about creator owned comics. Then in part 5, in a slight change from my plan, I'll talk about licensed comics then in part 6 there'll be a general glossary of terms that you will probably run across but aren't necessarily familiar with.

Creator owned comics are, exactly as the name suggests, comics owned by the people who create them. I mentioned last time that almost all the comics Marvel & DC publish are company owned but there are some creator owned exceptions. Let's deal with these first.

Marvel have an imprint called Icon. They use this for their bigger creators to publish their creator owned comics without having to go to another publisher. Icon is pretty rarely used now and it isn't uncommon to see Marvel's bigger name creators have creator owned books published elsewhere.

DC are different. I don't think it's too contriversial to say that in the competition between Marvel & DC Marvel can be seen to be 'winning' in most regards. This certainly isn't true of their creator owned imprints. DC's imprint is called Vertigo. Vertigo was created to publish stories that were too controversial to be published under the main DC brand (at the time comics in the US were subject to an archaic censorship systems called the Comics Code Authority. To protect the children, of course). Vertigo was the place books that wouldn't get Comics Code Authority approval. Many of these early stories were still owned by DC but from the start Vertigo also published creator owned comics. Over the years Vertigo has become solely a home for creator owned comics and although the quality & number of the books published by Vertigo has waxed & waned over the years it is still going strong.

FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics cover by Robbi Rodriguez, published by Vertigo.

Almost all of the comics that I get are creator owned. I get 2 each month from DC & the same from Marvel, the rest are all creator owned books. In the last post I went through some of the problems of company owned comics, I don't intend to ignore the problems of creator owned comics even though I prefer them.

The problems stem in the main from the lack of copies these comics sell. There's no giant corporation backing these comics and so there's no guarantee of a survivable income from these books. A writer could be contracted to write 36 comics for Marvel in a year. As long as they produce 36 comics they'll be paid for them. If the comic they are writing is cancelled due to poor sales they'll be given another comic to write. (Of course there are other comic types, this is just an example). A creator owned comic offers none of that security. Of course, if a creator owned comic sells well then the creators can make more money than at MArvel or DC. The truth is however, most creator owned books don't sell that well. The Walking Dead sells well and regularly is a top-10 selling book. Saga is another book that sells very well.

Sage cover by Fiona Staples.
For the vast majority of creator owned books, even those at bigger independent publishers like Image, the sales aren't that big. Here's a quote from Kieron Gillen, co-creator and writer of Phonogram that I think sums the situation up well:

We've been doing "Phonogram" for over 4 years, not including the years before the first series came out. Imagine if we could have just done the comic and not had to deal with any of the shit we've had to. We'd have been up to issue 44 now. Instead, we have 13 issues.

I feel frustrated. Enormously lucky, sure, but frustrated. We've done this wonderful thing we're crazy-proud about. But if the whole economic system was just a couple of degrees to the left, everything would have been different. I mean, just to give you an idea about narrow the margins are between what we are and what we could be, if we were selling 6K instead of 4K, we could have done those 44 issues. The difference between breaking even and actually being able to do it in comics is insane. It's like being kept under ice, clawing. I feel like a bonsai plant.
 The above quote comes from an explanation about why a third series of Phonogram wouldn't be forthcoming and comes from 2010. He also mentions that the artist and co-creator Jamie McKelvie was often only earning "a couple of hundred bucks" an issue. That's not exactly a livable monthly amount. (There's a happy end to this story though. Since the end of 2010 people have figured out that  Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie are great comic creators and their stock in the industry has risen. So much so that a third and final series of Phonogram will come out.)

One final word on Phonogram, I know I'm wildly off topic here but bear with me. If you consider that you don't like comics and you only for my music posts and just happen to read this post then believe me, Phonogram is the perfect comic for you. You owe it to yourself to check it out, it'll be well worth your time.

Phongram by Jamie McKelvie
The lack of sales, and therefore money, can lead to series being cancelled and never finished. Or the conclusion to a story being rushed and compressed into fewer issues than originally planned. It can also lead to the publishing schedule being erratic. Instead of an issue coming out every month there can be large and unexpected gaps between issues as the creators have to take on other jobs to pay the bills and work on the creator owned book when they can. An extreme example of the delayed release schedule is Age of Bronze. While most comics are published monthly Age of Bronze, a critically loved & award winning comic, has published 33 issues since it began in 1998. That's right, an average of two comics a year. The last issue was published in July 2013. It's still ongoing and, hopefully, will be finished eventually. There may only be 33 issues so far, but they are 33 great issues.

And really, that's the thing I love about creator owned comics. Age of Bronze tells the story of the Trojan War. Phonogram is about music and culture and growing up. FBP is about a world in which physics has stopped working properly and has lead to the creation of a fourth emergency service. Sage is most often described as Romeo & Juliet crossed with Star Wars. That sounds brilliant but Saga is orders of magnitude better than that.

Creator owned comics show a huge variety of stories and art styles that just don't exist in company owned comics. Characters live and die, they grow old and change. The stories are created by the people who want to tell them, not run through various levels of corporate editorial checking first. Saga is just the story Brian Vaughan & Fiona Staples want to tell, not a story that has to fit in with 50 other stories being put out by the publisher. (50 isn't an exaggeration by the way, DC & Marvel put out a tonne of books every month that are all inter-connected to one degree or another). Even when the comic book is part of a wider universe it's still under the creator's control.

Hellboy might be the best example of this. First there was just Hellboy. Then other books from the universe created with Hellboy started to be published. BPRD, Lobster Johnson & Abe Sapien among others. All these books under the control of Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, although he doesn't write them all. And all really good. Hellboy  and the associated books may be my favourite creator owned comics ever. I'm not alone in that opinion of course, they're well loved by thousands of people. I do believe there's a comic for everybody and in most cases, especially people who don't consider themselves comic fans, it's a creator-owned comic.

Friday, 11 July 2014

A guide to comics part 3 (company owned comics)

We're a couple of days behind on these because I've been watching the World Cup semi-finals but still on track to have the guide to comics series finished by mid-week next week at the latest. This is the 3rd part of 6 eventual parts. This time I'll be talking about the differences between company owned and creator owned stories. I know that sounds less than interesting but it's one of the big things that affect how comics are written and stories told and is much more interesting than it seems. It's a long topic too, so I'll split it into two posts.

Today I'll be talking about company owned comics.

Company owned comics are generally speaking the best known American (and British) comics. If you remember in part 1 I talked about the Big Two, Marvel & DC. Pretty much every one of  the comics Marvel & DC publish are company owned and those that aren't are published under a separate imprint that we'll get to in the next post.

Company owned comics, sometimes referred to as Corporation owned comics when talking about Marvel or DC, are pretty much exactly what they sound like. The company that publishes the comic owns the character and the story told in the comic. For example, DC own Superman. They hire creators to create Superman stories for DC. This is generally referred to a work-for-hire. There have been, and still are, legal actions to bring control of the characters back to the creators (or, especially recently, their heirs) but if I was betting I'd put my money on DC & Marvel continuing to own the characters they do.

Most of the really popular characters that DC & Marvel own are old characters. From DC's character stable Superman was first published in 1938. Batman in 1939. Robin in 1940. Green Lantern 1940, Wonder Woman 1941, Flash 1940. Lots of these characters have newer versions of them too, but they are still pretty old. For instance the first Flash, Jay Garrick, was created, as mentioned above in 1940. Barry Allen, the most famous Flash, was created in 1956. The third Flash, originally Kid Flash, was created in 1959 to be Barry Allen's sidekick before becoming the Flash after Barry Allen's death. Finally Bart Allen, Barry Allen's grandson was created in 1994 as another younger version of the Flash, this time called Impulse before eventually becoming the Flash. The point of this short diversion is DC still exists and creates comics and other media based off characters that are around 70 years old.

All-Star Superman by Frank Quitely 
That's not to say Marvel are much different. They're a younger company but most of their well known popular characters come from a concentrated time period. Just looking at characters that non-comic fans are likely to have heard of you have Iron Man, created in 1963. Nick Fury was created in 1963, (although the version based on Samuel L Jackson that is familiar from the movies where he's played by Samuel L Jackson was created in 2001), Falcon debuted in 1969. Black Widow in 1964. Hawkeye in 1964 as well. The Fantastic Four were created in 1961 to be followed in 1962 by Hulk, Spider-Man and Thor. Wolverine is a notable later example, being created in 1974 but the X-Men themselves were created in 1963. Captain America is one of the few Marvel characters from an earlier time, he was created in 1941 for Timely Comics, who later became Marvel.

Most of Marvel's big characters were created by a small group of people and that's part of why they all come from the same time. The other part is, very few new characters of note have been created since then. The creation of most of the characters happening between 1938 and 1965 is also why so many of them are white and male.

Superhero comic fans tend to like to buy things they are familiar with and things that fit into an established and inter-connected story. DC & Marvel can provide that. DC have been publishing a Superman comic every month since 1938, and for almost all of that time more than one comic a month. Currently they publish Action Comics, The Adventures of Superman, Batman & Superman, Superman, Superman & Wonder Woman and Superman Unchained. That's 6 comics you can pick up starring Superman this month. Plus there are various Justice League comics he appears in and a Supergirl and a Superboy comic if you want them. There's a Smallville comic too. Superman isn't even the most published example, the point is if you want to read Superman comics there are lots of them for you to read and more coming out all the time.

The shared universe is another big draw with company owned comics. As mentioned above Batman & Superman and Superman & Wonder Woman comics exist to show different characters interacting together. It's more than that though. To give an example from Marvel, every character in those comics lives in the same world. You may be a teenage English girl with magic boots that give you soccer related super-powers (I'm not making this up, and it is much better than it sounds) but if a scientist in NY creates a robot that gains sentience and an Oedipus complex and can self-replicate then you can very quickly end up hiding in the British Museum protected by a magic forcefield generated by the legendary sword Excalibur. (Avengers Assemble #15AU, a genuinely great comic).

Magic Boots Mel by Butch Guice (or maybe Tom Palmer. I thought it was Palmer but Google says otherwise)
Basically the upside is things don't change, you can always get the big characters in these inter-connected worlds.

The downside is, things never change. Sometimes new characters are added, but they're almost always new versions of older characters. Creators by & large don't create unique characters for DC or Marvel, because the company rather than the creator will end up owning them. Because things never change almost everyone heroic is a white guy. The world has changed but DC & Marvel comics haven't really. And they don't because the people who buy the comics don't want them too. So the number of people buying them trends downwards but any action to change this alienates a lot of the people still buying them. It's a tough position to be in. It is partly of DC & Marvel's own making but it'd be unfair to ignore that they have tried to fix the problem. The solutions offered just haven't worked yet. Maybe one or both of them will come up with a solution that works one day. For now they stick to the safety blanket of using decade old characters and earn money for their parent companies through merchandising and films.

One final downside is, because the stories never really change the comics are almost always about characters coming across a problem and resolving it through punching. Even when really talented creators work on these books, that gets tiresome after a while. I'm not saying that stories where problems are solved by punching are bad, I am saying when that, or some other violence related solution, is the way 100+ comics a month play out then I find it has a limited shelf life.

I want to end on a positive note here because I think this post comes across as too skewed to the negative. Lots of the books that are and have been put out by DC and Marvel are great reads. Marvel's Daredevil as currently written by Mark Waid with a changing cast of artists and DC's Superman Unchained written by Scott Snyder with Jim Lee on art are both books I really enjoy. Mainly though there's Miraclenan. Written in the early to mid 80's in Britain and finally getting a wider release by Marvel now (due to ownership complications and compromises far too complicated to go into here) it is one of the very best things I have ever read, comic or not, and I look forward to it every month.

Miracleman by Joe Quesada 
Next time I'll talk about creator owned comics and a little about licensed comics.