Monday, 28 July 2014

Sunday Music

I know technically this is early Monday morning not Sunday but I consider that if I haven't been to bed it's not morning yet. 

Rural Alberta Advantage - Don't Haunt This House From their fabulous debut album Hometowns which will be the subject of a My Favourite Albums blog in the coming week.

Radiohead - A Wolf at the Door Just a great song, from a great band, with a great video. 

Dax Riders - I Was Made For Lovin' You (originally by Kiss) I don't watch a lot of TV normally. Outside of sports the only programme I regularly watch in The Simpsons, with my daughter. Kiss' original I Was made for Lovin' You was on one of the episodes last week and we've spent most of the weekend end singing it at each other. This cover is in celebration of that.

Foo Fighters - Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love (originally by Van Halen) While we're on the subject of late 70's rock...

Die Toten Hosen - Guns of Brixton (originally by The Clash) I almost posted this in my Weltmeister post but decided to save it for Sunday Music instead. It's in English.

Wash My Soul - Tricky One last track from Juxtapose before we move on with Tricky. There'll be another Tricky post during the week.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Long songs

I was talking to a friend the other day about long songs and I though that'd be a good idea for a blog. So here we are. Three songs over 9 minutes long. I've excluded jazz from this, because that's kind of cheating

Kissing the Beehive by Wolf Parade.

The Court of the Crimson King by  King Crimson

Sister Ray by The Velvet Underground

That's it. I don't have a lot to say about these songs now because I'm ridiculously tired so I'm going to go to bed and read comics. Enjoy the three very different long songs and I'll see you tomorrow for Sunday Music.

Comics review - Alex + Ada

This is my first comic review here. I'll be reviewing some series that are on going and others that are complete. This review is of the ongoing series Alex + Ada.  There'll be some mild spoilers in the review; nothing that will inhibit your enjoyment of the story. If you don't want to read any further then let me say now; this book is great and worth your attention.

Alex + Ada issue #1 cover by Jonathan Luna

Alex + Ada is a creator owned series co-written by Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn with art by Jonathan Luna. It's published by Image and currently has 7 issues released. I think, based on the way Jonathan Luna's previous works with his brother Joshua Luna, that Jonathan Luna & Sarah Vaughn plot the overall story and individual issues together and Sarah Vaughn scripts the dialogue.

Alex + Ada takes places in the very near, and recognisable, future USA. It's set in a world where technology has progressed in not too outlandish ways except, perhaps, for the prolifiration of robots. Basic robots that perform household chores and other more advanced robots that are companions, basically sex slaves. (There's no sex or nudity in this book)

Mild spoilers from this point on.

A year before the story starts AI has been banned. Robots with AI had become self aware and violence followed.

The story starts with Alex. Recently broken up with his girlfriend and drifting along going through the motions. If you've been through a break-up you'll know the state he's in. Not wallowing in grief, just recovering and trying to move on. It's his birthday and his wealthy grandmother decides to buy him, against his protestations, a Tanaka X5; the most advanced robot around. She has one, Daniel, that is her adoring sex slave and she thinks it's just the thing Alex needs to cheer him up.

Ada arrives and is completely subservient to Alex. He has no desire to have her but is unable to bring to return her.

Art by Jonathan Luna
Alex  comes to believe that it is possible for Ada's AI to be unblocked in such a way that she can have her own personality. Despite it being illegal he resolves to pursue this. It shouldn't be too much of a spoiler or a shock that his attempts are ultimately successful.

Art by Jonathan Luna
So, that's the plot. What makes the story great is how the obvious themes are explored. Sci fi meditations on the nature of humanity, freedom and morality are pretty common but in Alex + Ada they are explored in subtle, non-preachy ways. Alex wants to do the right thing but that makes him a law-breaker; something he's obviously not comfortable with. Ada gaining full awareness puts there relationship at risk; she's gone from a servant to a friend. He can no longer command her, only try and teach her. Her new freedom comes with significant dangers; the truth must be kept secret from everyone. Ada's explorations of life and its experiences are portrayed with a childlike charm that is almost impossible not to appreciate. But it comes with a price. As Ada learns more she wants to experience more. Given that her existence is highly illegal she has so far been mostly confined to Alex's house. When she wants to go out into the wider world a whole new set of problems with present themselves. As much as Ada has learned about the world she hasn't experienced much at all. She has no idea how to interact in company. She could not pass as a human in dealings with the real world. Yet, she will need to experience the real world at some stage.

A final word on the art. Luna's work is so beautiful. He has a knack for knowing what to draw and how to draw it that comes across as realistic rather than hyper-exaggerated. Alex acts as a decent guy and this is believable because that's how he looks. His grandmother is drawn to be loving towards him and slightly eccentric. It's no surprise that the characters personalities match the way they are drawn so well, Luna is co-writer after all, but it is still worthy of praise.Again, the key word is subtle. The same is true with the colours. Everything has a beautiful muted touch to it. This is very much the not at all distant future rather than some fantastical future.

The first 5 issues of Alex + Ada are available in a collected trade paperback now 9in the US at least, the UK edition is released at the end of July) and I heartily recommend checking it out and picking up issues 6 and 7 while you're doing it. I don't think you'll regret it at all.

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.