Deep Thoughts, 2/12/09

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No kibbles ‘n’ bits today — it’s all hard thinking.

§ Steven Grant attempts to write a brief history of a certain school of comics writing that flourished from c. 1997 until FINAL CRISIS, a school — led by Grant Morrison — which he calls “mad ideas.” We’re not 100 percent down with the piece, but it’s a good start:

The idea of density of content is basically a good idea, especially as a counterbalance to the “decompression” trend. (Warren Ellis, in THE AUTHORITY, demonstrated how to successfully accomplish both simultaneously.) Environment is a key concept that ties “mad ideas” in with density of content; the presentation of the unusual or apparently crazy, in multiple shapes and variations, as the context for dramatic action, can result in very appealing and ambitious comics. There are many good examples of “mad ideas” comics: Ellis’ TRANSMETROPOLITAN, PLANETARY and GLOBAL FREQUENCY; Moore’s PROMETHEA and his later MIRACLEMAN run, and the Neil Gaiman variation that follows; Morrison’s DOOM PATROL and THE INVISIBLES. Not surprisingly, such series tend to steer away from traditional superheroics, often away from traditional superhero or adventure story concerns entirely, so that they almost seem to be a separate genre. (I once described the superhero branch of the “mad ideas” school as “post-superhero,” though the latter is less a subset of the former than an intersecting set.)


§ Later in the same piece he quotes an anonymous observer who has a variant view on NYCC09:

Despite the sold-out (pre-ordered tickets) attendance and Saturday’s turnaway crowds, there was a muted air about the whole con. No big buzz about anything. No big movie announcements, no big TV announcements. No comic or project generated any real buzz. Dave Gibbons presenting the first 18 minutes of WATCHMEN is, after all, a known quantity for a movie that doesn’t need anymore buzz than it already has. In spite of Heidi Macdonald’s rah-rah commentary, there was a depressed air because indie booths barely saw people buying their books despite a lot of look-sees. The only real buzz was for the video game demos and they had an even bigger presence than ever. The only comics that sold were collections of PVP and PENNY ARCADE, and those were tied to the gamer demographics and already had big followings.


Since I’m being called out for being “rah rah” — a fair assessment — I do want to make it clear that it’s entirely possible that where I spent most of my time, there was a more “rah rah” type atmosphere than where other people sat. As I said in my piece yesterday, I think it will be a while until we unpack just what’s going on.

§ Fantagraphics marketing guru Eric Reynolds is less than thrilled with the new New York City -centric focus of the BEA:

…I’ll spell it out more clearly: Chicago or Vegas (to give two examples) are actually way better level playing fields if the goal is to keep costs down for the industry as a whole, and not just Reed Business and those “major publishers” Reed seems so concerned about.

The BEA in NYC is often insufferable when it opens on a weekday, when every “major publisher” staffer and intern and freelancer who would otherwise never in a million years get sent to BEA in any official capacity is in attendance, either as an excuse to get out of the office or to simply acquire Free Shit. This is not a means to an efficient end.

If Reed wants to attract the widest possible base of all arms of the publishing and bookselling world, it should continue to move around. There are publishers you see at a Los Angeles BEA that you would never see at a NYC BEA, and vice-versa. I presume the BEA has always moved around because this was seen as a good thing, being as inclusive as possible.


§ But then see this almost self-parody piece from the NY Observer which asks, “Is There Any Glamour Left In Publishing”?

ICM agent Binky Urban does not believe it would be possible to write much of a novel about modern book publishing. “What is there to say?” she said by phone Monday. “It’s such an internal, sort of cerebral job. ‘And then I edited …’? I don’t quite get how that would work, to tell the truth.”

Quick hits:

What would a Wizard article about Chris Ware read like?

¶ Finally, DC is finally putting out some Batwoman comics, and the result is a lot of headlines like this: Batwoman ~ the red-haired lesbian unleashed at last

 Deep Thoughts, 2/12/09

Comments

  1. “Mad ideas” isn’t “post-superhero,” it’s the essence of the superhero and its pulp progenitors.

    “Mad ideas” is just pulp extravagance filtered through the countercultural lenses of William Burroughs, Timothy Leary, [fill in blank of whatever "real-world" people you think influenced Morrison].

  2. I’ll add that there’s not one “mad idea” contributed to comics by Morrison, Ellis, Moore and certainly not Grant that has been “madder” than Marston’s WONDER WOMAN.

  3. Firefly says:

    Batwoman! Now THERE is a winning character (sorry, I hope that didn’t sound too rah-rah!)

  4. Firefly,
    You’re just saying that because “you” used to date the original. (Extreme Nerd In-Joke.)

  5. Michael says:

    How do those grapes taste, Simon?

    I don’t trust anyone’s online assessment of the con, or any con, because it’s really all just self-centered twaddle and jerking over one’s particular scene. And really, anyone who thinks the status of an entire industry can be summed up by one three-day weekend is a bit of an idiot in the first place.

  6. Meh. Our Graphic Universe booth did twice as well as last year, I spoke with twice as many people, and I got twice as ill. Maybe last year we did so abominably poorly compared to everyone else, we had nowhere to go but up, but just didn’t know it at time. And also didn’t know how abominably sick we were supposed to get. Still, we didn’t top the actual breaking of bones over at First Second Books. Maybe next year.

    So, yeah, you can only see and judge the part of the convention you experienced. I work in a bit of a bubble in kid’s comics, an oddly stable hideaway inside the rapidly deteriorating bubble of kid’s publishing. I hope something good comes of my meetings with artists and writers. I hope NYCC isn’t the only place we sell any of our new titles. I hope I have a job next October. Or next month.

  7. Our show was remarkable. Farscape was a huge hit for us, but really on Saturday the horror books blew everyone away. ZOMBIE TALES still continues to sell out, FALL OF CTHULHU nearly did despite an over-aggressive position on inventory we took. HEXED sold out. I had not pegged NYC as a horror town (at least the way Wondercon and Emerald City are) but they delivered this year. Then Sunday sales hit with other things. Throughout all, our backlist sat on the table and quietly performed with little fanfare, selling out title-by-title.

    We are all still reeling from what a killer show this was.

  8. Yeah didn’t we already go through this “ZOMG LESBIAN BATWOMAN” thing three years ago? I’m damn excited about the book, and I’m as much a fan of red-headed lesbians as anyone, but that’s not why. Actually, Greg Rucka has some funny comments about the coverage on his blog–especially the fact that the BBC misquoted him in their lede (they attributed to him a quote that was totally said by someone else, maybe even Grant Morrison, years ago).

  9. Steven R. Stahl says:

    How many comics heroines or villainesses were derived from male characters? Some examples:

    Supergirl — Superman
    Batgirl — Batman
    She-Hulk — Incredible Hulk
    Hawkgirl — Hawkman
    Ms. Marvel — Captain Marvel
    Hawkeye — Hawkeye
    Satana — Satan
    Mephista — Mephisto
    Kraven — Kraven

    SRS

  10. Steven,

    Your assertion would only prove an unfair hegemony of male heroes if you demonstrated, say, that in a given decade male-derived heroines/villainesses far exceeded the number of non-male-derived ones.

    Otherwise, so what?

  11. And now Spurrier has apparently yanked his post.

    It’s tough being artist and businessman simultaneously. Artist wants talk about what he’s really thinking and feeling, Businessman wants to promote business, and knows that venting doesn’t really help.

  12. Spurrier says:

    Yeah, I decided the tone of the post was a little unhelpful. I absolutely stand by the sentiment — I think a culture of hollow boasting harms both the individual involved and the creative community — but in my sleep-deprived con-crud-suffering grump I failed to express a) how much fun I had at the con and how successful it was for me (no grapes, y’see?), and b) that I wasn’t having a shot at anyone in particular.

    Full explanation HERE, and normal service now resumed.

  13. Spurrier says:

    (Incidentally — at the risk of drawing this out — it occurs to me that the section of my original post quoted in the “Beat” article makes it look like I was suggesting 80% of everything that happens at a convention is bullshit. I wasn’t: I was saying 80% of what comes out of the mouths of boastful people is bullshit, and it’ll only bring you down if you believe what you hear.

    As I said: sleeplessness and illness do not Clarity Create. I love conventions, and always will.)

  14. Steven R. Stahl says:

    “Otherwise, so what?”

    What’s notable is how inferior the female knockoffs are to the male originals, as character concepts. And since the female characters were, I’d bet, all created by males — Creating a female character that’s obviously derived from a male character is automatically a suspect idea.

    SRS

  15. “What’s notable is how inferior the female knockoffs are to the male originals, as character concepts”

    Like most interpretative concepts, it’s not that easy to prove that a knockoff is automatically inferior, or that, if it is, its inferiority has anything to do with its being a female knockoff in particular. There have been an assortment of good and bad Superman stories and good and bad Supergirl stories, but a comparison of the good ones of each might show (would show, if *I* were doing it) that Supergirl’s good adventures had their own distinct character– in part because the character WAS feminine and required a distinct approach. Such a critical survey would demonstrate that female knockoffs were not automatically inferior to the male original.

  16. (would show, if *I* were doing it)

    Objective is a journey, not a destination.

    //Oo/\

  17. Scott says:

    Simon, Simon, Simon…I lost all respect for you. Your original post was dead on. But you pussed out thinking it would probably hurt you in getting future work and now you’re doing what all politicians do and rewrite it and explain what you REALLY meant by it. The first post was more sincere. To me at least. Being a professional in the biz too, I know of what you said originally and it was correct. I don’t do the shows much anymore myself. I only do two per year and that’s too many for me. They are the same and it gets old real fast. I lose count on my fingers over how many say that “it’s a great show and I got some mad contacts!” Oh really? Do ya? It is all 80% bullshit which is hard to gauge how good a show is financially for the pros who go and pay the rip off table fee. Nobody will tell you the truth and say that it sucked and that they barely made their table fee back. Most all do San Diego because they all think they need to be there to make an appearance to promote, and come back hom in the hole financially. I can’t see doing all that for nothing. And meeting contacts for future work will not work like it did in the old days. It’s a different business model now for getting work. Editors who do go like to stroll the show and don’t want to be bothered by pesky wannabees. I remember the first year of the NYCC and some editors I know at DC turned their badges over so people couldn’t see who they were…

  18. Spurrier says:

    I take your point Scott — and it’s well made. From my perspective, I didn’t torpedo the blog because I’d changed my mind; it was rather that I don’t think I made the point very clearly and the misunderstandings caused thereby had been causing grief ever since. I’ve been getting emails all day from people who thought I was suggesting that 80% of what went on at the Convention was bullshit and it wasn’t worth my going at all. Which is absolutely not the case.

    I ranted incoherently and the real point got lost, and it’s not worth the risk of my upsetting friends and enemies alike just to defend the core complaint: “Boasting = Bad.” It’s hardly news, after all.

  19. Can’t get enough of the L Word series finale? Tune in to Batwoman.

    ~

    coat

  20. Steven R. Stahl says:

    Gene, you seem to be taking the position that there generally aren’t bad ideas, only bad execution of ideas. Character concepts, however, can be fundamentally flawed. One example on the list is Hawkeye (Kate Bishop). She has no powers, only combat skills, and her primary weapon is a bow that’s used with conventional arrows. Other weapons include a sword “similar to” (Wikipedia) the one used by the Swordsman and staves like Mockingbird’s. Whatever one might think of her personality, or whether the Young Avengers is a legitimate concept, this Hawkeye has no reason to exist. Using conventional arrows against supervillains is laughable; her fighting skills would be limited by her muscle mass and total body mass; her other weapons are copies. The character is so derivative as to be offensive, and probably wouldn’t exist outside of the Marvel Universe.

    If a character concept is so derivative that it wouldn’t exist without the original(s), then it shouldn’t exist.

    SRS

  21. “No comic or project generated any real buzz.”

    Maybe not in your part of the universe, but there were several significant manga announcements—Yen getting the long-awaited vol. 6 of Yotsuba&! and Viz licensing another Taiyo Matsumoto title as well as Rumiko Takahashi’s new series—that really got people excited. I walked into the Yen panel just as Yotsuba&! went on the screen and everyone was cheering; as soon as I saw the image, I knew why. Manga sales are down overall, and I was expecting a quiet con, but it seems like the publishers are bouncing back with some quality titles.

    Also, in the other part of comics I cover, kids’ comics, everyone was bustling and cheerful. The Disney panel was fantastic—no huge new announcement, but they are making a lot of books and catching people’s attention.

    And webcomics—lots of talk, lots of speculation, lots of energy. No one knows what to do yet, but everyone wants to do something. Also, the Zuda panel was surprisingly good, with about 15 creators—all of whom are getting paid to do webcomics—and a gaggle of enthusiastic fans.

    The only way to survive NYCC is to put con blinders on. I walked past all the TV, movie, videogame, and superhero stuff without so much as a glance. I even missed the booth where people were supposedly watching dirty movies in glass tubes. Never saw it. But in the pieces that I cover, there was plenty of excitement and optimism, far more than I expected to see this year.

  22. Steven,
    “If a character concept is so derivative that it wouldn’t exist without the original(s), then it shouldn’t exist.”

    I’ve seen my share of threadbare concepts, and while some would require so much re-weaving to clothe them that the game wouldn’t be worth the candle, I’d say it’s always theoretically possible to make a silk purse out of any sow’s ear.

    Consider the Scarlet Witch, whom you’ve praised a few times here. She wasn’t derivative of another character, but she was pretty damn bland for, the first six-seven years of her fictional existence. In Avengers she filled a derivative role– that of “the girl”– and had no more character than that of this new Hawkeye you describe. Roy Thomas finally built her up a little and Englehart built her up a lot.

    “her fighting skills would be limited by her muscle mass and total body mass”

    This sounds like an unintentional blanket indictment against all female heroes who don’t have superpowers, not just those that are derivative. Black Canary doesn’t have the muscle mass of Batman, so she’s inherently not as good as Batman, right?

    I presume the majority of female fans would disagree. But what do I know?

  23. The Beat says:

    Brigid — I think it’s kinda telling that at a show dominated by the Big Two, the biggest cheers were for Yotsuba and Scott Pilgrim.

  24. I think the manga market exists in a different ecosphere from the Big Two superhero and indie markets. But even manga is facing a crunch now from the economy with Tokyopop continuing to implode, Viz tightening their belt and bookstores like Barnes & Noble reducing their manga shelves.

  25. Steven R. Stahl says:

    The handling of a character will always be determined by the writer’s intent. If he wants to write a literary character, he’ll avoid using derivative characters, because their themes will overlap with the originals’ themes, and there will probably be other problems with the characters that make them poor choices. If you look at Englehart’s Marvel stories, you’ll see that he didn’t use derivatives –and when he turned Sharon Ventura into a She-Thing in FF, the transformation was a crisis that shaped her life.

    Conversely, if you look at Heinberg’s YOUNG AVENGERS, you see a series populated with derivatives, and that was probably a major factor in why the series failed so badly in terms of storytelling. The characters lacked themes, motivations — Heinberg never even supplied a reason for the teens to form a group. He might have succeeded in writing gay characters positively, but everything else he did failed. Given the ways in how the series failed, it’s pointless to wonder how the series would have gone if he’d created original characters, because Heinberg wouldn’t have been the writer.

    Having an unarmed 120-pound woman take on a 300-pound hulk, or any opponent who only needs to land one blow to take her out, is ridiculous (excepting, of course, Mantis or other women with superhuman combat skills). Given sufficient disparities in size and strength, combat skills won’t matter. The only way to make the fight plausible is to give the woman killing powers or weaponry.

    I’d rate the Scarlet Witch as one of the best comics heroines ever because Englehart managed to give her enough depth and complexity to turn her into a fantasy fiction character. He could have her decide to retire, be a housewife, and raise her kids and make that convincing, because her decision fit her theme, which was a mutant wanting to find a place for herself in human society. Retiring made her non-threatening.

    SRS

  26. Lawyer Man says:

    SRS writes: “Having an unarmed 120-pound woman take on a 300-pound hulk, or any opponent who only needs to land one blow to take her out, is ridiculous”

    Ridiculous? Unlike, say, a puny skinny guy transforming into a 300-pound hulk without the stress on his anatomy and psysiology killing him?

    Hmmm….Food for thought there, SRS. Keep doing the heavy lifting on those theories…..

  27. “The handling of a character will always be determined by the writer’s intent. If he wants to write a literary character, he’ll avoid using derivative characters, because their themes will overlap with the originals’ themes, and there will probably be other problems with the characters that make them poor choices.”

    But you haven’t proved that this is the case with the examples you cited earlier. I might agree, say, that Ms. Marvel’s adventures weren’t radically distinct from those of Marvel’s Cap Marvel, but I’ve disputed your assumption that Supergirl isn’t distinct from Superman, and you’ve offered no counter-proofs. I can cite, for instance, that Supergirl had a multi-part storyline in the early 60s that was different in content and tone from the shorter Superman adventures. To counter that you’d have to prove that the differences I’ve asserted aren’t that important compared to (say) how Wonder Woman, an original creation, differs from Superman.

    “Having an unarmed 120-pound woman take on a 300-pound hulk, or any opponent who only needs to land one blow to take her out, is ridiculous (excepting, of course, Mantis or other women with superhuman combat skills).”

    You’d have to define what you mean by superhuman combat skills. Does that include my example of Black Canary or not? I’ve no acqaintance with the female Hawkeye, but I assume that if she’s a superhero she’s had some martial-arts training. Maybe she’s on Huntress-level instead of Canary-level, but IMO the idea of women being to fight on an equal footing with men is key to superhero fantasy.

    FYI, I’ve referenced your remark on my blog.

  28. Jim SHeridan says:

    Ever since those old guys made Eve just a derivative product of Adam’s rib

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