Monday, December 19, 2011

Busy, Busy, Busy

First, book news! Martian Lit has announced Watching People Burn, my fictional account of the Bath school disaster. It has also announced my novel, Nira / Sussa, which took over a decade to write. Both couldn't mean more to me. Here are their covers:

Watching People BurnNira / Sussa

Second, Martian Lit published the second chapter of my The Many Lives of Yelena Moulin today, accompanied by art by Doug Smock (see image at right). It's punchy sci-fi, where every chapter has a twist or a mind-bending idea of some sort.

Finally, my second article on Frank Miller's Holy Terror is up on Sequart. It focuses on the introductory sequence as a key to understanding the text.

Frank Miller's Holy Terror

Thanks for reading! And please, if you like anything, consider sharing them through social networking sites. Many thanks!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Julian Darius Defends Frank Miller

Today on Sequart, I have a piece going up in which I defend -- and try to explain -- Frank Miller.

This isn't something I've chosen to do lightly. My politics and Miller's seem to be rather diametrically opposed. Fervently so, at this trying time in American history. But having said that, I continue to find Miller's work -- including Holy Terror -- tremendously vital. And I think that it's being judged in ways that ignore his own stated intentions, not to mention a good century of rules about what constitutes appropriate artistic criticism.

I struggled very much with the piece, and I ended up cutting thousands upon thousands of words, in which I found myself going off about politics, because that wasn't my intent nor my thesis. It's hard, because I'm so conflicted: I admire Miller's boldness and artwork, yet I'm disgusted by his politics. But surely, there must be a place in criticism for such conflicted responses. And surely, there must be some place for Bold... however offensive and repugnant.

In Martian Lit news, today marks the first non-Julian Darius post, the excellent poem "En France" by David W. Pritchard, with art by Mingagraphy.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Martian Lit Launches Weekly Content

Martian Lit, a new company that publishes offbeat fiction, poetry, and non-fiction, has gone live with weekly content.

The internet's got a lot of literary magazines, and it's easy to get lost in the shuffle. Martian Lit is dedicated to publishing quality work that's different. It has a great team behind it, great web design, a bizarre "About Us" page and backstory, and original art to accompany every piece that's not non-fiction.

This last point makes a huge difference in terms of making literary content visually pleasing and accessible. Online, we're used to reading quickly, and the kind of focus that literature requires can be hard to achieve, especially with email and games and everything else just a click away. Artwork is one of the few remaining ways of providing online readers with a beautiful, immersive experience. And we couldn't have better artists working for us.

The website will be running content weekly. My own serialized novel, The Many Lives of Yelena Moulin, will run biweekly. Its first chapter is up right now, with art by the immensely talented and professional Doug Smock (art at right).

We're also going to be publishing books. In fact, we have already announced our first book, my own Watching People Burn.

Let me close by saying that Martian Lit is very dear to my heart. It's something I've been working on for half a year -- and conceptualizing before that for (no kidding) a year and a half. Of course, Sequart's incredibly dear to me too, and the bulk of my time goes to Sequart. But I (and many involved with Sequart) also have a creative side that doesn't fit with Sequart's mission statement. Martian Lit's there to provide that, and I'm crossing my fingers and hoping against hope that if we run Martian Lit with the same concern for quality that we've brought to Sequart, we just might buck the trends and create something that's both literary and successful. Thanks in advance for being a part of that dream, even if it's just reading or forwarding a link now and then. It means the world to me.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Sequart's Entire Line of Books Get New Editions

I've been working on this for the past three months pretty intently, and today we can announce it: all eight of Sequart's books are now available in new, cheaper editions, just in time for the holiday season.

Every cover has been revised, some substantially. The back covers and spines are totally different. The interiors are in a different, more readable font, and some books have additional images.

Oh, and they're all $7 or $8 cheaper than in the past.

This also marks the first time Keeping the World Strange: A Planetary Guide has been available, outside of comic book stores.

And the new Grant Morrison: The Early Years is the book's third edition, with a new foreword by popular comics writer Jason Aaron and an expanded appendix on Morrison's early, early years, including work for DC's U.K. annuals.

For more information and links to all the books on Amazon and elsewhere, check out the news story, posted today.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Fever of Urbicande Begins!

Today on Sequart marks the beginning of my detailed look at The Fever of Urbicande, the second book in The Obscure Cities.

It's an indulgence for me: a lengthy examination of a comic in French that almost no one's read in English. But it's a fantastic, brilliant comic that's had a very strong influence on me, and it deserves wider acknowledgement. It's my honor to bring it to wider attention.

I sincerely hope you'll read it and share it.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

On The Big Lie, by Rick Veitch and Gary Erskine

Over on Sequart, I have a special Sunday piece reviewing The Big Lie #1, the controversial "Truther" comic book by Rick Veitch and Gary Erskine.

It's a positive review, one that doesn't buy into the conspiracy theories but nonetheless praises Veitch and the comic's ability to tell a story while also being polemic.

The reason this wasn't published closer to the issue's release is that I was struggling with what I wanted to say. I knew I wanted to say these things, but I had to figure out how to balance the political content, because I didn't want this to be a "was there a 9/11 conspiracy or not?" argument. And what I admired most about the comic was actually its story -- you couldn't ask for a political agenda that was better wrapped around an actually really interesting story. Reading it didn't feel like pulling teeth, as a lot of political comics do. Instead, it flowed naturally, and I found myself agreeing or disagreeing with the agenda and how it was worded, but absolutely conveyed forward by the story. More so than in the overwhelming number of super-hero titles, in fact. That's saying something great, but it took me a while to articulate it, with everything else going on.

That's not to say that I don't get into politics in the review. I do. I just don't get into the nitty-gritty of 9/11 conspiracy, which I have no desire to do, having already done my own research and been satisfied that, once one looks at both sides, the simplest explanation is pretty close to the official one.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Fever of Urbicande

Now that Monday's post is up, I can now reveal that, starting next week, I'll be returning to the subject of The Obscure Cities.

For those who are unaware, The Obscure Cities is a French comics series. I've previously introduced the series and offered a four-part look at the first volume, The Walls of Samaris. Now, it's time to look at the series's second volume, The Fever of Urbicande.

Fair warning: it's an enthralling but complicated book, and I'm not going to rush my analysis. If you thought I examined The Walls of Samaris at length, my look at The Fever of Urbicande is going to be even longer because the book has far more to talk about. These are French comics, after all, and the best French comics can be very dense. When an artist spends a year preparing a 44-page book, it ought to be dense -- not in the negative sense of the word, but instead suggesting detail and a concision of implications. That's too often not the case with French comics, but it certainly is the case here. Also, I've loved these comics for a decade now, and I've done an awful lot of thinking about them, so there's a lot to share.

In fact, I just completed another post on it yesterday, and I've already got five posts and over 17,000 words done about the book. Combine this with the 3000-word introduction and 21,000 words on The Walls of Samaris, and I'll clearly be close to the length of a short book by the time I'm through with The Fever of Urbicande. And that's just the second book in a series that runs, depending on how one counts, between nine and 20+ books. Fortunately, I don't have nearly as much to say about most of them, but the task of finishing the entire series remains a daunting one.

It's not one I set out to do, really. When I wrote the introduction, I had it in the back of my mind that, yes, I'd like to continue and at least look at a book or two. But I didn't want to paint myself into a corner, because I knew I might not get around to actually doing the writing. Most writers have dozens of ideas percolating for a decade or more, and what determines what actually gets written is an unpredictable combination of whimsy and outside demand. I've got lots of great ideas I simply haven't been inspired to write, or that I haven't had the time and mental energy to devote the focus required to bring them to life.

Writing about The Walls of Samaris, I comforted myself in thinking that I could stop after that volume, although I'd like to at least continue into The Fever of Urbicande, since I like it so much. Now, halfway through doing so, I'd certainly like to get through three short stories the stem from Fever, and getting to the second means requires also addressing the series's next volume, The Archiviste, because its protagonist is also featured in that short story. As a result, I'm of two minds: my ambition makes me want to cover the entire series, but the practical part of my brain doesn't want me to commit to doing so and then either waffle or become crushed by the size of the undertaking, which could make me feel as if I'm chipping at something too massive to ever complete.

Also, I don't want to be pegged as "that Obscure Cities guy." I don't want to focus on this exclusively, and I know that building in breaks is important for me to maintain my momentum.

So here's my solution: I have a roadmap through the one-year anniversary of my introduction, on 11 July of this year. That should carry me through the next two volumes and two short stories, and it's a good stopping point, because it's about where I'd separate "the early Obscure Cities" from the series' next phase. During this year, I'll make sure that only around half my Monday articles for Sequart concern The Obscure Cities, and I'll build in longer, month-long breaks between volumes. I'll also feel free to write occasional pieces on other days, should they be timely in their concerns. I'll finish out the year and see what I want to do then.

I have a spreadsheet where I keep track of all of this, and as of this Monday, my Obscure Cities articles have been precisely a third of all my Monday posts (although they're only a quarter of my total posts during the same period, counting only articles and reviews, not Sequart News pieces I've written). I'm five weeks into the next block of posts, and that's the point at which I'll be back up to 50% of my Monday offerings. I'll be over that by the time I'm done with Fever, at which point I'll take a break, and I'll try to keep that percentage at around 50% while still covering what I want to get done on the series during this year. If I go over 50%, I'll correct that with another break after the year's up.

Will this be a Sequart book at some point? I've been encouraged to make it so, but I don't know. For a long time, I thought I'd write this as a book, but I'm enjoying serializing it online, which lets me get feedback and breaks the material into far less daunting chunks. And I currently think, given the subject, that this makes the most sense: as cool as a book would be, I don't see it having much commercial potential, because we are talking about largely untranslated French comics being written about in English. Plus, I like giving people this material for free, which means more people will read it.

None of what I'm writing here could possibly interest anyone, except for those interested in the minutia of the writing process. But it's the kind of thing I'm thinking about, as I think about The Obscure Cities and my plans for the coming months.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Why Comics Have Failed to Achieve Real Respect

My Monday article is up on Sequart: "Why Comics Have Failed to Achieve Real Respect." It looks at the difference between literary respectability and pop culture cred, tracking this difference through comics history from the 1980s movement to legitimize comics to today.

If you get a minute, it's well worth checking out.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Writing in Advance

Writers have all sorts of different methods, and my attitude has always been that, while you can take advice from here or there, you're your own person, and you've got to work in a way that works for you. As long as you're being honest about what's good and what isn't, you should test out different methods and not follow a prescription. Some writers schedule hours out of their day, while others ruminate for days or weeks or years, then write manically.

This is a point I insisted upon, when I taught creative writing. It's the work that counts, ultimately, and I don't care how you produced it, outside of my writerly curiosity. That's something I've imported into my job as a publisher: I don't tend to be terribly strict about deadlines, because I'd rather have a great book than one that was rushed, against the writer's method, to meet an arbitrary date. The downside of that approach is that many writers need deadlines, so it's a delicate balancing act.

Anyway, I'm certainly on the manic side of that spectrum.

Two days ago, I finished my Monday Sequart post for 14 November. I tend to run several weeks in advance, because I like the certainty of knowing I have a queue, and this gives me the freedom to live the lifestyle of a quasi-manic-depressive writer, and I know I'm particularly susceptible to the pattern of throwing myself passionately into something for 36 hours straight and then disappearing for three days.

That doesn't mean that I can't slot other, timely material into this queue. If I've got a crazy or a brilliant idea I want to get out there, especially if it's on a timely subject, it makes sense to let that go to the head of the line. But if nothing materializes, if I'm just not inspired by recent comics or current events, or if I'm in some weird writer's funk or busy flying off to Bali to get married to someone I barely know, I know got that cushion of work already there.

And it's hardly filler. It's work I care passionately about. It's just not particularly timely.

And as a publisher, having queues is essential. With Sequart, we tend to run a few weeks in advance, although Cody, Kevin, and I all tend to run closer to a month. The weekends are far more open and subject to scrambling. Fortunately, Cody does a fantastic job as webmaster, working with writers and getting pieces up ahead of time.

That lets me breathe. Because believe me, there's no way to run a website with daily content without doing it this way. If I don't know that we're locked away, I get really nervous. It's one thing, relying on yourself. But when you need work by someone else, you don't want to be in the position of calling that person last-minute, only to find out that person had a fire or something -- or worse, to get assurances the work will be done, leaving you to stress about whether it will actually arrive, or arrive in a form that needs editing you cannot do at that particular moment (because you're asleep, for example).

And whether you're manic or not, we all get the blues. We all have lives, and lives are unpredictable.

Over at Martian Lit, I've got nine weeks of my own contributions already written. That's a little different, because the site hasn't launched yet. Launching a site properly, so you can ensure regular delivery of quality content, is no small thing. I wanted to launch the site a couple months back, but the material wasn't quite ready. Unfortunately, this leaves a few people, who have delivered material and done nothing wrong, having to wait. That's something I regret and take seriously, and all I can do is assure people that we are working and do know what we're doing, in deciding that it's best to delay.

Ah, the life of a writer. And the joys of not having to work last minute!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Great Onion Interview with Breaking Bad Creator Vince Gilligan

Breaking Bad's fourth season wrapped on Sunday, and it was titanic. So many episodes, especially beginning about three episodes before the finale, felt like a finale -- they were that jam-packed with drama that advanced the plot. It was a stunning season, certainly one of the best seasons in all of TV history, and it more than fulfilled the promise of season three's unbelievable final couple episodes, which left things very precarious for the characters. It also managed to tell a complete and satisfying story.

If you're not watching the show, you're sinning, obviously.

If you are, you may be interested in this: the Onion's A.V. Club has a brilliant interview with show creator Vince Gilligan, who offers great insight not only into the characters but into how to think about character-driven narrative in general. It's recommended not only for fans of the show but for all writers.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Why You Must Read Colin Smith

If I'm forced to name a single comics blog I recommend everyone read (in addition to the non-blog website Sequart, and of course all its books and movies), it's Colin Smith's "Too Busy Thing About My Comics."

Why? For one, he's an excellent writer.

One of the things that makes writing about comics difficult is that we barely have a vocabulary that allows us to talk about panel construction. Sure, we all know what a "gutter" is, and we can all describe how a panel has angled borders. But describing that panel's shape can be difficult, and describing the composition within that panel can be even more so.

As a result, those writing about comics often simply avoid discussing artwork at all, except in the most generic of terms. This is compounded by the fact that most comics critics come, as I do, from a mostly literary background, with maybe a bit of cinema thrown in, rather than, say, an art historical background. The result is that talking about narrative or character is a lot easier than talking about panel composition.

Yet Colin does talk about panels, and he does so both brilliantly and precisely. He'll isolate a panel and dissect it expertly, in the process showing (or at the very least, reminding) the rest of us how it's done. In the process, he shows us all that he sees more in a panel than most comics critics see in entire issues.

While we're on the topic of writing more generally, Colin also tends toward long and thorough analysis. (Did I mention he does analysis? That alone separates him from most of the crowd.) If any of you are familiar with my writing (and damn you if you aren't!), you know that I also favor longer essays, more in the 3000-4000 words range, than what seems like the 1000-word average. And in those 3000-4000 words, you can expect a lot of analysis, with a sense of completion, that there aren't huge subjects pertaining to the topic at hand that haven't been at least mentioned, if not fully discussed. Well, Colin does that too.

That's quite unique in the blogosphere, where terse blog entries seem commonplace (as they are here). That's part of why Sequart is quite clear that it publishes articles and not posts or blogs. Yet Colin raises the blog to new levels, treating it as a serious matter.

This leads nicely into another virtue of Colin's writing: he takes his job as comics critic seriously. He's not idly throwing stones, nor offering unexamined praise. Indeed, he's setting the tone for comics criticism, intending to lead by example. Think that's going too far? Well, I did a 20,000-word interview with him on the subject here.

Finally, Colin has a social conscience. That sounds vague, I know, but I use the term specifically. Because I don't mean that he practices social criticism -- which has gotten such a bad name, especially in some literary circles, dividing some English departments. Social criticism can be a stodgy practice, and Colin's anything but stodgy.

Also, while Colin's critics -- especially those who don't care for his point of view on a particular comic that they happen to like -- may call him politically correct. What they really mean is that he's criticizing the politics of something of which they're a fan, and it's easy to dismiss him by calling him by this term. And indeed, political correctness has left a bad taste in many of our collective mouths. But Colin is hardly politically correct. He's human. He's thoughtful. He's passionate. Sure, he might be concerned with issues like sexism and racism and homophobia, but he doesn't come at these issues in a politically correct way. Underneath his criticism -- which is often quite humorous -- is clearly a humanist, one who's justifiably concerned with these issues but is anything but the I'm-always-right, humorless, follow-the-rigid-rules tone of the truly politically correct.

Indeed, one has only to look at the way he's incredibly giving in the comments section of any of his posts to realize that he's keen to consider other points of view, however much his humanism compels him to passionately address such matters. To confuse this with political correctness is merely to devalue any and all social criticism.

That's why I use the term "social conscience." Because while Colin argues a point of view, he doesn't refuse to listen to disagreement. In fact, he couldn't be more respectful. And that's what separates him from the politically correct. He's not out to end these debates, nor to censor comics -- which he's opposed quite strongly. He's out to get people to think about the social implications of these stories and their presentations. He's not out to end debate; he's out to start it.

Of course, this isn't all that Colin does -- he's anything but a one-trick pony. But he's not afraid to address social matters, whether it's the sexism of Flashpoint, in which women are made the genocidal sexual mutilators, or the sexism of the new Ultimates, in which women hardly have any place outside of -- literally -- serving Nick Fury coffee. Neither are issues I'd even caught, really, and they don't radically change my evaluation of these two comics. But they're legitimate and important points of view that I hadn't considered, on any serious level. And to offer that to me, who also is usually "too busy thinking about my comics," means a hell of a lot. It's invaluable, to be more precise.

It also sets him apart. The very fact that he's willing to address these issues, in a comics culture in which such topics have long seemed so verboten, is commendable. That he does so with such precision and care is all the more so.

In fact, it's contributed, I personally know, to the recent debate over sexism in the DC relaunch. That's not to say this debate wouldn't have happened without him. I don't know that. But I do know that his work has informed mine, as well as several people I know. He's actually making a difference, helping to steer the conversation.

It's clear that this is rooted in a deep love of comics. And this same passion comes through in other ways as well. Particularly, in his holding poorly-constructed comics to task.

It's a subject on which, to my shame, I haven't always done. My response, to what I see as declining standards of craftsmanship in the last five years or so, has largely been to write about comics before this period. If I don't have anything good to say, I figured, I'd say nothing. Yet the result of so many apparently following this strategy is that there simply aren't many critics of comics who are willing to say any particular comic is shoddy, shoddy work that's an embarrassment to the creators involved, as well as to the publisher, nor that it's hard to imagine how such work went through an editorial process.

That's something that desperately needs to be said. And there's Colin Smith, unafraid to say that the emperor has no clothes. And he'll explain why deliberately and precisely, looking at specific panels and how they fail to communicate basic events, and generally proceeding in such a careful manner that his conclusions are, frankly, inarguable.

I used to point people to his review of Flashpoint: Hal Jordan as an example of this, as mandatory reading for anyone who wants to see just how much their eyes have grown accustomed to ineptitude. That piece expressed so much of what I already felt and thought, yet hadn't bothered or dared to find the words to say. (It's available in one big page on, but the original appeared on his own blog in three devastating installments.)

But you don't have to go that far back. Take his most recent post (as I write this), on the new Aquaman. It begins: "It seems that Geoff Johns isn't writing scripts anymore so much as lists." And he proceeds to explain exactly how this is so. It's sadly hilarious, but it's also precise. And behind it all is a man who quite clearly loves the medium and wishes it lived up to half of its potential. And sees this, not so-called "events," as the medium's best chance of expanding its audience.

I could go on, but I didn't intend to run nearly this long. I thought this would be a short, little piece linking to Colin's blog. Instead, it's become a bit of a manifesto.

That's because I've come to know Colin, and I've thought about his work. And because it has been an inspiration, both to me and to Sequart more generally (which is something, as an arrogant prick who dedicated himself at the age of about twelve to accepting nothing less than being the best writer the world has ever known, that I don't say lightly). He's also been an inspiration, I believe, to the entire industry, truly elevating the discussion of comics, in terms of both their craft and their social implications.

What else can you say about someone who's analyzed the presentation of Aquaman as a king? Or the laws which seem to govern Thor's Asgaard?

Or offered a loving, brilliant defense of Warren Ellis's The Authority as not dark but actually pretty sweet -- an essay that not only showed me something about one of my favorite series, which I'd thought about a ridiculously amount -- but an essay which subsequently got cited back to me, by a very smart outside (pre-press) reader I didn't even know, as evidence against a position I'd staked out in my essay in Sequart's book Keeping the World Strange: A Planetary Guide?

Yeah, I know I'm making this about me (the world is my hallucination, and self-evidently so). But seriously, that does not happen.

Clearly, this a man making waves, and you're doing yourself a disservice not to read him.

You can read his blog here. (You can also see all of Colin's posts on Sequart -- which consists entirely of reprints or adapted content, which he's graciously permitted us to do.)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sequart's Movies

This weekend was a big one for Sequart's movies. We had no fewer than four updates, including some huge news.

First, we're proud to announce that our documentary Warren Ellis: Captured Ghosts will officially premiere at the Napa Valley Film Festival on 11 November. The film is one of the festival's official selections.

Second, Warren Ellis will appear at the film's London premiere, on the following evening!

Third, we have postcards for the film, which will be distributed at New York Comic-Con, where you can see a sneak peak of the film, prior to it's official Napa premiere.

Finally, we have a first look at the animation which will be on our other upcoming documentary, Diagram for Delinquents: Fredric Wertham and the Evolution of the Comic Books.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Eight Thoughts on Ultimate Spider-Man Vol. 3 #1-2

I've got a look at the first two issues of the new Ultimate Spider-Man up on Sequart. It's a long and thoughtful piece, covering just about every aspect of these two issues, but focusing on two very touching, character-driven scenes. Along the way, however, I get to talk about decompression, race, Brian Michael Bendis, and the excellent artwork of Sara Pichelli. It's well worth a look, if you have a few minutes.

And though I forgot to put an update here, a week ago, I offered a follow-up to my piece on sexism in the DC relaunch. It's a rather conciliatory look at the thinking of Scott Lobdell, writer of Starfire and Her Amazing Friends... er, I mean Red Hood and the Outlaws. In all seriousness, it's a thoughtful attempt to bridge the gap between how the sexes view gender in America and a passionate call for more debate and discussion. (And yes, I get that it's not really a war between the sexes, but it's also not a war between feminists and unreconstructed sexists either. Quite the contrary, as I point out in the article.)

In case I forget to mention my new articles any other week, yes, there's a new one up every Monday, and I'm running considerably ahead, so that's not likely to change anytime soon.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sexism, Sexuality, and the DC Relauch

I've got a fairly comprehensive look at the sexual issues in last week's DC relaunch offerings up on Sequart. It's titled "Sexism, Sexuality, and the DC Relaunch," and it looks at Catwoman, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Wonder Woman, and Supergirl.

It was very hard to write, because I took great pains to be tough but even-handed.

Friday, September 16, 2011

This Week on Sequart

Sequart Research & Literacy Organization, which analyzes and promotes comics as a legitimate form of art, offers daily content on its website. Here's what's been going on there this week.

On Monday, I concluded my look at the French masterpiece The Walls of Samaris.

On Tuesday, David Balan discussed Scott McCloud's The Right Number.

On Wednesday, Cody Walker offered the brilliantly-titled "Whatever Happened to the Big Red Cheese?", about Captain Marvel.

On Thursday, Gene Phillips looked at Grant Morrison, Chris Ware, and comics culture.

Today, Kevin Thurman looked at Charles Burns's Black Hole and what its depiction of sexuality.

I do hope you'll read them all, not only my own contributions to the site, because they're all well worth the time. Thank you!

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Walls of Samaris on Sequart

Over on Sequart, the final part of my look at The Walls of Samaris went up today.

If you're not familiar with the book, this is a masterpiece of a French comic. It's the first volume in The Obscure Cities, a series of graphic novels of remarkable merit. Illustrated by François Schuiten with architectural precision, it's beautiful to behold. And writer Benoît Peeters adds philosophical depth, making this a perfect blend of philosophical depth and sheer beauty. It's truly a loss for American comics that the series isn't available in English translation.

But never fear, I'm here to translate it for you -- and to walk you through the series, its themes, and its genius. If you're a fan of the comics medium, you need to check it out.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Keeping the World Strange Hits Comics Shops This Wednesday

Sequart has announced that it's book on Planetary, Keeping the World Strange, will be in comic book shops this Wednesday. Ask for a copy and tell them you're a fan of Sequart. Pretty please?

Corrections Department, with Thanks to David Uzumeri

I just want to give a quick shout out to David Uzumeri, who was awesome enough to point out an error in my Justice League International #1 review.

I misidentified a speaker as Booster Gold, when it was really a protester doing the talking. I think the blond hair was what did it, although Booster obviously has shades on, so I just wasn't thinking.

To make matters worse, I proceeded to be really snarky about the implications of my misreading. Which I thought was funny, but which really made me look like an ass when it was based on a sloppy misapprehension.

I've changed the review as a result. Not only did I alter the appropriate section (citing David), but I tweaked the whole thing, toning it down a bit. The mistake only changed my interpretation of a single scene, and my thesis remains the same. But I thought these mods were only right, after the reviewer had been exposed for basing his negative impression, at least in some small part, on a fundamental misreading. Don't worry: the integrity of the piece is secure, although I did tone down the invective just a bit.

On a more important note, this is exactly what any serious writer fears. Especially when delivering a scathing review, a responsibility one shouldn't take lightly.

But as much as the fear that one has made an error should haunt a writer, what's more scary is the idea that people -- possibly hundreds of people -- would catch the error and not point it out.

After all, it's not easy or comfortable to do so. No one likes to be told he or she is wrong. But people also don't like having to be the bearer of this particular bad news, especially when it's human nature to be defensive about one's own writing. It's far easier to just make a mental note that the writer's an idiot and go about your day. Which the writer could hardly blame you for doing, even though the result is that a mistake persists, deluding some readers and convincing others that the writer's an idiot.

So kudos to David Uzumeri, who's done me a great service. And please, if any of you spot similar mistakes in my writing or in that of anyone else, don't hesitate the point them out. It does help to do so diplomatically, as David did. But only a writer who really is an idiot will reply with anything but thanks.

Corrections are, unfortunately, part of the game. And if we are going to take comics seriously, we have to incorporate a correction-friendly culture into our writing about comics.

David Uzumeri did participate in a roundtable review of all 13 DC #1s offered this week, over at ComicsAlliance (a site I recommend). It's well worth your time, and I hope you'll check it out.

Friday, September 9, 2011

This Week on Sequart

Sequart Research & Literacy Organization, which analyzes and promotes comics as a legitimate form of art, offers daily content on its website. Here's what's been going on there this week.

On Sunday, director Robert Emmons updated us on Sequart's documentary film Diagram for Delinquents: Fredric Wertham and the Evolution of Comic Books.

On Monday, I offered my "Hollow Spectacle (or How Super-Hero Comics Warped My Logic Circuit)," which followed up on my Justice League #1 review by using one scene from that comic to illustrate how acclimation to super-hero cliches can warp our understanding of logical narrative.

On Tuesday, Daniel N. Gullotta found correlations between Spider Jerusalem and Friedrich Nietzsche.

On Wednesday, Cody Walker continued his look at Mark Millar's Ultimates, examining how Ultimate Avengers 2 (a.k.a. Ultimate Avengers #7-12) went off the rails.

On Thursday, Tim Bavlnka looked at the history of Beta Ray Bill.

Today, I examined how Grant Morrison's Action Comics #1 succeeds where Justice League #1 fails.

Then later today, I offered a "Justice League International #1 Review."

I do hope you'll read them all, not only my own contributions to the site, because they're all well worth the time. Thank you!

Justice League International #1

I've got a review of Justice League International #1 up on Sequart.

It's not positive.

And yeah, that's three posts this week. All substantial, several thousand words in length.

Help me.

Special Friday Article on Sequart Addressing Action Comics

In addition to my usual Monday article on Sequart, I occasionally offer additional pieces during the week, such as my review of Justice League #1 last week.

It praises Action Comics #1, but it also draws careful distinctions between how that issue works and how Justice League #1 fails. In some cases, the superficial parallels are quite remarkable, although the tone and effectiveness are starkly different.

I would feel remiss if I didn't cover Action Comics #1, because I really don't want to be the curmudgeon who only bashes super-hero comics like I have Justice League #1. Nor the guy who only lays into the DC relaunch. I'm not that guy, really. Honest. And so I think it's important to praise where praise is due. But moreover, given the strong parallels between the two issues, talking about Action Comics #1 allows me to use a positive example, juxtaposed against some of the mistakes made with Justice League #1.

Check it out, please. Then tweet it if you like it. Tweet it twice if you hate it. I need readers.

More DCnU Quick Reviews

Was anyone even trying with Batgirl #1? Wasn't the whole point of making Barbara Gordon Batgirl again to return to her classic, smiling stories? Instead, despite the bright, smiling Batgirl on the cover, what we get inside is a dark Batgirl struggling with personal demons and fighting vicious murders. None of which is done in any unique way whatsoever. It's not bad but... it's not Barbara Gordon. I mean, there's zero reason why any of this had to involve Barbara Gordon at all, except that DC apparently wanted to list that under "alter ego" on a Batgirl information sheet.

Well, that's not entirely true. There's a flashback to The Killing Joke, which we knew would be kept in continuity. What we didn't know is how Barbara's legs would be restored. And guess what? We get no answer here. Instead, we get vague talk about it being a miracle, as if the characters don't even know.

Barbara does have a second flashback to her trauma, which plays into the plot. But if she spent three years in a wheelchair, as we're told she did in this continuity, why would that trauma be so fresh? Because she's adventuring again? It feels forced.

There's nothing bad here. Just shockingly, shockingly lackluster. Especially given the controversy DC engendered with its decision to restore Barbara Gordon as Batgirl. And given writer Gail Simone's promises to do Barbara Gordon justice. The internet is surely going to explode with every disability advocate and every Oracle fan screaming, "I told you so!"

See, when a company announces such a controversial move, it implicitly asks you, the consumer, to trust that company's wisdom. It assures you, its audience, that it has something in mind. Something worth the controversy. That's why it's so dangerous to publish lackluster material such as this. It's not just a lackluster issue of Batgirl. It's a loss for DC's credibility.

No one seems to have thought of this. No one seems to have noticed the controversy and thought, Gee, we'd better make sure that's a good issue. No one seems to have thought, Well, if we're bringing back Batgirl, we'd better tell a fun story that honors her past as Batgirl. You know, a story that you'd want to tell with Barbara Gordon, rather than a story that revolves around the same kind of dark murderers any super-hero could fight.


Justice League International #1 is a by-the-books first issue. If it were written in the late 1980s or early 1990s. And even then, it wouldn't be good.

There's some awful dialogue. Especially squabbling about nations, on this international team. There are characters who know the word "yes" but then inexplicably add, "Da!" As if to remind readers, "Yo, I'm stumbling through English, but don't forget I'm Russian!"

There's a totally inexplicable scene in which Batman accosts Guy Gardner to advocate for Booster Gold.

There are two kids who blow up the Hall of Justice using a water cooler. Okay, there are explosives in that water cooler. But I'd be surprised if they could do more than blow a hole in the wall, even if they were military grade. And these are kid protesters. The scene has the atmosphere of a prank. And it blows up the Hall of Justice. This is probably the stupidest thing I've seen since Ghost Rider beat Galactus.

Oh, and the big climax? A giant robot erupts from under the earth.


No, that's not a joke.

It's unbelievable that this could be deemed fit for publication in 2011.

OMAC #1 is certainly an offbeat title in the DCnU. It's essentially a retro title, a riff on classic Kirby comics. Think Godland. If you like that sort of stuff, this is for you. Otherwise, you'll be quickly lost. Points for being different.

I really wanted to like Hawk and Dove #1. I've confessed that I'm a fan of the original Liefeld mini-series. But this issue is a nightmare of stupid super-hero stuff. Sterling Gates wrote it, and it seems like he tried to write a 1990s Image Comic, knowing Liefeld would draw it. He should have instead looked further back to that original mini-series, which had normal, intelligible writing.

Crisis on Infinite Earths in the DCnU

So with the entire DC timeline compressed into five (or six) years, what about Crisis on Infinite Earths? Did that even happen?

Among the many other events in Crisis was the death of the original Dove. And guess what? It's referenced in the new Hawk and Dove #1.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Some DCnU Reviews

Time to do some quick reviews of yesterday's new DC titles.

Action Comics #1 is excellent. It opens better than it closes: its second half is quite clever, but its first is positively brilliant. Best Superman since... well, All Star Superman.

Everyone knows Superman started as a vigilante, and Morrison even references this obliquely in the dialogue. I've argued for some time that returning to this kind of story, while it might upset the upstanding "truth, justice, and the American way" model of Superman that fans consider sacred, is the best way to make Superman stories vital again. And it's not like anyone can claim such a version wasn't authentic.

Morrison gets this, and he milks it. I don't know that he'll end the story with Superman still acting this way. But beyond this, the script is rather smart, filled with clever comments that enhance the story, rather than detract.

Animal Man #1 is surprisingly good. It returns Buddy Baker to the directionless suburbanite, struggling with his role as a super-hero and a parent. The last time this was done so well was Morrison's run, and that's a good sign.

It feels like a first issue, taking its time to set things up -- but unlike most of these first issues, this one doesn't suffer from its decompression. In other words, it feels more like a 1990s Vertigo comic than a decompressed comic from the 2000s. Not a lot happens, but what's here is carefully done by writer Jeff Lemire (outside of a couple too many ominous hints about the protagonist's family). Good stuff.

Swamp Thing #1 is a mixed bag. At its best, Scott Snyder is able to describe the point of view of plants in surprisingly new ways. Alec Holland mostly sleepwalks through the sparse plot, but when he gets to speak in response to Superman, what he says is actually pretty good. But beyond the decompressed plot, the comic has several collage-style pages that don't communicate much.

Stormwatch #1 was pretty disappointing. I like Paul Cornell's writing and I love these characters. To his credit, Cornell offers some new twists that I appreciated, such as implying that Stormwatch is much older (kind of like Torchwood) and Hawksmoor has been recruiting the spirits of the century for quite some time. But the main story, in which Stormwatch attempts to recruit Apollo, isn't compelling.

I'm honestly not sure what to make of Detective Comics #1. It feels like a tale from Batman's early years, in which he's hunted by the cops (except for Gordon), although we're given the Joker's death tallies for the last six years. I thought the new DC Universe is only five years old. So does this mean that the DC Universe is actually six years old and that Batman's still treated as illegal in the present day? So it would seem.

The art is certainly nice, but many scenes are homages to either The Dark Knight Returns or "Year One." Yet the story itself is rather different in tone and style, and I'm not sure if this level of homage is somehow meant to be ironic. Are these classic stories being retold in part? Is this supposed to feel like Batman's early years, although it's not? What is the point of this?

Then there's a shock ending that's straight out of Preacher.

There is a lot that's good here. Tony Daniel's really come into his own as artist, though not totally as writer.  But there are good passages in the writing too.

I guess the best reaction to this one is WTF. It's outside the entire system of ratings.

Grant Morrison: Talking with Gods

If you haven't seen the documentary film Grant Morrison: Talking with Gods, you're probably living under a rock somewhere. I exec produced it, and it's directed by Patrick Meaney, who's also doing Warren Ellis: Captured Ghosts, both in collaboration with Sequart.

Don't believe me that it's great? Here's what the critics said:
"A bold, brave, and honest look at an artist whose life is worthy of this type of attention" - Aint it Cool News
"An instant classic" - Wired
"Don't miss it!" - G4's Attack of the Show
"The charismatic subject of this admiring portrait will intrigue the previously unconverted" - Variety
"A no-brainer if you're a Morrison fan, a Vertigo acolyte, or a comic book history buff" - io9 
"Drop dead gorgeous... An absorbing film." - Bleeding Cool
"Beautiful to look at...There's just this air of coolness that exudes for the duration" - The Examiner
"I couldn't take my eyes away...interesting and entertaining for experienced Morrison scholars and casual readers alike." - Comics Alliance
It's available for free on Hulu. If you want to buy a copy (please?), I recommend going through the Halo 8 Store, which cuts out the middlemen and offers the cheapest price, but it's also on Amazon and probably your favorite online store too.

You can also

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The DC Universe, Week One

Today is the first week of DC's 52 newly relaunched titles.

I'm not counting last week's disastrously-bad-yet-astoundingly-successful Justice League #1 as the relaunch's first week, since it was only one issue. But the mediocrity of that issue may actually work in DC's advantage, lowering expectations of this, the first full week of the relaunch.

And in this first batch, we have Grant Morrison's Action Comics, the highly-anticipated Batgirl, and the first look at how WildStorm and Vertigo characters will be handled as part of the new DC Universe. Big week, then.

Here's the full, annotated list of what today will bring:

  1. Action Comics #1. Written by Grant Morrison, penciled by Rags Morales, this is the one to watch. It takes place during Superman's early days, and Morrison's clearly taking a nod from the earliest Superman comics by making Superman a bit less of the lawful, by-the-books hero. It's slightly longer and $3.99, rather than the normal $2.99. This is the one everyone's chomping at the bit to check out. And that's nice to see, because that hasn't exactly been the case too often, at least in the past decade and a half, with Superman.
  2. Batgirl #1. The comic that launched a thousand, disability-related blog posts. We'll see, but with writer Gail Simone on board, it's unlikely to be bad. Certainly the most hotly-anticipated title this week, after Action Comics.
  3. Stormwatch #1. In which we find out how the WildStorm characters are going to be integrated into the new DC Universe. This one could wind up being really good or really bad, but in its favor, it's written by Paul Cornell, whose smart past work has earned critical respect. I'm a huge fan of The Authority, so I'll be watching this one carefully.
  4. Swamp Thing #1. Swamp Thing's been in the DC Universe again since Brightest Day, but nothing interesting has been done with him. Now, he's getting his own new series and a bright spotlight. But the standard here was set by Alan Moore's classic run in the 1980s, so we'll see how the new series fares. On the one hand, it could try to be more conventional DC fare, thinking this will avoid unfavorable Alan Moore comparisons. Bad idea, because it won't. Alternatively, this could try to be really smart, adapting classic stories and dark style to contemporary comics storytelling -- basically, Ultimate Swamp Thing. In which case, this probably will get good reviews. We'll see. I'm a huge Swamp Thing fan, so I'll be reading it carefully.
  5. Animal Man #1. Bringing Animal Man into the DC Universe was big news. But the character hasn't succeeded on his own since Grant Morrison's run in the early 1990s, so there isn't a great track record here. (I did like Jaime Delano's run, but it didn't sell.) We'll see whether writer Jeff Lemire can do better. This is more a curiosity than anything else, and its hope is to get good reviews and become a sleeper hit. Time will tell.
  6. Batwing #1. The black Batman offshoot introduced by Grant Morrison gets his own series. We'll see how long it lasts.
  7. Detective Comics #1. Expect this first look at the post-relaunch Batman to get some attention, despite the fact that DC has said the character will be insulated from any major changes. If you weren't into the run-of-the-mill Batman titles before the relaunch, you're probably not going to start caring now.
  8. Green Arrow #1. Green Arrow hasn't been hot since Kevin Smith wrote the title, but he has a fanbase. We'll see whether this title's long for the world.
  9. Hawk and Dove #1. No doubt one of the unlikeliest of titles, this one has art by Rob Liefeld, who illustrated the classic Hawk and Dove mini-series in the late 1980s. He's not the most popular guy these days, so I don't think anyone's expecting this title to last. I'll be watching it carefully, however, if only as a curiosity. If it succeeds, against all odds, expect a wave of '90s nostalgia to follow.
  10. Justice League International #1. This one focuses on a new mix based around the characters from the Giffen years. Because Justice League is starting with an extended flashback story, this is oddly the first look at any incarnation of the League in DC's new continuity, even though it's a spin-off title.
  11. Men of War #1. A war comic, loosely tied to DC's character Sgt. Rock. Based on the solicitation, I think most are merely wondering how awful this is going to be and how much it's going to glamorize war.
  12. OMAC #1. With Dan DiDio writing and Keith Giffen illustrating, this seems poised to be a sleeper hit. I'm totally there.
  13. Static Shock #1. I'm not sure who'll read this, beyond fans of the character.
And that's it. Call them DCnU #2-14.

Justice League #1 was the flashy but phenomenally dumb appetizer. Today is the first course.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Comic-Book Line-Wide Relaunch that's Not at DC

I'm enjoying the Ultimate Comics relaunch, although it's the line's second full relaunch in just under two years (the last was after Ultimatum). So far, only the first two of the four new Ultimate titles have come out, and they're surprisingly good. Not great, but good.

I have to admit that Marvel's Ultimate line continues to be a guilty pleasure. I've pretty much cured myself of any desire to follow either DC or Marvel, simply because I think I should or out of habit. But I've read every Ultimate comic ever published, the great and the awful. And I find it, at the very least, an exercise in line-building that's always interesting if only for this fact. The universe is still young, and even with Ultimatum, it hasn't yet built up nearly the convoluted and confused history of the regular Marvel Universe, nor DC's. It's also a universe that, while it's had rough spots, contains plenty of classic work, even if it's disproportionately weighted towards that universe's original launch.

Those of you who read Ultimate Fallout, which bridged the gap between the old Ultimate line and the relaunch, know that Jonathan Hickman's taking over the Ultimates, while Nick Spenser's taking over the X-Men, and Brian Michael Bendis is staying on Spider-Man. The addition of Hickman and Spenser has been read as Marvel turning over its Ultimate universe to a new generation of creators.

So far, only Hickman's two series have seen print: Ultimates Vol. 2 #1 (yes, that is its official title) and Ultimate Hawkeye #1, which begins a four-issue mini-series tying into the opening story arc in Ultimates.

How good are they? They're not instant classics, but they're solid entertainment. Hickman's intent on Ultimates Vol. 2 is to deconstruct the team by throwing everything at it, and that results in some chaos, because we have to understand -- and presumably care about -- all these events around the world. To Hickman's credit, they're not all super-villain related, which avoids the usual punch-'em-up solutions. True, we don't really care about Thor's drunken fight in Asgard (who could?), and some of the details are a bit confusing. But the point is obviously that the Ultimates are stretched thin, adding to Nick Fury's stress. Along the way, we get Tony Stark controlling Iron Man's armor from afar -- a nice touch that, while not unprecedented, does answer the question as to why he'd fly his armor himself, in a world in which unmanned drones are presumably old tech.

But the real saving grace here is Esad Ribic, who's art is really nice to look at and will almost certainly prove the best of the four new titles. That's appropriate, since it's a property launched by Bryan Hitch, so the standards are quite high in the art department.

Over in Ultimate Hawkeye, Hickman has the character dealing with one of the situations seen in Ultimates, and it's an interesting one. Essentially, a rogue state has developed its own super-soldier program, simultaneously neutralizing or lessening the West's super-soldiers. It's a clever plot, one that's informed by actual geopolitics. Yes, it echoes the first Authority storyline, with the idea of a rogue state controlling a legion of super-people. And yes, I still don't care about Hawkeye. But the issue's got enough going for it that it's an able addition to the new Ultimate line.

Are there storytelling problems? Sure. Ultimate Hawkeye in particular seems decompressed improperly, with several pages that deliver relatively little information. But we're used to that these days, and it's hard to blame a single comic for it (I didn't even hit Justice League #1 for it, in all my criticism). The Ultimates Vol. 2 could communicate what's happening better, since that's presumably pretty important to giving the reader the sense of a wordwide threat that's enough to bring Nick Fury to a standstill.

Ultimate Spider-Man Vol. 3 comes out on September 14th, then Ultimate X-Men Vol. 2 on the 21st. We'll see how those fare. The former has the advantage of featuring a new Spider-Man, who's part black and part Hispanic, as the Drudge Report and others in the media have pointed out. I have to say, as stunts go, I'd rather see one in which a top-flight creator like Bendis invents a new, diverse character than, say, killing Captain America. As for Spenser's X-Men, we'll have to wait and see.

No, I wouldn't recommend them to non-comics readers. But unlike Justice League #1, they weren't billed as a perfect starting point for new readers. And for fans like me, they're thoroughly enjoyable.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Justice League #1

My review of Justice League #1, on Thursday of last week, was pretty scathing. Matter of fact, it pretty much deconstructs the entire issue, proving that it suffers from a whole series of serious problems, from confusing artwork and bad dialogue to a plot hole so large that it renders the entire story illogical.

Today, I've followed that up with a look at how super-hero comics suffer from a love of hollow spectacle and how reading them has literally undermined our ability to detect illogical, nonsensical elements. Which I then go on to demonstrate.

There's been a lot of vociferous debate about all of this. And let me be clear: I want the DC relaunch to succeed, but I also want it to consist of high-quality work. I want the people hopefully coming to comics for the first time to see this high-quality work, not shoddy, poorly-edited nonsense that ought to scare them away from comics, if they're the kind of smart reader that we (should) most want to attract.

No, Justice League #1 isn't the worst comic ever. But it is fair game, because it's been publicized as the introduction to DC's revised universe, one friendly to new comics readers. But objectively, it's anything but.

The above review and article are both at Sequart.

In other Justice League #1 news, Bleeding Cool (one of the few comics website I read almost daily) has one of the dumbest reviews of the comic yet, in which the writer says about the issue's decompression, "As a literary technique, I found this most interesting."

New rule: if you can't identify cliched dialogue, massive plot holes, and shitty panel compositions, you don't get to use the phrase "literary technique."

Is this what comics criticism has come to?

Life, Post-TouchPad

I got an HP TouchPad about a week ago, and I can't imagine life without it.

True, you could say that it's just a glorified smartphone. And yes, it can cruise the web and use map programs, with a touch screen that lets you zoom in and out by sliding your fingers. But having the big screen size makes all the difference in the world, and the resolution is incredible. You haven't seen the internet until you've seen it like this.

But you can also sync to your Facebook, cloud storage account, and Google docs. All in one place. You can open PDFs, open and edit MS Word docs, and generally do just about anything. Use Flash on the web? No problem.

Oh, and it's also gloriously designed. As in iPhone sleek.

I'm a happy camper.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I'm Not Dead

I'm still around. I'm just not maintaining this blog anymore.

In fact, I've been putting a lot of new articles up on Sequart, which I hope you'll visit and read, and which will cause you to fall on your feet in praise.

Go there now.