Saturday, May 27, 2017

I Had a Wonderful Birthday Today!

I wanted to share how I had a great birthday today. I enjoyed spending it with my wife, son, and some visiting family members. I wanted to thank everyone who reads my blog too as you all are wonderful folk as well--and you obviously have terrible/awesome taste in websites.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Another Enjoyable Interview with Mike Wolfer--Featuring Letterer Natalie Jane!

Intro-Time
Friend of the blog and all-around awesome creator Mike Wolfer has his latest Kickstarter going on currently (as I previously discussed on the blog) for, "Widow: Return to Spider Island." I had the opportunity to interview him again for the blog about his works past and present. I also was able to speak with the letterer on many of his comics, Natalie Jane, who offered some fascinating insight into the lettering process!

Now, the Interview!
Hey Mike, fancy seeing you again on the blog! I want to congratulate you on being the first-ever person to pull-off a hat-trick of interviews on the website--that's right, this is our 3rd interview! I think the reason we keep doing this is because you refuse to stop making so much stuff and your interviews are always fun and insightful. 

Actually, I think it’s because you keep asking me what’s new out of politeness, and I totally take advantage of it!

My first question is if you would mind re-introducing yourself to readers of the site, and my second question is if, seriously though, do you sleep?

Well, I’m Mike Wolfer, writer, artist, publisher, and a whole bunch of other things that aren’t worth mentioning but are still vital to comics creation, and as you said, yes, everything combined does keep me from getting as much sleeping as I’d like. I started in comics back in 1987 by self-publishing my own books, “Daikazu” and “Widow,” then I worked for several publishers for the next 25 years, most notably Avatar Press, where I worked on series like “Night of the Living Dead,” “Friday the 13th,” “Lady Death,” and a bunch of others. In 2014, I decided to retest the self-publishing waters, so I released “The Curse of Ragdoll” through Kickstarter, to great (and surprising) success. And there’s been no turning back!
You've got multiple new projects going on, such as, "Daughters of the Dark Oracle," and, "Widow Progeny," at your own self-publishing company, Mike Wolfer Entertainment, as well as "The Land that Time Forgot" and "Mike Wolfer's Crypt of Screams," with American Mythology Productions. As I understand it, AM is a newer publisher, how did you get hooked-up with them?

My association with American Mythology sort of came out of the blue. I know several creators who were doing work for AM, and it was just one of those situations where AM said, “We’re new and we’re looking for all kinds of fun comics for our roster,” and I said, “That’s pretty cool, I should do something for you guys some time,” and they said, “Can you start today?” I’m super busy with my own MWE series, but working with AM was really something that I couldn’t turn down, particularly when they said that they were interested in acquiring the license to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “The Land That Time Forgot,” and that they would like me to write it. I absolutely could not say “no,” seeing as how TLTTF is my favorite novel of all time.

Aside from your writing "The Land That Time Forgot" for AM, I was surprised to see the "Crypt of Screams" book with them, as it is both written and drawn by you (and I assume you own the creative rights). What made you want to publish that quarterly title with them as opposed to self-publishing?

Again, it was just a simple matter of them saying, “Hey- We need another book for September. Is there anything you’ve got lying around that we could publish?” Okay, it wasn’t quite like that, but they did ask if I’d like to do a horror book for them. I have a bunch of series pitches for horror series that I’ve been working on for years, but the one that I most wanted to do is “Crypt of Screams.” It’s an anthology title, reminiscent of Warren Publishing’s “Eerie” and “Creepy,” which had an incredible influence on me growing up. The only difference with “Crypt” is that I’m writing and drawing all of the stories in each issue, and that’s allowing me to play around with various inking and gray-toning styles, depending on what best fits the mood of each tale.
Back to "The Land That Time Forgot," in the past you of course wrote and illustrated many comics for preexisting properties. How is it different working on something that has previous media versions as opposed to a concept that is all of your own creation? Is it easier, harder?

It’s interesting. One thing I want to say before we get into it is that working with rights holders can be a nightmare, depending on the owner of the IP, but Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. has been an absolute delight to work with. And the reason that I say that it can be a nightmare is because we’re in the business to produce comics, usually on a monthly schedule, but every facet of a licensed book must pass through dozens of approval stages, which can sometimes delay things, and it can result in books shipping months and months later than they are supposed to because of the revolving door of change requests. What was once approved can suddenly become not be approved. Like art, for example. The pencils are approved, the inks are approved, then colored art is turned in… And they want changes made to the art. Well, now it’s too late to make an easy fix, because it’s already been inked and colored, right? But that’s not the case with ERB Inc. I think that they trust us to put out the best damn comic that we can, so approvals have been effortless, which frees me up from worrying that a retroactive correction is going to blow a hole in the bottom of the boat.

But to answer the question, when working on a licensed property, it’s sometimes best to divorce yourself from the incarnations that have been seen in other mediums, and sometimes it’s absolutely necessary to adhere to them. In the case of “Night of the Living Dead,” I stuck absolutely to what was seen on screen, because that was the “bible.” My work on “Friday the 13th” stayed true to the films, but we did stray a bit from the formula to give it a new twist. A good trick to writing, whether it’s comics, novels, or screenplays, is to “cast” you parts, meaning, the writer should envision actors in the various roles and picture the actors reciting their lines of dialogue. If you can’t picture your actor saying those lines, then the dialogue you just wrote might be off. With “Land,” the novels are the sole foundation on which I’m building, not any of the movies that have come out, but I have to admit, every bit of my writing of the character of Bowen Tyler is absolutely based on actor Doug McClure, who played the role in the 1975 and 1977 films. I can’t picture anyone else in that role, and that’s carried over into my writing.

I was fascinated by how you took your "Ragdoll" comic and then grew it into the epic saga that is "The Daughters of the Dark Oracle," with its many fascinating characters. The best part is it feels very organic how you developed all these aspects out of the original tale. Was it always your intention to take this series you made and have it expand so much, or did the idea to do so occur to you when you revisited the comic for your Kickstarter?

The “Daughters” series began with the reprinting of a gothic horror story that I had done years earlier called “The Curse of Ragdoll,” which ran in an adults-only anthology book titled “Raw Media Quarterly.” When I had originally created the story, it was designed as a stand-alone, but the end was left wide-open for a sequel.” When I decided to once again self-publish, I repackaged that Ragdoll story into a graphic novel, which, as I mentioned, did very well as a Kickstarter exclusive edition. Because of that success, I pursued regular comic shop distribution and broke the graphic novel up into monthly “floppy” installments, and naturally, I had to think ahead to what I would do when the “Curse” story ran its course. “Curse” focused on a character named “Ragdoll,” a Frankenstein’s monster kind of creation who retains the memories of all of the women from whom she is composed. And she seeks brutal revenge against all those who wronged and murdered those women who comprise her. 

It’s a cool story once, but I couldn’t imagine doing that formula over and over, month after month. It needed a twist, and the injection of some fresh blood in the form of a supporting cast who would enrich each other, and help to define just who Ragdoll is through their interactions. Before I knew it, I had a slew of ideas centering around Ragdoll’s encounters with Heidi the Wolfwoman, the Siren, and most notably, the fiendish Countess Bathory. Once I realized how big the story had gotten, I also realized that this was not just the story of Ragdoll, it was the story of all of the characters, who I subsequently dubbed the “Daughters of the Dark Oracle.”
We just talked about the "Ragdoll" Kickstarter and you of course have used the platform for a number of projects. You've said in the past that without Kickstarter it would be difficult-to-impossible for you to make a living doing your self-published works. What is it about Kickstarter that you think makes it such a great tool for creators?

Okay, here’s my quick “State of the Union” cliff notes concerning the comics industry- Sales are rather poor right now, and very few publishers are making money. Small publishers generally lose money on every release, and in many instances the creators are not even paid for their work. The money that comes in from store sales is usually barely enough to cover the cost of printing the book. It sounds terrible, but that’s the truth of it. But damn it, we must create. So… Kickstarter! If you run a campaign cleverly and have something really cool to offer, and make it fun for collectors, you stand a good chance of reaching your goal amount, which is the amount of money that you need to pay your creators and other expenses that go toward getting that comic onto store shelves. Some publishers run Kickstarters as the way to get their books into readers’ hands independent of comic shop distribution, but I use it to generate the funds to get my books into the stores, and to the greatest number of readers.

I've noticed that at times issues of "Daughters of the Dark Oracle" have come-out within quick succession of each other, and other times there seems to be a long time-gap between issues. How is the series coming along and should we expect more delays or will it be on a more regular release schedule in the future?

Yeesh. That’s a tough question, but one that needs to be answered. Yeah, there have been delays, and they’ve been for every reason under the sun. Bottom line is that I’ve moved from being an independent contractor for companies who handle all of the business of comics, to being a publisher who is also responsible to all of the creative elements. And man, it is so difficult to do everything. I do get a lot of production help from Natalie Jane, who also handles all of the letting of “Daughters of the Dark Oracle,” but this past year has hit me hard with regard to finding enough time to actually draw, and the delays in releases has become unavoidable. I’ve been constantly playing “catch up,” desperately trying to finish books just before the drop-deadlines, and it’s really taken its toll on me and my release schedule. So what I’ve done is put the brakes on “Daughters of the Dark Oracle: Orgy of the Vampires,” so that I can concentrate on finishing two other books I’m working on, which are “Crypt of Screams” and “Widow: Progeny.” Issues #1 and #2 of “Orgy” came out this past summer, but the rest of the series (#3-5) have been resolicited for late spring-summer 2017 release. I want to make sure that they’re completely finished way ahead of their release dates.
Speaking of “Widow: Progeny,” I've been reading through the various "Widow Archives" having reviewed the first volume and greatly enjoy them. As I understand it, "Widow Progeny" started some years ago, but then ended suddenly (and without an official conclusion) and now you've returned to the story to finish it, with the new first issue on stands now! Is it a direct sequel to the "Widow" comics, or could someone new to the series dive-in without hesitation? Also, you wrote the series but are only illustrating the final part, what made you choose not to illustrate the majority of this "Widow" mini-series unlike much of your earlier ones?

“Widow: Progeny” was a 1997 spin-off of the main “Widow” book, back when I was self-publishing as Ground Zero Comics. “Progeny” tells the story of a US Coast Guard rescue helicopter crew who investigate a sunken ship in the Caribbean and find the sole survivor of the wreck on a small island. Her name is Katy Wylder, and she’s been a castaway for two years. Katy first appeared as a secondary character in the first “Widow” series, and we never knew what happened to her. But Katy’s not alone on the island. There’s also a pack of hideous, spider-like, freaks of nature that lurk in the darkness of the jungle, and the helo crew has to fight for their lives against the creatures. The reason that I didn’t draw that series back in 1997 was because at the time I was super busy drawing “Widow: Bound By Blood.” I wanted to get this second book out there to expand the Ground Zero Comics line, though, so I signed on Karl Moline as illustrator. 

The first issue shipped to stores, but right around that time I joined up with Avatar Press, and never got a chance to publish issues #2 or #3. So almost 30 years later, when I got back into self-publishing, I thought, “Man… I really should finish ‘Progeny’ sometime.” I put it on my schedule, but once again I was too busy drawing “Daughters of the Dark Oracle” to work on “Progeny,” so Roy Allan Martinez stepped in to take over on art. And here’s another reason why I’m having trouble staying on schedule with “Daughters”: Because of other creative obligations, Roy was unable to start “Progeny” #3 as scheduled, so I had to drop my work on “Daughters” to step in on art for the final issue of “Progeny,” which I’m sure will be a pleasant surprise to a bunch of readers who asked the same question that you did! As I said, “Progeny” is a spin-off. It’s tied to “Widow,” naturally, but it’s a complete stand-alone story. Even though I reference events from the main “Widow” book, it’s totally not necessary to have read any of them to understand “Progeny.” This is just a straight-up, scary and sexy horror story that’s going to lead to much bigger things, and maybe eventually cross back over with the characters and storyline of the main “Widow” book.

I'd often see fans politely asking (and sometimes demanding) that you re-release your "Daikazu" comics about giant monsters fighting you did back in the 1980's and 1990's. I remember you saying that you'd consider it, but in some ways felt weird (and you even said "embarrassed") looking at your old work. I always wanted to read it, so I was pleased to see there was a Kickstarter collecting your work on the comic, and as I understand it the books will be shipping soon, something I am looking forward to for sure!

That’s cool- I’m glad that you’re looking forward to it! Yeah, I have said that I’d be a little embarrassed to reprint those old “Daikazu” stories, but that’s entirely because of insecurity. “Daikazu” was my first published work, so obviously, it’s a bit unpolished compared to my current work, now that I have thirty years more experience! Why am I re-releasing it? I guess “why not?” I’ve considered doing it for a long time, and I got thinking that just because the earliest issues can be considered “amateur,” it’s still a part of my professional history. As a comics reader myself, I love seeing the earliest works of some of my favorite artists, so right there, I’ve shot down my own argument against not reprinting. I’m putting out a series of “Daikazu” reprints under the title “War Monsters.” 

It’s going to be three volumes in all. As you said, Volume 1 covers “Daikazu” #1-5, Volume 2 reprints “Daikazu” #6-8, and Volume 3 collects the “Daikazu Vs. Gugoron” three-issue mini-series. They’re all big volumes, too- Even though you see only three issues collected in Volumes 2 and 3, I had the tendency to put up to 32 pages of story into those old comics, so Vol. 1 is 144 pages, Vol. 2 is 112 pages, and Vol. 3 is 96 pages of giant kaiju action. Actually, looking back at them now that Natalie’s scanning and cleaning up all of the old art to prep it for the trades, it’s actually not as bad as I remember, and really quite cool. Just browsing through the pages, you can really see how much love went into them, in both story and art, so now I’m quite anxious to introduce Daikazu and crew to a whole new generation of readers. If the reception is good enough, I’ll certainly produce some new stories, which I would probably like to do in full color, which would be a first for the series.
So, as I am a big fan of all things Widow, I eagerly posted about your latest Kickstarter which is currently running and features the return of none other than the titular Widow, Emma! It’s called, “Widow: Return to Spider Island,” and I’d love to hear what made you decide to go ahead and revisit Emma after some years with us fans wondering what kinds of adventures she might get up to.

I guess the only way to answer that is by first giving you a boring history lesson. But I’ll make it quick: I began self-publishing “Widow” in 1992, then joined up with Avatar Press in 1997, where they published “Widow” #0, “Widow: The Origin” #1-3, and a several cross-overs with Pandora and Razor. Emma also appeared as a supporting character in the “War Goddess” series that ran from 2011-2013, but I never had the time or opportunity to continue her personal story (I don’t really count the cross-overs as canon). I have many more “Widow” stories to tell, and was really only getting started, but other projects for Avatar Press monopolized my schedule for many years, and I just never got back to “Widow.” But when I returned to self-publishing in 2014, I began making plans to set the stage for her return by reprinting all of the old stories in a series of five trade paperbacks (“Widow Archives”), and I also released the pin-up books “Maximum Widow Uncovered” and “Maximum Widow Exhibition” through my company Mike Wolfer Entertainment. My theory is that there’s probably a whole new generation of comics readers who have never heard of her, so I put out all of that older material to prepare them for new adventures. Which brings us to today!

Would you say that, “Widow: Return to Spider Island,” is meant more for newer readers, old-school fans, or will everyone be able to enjoy the horror that is sure to occur?

That’s the beauty of having all five volumes of “Widow Archives” in print- All of the previous material is available for anyone who is new to the story. However, I’ve written “Return to Spider Island” in the same manner that I wrote “Flesh and Blood,” the very first “Widow” story: You’ll be able to pick up the new book and pretend that you’ve sitting in your car in a drive-in theater back in the ‘70s, and you’re about to get your mind blown by the goriest, sexiest, scariest exploitation horror tale you’ve ever seen. At least, that’s my approach. I’ve made sure that readers who have never read a “Widow” comic are up-to-speed, but really, it’s not going to matter. There’s going to be enough going on to capture everyone’s attention. You’ve read the previous stories, David- you know what I’m talking about. Ha!
One thing I love about your work is that it can always be relied upon to deliver gory scares, sexy scenes, and really creative concepts, I would presume, “Widow: Return to Spider Island,” is full of blood, sex, and cool story-ideas? 

“Yes” to numbers one and two, and “I hope so” to number three! I don’t know why so many stories that I write and so many movies that I love take place on islands, but… This one takes place on an island. Surprise! The premise of “Widow” is pretty straight-forward: A mad geneticist named Langford Harrow had a secret lab on a small, Caribbean island, where he conducted experiments to create a hybrid of humans and arachnids. The result was Emma, the lead character in the story. Her “powers,” if you can call them that, are that she can sprout spider legs from her back, has great physical strength and healing, and an ability to mesmerize victims with the allure of sex. The downside is that Emma has had to battle to control the arachnid instincts within her, the uncontrollable desire to mate and then devour her companion. And even worse, the experiment that created her also created a “spider virus” that she carries that can be sexually transmitted, so if her mate is not killed, their genetic structure will be attacked by the virus and warp them into a spider creature just like her. They can, in turn, also spread the virus, but so far, it has been reasonably contained to only a handful of victims. Emma left the island after Harrow was killed and her true nature was revealed to her, and she embarked on several adventures across the country, from Philadelphia to Area 51. In this story, we see her return to the island of her birth, to reconcile her feelings about her past, and just spend some alone time on the deserted island where her horrific creation took place. Let’s just say, the island isn’t deserted, and she’s going to come face-to-face with some very terrifying individuals from her past, some who she has never met, and others who she thought were dead. It’s going to be one crazy, gore-filled showdown, that’s for sure.

Your partner in life and lettering is Natalie Jane, if she would be interested I’d love to ask her some questions about lettering?

I have some questions for her myself, like, “What’s it like to have to wait forever for the artist to turn in pages, and then have to letter an entire book in two days so that it can go to press the night of the second day?” On second thought, don’t answer that!
I’ve talked with folk about lettering before and always am fascinated about how the process can vary. Would you mind breaking-down how you go about lettering?

Sure! As soon as I receive the script and the pages to be lettered, I convert the script to a rich text file. Then, I put the pages on a template (from the printing company) in Photoshop. Image resizing, clean-up, art or color corrections are done here. I save the file as a .tif. Next, I open Illustrator using the same template and place the .tif file on it. Now, I'm ready to letter! I have a file that contains a variety of word balloons, tails, and caption boxes and I'll copy some of those over and paste them onto the page I'm working on. I choose a font and font size that's legible, open up the script file, copy the dialogue and paste it onto the page. I arrange the words into an appropriate shape determined by the art that's in the panel, put it into a balloon and add a tail. If a sound effect is needed, I create it in Photoshop, save it as a photoshop document, and place it onto the page. When the page is completed, I take another look, move things around if necessary, and save it as an adobe illustrator file. That's it!

I’ve found lettering is something in comics that sadly is often overlooked when done well (or superbly) and only noticed when it goes horribly wrong or is excessive in weird font-tricks and such. How do you manage to make your lettering good but not too much?

As a comic book reader myself, I put myself in the reader's position. I describe my lettering style as "clean". I choose a legible font and font size. The arrangement of the balloons and captions should flow. They should direct the reader's eye throughout the panel, from one panel to the next. I believe that the lettering should shine, but it should never be the star. It should compliment the story/art, not detract from it. I have Mike to thank for laying down the foundation and teaching me the basics of lettering. He's taught me so much and my knowledge and skills continue to grow. He's always suggesting new things and we're always bouncing new ideas off one another. Lastly, my work is a representation of me. It must be good. I would never put anything out there that I wasn't proud of. Plus, it isn't just about me. There's a team involved- A writer, penciller, inker, colorist, etc., and it should all come together.

Thanks again to Mike and Natalie for interviewing with me! You can find the Kickstarter campaign for, "Widow: Return to Spider Island," at this link. It only has 10 days left so be sure and back it before it's too late!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

"The Atlantic," Summed Up Marvel's Problems Perfectly

For the record, I basically agree with everything in the new article from The Atlantic titled, "The Real Reason for Marvel Comics' Woes." It summarizes much of what I and others have discussed extensively. Namely, that Marvel seems to keep alienating readers with tone-deaf statements, constant re-launches that bring with them horrible difficulty in regards to keeping track of books, overpriced event-comics, and as Comicsbeat points out in its own thoughts on the piece, Marvel has horrible communication with libraries--a potentially quite significant source of income for many publishers.

This all isn't really surprising. When you essentially dismiss the importance of minority and LGBTQ characters in your comics, pile-on expensive and dull cross-overs, keep re-launching your books until it is impossible to figure out the chronology, and otherwise act disinterested in what your consumer wants, can you really be startled when things aren't going well? Plus, the point about libraries in the additional article is especially intriguing. I mean, if someone wants to buy 200 copies of one of your popular books to stock their shelves with wouldn't you normally fall over yourself to get that guaranteed sale? Marvel's borderline-animosity toward libraries is just quizzical, perhaps because they feel people grabbing the book at the library won't buy copy, but there are so many factors within that to consider (would this person actually buy the book without the library, could they afford the book, etc.) that I personally feel selling a ton of copies of your book to a library system and taking a nice profit off of that is worth more than pondering, "Well, maybe we will sell as many or a bit more books if we don't do this deal."

Anyways, Marvel is having a lot of trouble in regards to their comics (the movies are still doing gangbusters, of course) and I just felt the piece by The Atlantic laid it out expertly.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Tales From the Dollar Bin: Worldwatch #1

There are comics which are worth incredible sums of money, but so many of the most interesting, tragic, or just downright weird can be found for a simple dollar or less in a store's "dollar bin". There, comics that never gained much popularity can be found alongside those that sold so much as for a copy to be worthless. "Tales From the Dollar Bin" aims to explore these comics, be they a single issue or an entire run of a series. From the great to the miserable, some of the best treasures and worst nightmares can be found in those infamous boxes. Let's have a "tale" now...

Chuck Austen? Hoo Boy...
I haven't done a, "Tale from the Dollar Bin," in some time, so I was thinking if I were going to present one it had to be something especially noteworthy in its dollar-ness. I've talked about books that were so popular they are now worthless, but what about a comic so unpopular that some folk wouldn't even take it for free? What kind of comic would that be though? Perhaps a book with a writer so unpopular that it got to a point where even seeing his name on a cover made people want to stay far away? A writer who started out pretty well but burned out so astonishingly horrifically that the way his career ended would look worse than a 10-car pile-up on the freeway where every vehicle was a packed clown-car? I mean, who could possibly be that reviled that people...oh wait, yeah, Chuck Austen.

I've actually written about a comic from Chuck Austen before as a Dollar Bin yarn that was a God-awful sequel to an actually decent other series he did. Austen is someone who showed some skill and talent, but basically blew any goodwill he had built-up during a run on ,"X-Men," that could at best be described as, "An utter catastrophe," if we are being polite--if we're just being honest, "Goddamn fucking mess," works better. Austen came onto the X-Men book after Grant Morrison's incredible run (and wrote some, "Uncanny X-Men stuff," too that sucked), which is a change in quality equivalent to going to the house of someone who for months was giving you incredible and passionate love-making(X-Men under Morrison) and then suddenly one day you show-up at their house and they just start punching you repeatedly in the face while screaming, "This is what you like, right? X-Men stories where Nightcrawler is somehow revealed to be a demon-spawn, two X-men have sex in the sky in front of another character's mother, and other stories get shit-on repeatedly? Right? Tell me if you like this!"
Remember that time Austen tried to ruin Nightcrawler?
Clearly I have strong opinions on Chuck Austen's less-than-good work, and I'm actually someone who goes much easier on the guy and feels some of his stuff was good! Other people just like to label him as, "The Absolute Worst," and go on with their day, but the truth is far more complicated, because it always is. Austen is sometimes the absolute worst (his time on, "X-Men,"), but there are occasions he actually shows promise, talent, and otherwise is actually kinda good. His attempt at making-fun of super-heroes and the super-hero industry, "Worldwatch," is...sigh, well, it is not one of those times.

Satire is Hard
Everyone is so terrible.
Being satirical is a skill that is difficult to master. If you are trying to make fun of something by making a parody-version of it you walk a fine-line between being too obvious in your mockery or being so deadpan you just are another copy of the very thing you were trying to take the piss out of. "Worldwatch," was a comic with the kinda-clever idea that it was a graphic-novel adaptation of a super-heroine's tell-all book about her time on the team, "Worldwatch," a U.N sanctioned team of heroes presented to the public as great good guys, but who were actually terrible people--shocking, I know (yes, I'm being sarcastic)!

Austen essentially wanted to make a comic that poked at stuff like, "Stormwatch," or, "The Authority," who were themselves darker and edgy analogues of other comic-heroes. Austen did this by giving us a comic that is basically characters like, "The Authority," behaving terribly like folk in, "The Boys," with an attempt to do the political satire of, "The Ultimates," but failing miserably at it. This shit is a mess, in other words.
The closest the comic comes to making a statement, with boobs included.
All the heroes in, "Worldwatch," are terrible people with it clear an attempt is being made to write them as, "Edgy," but again, Satire is hard. We have a sexist and super-religious male, an Amazonian-type lady who is a real hard-ass, a young and naive speedster-lady, an older male hero whose ex-wife is on the team and basically just slightly different-versions of heroes that already exist, and everyone is a huge jerk. For real, everyone in this comic yells at each other, hits on one another in vain, or has sex with one another because, um, just because, I guess. All the female characters in the book seem to be in a constant state of undress, which is fine to me as someone who appreciates the naked female form as much as anyone else, but the comic's attempt to act like it is making some capital-S, "Statement!" about the sexualization of women in comics is just stupid. Oh, and we throw in a bit about racism that seems to go nowhere besides, "I'm a white lady and my parents hated black men, but you are a sexy black man so I want to have sex with you," as well as a shocking reveal that one of the heroes is hanging out with an enemy!

Austen clearly wanted to make some deep statement about how our fictional heroes we look up to would in fact be terrible people in reality, that heroes are a fascistic power-fantasy, how women in comics are treated as little more than sexual objects, and basically wanted to thumb his nose at the industry and fans that mistreated him (in his mind) so poorly. The thing is, he just made a really bad comic that is the epitome of everything he might be trying to mock. Austen perhaps wanted to show us how in his mind super-heroes were an adolescent power-fantasy...but he just made a comic that reads as if it was written by a violence and sex-obsessed 13-year-old who believes throwing a bunch of, "Fucks," into dialogue is mature. As I keep saying, satire is hard.

A Truncated Treatise
I'm attracted to you, so I can't be racist, right?
I only read the first issue of, "Worldwatch," and it apparently was supposed to be a seven-issue mini-series. It only went for three before ending prematurely due to lack of sales/sheer disinterest, with the publisher, "Wild and Wooly Press," never making anything else as far as I know. This is a treatise that ended-up quite truncated considering it didn't even reach a half-way point in regards to Austen telling his story. Other people out there recognize what Austen was attempting to do with, "Worldwatch," and also observe he kinda struggled to make it clear he was making fun of these sorts of comics, not just trafficking in them. They don't usually give awards for, "Trying really hard," however, so regardless of what Austen intended, we're left with this schlock.

One thing that is especially tragic here is that the pencils by Tom Derenick and inks by Norm Rapmund are quite good, this is some solid art! The problem is, this good art is accompanied by some God-awful writing. Chuck Austen was trying to say something deep and clever about the comic industry and its fans who he felt had treated him so poorly, but only ended-up basically continuing to prove his critics right. It's sad, but we unfortunately don't get too many happy stories when we share a...tale from the dollar bin!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Birthday-Week Links!

Take a Deep Breath...
It's my birthday this week (at the end on Saturday the 27th) so how about we celebrate with some random links that I found interesting?

...And Blow (The Candles, You Perverts)
The movie studio A24 sounds like a cool place full of neat folk, and this article discussing its wild and twisty history makes a great read

That Nine-Panel Design, tho. Seriously though, it is a fascinating format that impacted, "Watchmen," greatly and imagine will see usage in, "Doomsday Clock." Plus, Tom King and his collaborators always use it well, such as with, "Omega Men," and it should be snazzy when utilized in his upcoming Mister Miracle-focused maxi-series.

As I said in a previous post, Shepard Smith is probably the one and only person I trust at Fox News to report facts. He also seems like just a genuinely nice and honest guy, as articles like this, where he discusses being openly gay at an outlet like Fox News, illustrate.

I am someone who has had a baby recently (our little Clarkson), therefore this article about how to balance things like playing video-games with your newborn really speaks to me. Some tips are obvious, but it makes some solid points. Heck, you could replace, "Playing video-games," with nearly any hobby and much of the advice still would be solid.

Depending on whom you ask, the Ultimate Universe that once existed at Marvel either has just a few remaining elements, or arguably still exists and could theoretically be brought-back at any time. Okay?

It has many ups and downs but I am as much of a fan of Saturday Night Live as I am fascinated by it in general. Reading about how it has handled the political shit-show that is the the Trump Presidency is illuminating.
I read The Guardian on the internet sometimes (the above story about video-games and babies is by them actually) and they have pointed-out on their site at times how they don't put their articles behind an annoying paywall. After mentioning this I've observed the site in a polite manner asking if readers such as myself would contribute to assist them in continuing this practice. I find their laid-back and friendly way of asking refreshing and therefore have given funds and encourage you to do so as well at this link.

Reading these thoughts discussing how the messaging Marvel has done about ,"Secret Empire," at this point almost matters more than the comic itself says basically what I've been thinking.

This safe-for-work article about the most infamous pool in Japan made me laugh. Why is it infamous, you may ask? Well, it is often used as a set in a ton of Japanese pornography!
Is Nick Spencer actually kind of a dick?
I've enjoyed some of his comics but lately Nick Spencer is seeming kind of like a jerk, and apparently his past behavior before he got into comics kind-of solidifies my theory that maybe despite making some great books (and terrible ones like the earlier-discussed, "Secret Empire," series) Nick Spencer might actually be a bit of an asshole using offensive imagery in a tone-deaf manner.

Valve and their Steam service gets a lot of love from many people, but I admire this opinion piece  by Tim Colwill calling them out as acting really evil and mercenary in a variety of ways despite being thought of as, "Good Guy Valve," and a beloved company as opposed to, "Evil corporations," such as EA that have done many of the same  questionable things that Valve actually does.

Lastly, with all the extra-attention, "Watchmen," is getting with its further incorporation into the DC Universe how about we enjoy a short essay on the importance of Doctor Manhattan's penis (no, seriously). This simple organ arguably carries with it a lot of symbolism and meaning within, "Watchmen," believe it or not.

Now Cake!
Love those fails!
It is now time for me to get ready to eat cake later this week, kick-back, and otherwise celebrate!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

"Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers" Review

One of my friends bought a graphic novel at PAX this year that they really enjoyed. They reached-out to me as they know I do the blog and told me about it. That book is, "Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers," from the publisher Native Realities Press. Native Realities is made up of creators who aim to further the awareness and celebration of Native Americans and Native American culture. I feel this is an important mission as often in America it seems we only hear about Native Americans in history when it's Thanksgiving and get the cliche story about how the, "Friendly Indians helped the kind Pilgrims and they were all friends!" with the genocide and destruction that followed carefully left-out of textbooks. Native Realities' book, "Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers," is an anthology featuring historical fiction tales of Code Talkers throughout a variety of wars, and it sounded cool to me so I reached-out and was able to acquire a digital copy for the purposes of review.

I will admit my knowledge of code talkers was minimal. I knew that during World War II the United States dealt with the Axis powers cracking their codes by having a variety of Native American soldiers communicate over radio in their native language with even more code-words used to ensure secrecy (code-within-a-code). I also know there was a mediocre war-movie made that discussed code talkers, but that was about it. Hence, this book, which is geared more towards younger-readers (it has suggested further-education activities and resources too, which is cool), actually was perfect for an adult like myself who knows so little. Through reading this book and its assorted stories of code talkers I learned that Native Americans actually were engaging in this practice as long ago as World War I and were actively used past World War II but as technology advanced found themselves relied upon less and less until they were discharged and sworn to secrecy about their important contributions.

A straight-up illustrated history might bore some readers (I would like it, but not everyone would) so to the credit of the various creators who contributed to this anthology, the historical fiction we witness is often exciting and full of well-illustrated fighting and intensity. One question I myself had going into this book is brought-up for readers as well: Why? When I say, "Why?" I am referring to the question of why these Native American soldiers even wanted to fight for a nation that had treated their people with such hatred and disrespect. Seriously, during World War I many of the Native Americans who fought and died for America were not even yet recognized by the U.S. as, "citizens," spilling their blood for a country that wouldn't even let them vote.

The book offers various answers to that question, with it clearly being wrestled with by the soldiers who fought for a nation that refused to respect them (with one story featuring a Black soldier who bonds with a Native American trooper pointing out how there are many demographics that have been on the receiving end of horrific treatment throughout history in America). This isn't to say, "Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers," is some rage-filled manifesto however. There clearly is a love for this nation and a hope for what it could possibly be shared by all the men and women in the stories.


I found, "Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers," to be as informative as it was engaging. It kept my attention throughout all of its stories and provided me with a lot of history that often seems to be accidentally forgotten at best and actively ignored at worst. This book was a superb read for me, an adult slightly embarrassed to admit his ignorance of this fascinating part of history, and for sure would make a stellar read for schoolchildren to enjoy and then further their education with the aforementioned helpful resources and study-tips in the back of the book. Native Realities Press created a great book and I encourage you to purchase your own copy at this link.
5 out of 5 stars. 

Note: A digital copy of, "Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers," was provided for the purposes of review upon my request to the publisher.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Mike Wolfer Has Launched a Kickstarter for a Cool New, "Widow," Comic!

Mike Wolfer is a Cool Fellow
I am of course a big fan of Mike Wolfer's writing and artwork, having interviewed him for the blog multiple times and often reading and enjoying his work. He has done Kickstarter campaigns in the past to help fund many of his projects and often has cool unqiue goodies made available through those Kickstarters. He is one of those somewhat-rare dependable people on Kickstarter as he always delivers his promised goods, and keeps his backers well-informed about his progress and any delays in getting goodies sent-out. Hence, anytime I hear he's got a new project that I can support you know I eagerly back it. This brings us to his latest endeavor!

Widow: Return to Spider Island
Mike Wolfer's upcoming original graphic novel, "Widow: Return to Spider Island," sounds like it will be superb. It will feature the first new tale with fan-favorite character Emma Harrow in many years as she returns to the island where everything started back in the original Widow comics. It will be a 64-page book of comic-goodness and is described by Wolfer as being both friendly to new readers and rewarding as well for long-time fans of Emma/Widow. Wolfer always excels at writing (and drawing) horror and scary violence, so I have no doubt this will be a great comic and make a stellar addition to my collection of his various awesome works.

I encourage you to check-out and back his Kickstarter for, "Widow: Return to Spider Island," at this link.

Reviews of Recently Released Albums AKA Bruno Mars, Mary J. Blige, Gorillaz, and Kendrick Lamar!

More Music!
I of course love music (when I'm not hating it, at least) and wanted to offer my thoughts on some recently released albums. Shall we?

Listening-Time!
"XXIVk [24k] Magic," by Bruno Mars
Alright, this isn't exactly, "Recently released," as it came out in November of last year. That said, various singles off the album still are playing on the radio quite often so I think we're good. I've written about the infectious pop-enthusiasm of Bruno Mars previously and this album is the epitome of that. Whether the title track ("24k Magic"), a bit slower but still easy-to-dance-to tune ("That's What I Like") or a song that sounds designed for pure seduction ("Versace on the Floor"), Mars knows how to give people what they like--and what they like is new music that also sounds as if it could simultaneously be an old Motown or 1980's funk-hit.

Mars has mastered the art of making fresh songs that also sound like old classics, arguably broadening his appeal even more between both young folk and older individuals. "Calling All my Lovelies," sounds like something that could simultaneously have been created on an old synthesizer and carries with it a modern pop-swagger. Plus, because he knows we also like when he croons romantically with a hint of sorrow, album-closer, "Too Good to Say Goodbye," is sure to make ladies and men have their eyes tear-up, because the only thing as popular as happy and energetic Bruno Mars is sad and heartbroken Bruno Mars (I personally prefer the former but enjoy the latter as well).

Between his writing and voice as well as his producers and other contributors Mars knows how to craft deliciously party-ready albums that are sure to encourage folk to get-up and start dancing (or on his forlorn tunes, kick-back and cry a little). There is just something about songs like the first one on the LP and my favorite, "24k Magic," where they burrow into your body and make you want to start grooving. Some of the songs carry a bit less impact than others ("Straight Up & Down," drags horribly) but overall Mars and his chums have given us yet another catchy record to play when we want to put any get-together into overdrive.
4 out of 5 stars.

"Strength of a Woman," by Mary J. Blige
Upon listening to this album I think a better title would have simply been, "I'm Pissed!" For those who are unaware, Mary J. Blige has been in the midst of a rather nasty divorce with a man who (as more and more is revealed) seems to himself be quite the horrific person. Essentially her husband stole money from her to treat his secret-girlfriend whom he was cheating with to lavish vacations and gifts, and now during the divorce proceedings is demanding he receive Alimony of over a hundred thousand dollars a month which he believes he is owed it for all he's done for Mary. I don't know about you, but after you steal from your spouse to cheat with somebody else I don't think you have much of a leg to stand-on in regards to morality.

Mary clearly has not been pleased with everything in life because as she sings on her song, "Set me Free," about a cheating man isn't directly named but clearly her husband, "There's a special place in Hell for you," as well as assuring him he won't be getting a dime. Much of the album is Mary singing about being wronged by someone who claimed to love her, discussing how terrible these kind of cheaters are, and how she'll find herself a new man who actually loves her and treats her right. It's a very emotion-filled album because clearly a lot of raw feelings went into it. All of these, "Feels," would be useless without good singing and music however, which the album thankfully has much of.

Whether listening to, "The Thick of It," with Mary crooning, or the delightful guest appearances on, "Glow Up," from talent such as Missy Elliot, "Strength of a Woman," maintains a steady presence throughout its run-time, keeping listeners engaged and intrigued (at least it did that for me). There is a lot of rage in this LP, but a good deal of hope for the future and love in general too--Mary may have been wronged but she isn't giving-up on love, just being extra-careful from now on. She's been making music for decades and continues to create very enjoyable stuff, so I hope Mary meets the right man and is able to also give us an album full of joy. In the meantime however, this angry one works quite well too.
3.5 out of 5 stars.

"Humanz," by Gorillaz
One of the first CDs I ever bought was the self-titled debut LP of the, "Gorillaz." I loved how it jumped around to various genres and was otherwise a weird little experimental hodge-podge . I feel the sophomore album, "Demon Days," is probably the best album ever put out by, "Them," as it had the perfect mixture of guest-artists and solitary weirdness. I put, "Them," in quotation marks as this band of course isn't a real entity. It is the brainchild of Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett along with their various collaborators on different albums.

This is what I consider to be the fourth studio album as, "The Fall," doesn't really count in my mind as a true album so much as little experiment within this experiment. I personally feel that over time each album has moved more and more in the direction of having tons of guests that now basically the Gorillaz albums are more-so an anthology with a unifying theme than an actual imaginary group (and yes, "The Fall," was pretty minimalist but what did  I just say about not counting it?), for better or worse.

This vibe of, "More is always better," results in an album that at times feels both bloated with its 20+ tracks and shockingly short in its 49 total minutes of run-time. There is this sensation that Gorillaz is throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks, which makes it all the more striking and slightly disappointing that while there are a number of misses, some tracks do stick, and their genius is quite apparent. "Momentz," with De La Soul as a featured artist sounds like a sugar-rush mixed with an assortment of club-drugs to create a barrage of pure energy and fast-rapping. "Busted and Blue," is amazing with its quiet and melodic melancholy, and, "Ticker Tape," with Carly Simon of all people making an appearance is a catchy and funky ditty for sure.

There are these flashes of amazing ingenuity, but a lot of it is surrounded by decent songs that struggle to stay in my memory once they finish playing. There were no songs I really hated when listening to, "Humanz," but far too little I absolutely loved considering how the first Gorillaz album and, "Demon Days," still find themselves played in the car for me often. This was a good album, but not as superb as I would have hoped.
3 out of 5 stars.

"DAMN." by Kendrick Lamar
There are three living rappers who may be the best alive, but two of them come with nagging, "If's," attached. They are Kanye West, Andre 3000, and Kendrick Lamar. Kanye West would be one of the best ever if he could stop buying into his own mystique so much that his craft at times suffers. Andre 3000 is just plain amazing when he raps, if he chooses to do so outside of a guest appearance on an album here-and-there.

That leaves us with Kendrick Lamar, the greatest living rapper alive who is actually willing to rap and not absurdly self-absorbed. "DAMN." is more of Kendrick showing off his stellar abilities be it spitting bars absurdly fast over dizzying beats ("DNA," is astounding), vaguely singing and growling amorously at the same time ("LUST), or simply observing how screwed-up our nation is while Bono joins in with U2 ("XXX").

Lamar is so amazing that a rare misfire can really stand-out, such as, "LOVE," which sounds absurdly pop-driven and more like something that would be on a Justin Bieber album with a guest-verse by Kendrick than it does a song fit to stand with his amazing jams, "YAH," or "PRIDE." Still, a song here-or-there that isn't utterly mind-blowing is perfectly alright when your album in general is yet another masterpiece.
5 out of 5 stars.

Turn that Down, You'll Damage Your Hearing!
A variety of albums have come out lately and some impressed me more than others. Still, they all had at least some tracks I greatly enjoyed and other LPs were almost entirely awesomesauce. Music really is a magical thing, ain't it?

Monday, May 15, 2017

I'm Actually Interested in DC's Upcoming, "Doomsday Clock," Event

I absolutely hated the cash-grab ideas behind, "Before Watchmen," and when I first heard about, "Rebirth," and how it might incorporate aspects of, "Watchmen," I felt like DC had gone off the rails. Then, all the talented folk at DC surprised me by having, "Rebirth," be a re-launch that didn't suck. The careful way DC has incorporated concepts of, "Watchmen," has actually shown a lot of restraint and skill, and the newly announced, "Doomsday Clock," comic that will involve Superman coming face-to-face with Doctor Manhattan...sounds kinda neat?

Wait, what's going on with me? Haven't I said in the past, repeatedly, how DC loves to yell, "Fuck Alan Moore!" and insult his past work by diluting, "Watchmen," and his other works? Yes, I have done that, but in my article about how, "Rebirth," surprisingly didn't suck I said the one way that maybe, just maybe, DC could make incorporating, "Watchmen," go well is by getting really meta and focusing on how the creation of, "Watchmen," in the 1980's changed comics forever and impacted super-hero comics to their very core by bringing-in a more, "Adult," and grim-and-gritty focus that for decades books found themselves beholden to. Perhaps if DC made it less about, "Watchmen," as a comic than, "Watchmen," as an idea it could work. Well, it seems DC is actually doing that.

The idea behind, "Doomsday Clock," is to do a reasonable 4-part standalone series without a bunch of extraneous tie-in comics, which already sounds affordable as opposed to being an absurdly massive event-comic. These comics will focus on how the new bright hopefulness existing in the world of DC's Rebirth is going to have to survive against the horrific grit and misery of a world full of characters like, "Watchmen." That sounds pleasantly meta and self-aware in a manner of as if the stories in the DC Universe were a living thing dealing with the fact that for years upon years there has been an invisible influence of, "Watchmen," in comics, except now in a postmodern-twist the characters are aware of it. As I said, it just might be clever enough to work if its written well, which so far it actually has been. Plus, there are lots of real-world ways it almost sorta makes sense to go all-in on, "Watchmen," as of late.

Also, Gary Frank is providing artwork, so even if the writing does end-up being terrible at least the comic will look damn good.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Film Friday: Guardians of the Galaxy 2

Warning: Spoilers Throughout Article
Last weekend I saw, "Guardians of the Galaxy 2," and found it quite enjoyable if at the same time a little low-key. I know that sounds odd to say a movie full of space-battles and otherworldly planets is modest, but despite its theoretically grand-scale of outer-space much of GOTG2 was focused on smaller character-moments and developing the Guardians. At times it almost felt like much of the movie was an exercise in chilling-out and waiting for when the crew pops-up in the Infinity-themed Avengers movies. After all, we only have a few planets explored, and the biggest new plot development is Peter Quill (again played fantastically by Chris Pratt) finally meeting his father, Ego, the Celestial living planet.

Kurt Russel does a stellar job as Ego--Hell, everyone turns in an amazing performance, but the big reveal of how Ego is actually evil seems to come pretty suddenly with its epic-sized battling after a relative amount of quieter moments. There's just a lot of water-treading seeming to be going on during the flick, I would say.
It sounds like I'm being really critical of, GOTG2, but it actually is a great movie and one of the funniest Marvel flicks I have seen along with the original. Even many of the dramatic moments often are undercut with some humor, as if writer and director James Gunn wants to say, "Yeah, this moment of mutiny on Yondu's ship is really sad, but this Taserface guy has a hilariously bad name!" Many times during the movie I and everyone else in the theater cracked-up at the amazing jokes, and there are some tear-jerker moments at the conclusion too (you will be missed, Yondu), much as with the original GOTG film. Plus there is plenty of Baby Groot, so that brings me immense joy.

"Guardians of the Galaxy 2," is not the best Marvel movie ever, but it is still really, really good. I had a great time watching it and without a doubt find its quirky and off-kilter humor makes it a delightfully weird corner of the Marvel Movie Universe. I just hope when it eventually has to meet-up and interact with all the other parts more (e.g. the Avengers) that it still retains a decent amount of its unique charm.
4 out of 5 stars.