Columnist Wayne Rée shares his discovery of comic books, from his start as a super-hero fan to his evolution into a believer of the power of the art form of comics.
Depending on your point of view, comics can either be seen as a 20th century art form—or a storytelling medium that’s been around since possibly the dawn of man.
However you slice it, the point is that comics have—to put it lightly—a very rich history. But a sense of history, I find, is something you grow into. You can’t really force it onto someone (as my teachers in school can tell you).
By the mid-00s, I’d reached that point where I couldn’t wait for my favorite creative teams to put out another book or I was starting to suffer from blockbuster superhero event fatigue. So, instead of looking forward, I started looking to what had come before.
Sure, I’d read and reread Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns like they were the bible, but everything before the 80s? Not really.
Finding Steve Ditko
Then came Jonathan Ross, a television personality in the UK and a massive comics fan. He was particularly obsessed with the works of Steve Ditko, the co-creator of Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and a couple of other superhero names that probably aren’t familiar to a lot of people, even some regular comic readers.
In 2007, he put together a documentary for BBC Four called In Search of Steve Ditko. The show focused on not just the man’s works, but also on his personality and beliefs. It talked about how he was a famous recluse and how he was a loyal follower of Ayn Rand’s philosophy Objectivism.
It was a thoroughly fascinating story; the kind you’d find being told in indie comics. I was hooked.
I started picking up more of the Essential Spider-Man and Marvel Masterworks Spider-Man collections, not just to familiarize myself with the early adventures of my buddy Peter Parker, but to enjoy Ditko’s distinctively claustrophobic and paranoid style. I picked up his Doctor Strange stuff and even ordered those Steve Ditko Archives from Fantagraphics. And, man, did I devour them.
I still recommend In Search of Steve Ditko enthusiastically, not just to comic fans, but anyone who appreciates a good story. But if we’re talking about the history of comics and good stories, well, then there’s another name that’s bound to come up—Jack Kirby.
Hail to The King
I mentioned earlier that Ditko co-created Spider-Man. Unless you’re living under some kind of pop culture-repellent rock, you’ll know that the other man responsible for Spidey is Stan Lee.
Up till their final issue together, Lee and Ditko produced some undeniably (pardon the pun) amazing comics together. Their partnership seemed like a perfect pairing in a medium that paired up words and pictures.
Then I read Lee’s Fantastic Four run with Jack “King” Kirby—widely regarded as the man who defined the visual dynamism of superhero comics for generations to come—and something just felt… different.
Yes, tonally, the FF was about cosmic adventures, while Spider-Man was about personal problems mixed up with superheroics, but there was more to it than that. When it came to the life of a down-on-his-luck teenage superhero, Lee’s dialogue really complimented Ditko’s quirky art. But when it came to larger-than-life adventures, would any words—even those of the deliciously hyperbolic Lee—really ever truly match up to the accordingly epic visuals?
The answer, for me at least, was no. Stan Lee’s Fantastic Four plots were incredible, of that there’s no doubt. But once the story started rolling, his dialogue just couldn’t keep up with Kirby’s seemingly unlimited imagination.
As writer Ivan Brandon put it in an op-ed piece from last year, “[Kirby] had a story to tell and that story was bigger than everything around him.”
… Of giants.
And this is all just the tip of the iceberg, really. I have so much more Kirby to digest and at least a bit more Ditko. I’m also not as well versed in Will Eisner’s body of work as I’d like to be.
Or how about Moebius.
Or Robert Crumb.
Or Dick Giordano.
Or Neil Adams.
Or… well, you get my point. Hell, I could probably create a whole separate column about trying to digest as much of comic’s history as possible, but I’m already late with one column as it is.
There’ll be more editions like this though. ‘Cause like I said earlier, comics have such a rich history—so why on earth would I not try my darndest to digest as much of it as possible?
Wayne Rée’s been writing professionally for about ten years. He’s worked in everything from advertising to publishing, and was even part of the team that created Singapore’s very first tattoo magazine. He dabbles in screenwriting and photography, travels way too much, and is currently putting together his very first short story collection.
The Comics Observer‘s own Corey Blake (OK, yes, I’m writing in third person) has appeared on two episodes of the podcast Part-Time Fanboy to discuss The Avengers movie and to recommend Avengers comic books. Keep listening to future episodes to get more commentary of comic books and related pop culture from Kristian Horn and his team. You can also follow along on their Part-Time Fanboy Facebook Page.
The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books has announced the program schedule for the event’s weekend of April 21 and 22. Most of the panels and presentations related to comics and graphic novels are front-loaded on Saturday, with some competing against each other in the early afternoon. While the scheduling congestion is unfortunate, it’s indicative of the growing star power of comics at the Festival to get such premium placement.
Highlights include a moderated conversation with Robert Kirkman, writer and co-creator of The Walking Dead comic book series, and an appearance by Jeff Kinney of Diary of a Wimpy Kid fame on the Children’s Stage. DC Entertainment will also hold a panel with co-publishers Dan Didio and Jim Lee to talk up their controversial prequel comics to the acclaimed Watchmen graphic novel, followed by a screening of the movie adaptation. Almost simultaneously there is a discussion panel called Drawing Outside the Lines, featuring acclaimed graphic novel writers and artists Joseph Lambert (I Will Bite You!), Carla Speed McNeil (Finder), and Jim Woodring (Weathercraft), a trio of unique creators who write and draw their own work on their own terms. That panel is moderated by the LA Times’ Deborah Vankin who also wrote the graphic novel Poseurs. The last event for Saturday is a panel on Mythic Stories that features writers Ed Brubaker (Criminal), Adam Mansbach (Go the F**k to Sleep, Nature of the Beast) and Douglas McGowan (Nature of the Beast), with moderator Leslie S. Klinger (The Annotated Sandman). A fourth writer is TBD. The weekend ends with two screenings of the feature-length documentary, With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story.
While admission to the Festival is free, the limited seating of indoor panels requires the necessity of tickets, which go on sale April 15 at 9:00 am. A limited number of tickets will also be for sale during the Festival at booth #463. Panel passes, which reserve 8 tickets per pass, can be purchased now for $30. Tickets for the 32nd Annual LA Times Book Prizes Ceremony, happening the Friday night before the Festival, are also now on sale for $10.
10:30 am – Robert Kirkman in Conversation with Geoff Boucher (Panel 1121)
Ronald Tutor Campus Center
12:55 pm – Jeff Kinney, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever
Target Children’s Stage
1:00 pm – DC Entertainment Presents: Watchmen — It’s Not the End, It’s the Beginning.
A Conversation with Jim Lee and Dan Didio, moderated by Geoff Boucher
2:00 pm – Watchmen Screening
School for Cinematic Arts
1:30 pm – Graphic Novel: Drawing outside the Lines (Panel 1113)
Carla Speed McNeil
Moderator: Deborah Vankin
Taper Hall (THH 101)
3:30 pm – Graphic Novel: Mythic Stories (Panel 1044)
Moderator: Leslie S. Klinger
Salvatori Computer Science Center (SAL 101)
11:00 am & 3:00 pm – “With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story” screening, presented by EPIX
Located in the Ray Stark Theater
School for Cinematic Arts
After the last two days, I think we need something to lighten things up before we head off to the Thanksgiving weekend.
If someone thinks about comic books long enough to consider that people actually make them, that person is probably aware of Stan Lee. The head editor and face of Marvel Comics in the 1960s, Stan “The Man” Lee helped plot and script nearly the entirety of Marvel’s then growing line of groundbreaking superhero comic books. He also either helped write or oversaw the western, romance, suspense, humor, war and other comics back when Marvel wasn’t primarily limited to one genre. He was also an innovator in fan interaction for the comics world of the time, taking on a carnival barker persona that remains to this day. While he hasn’t been involved in Marvel’s day-to-day operations for a long time, he’s still thought of as the guy who created the Marvel Universe, even if that title almost completely ignores the contributions of the brilliant artists working at Marvel at the time (most significantly Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko). Despite the controversies and legal issues of who really created Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four and all the others, and to what extent, Stan Lee remains a beloved public figure of Marvel and a legendary force of goodwill and visibility for comics in general.
These days, he remains as active as ever with his POW! Entertainment, where he’s provided concepts for a mini-line of superhero comics published by BOOM! Studios, superhero characters for the NHL, manga, and countless other projects, along with a first look deal with Disney and other production partnerships. (But not Stripperella. Nobody had anything to do with Stripperella.) And on the side, he makes cameos in Marvel Studios’ films:
To expand his Twitter and Facebook presence, Stan Lee is getting ready to launch TheRealStanLee.com, which is going to be a community-focused site. Here’s the promotional video that was released yesterday:
And thus we get to the real point of me posting all of this. Included in the above video is a clip of Stan Lee meeting The Fake Stan Lee. Played by cartoonist/improviser Kevin McShane, the Fake Stan Lee hits the right balance of playful tribute and pointed satire. For a few years now, McShane has been posting funny videos of himself as Stan Lee attending comic book conventions and interacting with attendants unabashedly being Stan Lee. And if you don’t know what that means, you got a glimpse at the above video. Now check out the below two videos. The first includes the two Stans meeting at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con.
And they had another showdown in last year’s Comic-Con:
For more Fake Stan Lee videos, check out his YouTube channel.
Well the big summer blockbusters are all done. But that doesn’t mean comic books are done invading pop culture entertainment. I always think the source material is better, but checking out comic book adaptations, whether TV or film, can be a good way of sampling. Here’s what’s coming down the pike for the rest of 2011:
Piled Higher and Deeper: The PhD Movie – Live action comedy about graduate college.
- Schedule: Screenings at international colleges and universities including the official premiere at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena on Thursday, September 22 at 8 PM.
- Based on the popular webcomic PhD: Piled Higher and Deeper by Jorge Cham. Running since 1997, Cham’s comic strip is also published in several college newspapers and has been reprinted in four print collections. (Thanks to Comics Alliance)
The Walking Dead Season 2 – Live action horror TV series about a small group of survivors of a zombie apocalypse.
- Schedule: 13 episodes starting Sunday, October 16 at 9 PM Eastern on AMC.
- Based on The Walking Dead comic books and graphic novels by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard, published by Image Comics and Skybound Entertainment. This season appears to roughly borrow from The Walking Dead Volume 2: Miles Behind Us.
Batman: Year One – Animated feature-length movie about the noir-ish retelling of the early days of Bruce Wayne’s superhero career.
- Schedule: Released on DVD, Blu-ray and for download on Tuesday, October 18.
- Based on one of the seminal DC Comics graphic novels, Batman: Year One by writer Frank Miller and artist David Mazzucchelli. The story was originally published in Batman comic books in 1987.
X-Men Anime Series – Animated TV series imported from Japan featuring the mutant superheroes Cyclops, Wolverine and others fighting for a world that fears and hates them.
- Schedule: 12 episodes starting Friday, October 21 at 11 PM Eastern on G4.
- Based on various X-Men comic books and graphic novels published by Marvel Comics over the years but specifically narrowing in on New X-Men by writer Grant Morrison and various artists, as well as Astonishing X-Men by writer Joss Whedon and artist John Cassaday.
The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes Season 2 – Animated TV series about Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Captain America and their superhero friends fighting evil.
- Schedule: 26 episodes starting on a Sunday in October at 10 AM Eastern and Pacific on Disney XD
- Based on a whole slew of Avengers and other comic books by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and others, as well as The Kree-Skrull War by writer Roy Thomas, artist Neal Adams and others, and Secret Invasion by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Leinil Francis Yu, published by Marvel Comics. Plus there’s definitely inspiration taken from the Iron Man movies.
Green Lantern: The Animated Series Season 1 – CGI animated series about a sci-fi superhero with cosmically powered jewelry.
- Schedule: This was originally set to debut last week but now a preview is going to air this Fall, possibly in November, with the full 26-episode season to start in Spring 2012 on Cartoon Network.
- Based on countless Green Lantern comics but more specifically this summer’s Green Lantern movie and recent Green Lantern comic books and graphic novels by writer Geoff Johns and others published by DC Comics.
The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn – CGI animated 3D feature film using performance capture technology. It’s about a plucky journalist and his dog going on a globe-trotting treasure hunt.
- Schedule: Opens in US movie theaters on Friday, December 23.
- Based on the international bestselling comic books Les Aventures de Tintin by the celebrated Belgian cartoonist Hergé. Tintin’s adventures have been translated into English as a series of graphic novels, most recently published by Little, Brown and Company. The movie specifically adapts The Secret of the Unicorn, as well as Red Rackham’s Treasure and The Crab with the Golden Claws.
Did I miss any? Let me know in the comments or email and I’ll add them in.
Yesterday morning, the Hooded Utilitarian posted my list along with 21 others who contributed to a giant survey of comic book creators, retailers, publishers, educators, commentators (like me) and other industry folk from all over the world to determine the 10 Best Comics. In total, 211 people responded.
I sent my list on June 15, in response to the question, “What are the ten comics works you consider your favorites, the best, or the most significant?” I started my email response to the Hooded Utilitarian with the following: “I want you to know, this is IMPOSSIBLE.”
And it is. But despite that…
- Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli
- Bone by Jeff Smith
- Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
- Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton
- Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman
- Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz
- Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
- Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley
- Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud
- The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard
Start clicking and see if something interests you.
There are plenty of comics that are just as good as the above that deserve to be listed, and even some that are better. But I had a few guidelines to help focus my list down to a manageable size.
First, I had to have actually read the material. Of the above, only Peanuts has material that I have never read. But I’ve read enough of it that what I haven’t read would have to be an absolute bomb for it to tarnish the goodwill. That means there was some material that I am fully expecting to love and that I love for its mere existence and concept that I had to leave out. I really wanted to include Carol Tyler’s You’ll Never Know on my list. It sits by my desk in my to-read pile from last year‘s Comic-Con.
Second, I leaned much heavier on the “most significant” portion of the question. As some have pointed out, the question asked by The Hooded Utilitarian is really three different questions which could result in three very different lists. Because what interests me is comics’ efforts to find new audiences, I interpreted “most significant” as the comics that have been most successful in winning over new readers. That was probably my biggest barometer. Each of the above have helped establish a genre or publishing strategy or level of skill that has expanded what comics can be and are today. In retrospect, I might’ve leaned a little too heavy on modern material but I think some of the most innovative and inclusive material is being made now (if you know where to find it).
OK, so let’s hear it. What did I miss?
(More random thoughts after the jump.)
Over 200 international comic book creators, retailers, journalists, educators, and pundits (including me!) submitted their lists answering the question “What are the ten comics works you consider your favorites, the best, or the most significant?” back in May, and now the results are getting posted at The Hooded Utilitarian.
So far, the classics Little Nemo in Slumberland by Winsor McCay, Locas stories by Jaime Hernandez, Pogo by Walt Kelly, MAD by Harvey Kurtzman and company, and Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby take up spots six through ten respectively. Four and five went up this morning and the top three spots will go up tomorrow and Friday.
Then starting on Monday, they’ll start to post the top 115, as well as each contributor’s list. Once mine goes up, I’ll link to it here as well as expand on why I chose what I chose.
So far none of my choices have made the Top 10, but that doesn’t completely surprise me. The why behind my choices probably didn’t match with the majority of the other participants. But I can’t argue with what’s up there. Each entry so far is legendary for a reason. The Little Nemo write-up by Shaenon K. Garrity in particular really resonated with me, effectively capturing why Winsor McCay and his comic strip are so special.
Only occasionally has a publication or institution attempted to define a canon for sequential art (comic strips, comic books, graphic novels, manga, web comics, etc.). Literature, film and other art forms have often selected what is generally considered by most critics and fans as the height of quality and/or influence, whether it be the American Film Institute or the Great Books of the Western World.
Here are some previous entries into establishing a comic book canon:
- Sixteen Steps Toward a Superhero Canon by Timothy Callahan (October 22, 2008)
- Flying the Standard Part 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 by Scott O. Brown (November 27-December 4, 2006)
- Top 100 Trade Paperbacks of All Time from Wizard Magazine: Free Comic Book Day (2006)
- Top 100 Comics Works of the 20th Century by Tom Spurgeon (October 24, 2004)
- The Top 100 (English-Language) Comics of the Century from The Comics Journal issue #210 (February 1999)
Part of the fun of these kinds of lists is to make shopping lists and, probably more, to debate. So I’ll be taking a look at this list and how it compares with the others, looking at what I think was missed, what they got right, and the growing consensus of these lists.
In case you haven’t heard, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday that former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger secretly fathered a child with a member of his household staff nearly a decade ago. That secret was kept even from his wife, former First Lady of California Maria Shriver, until just recently. The two had announced a separation following 25 years of marriage last week just prior to the information being made public.
Yes this makes for sudsy gossip for some but what does it mean for Schwarzenegger’s plans to enter the world of comic books? At the end of March, he announced through Entertainment Weekly that a combination comic book and animated TV series would launch starring the former Hollywood action hero as a crime fighter. The character and concepts were created in collaboration with Stan Lee, co-creator of such flawed and troubled superheroes as Spider-Man and tons of other Marvel Comics characters. While Stan Lee will forever be remembered for his classic work with seminal artists like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko in the early 1960s, he remains remarkably active today. Stan Lee’s POW! Entertainment helped develop a new line of superhero comics for Boom! Studios and even superheroes for the NHL, to name just two recent projects. He’s even a prolific Twitterer.
So will this scandal sink The Governator? Perhaps cause Stan Lee to distance himself from the flawed and troubled Arnold who may no longer be the best example of a real world hero? According to the LA Times today, probably not.
An outline obtained by The Times says the lead character was to juggle the responsibilities of being an “action hero” and “family man.” One potential theme was to have been when Arnold’s mission was complicated by “remembering to buy Maria a gift for their anniversary.”
After the couple confirmed their separation last week, [Stan] Lee told the Associated Press that plans to include Shriver had been dropped, and that the break-up wouldn’t affect “anything at all, except we can probably have a lot of girls having crushes on our hero as the story goes on — which we probably would have done anyway.”
That quote, given prior to the recent revelation, seems a little harsh now in light of the scandal. For now, I’m sure all parties are waiting to see how public perception evolves, and with so much put into The Governator so far, will try to launch it anyway. If it lands on a network and makes it to print, how will it be received? Will it become the next Spider-Man, or the next Stripperella? I bet Maria Shriver has an opinion.
UPDATE, 5/20/11: This morning, as reported by Entertainment Weekly, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s lawyers released a statement that his acting career was now on hold while he dealt with “personal matters”. That was followed by another statement from the production companies behind The Governator:
Less than two hours later, the statement was revised to saying the project was “on hold.”