don’t look behind you, True Believer! 👻 ~whoooo~

Veteran Marvel inker Joe Sinnott just retired for the second time, at 92, after getting laid off from a 27-year gig ghosting the Spider-Man newspaper strip. Written uncredited by Houseroy for the last two decades, we can only assume the syndicate or Disney are apparently frightened that now that he’s dead, Stan Lee’s actual ghost might have started haunting the strip.

(Evanier has it that the strip is ending; King Features suggest they’ll be switching to re-runs for a while, then putting new strips by younger hires into the package.)

artists not afforded World Citizenship

First Second Books launched 13 years ago as a graphic novel publisher aimed at broad adult audiences, and pivoted swiftly to become mainly aimed at kids & teens. They’re now launching a new imprint trying to shape young readers into responsible social citizens as they enter voting age in the age of social media blasting relentless disinformation into their every pore. Seven books are in the initial season, mostly written by or adapted from specialists in a field (politics, news media), and illustrated by cartoonists. Scott McCloud is consulting, and as much as his own comics are eeeesh these days, he’s a great choice for helping non-comics-literate writers to communicate visually.

The feature on World Citizen Comics at Entertainment Weekly has samples of most of the books. As you’d expect, turning explainer prose into comics, they’re mostly blocks of computer-lettered text over comics that don’t progress between panels. RE CONSTITUTION by Beka Feathers and Kasia Babis looks to be a narrative that’s told through cartooning, though, and I like the depiction of social media on this page, and those colours smartly support it.

(Art by Shelli Paroline & Braden Lamb, from Jennifer L. Pozner’s BREAKING THE NEWS.

Not only does it pop, the colours guide a reader through the page and break down different elements in a fairly busy page into tiers of relevance. The main figure is clearly drawn, and is the only element of the page in four (muted) colours. The figures around her are sketched just enough to show that they’re people, then unified by the same tone. There’s more detailed drawing in the deep backgrounds, but those are de-emphasised by the use of lighter tones, of swapping linework for colour holds, and having the lightest tone backing the black linework. Then the twitter/facebook blue mass is not only represented by sky blue tones, but clustered in the sky. At the same time, their personal “panel floor” being 180° from her emphasizes how irrelevant they really are to her.

Aimed at a potential novice comics reader: that’s a smart but simple visual metaphor, a fairly dense page rendered clear, and basically pretty as well. (Plus lettering that’s actually designed as part of the page.) That one sample got me throwing some of Paroline and Lamb’s other work-for-hire young readers’ stuff into my library queue.

One alarming thing in the article:

“Seth Abramson is my main reason for having a Twitter account,” Siegel says.

Not only is following an analysis grifter a fairly bad reason to have a twitter account at all, Abramson has no artist assigned to his book for the line. Lets cross our fingers that this means he’ll be drawing it himself, in Microsoft Paint.

entire city urged to read comic books

Since 1998, the Seattle Public Library has run an annual program encouraging the citizenry at large to read the same nominated book. For the second time in 21 years, this year’s pick is a memoir in comics form. In honour of this, librarians have gathered other “Graphic Memoirs” from across the system’s 27 branches into a major display at the downtown Central branch. Not only a fine thing in itself, it’s great to see how many of the copies show significant loan wear.

The One City, One Book pick is The Best We Could Do, Thi Bui’s chronicling of her family’s experience of Vietnam before and through the American war. Bui will be appearing at several events in April.

The Central Library building itself is one of the best things about Seattle. A gorgeous light-filled structure, designed to be navigated in a gentle spiral from the top, it’s a bonus that there’s a great library inside.

the first comic book, again

Historians and idle nerds alike have argued for decades about the identity of the first comic book (was it the first one not to contains reprints?), first comic strip (was it the first one to add speech balloons?), and so forth. This BBC Radio 4 interview between Scottish crime writer Val McDermid and Frank Quitely threw off a passing snippet that didn’t click with anything I’d heard before: that the first ever comic came from Glasgow.

Quitely immediately agrees at McDermid’s mention: “The Glasgow Looking Glass, 1825. So it did.”

From the front page and other samples, purist historians would probably exclude it for being a satire newspaper made mostly of cartoons, but there’s a strong case for it. And in the light of endless “jazz and comic books are the two American artforms!”-type proclamations, it’s a lot of fun for Scotland to say “Nah mate, we beat you by over a century.”

speaking of Fiffe

After five years of writing, drawing, lettering, colouring, publishing and self-distributing his “what if superhero-action comics were cartooned really well?”* riff COPRA – usually in monthly runs! – Fiffe is surrendering to the ease he’s enjoyed writing for Marvel and cartooning for Image and IDW, with future runs of COPRA to come from Image.

*alternatively, “what if the ’90s had not happened to DC?”

Distribution-wise, this makes total sense. Shops that carry Image books are the best place to find readers for full-colour conspiracy-and-punching comic books, most existing Copra readers will find it easier to add the series to a standing order than to start a new subscription through Fiffe’s girlfriend’s Etsy store every 15 months, etc etc. But: one of the greatest things about the serial version of Copra was the gloriously pleasurable physical objects that came in the mail, or spilled swollen from comic shop shelves.

We’re in a time when major label comic-book format comics can cost $4.99 for 20 pages of story, 2 pages of real ads, 10 pages of house ads breaking up the story, shitty pixelated printing on crap glossy paper, and no motherfucking cover, just the internal paper stock with a cover design on the first page. Copra was beautifully printed on heavy, matte, white paper. Thick stock, feeling substantial page by page and in overall weight. Crisp blacks, and nuanced painted or pencilled or pastelled colour. Stem to stern, every bit of art and letters and indicia designed by Fiffe. And all wrapped under a heavier cardstock cover.

If this turns into fuzzy digital repro on shiny toilet paper that can’t be read under direct light, RIP.

“a small image of a very stressed person”

Nathan Chazan, at TCJ, notes this background figure in the first issue of Michel Fiffe’s GI Joe work-for-hire:

In the awesomely drab street scene behind our action heroine, we see a street corner, a parked cab, garbage, and a dude with his face mushed into the pavement. But we also see, in the top left corner of the panel, kinda hidden but basically unmissable, a small image of a very stressed person peering out from a window, clearly thinking something along the lines of “what the f*ck.” I was cackling the first time I noticed this, but it’s also a microcosm of what this comic does very well. You can’t know this person, there’s no interior life to these lines on paper besides the current predicament they’re in. But you understand immediately that there’s an interiority there, a perspective from which the mayhem unfolding on page may look greatly different.

Hmm.

This dude is still Alex Ross’ greatest contribution to comics, even if Allred drew him.

And on telly this week…

Julia Wertz on illegal pinball

It’s still wild that the author of Fart Party is regularly drawing historical comics for The New Yorker in her main cartooning style; it’s especially late capitalism that she has this gig after having to move a continent away from New York because she couldn’t afford to live there as an author any more.

A new strip up today provides a potted history of pinball machines’ decades-long ban in the city:

Aside: while it makes my eyes skittish to read Wertz with computer lettering, I like the (presumably inadvertent, given her mostly identical letterforms!) kerning that snugs the A and V together here:

Readers keen for lots more comics and writing about pinball from cartoonists are encouraged to acquire Jon Chad and Alec Longstreth’s Drop Target zine, now in 540-pp book form.

Schultz, stippled

Seattle might not be the global comics mecca it looked like in the 1990s from the other side of the planet, but cartoonists bubble up in local cultural life in a way that never happens in Sydney. Here’s the inker of the “colour sell-out” era of Hate and illustrator of Trucker Fags In Denial drawing a portrait of frontrunning 2020 Most Delusional Candidate, Howard Schulz, for the local available-everywhere free newspaper.

Lots of dots by Jim Blanchard

the global storefront

The other day, Tom Spurgeon mused

I wish I knew more about how Comixology works with both information it gets from Amazon and to engage current comics realities. Like I would have thought that Captain Marvel would be dominant on the front page rather than one of a smattering of selections.

As a little of a print snob, and a lot of a reproduction-quality-snob, I’ve never cared to buy designed-for-paper comics in digital form. An argument can be made that Comixology is a middleman for people who kind of want to read comics, but don’t especially want any money to go to the people who make the comics, and would rather spend thousands of dollars on a piece of technology to read the comics on, owned* by people who openly want all shops to stop existing everywhere in the world. But I was curious enough to click through and look at their homepage for maybe the first time since the week they launched.

And: holy shit. At the time I remember thinking that Rantz Hoseley’s long-in-development digital comics retailer Longbox was immediately dead, because Comixology looked m/l like an internet retailer, while Hoseley’s supposed “iTunes of comics” looked like someone who ran a small business had been using a spreadsheet program since 1985 but the developer had died in 1992 and so the business owner had been rewriting the code themselves ever since, each time that they had to update their computer and install a new operating system. But nine years (and an early acquisition by Amazon) later, Comixology is the 800-pound gorilla** of general-audience digital comics options. And their homepage is insanely bad at selling comics.

For a start: at the top of their page, the following categories exist to guide the casual shopper to what they might find diverting, or the dedicated reader to their area of interest.

The top four are reasonable-ish. Unlimited, as I understand it by inference and doing no detailed research at all, is their version of an Amazon program where self-publishers can take even less money with even less auditable accountability from the retailer-cum-distributor, so it’s gross to give it such prominence, but no surprise. The grossness is amplified slightly on the next line, by making Originals their primary category: this makes them your publisher as well as your distributor and retailer. Obviously this is completely insane, but it’s 2019 and we all live here now, so lets move on.

That leaves just three categories for all examples of the medium available on the service. Graphic Novels, Manga, and Indie. While I’m all for breaking down the hegemony of Marvel and DC, and can breathe better in IRL comic shops that have a variety of genres and formats up front, it seems that having a “Superheroes” category would be useful for those who want it? Sure, they don’t need it, in the same way that physical shops can put the superhero stuff in the back because those readers just come in for what they want. But the tag could put non-Marvel-and-DC superhero stuff on the same browsing level as the megacorp IP, which would be nice.

Bookstore-type categories like Young Readers, Non-Fiction, Fantasy and so forth are useful because they guide readers towards an area of interest,where they might find more things to their taste than one specific book they’re looking for. Comixology effectively wants their readers to come in, walk all over the shop and pull a pile of things by title, and walk out without finding anything new. Except! They do have virtual endcaps on the home page, giving curated highlights of a section. Let’s check those out.

NEW RELEASES: one manga by Harold Sakuishi that comes under Comixology’s own “unlimited” subscription. One DC superhero crossover that apparently involves a female superhero being bloodily murdered on the front cover (Hey, kids! Comics!). A second manga by Harold Sakuishi on the Unlimited subscription. A Marvel comic featuring a female superhero not being murdered, who has a blockbuster movie about to come out! And the 45th and final issue of a creator-owned fantasy/superhero series that began in 1984. Let’s look several pixels further down!

A separate NEW RELEASES just for the Unlimited subscription features the two Unlimited series by the one author that were highlighted immediately above. Plus one book of political cartoons, sort of. One fantasy series that is not only distributed exclusively by Comixology, but also published by it. And a DC superhero crossover with not one, but TWO dead female superheroes on the cover.

Since Comixology are a service, not entirely a shop, it makes sense that they’d highlight their service as the second thing visitors see. Perhaps it was an algorithm that unfortunately led to the duplication. Surely the next highlight, still on the same screen, will be calculated to showcase the breadth of their range?

What the fuck.

The two titles we’ve already seen twice, the one that is published by Comixology themselves, and two more published by Comixology themselves. Unfortunate that these three endcaps have taken up one screen, but let’s whap that space bar and scroll-jump to another screen.

Oh, manga, good that they’re making so much translated materia– oh, are you fucking kidding me?

Honestly, at this point I’m disappointed that they didn’t have the chutzpah to just insist that Beck, a series from 1999, was the most important of last week’s new releases too. Also, did nothing come out last week that wasn’t gruesomely violent? (There’s no actual grue on Delver’s sword right now, but it’s still a 100% murder weapon up front in the reader’s face.)

If everything above is a new release and is in digital, how much older are these “Digital Firsts”? Or are they exclusive as digital comics, and not also available in print? Why are four out of five still grim and violent? Is there really a Scooby-Doo Team-Up comic that’s up to Chapter 93?

Comic shops stopped relying on the week’s brand new releases to solely pay the rent almost 30 years ago. Bookshops have always carried more perennials and oddities than new bestsellers. Comixology, without any costs at all in ordering stock or renting floorspace, have the ability to display a breadth of material that goes far beyond what even the best physical stores can hope to carry. How do they seize that opportunity?

Two different collections of 1970s Spidey-Man superhero newspaper comics, two single issues of extremely terrible Image/Wildstorm superhero comics from 1995 but with the 2019 logo of a company that bought them in 1999 slapped onto the front, and one collection of probably-not-awful probably-1960s sunny funtime kids comics, featuring a character who currently has a TV show with a grim, Satan-worshipping tone.

It’s possible that Comixology have done years and years of data analysis to show that a tiny proportion of people who visit their site respond to highlights or human-designed guidance. It’s plausible that most shoppers do indeed come in and search immediately for the things they want, and the design of the home page doesn’t affect them at all. But even if putting the exact same thing first in the first four out of seven displays drives sales on that one title, that can’t conceivably build customer confidence in them as a retailer or recommender. If a person chose to put that first rather than an algorithm, it’s no less gross.

Your business is selling comics to readers. You effectively own nearly the entire English-language market for page-by-page digital comics. Wouldn’t you want to use that influence to build relationships with readers – to help readers who only like one thing to find more of that thing, and to show readers who are open to reading lots of things what a wealth of different things you have available?

*nb: not run. I’m sure a solid 41% of the people who work for Comixology even kind of like comics.

** $1,488.61 gorilla.