Why I Love Comics reason #473- Toth on Rude

Found this on Neilalien: Alex Toth wrote a scathing, brutally honest critique of a Johnny Quest story Steve Rude had drawn. It’s a real piece of tough love. Toth points out every flaw in Rude’s story to try to inspire him to draw better. Take a look.

One thing that I’ve always loved about comics is that pros tend to want to help other pros (and fledgling pros) get better. Go to a convention, and you’ll see pro artists and editors poring over amateur portfolios, giving advice on how to improve to crack the comics market. Imagine Alfred Hitchcock reviewing student films and giving pointers, or Quentin Tarantino sitting at a convention offering to read scripts of up-and-coming screenwriters. Yet, at every comics convention, this sort of thing goes on all the time.

35 Books in 30 Days 4: Captain Amazing by Scott Kurtz & Steve Jackson

Captain Amazing

Scott Kurtz is best known for his work on the webcomic PvP, one of the longest running and most successful in the field. PvP started mostly as a strip focused on video games and gaming, but has evolved into a very entertaining situational comedy.

But before PvP (and this book), Kurtz was struggling to find himself as an artist. Engaged but working at a sign company schlepping Plexiglass around, Kurtz was at a crossroads. His friend and fellow cartoonist, Chris Jackson, offered him a deal- rent an apartment with him and create a comic book, with Kurtz as artist and Jackson as co-writer/editor/drill sergeant. Kurtz and Jackson took seven months and created Captain Amazing, and actually got to pitch the book to Larry Marder, then Executive Director of Image Comics. The book didn’t get picked up, but Kurtz stuck at cartooning, and eventually built PvP into a viable platform for his skills.

I’m left with two thoughts:

1. More young cartoonists should try this. Talent alone does not make a successful cartoonist. You need drive and discipline, the ability to force yourself to draw every day even when you don’t feel like it.

2. Why the hell didn’t Image pick this up back then?

This is rather entertaining stuff- most of the jokes work, the linework is smooth, the composition of the panels is strong, and the story is rather cute. Kurtz talks about how he’s a bit ashamed about this stuff, but there’s no need to be. Captain Amazing is a no-power superhero trying to stop a crime spree, win a loser-leave-town competition against his superpowered rival (Strapling Man), keep his kid sidekick out of trouble, and capture the heart of his crush, Rachel Ryan. Anyone who’s ever chuckled over a Silver Age DC comic will enjoy this story.

But even if the story stunk, this book shows how important determination is for a career in comics. Drawing’s easy; drawing day after day after day is hard. Kurtz became a success only after he learned how to put his pencil to paper every day. Here’s hoping this book inspires others to do the same.

Captain Amazing
Capes don’t guarantee success;
Just draw every day.

Buy this book at Amazon.com!

When did “dilettante” become an insult?

The champion of the comics blogosphere, Heidi McDonald, has posted breaking news about Harlan Ellison’s lawsuit against Fantagraphics. There’s a PDF of the complaint at Journalista here. From reading the PDF, Harlan is suing over two issues: published excerpts from Fanta’s upcoming company biography, Comics As Art: We Told You So, and the cover attribution on The Comics Journal Library 6: The Writers, where he is credited as “Famous Comics Dilettante”.

I wish I had time to convert the text in the PDF to something readable here. It’s probably the funniest legal complaint I’ve read. I’m not saying it’s without merit. It’s just hilarious writing.

Here’s what’s bothering me: did Fantagraphics really “gratuitously insult” Harlan by calling him a “Famous Comics Dilettante”? Merrian-Webster defines “dilettante” as either “an admirer or lover of the arts” or “a person having a superficial interest in an art or a branch of knowledge: dabbler”. They list “amateur” as a synonym.

Harlan’s certainly no amateur: comics.org credits him with 115 writing credits in comics. But of those credits, 26 of them are for one comic, Harlan Ellison’s Chocolate Alphabet. Another 42 are for Harlan’s Dark Horse Dream Corridor series, and there were only 7 issues of those. Many of the credits for that series really reflect that the comic adapts original stories from other media that Harlan created. In addition, there are a few reprint credits in there. Given how prolific Harlan’s been in other media such as television and prose, it’s no insult to call him a “dabbler” in comics. I’d be surprised if his comics work made up more than a few percentage points of his total output.

Harlan is the only writer not credited with a work in comics on the cover. But the other writers named (Chris Claremont, Gerry Conway, Steve Englehart, Steve Gerber, Archie Goodwin, Alan Moore, Denny O’Neil, Len Wein, and Marv Wolfman) have done substantially more work in comics than Ellison. At the time of the book’s publication in February of this year, Harlan was doing very little work in comics- to the best of my knowledge, he had worked on the Julius Schwartz DC Comics Presents tributes, and had been involved with iBooks reprinting his Vic and Blood work. For Ellison, this is the sort of work he’d do before brunch.

Again, I’m not saying the whole of Ellison’s suit is without merit; I’m not a lawyer, and I’m not as familiar with the Comics Journal/Michael Fleischer lawsuit as others are. But I do think Ellison taking insult over being called a “Famous Comics Dilettante” is a bit of nonsense.

Oh, Harlan. Lawsuit?
How much money can you get?
Fanta’s worth Peanuts.

35 Books in 30 Days 3: Kickback by David Lloyd


Kickback is a stylish piece about a corrupt cop on a corrupt police force in a corrupt city. It’s by David Lloyd, the co-creator of V for Vendetta. According to an interview on Newsarama, the story sat in his drawer for seven years before being sold to a publisher in France (and eventually brought to Dark Horse this year).

It needed a few more years in the drawer.

Do you know how much it pains me to not like a story by Lloyd? V for Vendetta has long been one of my favorite graphic novels. Lloyd’s done a lot of great work over the years; his covers on the Marvel series Madrox were some of the best any publisher put out that year. Lloyd uses cinematic chiaroscuro to build his noir scenes (or at least that’s what Wikipedia says; after all, my degree’s in math, not art). That style works perfectly with stories of conflicted men in impossible situations, struggling against the darkness in themselves and in society.

The problem in Kickback is that we don’t really have those sort of characters in this story. We’re supposed to, after all; Joe Canelli is supposed to be a cop on the take suddenly faced with a gruesome crime spree that’s the by-product of the corruption in the city. But we never see the dark side of Canelli here. He’s always stone-jawed, doing what’s right, fighting to find out the truth behind the murders. He’s also supposed to be torn apart by some repressed memories of his parents’ death, but we really don’t get that struggle from him. In short, we’ve got a dull lead, and no amount of chiaroscuro and moody color can overcome that weight.

The art’s nice enough, but there’s a sinister threat lurking on the page: the lettering. Ooh, it made my eyes hurt. Remember how I said that this story was originally published in France? It’s obvious that the English lettering was slapped on here, and it really disrupts the reader’s ability to dwell in Lloyd’s murkish drawings. Take a look at these two cell phone drawings:

The top drawing shows a cell phone drawing with hand lettering. The information is conveyed to the reader unobtrusively. The text looks like it fits in the world Lloyd draws. The bottom drawing uses a digital font that looks awkward and breaks the reader from the comic’s setting. And this example is in proper perspective; there’s a few times where the letters don’t fit the perspective of the object it labels. The dialog font is not the easiest to read; the whole thing smells of a poor lettering job.

It’s not fun to give bad reviews to a fantastic artist like David Lloyd. I’m still looking forward to his next work.

Reviewing Kickback
Is hard to do, but I don’t
Have a vendetta

Buy this book at Amazon.

The New York Times geeks out over FF 51

Linkage here.

There’s another article on Comics Research & Such providing some nice ancillary comments.

When I was in 7th grade, I used this comic in an in-class demonstration about comics. It was the first moment I realized just how good Joe Sinnott was as Kirby’s inker. I still think of Sinnott’s iconic, sleek look whenever I think about the FF. And this splash page has always haunted me:

When the rain comes...

For all of the technoimagery and collage work and Negative Zone images in this comic, this is truly the standout image of the book. Ben Grimm, alone, abandoned, awash in self-pity, standing in the rain. Stronger than nearly every other person on the planet, yet helpless against the elements and his mutated condition which walls him away from humanity. Just an amazing image.

Side rant: Sadly, the Marvel Masterworks that cover the best range of comics from this era- FF 41-60- are poorly done, using inferior representations of these most influential comics from the Silver Age. Luckily, current Marvel trade management is aware of the problem, and we’ve been promised (through the Marvel Masterworks board) a new restoration and presentation of these issues in the future. I suspect we’re going to get FF Omnibus 2 next year when the next FF movie comes out. We know we’re also getting a Frank Miller Daredevil Omnibus reprinting his first run on the Daredevil book, and there will also be a Steve Ditko Spider-Man Omnibus. I love Omnibuses (Omnibusii?); how can anyone not love oversized comics on the choicest paper available?