Monday, March 28, 2005

I Predict Failure...

Okay, so the main reason that NBC's Americanized version of the British sitcom Coupling fell on its face was that, from all accounts, it stank. I say "from all accounts" because after watching two or three episodes of the lame original, I never even bothered to check out the American remake. However, there may be another reason for Coupling's failure which may also doom NBC's newest Brit-com remake, The Office: it's redundant.
Now, there is, of course, a long tradition in American TV of adapting British sitcoms for consumption acrross the pond. All In The Family, Sanford and Son, and Three's Company are all taken from British hits. However, I believe that era has come to an end thanks to BBC America. Back in the "Golden Age" of Brit-com remakes, the 1970s, few, if any, Americans had seen Til Death Do Us Part (All In The Family), Steptoe and Son (Sanford and Son), or Man About The House (Three's Company). These days, however, thanks to cable channel BBC America, not to mention PBS and DVD sets, quite a few Americans have gotten to see Coupling and The Office, so we don't really need a remake.
By the way, a recent Columbus Dispatch feature on Brit-com adaptations omitted Too Close For Comfort, adapted from Keep It In The Family, which was a mild success, lasting three years, yet did mention the two failed attempts at an American version of Fawlty Towers, which, I believe, lasted less than one season between the two of them.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Where's Johnny?

The Silver Age of Comic Book Art written and designed by Arlen Schumer is a beautiful over-sized coffee table book featuring heavily illustrated profiles of eight prominent comics artists of the 1960's, the era known to comics fans and historians as the Silver Age. (The Golden Age, by the way, was the era that began with the publication of Action Comics #1, featuring the debut of Superman, in 1939 and lasted until approximately the end of the Second World War. The Silver Age begins in 1956 with the first appearance of Julius Schwarz's updating of DC's Golden Age Flash character in Showcase #4 and most historians have it ending somewhere around 1970--which seems to be the cut-off date that Schumer uses in this volume.) The artists include are: Carmine Infantino, Steve Ditko, jack Kirby, Gil Kane, Joe Kubert, Gene Colan, Jim Steranko, and Neal Adams. All had distinctive styles that made them fan favorites. Ditko, Kirby, Steranko and Adams were also groundbreaking visionaries whose innovations changed the ways that comic books told stories. All eight are worthy of inclusion in a book that purports to present an overview of one of the comic book industry's most creative periods.
Now, some might make a case that Don Heck should have been included. I have never been a fan of Heck's work, but he was perhaps the 2nd hardest working artist of the early Marvel Age, surpassed only by the "King" himself, Jack Kirby. Heck followed Kirby on such features as The Avengers, Giant-Man, and The X-Men,and was the first artist on Iron Man--though the character was designed by Kirby.
A more significant omission, in my opinion (nothin' humble about it, baby!), is "Jazzy" John Romita. Romita began at Marvel on Daredevil, and soon took over as artist on The Amazing Spider-Man with #39 (thus paving the way, by the way, for Gene Colan's lengthy run drawing Daredevil) when Ditko left the "House of Ideas"for reasons that have never been fully explained but that most assume to be "creative differences" with Stan "The Man" Lee. Romita came to the world of supeer-heroes from a background in romance comics and the style he developed working in that genre perfectly suited the slick, sub-plot intensive "soap-opera" style of stories that Lee was turning out. Romita's depictions of Peter Parker and his friends and enemies would define the look of the feature well into the 1980's.
A man who contributed so much to the success of Marvel Comics is certainly worthy of recognition as one of the greats of the Silver Age.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

The Wonder Of It All

Being a reaction to an item in the Friday, March 18, 2005 edition of USA Today:
I like the character, but she's never been a favorite of mine, so under most circumstances news of an impending Wonder Woman film would not have me chuckling gleefully in anticipation. However, the Amazon Princess' big screen debut is set to be written and directed by Buffy, The Vampire Slayer guiding light Joss Whedon, a proven master of butt-kicking female super-heroes.
This film, if it's as good as the mere mention of Whedon's name in conjunction with the project suggests that it will be, could be just the kick in the pants the sagging Wonder Woman franchise needs to elevate the heroine to truly deserving the status she enjoys as one of DC Comics' "Big Three" heroes, up there with Superman and Batman.
In fact, Whedon has written some comics himself, including a new X-Men book for Marvel and Buffy and Fray for Dark Horse. Perhaps he can be persuaded to aid DC in cashing in on the inevitable succes of the upcoming film by scripting some of Diana's comic book adventures. That would be sure to produce the best Wonder Woman comics since George Perez stopped writing the book.
So----who's stepping into Linda Carter's rather to assume the role of Wonder Woman? Well, no word on casting yet, though Whedon's involvement has me looking to another Buffy alum as a possible candidate. Eliza Dushku, who portrayed the Chosen One's rival Faith, would be nearly perfect for the part. She has the right look, and as Faith, proved that she can play a strong action heroine. Plus, I bet she'd look just ultra-hot in that skimpy Wonder Woman suit.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Nat Gertler Interview

I would like to thank Nat Gertler for agreeing to answer the following questions via e-mail last month.
* What exactly is a 24 hour comic?
In its purest form, a 24 hour comic is a complete 24 pagecomics story created by one person in single 24 hour period.To anyone who doesn't know comics, that may not sound likemuch, but the typical comic book series needs a team ofpeople working on it just to put out an issue a month.The idea was invented by Scott McCloud, the most respectedliving comics theoretician, who had a friend who normallyproduced finished comics very slowly but could sketch veryquickly. Scott challenged him to try creating a comics storyin 24 hours, and to meet the challenge, Scott did it himselffirst.There are a couple variations that are considered "noblefailure 24 hour comics". One is if you work on it for 24 hoursstraight, no sleep, and turn out a complete story that's lessthan 24 pages. That's called the Gaiman Variation, afterbest-selling author Neil Gaiman who only managed to completea great 13 page story during 24 hours. The other is theEastman Variation, named for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtlesco-creator Kevin Eastman, who didn't finish 24 pages in 24hours, but he just stayed awake until the tale was complete.So a 24 hour comic isn't just a creative thing and it isn'tjust an endurance thing. In order to get that much work donethat quickly, you basically have to let yourself go withthe flow and not plan or rethink a lot of things. It endsup becoming the comics equivalent of free-form jazz, an improvisation that could take you some place horrible or someplace wonderful, and you just have to ride with it.
* Why did About Comics decide to sponsor a national 24 hour comics day?
Let me clear something up: it's not national, it's -international-.Last year, we had official event sites in three countries, andindividual participants celebrating on their own in a number ofother places. This year, we already have event sites lined up onthree different continents, with people from at least ten differentcountries planning to participate.When I decided to found 24 Hour Comics Day, it wasn't supposedto be nearly that big. We were about to publish a book entitled24 Hour Comics, which collected Scott McCloud's choice of nineinteresting 24 hour comics. I thought I'd round up 3 or 4 storesto host 24 hour events, and use that to get a little publicityfor the concept and the book.When word of this idea got out to the retailers, they jumpedaboard quickly, and it grew all out of control. The day wentoff with more than 50 event sites--mostly comic shops, butalso schools, comics clubs, and a museum.
* Why did you pick this particular date (April 23)?
When I went to pick the date for last year's event, I knewit had to be in late April, so that it would occur when thebook was freshly out. And it had to be a Saturday, so thatmost folks would have time to recover before they had to beat work. When I looked at the calendar, it was like a LightShining Down From Above -- April 24th. 4-24-2004. I couldn'thave designed a better date for something called "24 Hour ComicsDay." At least, not before the year 2424.This year's date seemed less miraculous. I wanted to do iton a Saturday about a year from last year's date. I sawthat if the 24 hours started on Saturday, April 23rd, it wouldend on April 24th.
* How closely do you work with comics retailers, like Columbus' Laughing Ogre, who hold 24 Hour Comic Day events?
I provide them with the guidelines, answer their questions,and do what I can to help them drum up publicity. Mostof the real work of running the event on the day itself has tobe done locally, and the folks at the Ogre and other placesare generally quite good at handling that.I tried to provide them with as much support as I can remotely.I run the website, generate some publicity,provide them with forms and information for press releases,access to promotional t-shirts and buttons. I'm trying to roundup sponsors -- not people to give money, but food companies,soda makers, art supply manufacturers to donate product that willhelp the cartoonists reach their goals.
* After last year's event, how many people submitted their finished works to About Comics?
One of the little rules of 24 hour comics is that you haveto give a copy of the finished work to Scott McCloud, whocreated the concept. Since we wanted to put together 24 HourComics Day Highlights 2004, a book of just comics made on 24Hour Comics Day, we had the stores send copies to us, so thatwe could consider them for the book, and then we passed them all to Scott when we were done. While over 500 cartoonistsparticipated at event locations (and untold more celebratedthe day on their own), only 300-and-some actually sent the work in.
* What criteria did you use in choosing from among those comics the ones you put in the book?
I wanted a book that was not only an interesting read, but thatreally made a picture of what went on that day. So I was lookingfor not only quality stories, but also diversity in the stories,in the creators, in the circumstances of their creation. Thereare stories by men and women, a 12 year old and a fifty year old,foreign and domestic, folks who have never even considered drawinga comics story before and folks who are well-respected professionals.We were lucky enough to get one photo-comic that actually showedwhat was going on at an event site during the day, which served allkinds of needs.Some of the stories were easy to weed out. They weren't finished,the text was illegible, they just weren't that interesting. Therewere some beautiful full-color ones, but printing in color wouldhave blown the budget utterly, so they had to go. There were somethat used other people's copyrighted or trademarked characters,which is great fun to create but I didn't want to get sued. Afterweeding those out, though, we still had eighty-some which wereworthy of serious consideration, and saying "no" to any of themwas painful.All in all, 24 Hour Comics Day Highlights 2004 has 24 stories,which makes for one thick book. Plus it has individual panels fromabout 20 more, and some text pieces talking about what 24 hourcomics are and what happened on the day.
* Tell me a bit about About Comics: When was it founded? By whom?
About Comics is really just a one-man operation. I founded itin 1998 to publish some comics I wanted to write. As a writer,I'd written for literally dozens of other publishers, but I wantedto write some things that were hard to find a publisher for, sothe easiest path was to become a publisher myself. It was actually a few years before I expanded into doing things which weren't my writing.
* What are some of your past and upcoming projects?
We just released It's Only A Game, which is a long-forgotten,never-before-collected comics feature created by Charles Schulz,the same guy who created Peanuts. We also have Panel One andPanel Two, a pair of anthologies of comic book scripts by variouswriters, so that people can see how comics writing is done.We're actually slowing down a bit on new projects, because Ihave a new baby in the house and that's taking up a lot oftime and energy. The next thing up is 24 Hour Comics All-Stars,which is being released to celebrate the second 24 Hour Comics Day.All of the stories in this book are done by folks who have donework for the commercial comics field, including the very first24 hour comic by Scott McCloud. After that comes the secondissue of Licensable BearTM, the adventures of a little fellowwho just wants to be licensed to appear on t-shirts and toys.You can learn more about him at
* What do you see as your primary mission as a comics publisher?
The About Comics motto is "publishing things that oughta bepublished", and I take that seriously. I want to make money,of course, but I also see that there is a lot of good materialcreated over the years that is now unseen and forgotten, someof it very influential, and it's a shame. Charles Schulz dida series 45 years ago and no one's ever collected it in abook? That's sad on so many levels. It's the same thing withthe whole 24 Hour Comics situation. Over the years, plenty offolks in the business had gone up to Scott and said "y'know,someone ought to publish a book of these". After more than a decade of that, I was the first person to say to him "I want to publish a book of these". Although if I knew what a wild ride I was getting into... I still would have done it. No reason life has to be boring!

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Bob Corby interview

What inspired the decision last year to move SPACE to its current location?
There were a number of reasons we decided to move last year. At the old venue we had parking problem, food vendors who disappeared and there was nobody available if problems occurred.
How has the new location helped (or hurt--if at all) the show?
The new venue at the Holiday Inn East I70 greatly improved accessibility to the show. There is free parking and also a shuttle bus from the airport. There’s a restaurant on site. Ehibitors and guests can stay at the hotel and don’t need to wander around town. Also financially it worked out to be a better deal. The only down side is that we had to sacrifice space. The previous venue held over 140 eight-foot exhibitor tables. The new one holds only about 120 six-foot tables
You said in a recent e-mail that SPACE is "financially solvent"-- would you care to elaborate: are you breaking even? Turning a profit?
2 out of the 5 years of its existence SPACE has made a minor profit. The other 3 year it lost a few hundred dollars each year. Essentially it pays for itself, which is my version of “financially solvent”. This is unlike my other comic projects, which are always in the red.
How many people attended the con last year? Do you feel the new location helped?
There were about 500 people there last year. We never seem to get a good head count at the door. I think the new location did improve attendance.
Are expecting more this year? What are you doing to increase turnout and/or public awareness of the show?
I think we will have more regular attendees but there may be less over all because we had a lot of people show up to see Dave Sim and Gerhard because Cerebus ended the month before SPACE last year.
How many exhibitors do you have lined up for this year?
We have sold about 80 exhibitor tables so far. I expect we will sell out at about 120 tables. There are 125 exhibitor names on the website right now.
Approximately what percentage of exhibitors is returning from past shows and what percentage of them are first timers?
So far this year 75 percent of the exhibitors are returning exhibitors. Our exhibitors have always been very loyal to the show and I really appreciate it.
Okay, so I understand this year you have some events planned for Sunday, is that right? What are they? Why did you decide to have a 2nd day?
The events planned for Sunday morning are workshops for small press publishers. This was the idea of brought up to me by Dale Martin. Dale and APA-5 were going to come up with some programs for self-publishers. We might also do the Cartoon Carnival on Sunday so some of the other exhibitors can attend and not be tied up at their tables.
OK, I know we covered this the last time I wrote an article about SPACE, but why did you decide to put on your own small press comics convention?
The inspiration for SPACE was the Spirits of Independents shows back in 1995. They were great. I found more comic titles I loved and actually sold more of my own comics at those shows than any other conventions.
How did Dave Sim get involved?
When I decided to do SPACE which was to be a successor to the long departed Columbus Spirits show I contacted Dave about being a part of it. He declined the first year stating that he wasn’t doing any more conventions and just wanted to concentrate on completing Cerebus. He was about 4 years from completing his 26-year task. The second year I contacted him again just to keep him informed. He called me and said he was interested in coming because he wanted to start the Day Prize there.
How has Sim's involvement helped the show?
Dave involvement did help SPACE a good deal. The first year attendance was dismal. I only started arrangements for the second year because most of the exhibitors were willing to try it again. I was going though the motions but was pretty sure that the result would be the same and I’d call it quits after the second flop. Then I got the call from Dave and we drew a lot more people and I think the show became credible. Last year with Cerebus ending the month before SPACE we drew even more people.
Sim has been quite a controversial figure in the comics community, especially his views on feminism. So, has his involvement with SPACE hurt the show at all?
There are some people who will not attend because of Dave’s presence at the show. That’s their decision to make. I’m sure Dave would be willing to debate with anyone that shows up.
Personally, I think he's nuts: What do you think of Dave's more controversial opinions?(you really don't have to answer this one if you don't want to?)
I don’t agree with a lot of Dave’s opinions. Dave is very conservative. I have a slight liberal streak. What I admire about Dave is his honesty. He’s not trying to be popular. He just says what he thinks even if that makes a lot of people hate him. He lost a good chunk of his readership when he started the anti-feminism thing. The first year he was down for SPACE I asked him straight out if it was just “showmanship” and if he was trying to be controversial just to get the attention. He said no. He has always been very gratuitous to everybody I’ve seen him in contact with so whatever his thoughts he treats everyone well.
What is the Day Prize? (Yeah, I know I know--but I want your words)
The Day Prize or more precisely The Howard Eugene Day Memorial Award is Dave Sim’s tribute to his comics mentor, Gene Day, best know for his work on Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu and his own Dark Fantasy. The prize consists of a $500.00 cash prize and a plaque. It’s awarded to one of the entries Dave collects at SPACE each year. Past winners include “Faith: A Fable” by Bill Knapp, “Misa” by Tom Williams and “Askari Hodari” by Glenn Brewer.
SPACE has grown and changed quite a bit in just six years: Has it turned it into what you envisioned it as? Or is it not quite there yet? Or has it become something you hadn't really foreseen?
SPACE has grown a little larger than I first envisioned it. It also has become something I hadn’t envisioned. The work that shows up at SPACE and other small press shows is not part of the general public’s perception of comics. I think it’s a great opportunity to start changing that perception and show people the possibilities of the medium. That idea has given me a sense of a mission that wasn’t there at the beginning. Hell, I was just trying to sell some of my comics.
What do you see in the future for SPACE?
I would like to see it grow and bring more people in. I’d also like it to stay rooted in the small press. I’d like to continue to see things there you can’t buy at your neighborhood corporate chain store.
I want to ask a few questions about Oh! Comics.
Why have you decided to put the book "on hiatus"?
The reasons are mostly financial. Last year was a pretty bad year for me and Oh,Comics! Is getting more expensive to produce and doesn’t sell well.
Is this a permanent condition?
I hope not. My financial situation should be improving in the next few years.
Tell us about the history of Oh! Comics:What is it? How long had you been doing it? How many issues?
Oh,Comics! started as a charity book at the Mid-Ohio Con back in 1988. The name comes from Ohio Comics because it was originally intended to only have work by people from Ohio. In the second year I couldn’t find a charity that was interested in working with us so it became an ad financed give away book for a few years. That never really paid the printing bills and in the mid-90’s the bottom fell out of the comic shop business where most of my ads were generated so it became a regular comic with free ads for the contributors. There are 17 issues in print 1 though 15 and also issues 8-1/2 and 10-1/2.
Did you consider going back to the digest format at all?
I really don’t want to move backwards with it. Besides you can’t fold a 150 page digest.

Friday, March 11, 2005

An' Da Winnah iz....

Ok, before I go on to the main topic of my rant, I want to follow up on my last post concerning Dapper Danny Rather's final bow as anchor of the CBS Evening news. If you've kept up with Dan at all over the past quarter century you probably had a gut feeling about how he would end the broadacast, and he didn't disapoint: "Courage." Courage, indeed.
Anyway, on to what's on my mind this fine Friday afternoon. It may be a little late to be writing about the Oscars, but then I didn't even start this stinking blog until last week. So write about the Oscars I shall. Not about Chris Rock's performance; I'm sure that's been analyzed to bits and pieces many other places--though I did notice a couple of spots during his monologue where Oprah was clearly not amused, and you know how offending Oprah doomed David Letterman's chances of ever hosting again. (Truthfully, what killed him is that he wasn't funny that night, and the "Uma. Oprah." bit, lame as it was, was actually a high point)
No, I wanna talk about Spider-Man 2, which won for Visual Effects, or was it Special Effects. Apparently, those two aren't the same thing, at least according to the commentary on the DVD by the visual effects team.
So, when is a movie based on a comic going to win a real Oscar--that is, not one for Visual, or Special, Effects. I think the only one ever even nominated in any other category was Ghost World for best adapted screenplay.
What happened to all the Oscar buzz around Road To Perdition a couple of years back? In the summer, when itwas released, people were saying it had a shot at Best Picture and Tom Hanks was looking at his third Best Actor statue. By the time Awards Season rolled around, however---NOTHIN'; ZIPPO; ZILCH;NADA!! So, honestly, what happened? I can't even remember the flick that did win that year. (Truthfully, I'm not quite sure even what year it is I'm talking memory is going as I creep toward my 40th birthday....or should that be my 41st birthday---if I count the actual Day of My Birth as a "birthday"?)
I have also crept slowly off topic, so I'll cut this entry short.
See you next week

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Say G'night, Danny

The big news in Pop Culture this week is news
Tonight, Dan Rather slinks off into the sunset, ending his quarter century at what was once the most prestigious job in American journalism not with a bang but an "eh."
The question one is left to ponder is: What next for "Captain Courage"? He had announced plans to continue as a reporter on 60 Minutes 2, but it looks like that lame duck is about to be strangled any moment now. Is there nothing left for Dan now but to retreat to a cave in New Mexico to ponder the question that has plagued him, and all America, for nearly two decades now: "Kenneth, what is the frequency?"
Maybe not, for as I pondered this on Sunday, I saw a clip of Dan's most recent Late Show with David Letterman appearance on CNN's Reliable Sources and thought of all the memorable appearances Rather has made on Dave's show, including singing What's The Frequency, Kenneth with REM, and it hit me. Maybe Dave needs a new sidekick. Sure, he has Paul, but his idol, Johnny Carson, had not only Ed but Doc, as well. Yes, there just might be a future for Dan in laughing at all of Dave's jokes and agreeing with everything he says.
But, then again, Dan's never been the type to play 2nd fiddle to anyone, and if he were going to throw his hat into the late night ring, he'd want nothing less than his own show. And it just so happens that over at NBC, there's going to be a vancancy at 12:30 next year. Jay Leno has announced that he will be stepping down and handing the Tonight Show over to Conan O'Brien and God Help Us All.
I had actually thought of suggesting myself for the Late Night gig. After all, I have as much (heck, maybe more) on air television experience as O'Brien did when he got the gig.
One final thought on Conan's "promotion": In The Late Shift, Bill Carter's book on the drama surrounding Carson's retirement, Leno's ascension to his job, and Letterman's defection to CBS, Carter says that one of the reasons that NBC did not offer Letterman the Tonight gig is that they weren't sure if he was suited to doing an 11:30 show, which attracts an older audience than was tuning in for his 12:30 gig. Apparently, they have no such worries about Conan, and that surprises me, because his show is, in many ways, far more off-kilter than Dave's ever was.