Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Funny Books sold in funny ways

Running late with getting this week's Original Art Sundays up- the page is done, but not scanned- have faith! It's a good one!
Meanwhile, I've been thinking about comics formatting. Not the old Web vs. Print saw, though that comes to mind too. No, I've been wondering about the different sizes that comics appear in. Not the mural "comics" seen in public art, which I also enjoy, but actual print comics.
The smallest comic I've ever seen is the gumball machine comics that Marvel put out in the 60s. Single images with text on the facing page, formatted similar to a Big Little Book, these fit inside a plastic capsule and were vended out of gumball machines.
Product shown actual size, give or take.

The next size up is the tract. This saddle stapled, or sometimes front stapled, long booklets served as the template for the morally opposite Jack Chick tracts as well as many of the Tijuana Bibles.

The zine, usually a collection of gatefolded single sheets, very popular in the 90s, is the next size up.
One of the evolutions of the zine is the local annual event, Lutefisk Sushi, which compiles zines and small press comics by Minneapolis area creators into a spiffy box.
This is another one of those things that I don't quite get around to doing every year.

Golden Age comics were slightly larger than Silver Age and modern comics.

The Treasury Editions of the 70s were the next size up.

Then come the broadsides, comics intended to emulate newspaper sections in size.
Two examples of these are Wednesday Comics and its slightly smaller predecessor, The Clock Maker.

There was also that Giant Book of Comics from the early 70s, sandwiched in between the Treasury Edition and the tabloid, size- wise.
Image to follow when I find the exact title!
The point is that a wide variation in narrative and aesthetic possibilities is offered within the comics format. But before these possibilities can be realized, we must look at the scope of the format itself. If we're talking about comics as printed commodities, we must consider the range of the formats in which they are printed.
This brief overview does not include things like manga phonebooks, European albums, or Russian or African variations.
Looks like there are as many sizes as there are stories!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Read on, comics fans!

This Saturday is Read Comics in Public Day! It's also Jack Kirby's birthday, which is no coincidence.

This event is one of those groundswell things. Since comic readers have historically been perceived as  less than literate, despite the posturings of the Simpsons' Comic Book Guy, who now has his own comic book, this event could be an opportunity to dispel preconceived notions about comic readers. We're not semi-literate slobs or social misfits. We're just people who love to read- an increasing rarity. According to the American Booksellers' Association, book sales are paradoxical. While people are ostensibly buying more books, independent stores are closing, and there's no evidence that people are reading the books they buy. Nor do the figures note what types of books are being sold. The largest sellers remain cookbooks and the Bible.
Bottom line is that, according to the US Census Bureau statistics, April 2010 book sales of $917 million are at their lowest level in 8 years.
And comic book stores are not immune from this disturbing trend, as evidenced by the recent closing of one owned by filmmaker and comic lover Kevin Smith, and by the closing of the great Forbidden Planet in England.
Eau Claire Comics and Collectibles, in Eau Claire, WI, the first store to sell my work, is also gone.
We are blessed here in the Twin Cities to have a comics community that supports no less than a dozen comic stores, but I fear for their future as well.
Possibly that's a sad but realistic outcome.
The economy is either improving slowly or doomed, depending on what the economic seers had for breakfast. Unemployment appears to have leveled off around 10% and may or may not rebound. That leaves many people with little, if any, disposable income.
So if we are in an inverted Maslow model, where the hierarchy of needs is worked down to the basics rather than up to self-actualization, I fear that books and comics will not be very high up most people's lists of necessary purchases, at least for a while.
And as is the case with any art form, continued involvement is crucial to comics' thriving.
We've overcome much of the 30s - 60s stigma about comics, partially due to the snobbery associated with the "graphic novel", but we need to be visible. We need to be seen loving our comics, proudly.
Hey, if it's good enough for Bogey, it's good enough for us!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Original Art Sundays #55: Tranny Towers strips 4 & 5

This week was full of prep for my Comic Book History class (I start teaching again tomorrow, which always feels like coming back to life!), and writing my article on GLBT portrayals in underground comics for the Midwest PCA.
As such, no new work again this week.
I've allocated a whole day for studio this week. This should allow me to finish the partial page posted a few weeks ago, and to complete the new page I've been laying out in my sketchbook du jour.
Meanwhile, please enjoy two more pages of Tranny Towers. The Valentine's ceremony depicted took place at Metropolitan Community Church, one of two local GLBT Christian churches. The text comes from the original ceremony. The male/female couple in the front are a quick loose riff on Reed Waller and Kate Worley of Omaha fame.
Please view full size for a better reading experience!

Starman,waiting in the sky...

Jack Horkheimer has passed away at 72.
He was hokey and corny, but he made science accessible, and his enthusiasm inspired us all. I used to see these on PBS every now and then, and was always fascinated, as much by his energy as the content.
Horkheimer wrote his own epitaph.
"Keep looking up!"

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Original Art Sundays #54: Tranny Towers strips 2 & 3

Much time spent prepping for comic book history class (does the fall semester really start in one week? Wow!).
So I thought I'd post some stuff that's been on my mind for a bit, material I planned to post last week.
Here are the first two continuity based episodes of Tranny Towers.

Image presented as originally printed, aside from redrawn Photoshop borders and the title type of the first strip being re-lettered digitally.
As you read these, bear in mind that each strip was originally presented as 1/4 page on a fairly standard magazine size page. Until I got the hang of dialogue placement and pacing, those aspects of the early strips were, well, not stellar.
Once again, please click to see the image at full size.
I had such ambitions around this strip! I had thought I'd set the queer comic strip world on fire with a funny animal transsexual strip. I had also hoped to draw on my experiences as an intern on Omaha The Cat Dancer, to bring the sensibilities of Kate Worley's wit and humanity to bear. The other queer-related comics that greatly influenced me, the work of Alison Bechdel and Howard Cruse, figure in with my attempts at subtle wit. Both their blogs are linked elsewhere on this page, but I've provided embedded links as well for your clicking convenience!
Next week: back to A Private Myth!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Ideas are free, so give away your book!

Lewis Hyde has written a MS titled Common As Air.
I've only read reviews and commentary, and may alter my opinion after I digest the entire volume, but I'd like to respond.
Essentially, Mr. Hyde is going with the concept of the "cultural commons". A "commons" is a shared set of necessary goods and services that help a society function, whose costs are borne equally by members of that society according to agreed rules.
However, Hyde also argues that anti-piracy legislation is "propaganda", as evidenced from this panel of Ward Sutton's review on the Barnes & Noble web site. This implies support of intellectual piracy. The irony of a bookseller's web site running a review of a book advocating this idea is not lost on me.

While it's unclear from the reviews and comments how Hyde's "cultural commons" is funded, it poses huge threats to creative individuals who hope to make a living from their work.
This model has been shifting for a couple decades now. The argument about downloading quickly evolved from "right and wrong" to "adapt or die".
My take is that we need a structure that supports artists, writers and musicians. It's unreasonable to presume that such labors are unworthy of pay, especially if one values them enough to consume them.
Some creative people have done their own end runs on this. Nina Paley's spectacular animated film, Sita Sings the Blues, uses the creative commons license by choice. I'm not sure what her success rate has been, but the laudable work is out there and as much under her control as she wishes it to be.
Perhaps that's the key. If a creator cannot control the price of their own work, we as a society have decided that said creator is not entitled to that control.
To quote Colleen Doran:

Art is WORK. Don't devalue our rights to fair pay and treatment as the complaints of the privileged. We won't be silenced by people who try to make us feel guilty for committing the original sin of making art. Take it from an artist who is a farmer. Physical labor is not harder than making art. Unlike ANY OTHER LEGAL WORK ON THE PLANET, it is the only work people think we should feel guilty being paid for. HELL, NO!

(end quote)

Hey, I have an idea. Let's do a FLAC download of Mr. Hyde's book and spread it around. Great ideas  deserve to be shared, and it's his idea, so he shouldn't mind. 

Hm. It doesn't seem to be posted on Google Books, only the title and blank pages. Guess Mr. Hyde doesn't practice what he preaches.

Creative commons, baby!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Original Art Sundays #53: A Dialogue with Harvey Pekar

Well, I shot myself in the foot by not properly saving the scan of the work I was planning on posting today.
However, as I was contemplating Hara Kari, I realized that from these setbacks we glean giant strides forward (to quote the great 80s film Real Genius).
A few week ago, Harvey Pekar died. I was lucky enough to chat with him once, and while I'm sure he would never recall me, my memories of him are vivid and positive.
This happened the same day my most recent relationship ended quite abruptly and unexpectedly. She spontaneously decided (in the middle of a month) that she had to live in another state, a thousand miles away, in three days. To say I was hurt and angry is like calling the Chicago Fire a weenie roast.
It didn't end well. Does it ever, really?
Her reasons are her own. Suffice to say I didn't agree and I've had more harmonious partings, though I hope that time heals that as well.
Shaken by Harvey's death and the unexpected turn in my personal life, I spent part of the following day re-reading my (ahem) complete collection of American Splendor.
I found this story. Not my favorite Harvey story (that's An Everyday Horror Story, from issue #5), but quite on point.
I chose to make a short video of it. For a soundtrack, I used R. Crumb's Cheap Suit Serenaders, as he and Harvey were friends and worked together often.
Timing and pacing this was an interesting experience. I wanted the text to be on-screen long enough to be legible, but not so long as to be tedious. Also, a series of static images can be less than exciting, so I used bits of motion and some image repetitions to shake it up just a bit.
I'm content with the result.
Full screen viewing recommended for reading ease!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

To Boldly Go where no split infinitive has gone prior...

In yesterday's Newsarama, Jill Pantozzi offers an intriguing op-ed about the future of LGBT characters in the Star Trek franchise.
She correctly recalls the TNG episode about the androgynous species that is punished for choosing a gender, but bypasses the episode involving Dr. Crusher having a romantic entanglement with a joined Trill who is subsequently transferred to a female host, or the Trill love affair in DS9 with a similar plot thread that resulted in the first onscreen kiss between two women in the Star Trek world.
Likewise, Data's casual remark during the toast in Star Trek: Nemesis, "Ladies, gentlemen and any transgendered species..." was not played for laughs, but taken as a matter of course. I refer you to 7:19 in this clip.
However, the price to pay is Brent Spiner's singing (he's actually OK).

A script by Troubles with Tribbles writer David Gerrold, Blood and Iron, was filmed independently, and features a prominent gay relationship. Thanks to Jill for alerting me to this in her article! This is cool in so many ways- a lovely dedication, a great space battle, and the inclusion of the "Pride colored" NBC peacock.

Here's Part II.

This Phase II stuff is pretty smart. I haven't had time to keep up, but if you want more, go to this site.
Meanwhile, real GLBT characterization in SF remains largely the province of the printed word.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Original Art Sundays #52: A Private Myth, cover

Well, here we are. A year since I started being audacious enough to post my own work.
In that year, I've posted a whole Surrealist Cowgirls story, The World in Love, a few Tranny Towers pages and a cover, about a dozen photos, a couple so-so music videos featuring my art and guitar playing, and a bunch of sketches and older work in weeks where I lacked time or organization to complete a new piece.
The big work, of course, remains A Private Myth.
I have high hopes for this project. My immediate goal is its completion, page by page. Within that are smaller goals, like preparing each chapter as a stand-alone comic, and choosing eight of the current pages for the fall MCAD Faculty Art Show in a couple weeks.
To all these ends, I decided to do the cover this week.
Or A cover. This might not be THE cover.
I don't consider this final, though I am rather happy with it. Again, pencils without inks, painted in Photoshop.

Almost entirely drawn freehand, hence the uneven edges and slightly skewed angles. I rather like that quality but question it from a standpoint of professionalism. The palette works, but I might reconsider it.
After some debate, I chose to retain the water-stain on the lower right corner. I think it adds a sense of age and use.
My original idea for this, an old map with Katherine's features as one of the continents, just didn't work. But it may show up as a cover for one of the chapters/issues if I can resolve its problems.
The work is inspired by those vintage sheet music covers I love so much! I wanted a sense of something vintage that has an enduring quality. Painting over white in the Color layer mode, often used for recoloring vintage B & W photos, lends to a more muted palette as well. It also shows the texture of the paper, a pleasant effect!
The tragedy and comedy lanterns in the upper corners are freely stolen from a classic Winsor McCay illustration.
So there you have it. Original art, one year in.
On to the next one!