Sunday, July 29, 2012

Kirby Vs Ditko: Year One

A while back in response to my article on Ditko's Design Sense, a comment on that post got me wondering about Kirby's early Marvel work versus Ditko's early Marvel work. My first thought was that Ditko's early Spider-man covers were better than Kirby's early Fantastic Four covers, but I've never really examined them together. See what you think.

First here are the first 12 Fantastic Four Covers

Now let's look at the first 12 issues of Amazing Spider-Man

The first thing that jumps out at me is just how many of Ditko's early covers convey a sense of peril vs Kirby's. Spider-man is often at the mercy of his foe on the covers. By my count, there are 10 issues where Spider-man is imperiled vs only four of the early FF covers. (Five if you count the Puppet Master cover)

Early Kirby also tends to lean towards a flatter perspective than early Ditko. With the rare exception of FF 2 (the Skrulls cover) Kirby doesn't play around with perspective very much. Contrast that with Ditko does on Spider-Man 5, 10 and 12.

There is also a greater sense of movement on the Ditko covers. Kirby's covers often feel like the Calm Before the Storm. On three of them, the Fantastic Four are either just standing or walking.

Ditko also played more with layout than Kirby, notable examples being the 4 panel layout of issue 4 with Sandman, the 2 panel layout on issue 9 with Electro and the circle insets on issue 8.

Kirby's early covers also tend to have a more static composition. Check out how the figures are boxed in on these covers.

I think Kirby's early FF covers suffer because he may have had a hard time wrapping his mind around how different the characters were from the Challengers of the Unknown. Many of the first year FF covers look like they would harken back to the format that served him so well with that series.

Whereas Ditko instinctively knew how to have fun with Doc Ock's metal tentacles, curving them around the space or directing focus, it would be years before we saw the same kinetic design used with Reed Richards. During the first year, when Reed was stretching on the covers, it often comes across as an artistic afterthought. As the Series continued, Kirby would be more inclined to play with composition and movement.

Early Kirby would sometimes use the Human Torch's flame trail to convey movement, but it was never incorporated very organically in the design. Conversely, check out how Ditko uses the flame trail to add a rippling effect on the cover of Spider-man 1:

UPDATE: I was informed after I put this post up by commenter Kid, that Kirby actually drew this issue and Ditko inked it. The rippling effect may have just been a happy accident in this case as Ditko embellished Kirby's original art and then whoever added the cover title followed suit.

Ditko uses curved lines a number of times on his early issues. (1, 3, 5, 6) As a result, they do help give his covers a nicer sense of rhythm (or gestalt if you prefer.)

I started this article referring back to a theory I had, so I'll leave on the same note. I think that as the years played out, Kirby seemed to grow more than Ditko, partly due I suspect to the amount of work demanded from him. I'll see if that theory pans out in a future post.

- Jim

Monday, July 23, 2012

Let's Try Some Indy Comics

For the past several weeks, I've been sampling different independent comics over at Comixology. I've been impressed with how Comixology seems to have stepped up their game with promoting independent comics in the application, giving quite a number of them a prime slot on their home screen masthead. See below the spot for Fantagraphics and Abrams as an example.

The first comic I tried was The Tower Chronicles, a free 12 page preview written by Matt Wagner and illustrated by Simon Bisley. I've always liked Matt Wagner, so I figured it would be a sure hit. I guess the cover should have tipped off more.

If the cover gives you a bit of 90's extreame deja-vu, then you aren't alone. Shoulder Pads? Check. Pouches on belt? Check. Buckles everywhere? Check.

The insides didn't do a lot to change that impression. The art reminded me of the lackluster storytelling that was so rampant during the early Image years.

The story isn't much better. It involves a plot twist you see coming by the second panel. After 12 pages we don't know much more about the main character other than he's a bad ass. To call the story servicable is about as nice as I can go. If you are expecting the Matt Wagner of Mage, Grendel or Sandman Mystery Theater, you are going to be a bit disappointed.

Art: 5/10
Story: 4/10

Next was a comic called Edison Rex from Monkeybrain comics by writer (and publisher) Chris Roberson and drawn by Dennis Culver. Again, the cover gives us some idea of what we are getting into here.

If you guessed a sort of animated feeling story with a bit of an Invincible vibe, you would be correct. With that said, it was enjoyable with a few clever touches in the story. The title character is a Lex Luthor analogue played a bit more reserved. This first issue had a few homages to old Silver Age Superman comics (as you might imagine) which I enjoyed, so I'll be interested to see what Roberson does as the story moves forward.

There was a bit of flagrant recycling going on...(check out Edison's head in these panels)

But there were also some nicer panels like this one below:

It felt a bit, both storywise and artwise, like an episode of Venture Bros played totally straight. Which is actually a very awesome thing. I can also see this comic getting compared to Tom Strong as time goes on. All and all, a pretty good start for a new comic.

Art: 7/10
Story: 7/10

Perhaps the best discovery I've made from trying independent titles was the Lookouts from Penny Arcade by Ben McCool and Rob Mommaerts

The Lookouts are a sort of Rangers in training for a fantasy woods called the Eyrewood Forest. They receive badges for passing various tests (defeating a Troll, healing a forest animal, guarding a human settlement) which is a sort of interesting story gimmick. There is also a suggestion of deeper intrigues between their leader, the grim one eyed Samson and village elders.

The real appeal to me on this series though is the art and coloring. Check out these pages:

And this panel, which to me has a certain Rankin/Bass feel to it.

My only complaint with this comic is that the Lookouts themselves don't do much in it. The story is pretty much all set up with about 4 pages spent on some characters who we may never see again in the series (as it is suggested.) I think a page could have been sacrificed to give us at least a flashback scene wherein we see the Lookouts doing something that gives an idea of what they are capable of.

Art: 9/10
Story: 7/10

Overall, trying these new comics was an enjoyable experience which resulted in me discovering one I really liked, so I encourage everyone out there to do the same. Either try one of the ones I mentioned or something completely different. I think us old school readers tend to rely on old favorites to entertain us, and then complain when the old standbys fail to do their job. It might be better to look elsewhere for our fix. If you already have discovered a new comic you really like, feel free to tell me about it in the comment section.

- Jim

Monday, July 16, 2012

Moving Comics

I postponed today's post a bit so that I could post this update I got this mornging from Flashback Co-creator, Pierre Villeneuve!. - Jim

Hi guys, a question pops up  once in a while.... "What is Pierre doing?". As much as I love making comics.... the lion's share of my income comes from my working in animation. Until very recently... I was working on a series called Walter & Tandoori.

But I just moved onto another project called Ben's City.

Remember how Jim had mentioned about 2 years ago how I had received a promotion??? The promotion at the time was to be the Storyboard Supervisor on the first season of Ben's City. I had been doing storyboards corrections for a few seasons of Arthur and for a season for a show called Caillou.... and then I was offered the job of Storyboard Supervisor.

I had lots of fun working on that first season of Ben's City.... so when I was offered to work on a second season of that show.... I could not say no. Although I was torn.... I had fun working on Walter & Tandoori.... but I was dying to be Storyboard Supervisor once more. I loved that job. It's a lot of work. There are always tons of problems to solve. And you are constantly making decisions for the production.

But that job gives quite an adrenalin rush that is more addictive then crack. ;) Guess I was more then due for my next "hit". ;) Although I was offered to supervise the storyboards on a feature film.... I had to pass up on that one. The timing was not right for me to switch project then. I had to take care of some personal stuff (like finding a new apartment for example)... so I would not have been able to focus as much as I should have on a job such as a Storyboard Supervisor at the time. Also I was not sure who we could get to replace me on Walter.

My little heart was torn apart at the time because it seemed like a really nice project.... but I liked working on "Walter" and the timing was wrong. Also some of the people on "Walter" were more then colleagues... through the years of crossing paths in the same animation studios... many became good friends.

You have to understand that on some productions... we will work 40hrs, 60 hrs, heck sometimes 80hrs per week together. We will often spend more time together then we will with our own families. Heck sometimes we will spend more time together then some will spend with their boyfriends or with their wives. So leaving Walter meant also leaving some of my friends behind. Which is always sad.

But I got to see some of my other friends on Ben's City that I had not seen in a while. And odds are.... I will see my friends from "Walter" in another studio or on another production before long. We may even plan some sort of get together once in a while. We shall see. But it won't be the same as working together every day. As for finding a new apartment... I finally found something that will suit my needs. But I had to move just as I was starting on my new project. So it was a bumpy ride to get started as I was packing/moving/unpacking.

Although the moving part is now behind me... I have still about half a dozen boxes left to unpack. And once I will be done unpacking... I will still have the "fun" of sorting all of my comics. I had 5 bookshelves of comics. I am saying "had" because we broke one bookshelf while moving. And I have decided not to get a new bookshelf. Moving 5 bookshelves of comics is not fun.... not fun at all. So I used my broken bookshelf as an opportunity to trim down my comic collection a bit. I had already trimmed some of the fat before the move... but not enough. I had gotten rid of some comics that I had already replaced in digital format.... but somehow that I still kept in print as well.

But now with one bookshelf missing.... I will trim the fat one step further and get rid of those comics that I NEVER read again. I have some comics like Preacher or Sandman that I read once.... and although I liked them series when I read them at the time..... I have never felt the need.... the urge to read them once more. I have flipped through them quickly once in a while.... but as for reading them a second time??? No. Never.

These are comics that I am glad that I read them.... but that after reading them once...  have no intention of ever reading them ever again. So those will be the next to go. I have read the Dark Phoenix Saga, or the Search for Galactus, or the Demon in a bottle, or Avengers Forever, or the Korvak Saga, or other comics that I fail to mention way too many time. Loved them comics. Loved every second spent reading them.

Although... odds are.... At some point in time.... I will get rid of all my floppies/singles issues and I might only keep my Omnibi/Absolute Editions.

We shall see.
Until next time.
- Pierre

Monday, July 9, 2012

Ten Thoughts on Marvel Now!

Last week saw the news that Marvel is going to have a soft relaunch of sorts for many of its main titles over the course of the next year. Called Marvel Now! This relaunch will consist of one or two titles getting a reboot/revamp every month until most of the entire line is completely refreshed. I am not sure if the full details will be reveled until the very end of Comic-con, but here is a partial checklist of the new creative team line-ups from Bleeding Cool. Green Checks are confirmed.

Here are my thoughts:

ONE: I don’t think it will be the sales success that DC’s 52 relaunch was. Mostly because this is simply a shuffling of the deck chairs than a “important” continuity changing relaunch. And at the rate of two new revamps a month I'm not sure how different that is from Marvel's current publishing schedule. Didn't we just get  new Hulk, Daredevil and Avenger comics a few months ago?

TWO: Another key difference between this and what DC did is scale. Even if Marvel was able publish all of their refreshed titles in one month, it would still be no more than a quarter of the books that DC relaunched. The lack of scale takes some of the omph out of this endeavor.

THREE: As a result of the smaller scale, I don't see Marvel launching anything that appeals to the same audience that DC was able to capitalize on with their Vertigo kindred comics: Animal Man, Swamp Thing, Demon Knights, I, Vampire. Some of these have been well received by the comics community and praised for their edginess. It would have been nice to see Marvel have a few titles like that in the mix. (Morbius, Man-thing, Werewolf By Night, Santanna, etc...)

FOUR: Mark Waid on Avengers might be interesting. His recent Daredevil run was totally raved about by every podcast I listened too. I think he brings a genuine reverence for the characters and continuity but isn't afraid to try new things.

FIVE: Hickman on Avengers would have excited me two years ago. That was before he took two years to tell a single Fantastic Four story. Somehow, I just lost interest in FF before it finished up. Now with the rumor that he will do something similar in Avengers, I’ll wait until I hear good things before trying that out.

SIX: It is interesting that most of the young gun writers are only on one book. I think a lot of them are working independent projects now. (Hickman has two books on Image now that are getting good buzz) I think a lot of those guys see Marvel as their “day job” and know the big money is in creator owned stuff. There’s been a lot said about this in columns recently (with the big news that the current fan favorite Daredevil artist Paolo Rivera left the book to pursue his own creator owned projects) It’s not a new paradigm, but it does seem to be carrying more weight now. Partly I think because of all the drama from Before Watchman brought to the issue.

SEVEN: I have zero interest in a Fantastic Four comic by Matt Fraction. I think the general consensus that has been building on Fraction's superhero comics is that he's better on his own independent work. I've always had this opinion, but it seems that after Fear Itself, other people have started saying the same thing.

EIGHT: Ditto zero interest in Bendis on Guardian's of the Galaxy. Maybe he would surprise me, but he just doesn't strike as a guy who gives one wit about world building or exotic sounding dialogue. I fear his GotG would sound just like every other character he's written. Nothing would make me cringe more than a Bendis scripted Adam Warlock:

NINE: I'm surprised that there isn't any Spider-man refresh news at this point. I guess that's because Marvel is happy with the current creative team on the books.

TEN: Notably absent in the list of creators is Jeff Parker and Jason Aaron. Aaron is wrapping up Scalped this month and Parker should be free once Marvel finally decides to finally cancel Thunderbolts. (Let's face it - we all know it's coming.)

Looking over my list here, I'm probably putting more thought into it that Marvel is. ;)

- Jim

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Saturn Knight Action Figure

I have a couple on my mind this week. First up, this amazing Saturn Knight Action Figure created by Irina Santos.

Irina has been making customized action figures since 2008. At first he started with GI Joe figures but in recent years he's expanded to other areas (Marvel, Dungeons and Dragons, etc...)

Irina said he normally doesn't like reading comics on the computer, but he stumbled upon my site and was really taken with the look and feel of the Flashback Universe.

To see more examples of his fantastic handywork, check out his website here:

I sent these images to Pierre who was overjoyed to see his handywork used for such customization. In his response, Pierre said he would be free around November, so expect us to start working on some new FBU comics to support a Flashback Universe inspired animation! More on that as we get more details iron out.

Next up is news that after some unfounded speculation by the internet, it does look like Marvel is going to make a Guardian of the Galaxy movie! While the official announcement for the movie will probably be at Comic-con, there have been so many non-comic book sites advancing this theory, (IFC, Hollywood Reporter, Huffington Post, IGN) that at this point, it would almost be a major marketing-momentum fail NOT to make such a movie.
Which begs the question:

Which version of this team will the movie feature?

The classic Bronze Age version? (My favorite)

The 90's Jim Valentino Version

or the more recent Abnett/Lanning version?

While the 90's version had a much longer run of any version, I can't see Disney going that way. Nor can I really see Disney signing off on a movie with a talking Raccoon. What we may get is some mash-up of several versions or something completely different that uses the name and borrows slightly on some of the concept. I'll be interested to see how this develops.

Finally, almost in response to my post about Are Comics becoming Too Toyetic is this news: Disney XD will have a new cartoon called Hulk: Agent of Smash (which sounds like it was made specifically so my newphew and I would have something to watch together.) I think this cartoon will be an excellent way to capitalize on the Hulk's revived popularity from the Avengers movie.

What gave me pause was the the rumor  that one of the Hulk comics will be relaunched with that title written by Jeff Parker. At first I was put off by this notion, but as I thought about it more, I realized, that's probably a smart idea.

Often the topic of making comics for kids comes up when people discuss Bronze Age sensibilities. If Jeff Parker can keep out of of the uber-violence that has become so common in modern comics (and he strikes me as a writer who can) then such a title would be exactly the type of thing us comic curmudgeons have been asking for! :D

- Jim


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