Archive for April, 2006
J. Michael Straczynski plays a better game of cat and mouse than Tom and Jerry.
After establishing a great career as a TV writer/producer/director with his series Babylon 5 and other projects, Straczynski moved into comics and to become one of the No. 1 writers for Marvel.
Currently penning Amazing Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and Squadron Supreme, he has been alternately been called a genius and a buffoon, depending on which comic fan you ask and who their favourite character is.
Straczynski, a guest at this weekend’s Paradise Comics Toronto Comicon (www.torontocomicon.com), also loves to drop hints about his grand machinations at Marvel and did just that over lunch with JPK, hinting at a shocking event for Spider-Man, the reasons behind the upcoming Civil War in the Marvel Universe, the contentious ‘clone saga’ in Amazing Spider-Man, what three new projects he’s got on the go and why Dave Sim is a true comics visionary.
JPK: You’ve had a colourful year with a fair bit of controversy.
Straczynski: Why whatever do you mean? (Laughs)
JPK: Let’s start with the new gold-and-red armoured costume for Spider-Man. Any reflections or regrets?
Straczynski: No regrets at all. Bare in mind, it’s not like we’re making a long-term change. We said from the beginning that the uniform has grown out of his relationship with Tony (Stark a.k.a. Iron Man). It’s not just an instrument by which he operates — it is also a metaphor. As Tony has put Peter under his wing, Peter is now wearing his colours and using his technology which really helps to reinforce that connection so that when it does crack, which inevitably it will, it makes the separation that much harder. It’ll be personal as well.
JPK: The much-anticipated first issue of Marvel’s Civil War ships on May 3. As writer of Fantastic Four and Amazing Spider-Man, do you enjoy participating and having this kind of story crossover into the worlds you’re created for your characters?
Straczynski: Given the option of doing a crossover story or having my gums extracted, I go for the gum extraction because it’s less painful in the long run.
But this is a storyline worth doing. We have, in the U.S., great political division between those on one side of the war (in Iraq) and those on the other. It’s a very polarized society right now with the red and the blue states and conservative versus liberal. Someone once commented that if the nation were as divided geographically as it is politically, you’d be hearing gunfire in the distance.
There’s no reason we can’t take that and extend it into the super-hero community as a metaphor for what’s happening in the greater culture. It allows us to explore those issues in a safer environment.
So I think it’s a good story to tell. The details of the telling have been a major league pain in the ass, but at the end of the day it’ll be worth the doing.
JPK: Where do you see the characters you work with after the fallout of Civil War?
Straczynski: Certainly the world of all these characters is going to change significantly and to some degree we’re still evaluating where that’s going to go. We all so caught up in the heat of telling the story that the aftermath will have to shape itself to some extent. It will flow logically and organically out of what precedes it.
We do want this to have significant lasting changes and not to be something where the last book of Civil War comes out and we’re back to zero again.
Peter, in particular, will go through a huge change at the end of this story. It’s going to be probably the biggest thing to happen to Peter in 30 years. It’s huge.
JPK: OK, now you’ve peaked my curiosity.
Straczynski: Then my job is done and I can go now.
JPK: How hard is it to work on iconic characters like Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four?
Straczynski: It is a mixed blessing. On the one hand it is an established iconic character and you have opportunity to reach a large audience and it really is a measure of trust from Marvel that they would give me these characters in hopes that I will not screw them up — which is more than I would necessarily assume.
But at the same time, they also come with certain limitations. There are walls around these characters that you really cannot go past. Then again, it’s not that different then what we deal with in television where you know damned well that Angela Lansbury isn’t going to turn into an axe murderer at the end of the average Murder, She Wrote episode.
So we’re used to dealing within those confines, which is why I think a lot of folks from television are making the transition to comics, because we’re used to dealing with established characters and finding new ways of looking at them.
JPK: Do you ever butt heads with your editors? Are you ever told ‘no you can’t do that?’
Straczynski: With Marvel and Spidey, only once. I wanted Gwen’s kids to be fathered by Peter, not by Norman Osborn. I thought it would be an interesting point of view to go with the character where he would assume responsibility for that and all the rest. They said ‘well it makes Peter feel too old. How about someone else? How about Norman Osborn? The fans will love it!’
I dutifully fell on my sword on that one for a long time and then finally I said ‘you know, it really wasn’t my idea to do it that way.’
JPK: What’s it been like working with a big company like Marvel?
Straczynski: They’re a great company to work for. They’ve been very supportive. They give me no problems and a lot of latitude.
Joe Quesada and Dan Buckley and the rest of them — I can’t speak enough positive words about them, they’ve been great.
JPK: You’ve taken your acclaimed series Supreme Power from Marvel’s adults-only MAX line to its Marvel Knights line and re-dubbed it the more classic Squadron Supreme. ...
Jessica Abel isn’t a great female comic book creator — she’s a great comic book creator.
Before her arrival in Toronto to be part of the Women Of Comics symposium at the 2006 Paradise Comics Toronto Comicon (www.torontocomicon.com), the Brooklyn, N.Y., resident spoke with JPK about the status of female creators, her influences, her new book and the use of the term “graphic novel”.
JPK: What is your impression of the Women Of Comics event you’ll be participating in this weekend?
Abel: I think it’s really great to be able get a bunch of women together that are doing this.
I looked at the list of panels the other day and there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on.
Although I always have mixed feelings about going to an event as a woman in comics as opposed to as a cartoonist.
It’s not a lack of pride in being a woman cartoonist, but that it’s just odd.
JPK: So it’s weird to be singled out for one thing when it’s not the most important thing?
Abel: It’s not the central emphasis of my work, obviously. But that said, I think that the selection of people that they’ve chosen to bring kind of back’s that up in a way. There is no theme to the women who are coming.
A lot of women who are coming I don’t have any idea who they are — which is good. There have been times in comics when almost any woman in comics, I would know who they were.
JPK: Given the number and the diversity of female creators coming, do you think this shows women’s stature in the industry is at a high-water mark?
Abel: No, not at all. I think it’s only just beginning.
JPK: Is getting together a couple of dozen top female creators a good start?
Abel: I think it’s really good to have this wide variety of women coming to the show, showing how diverse the work of female creators is.
The basic thing I’ve always said about this topic is that the reason there aren’t more women cartoonists of my age and older is that there was very little work that most girls would like back when we were kids.
That has changed completely. At this point I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that there were more young girls than boys reading comics. With the influx of Manga and then the new wave of accessible non-ouetré super-hero comics, there’s just a lots of girls reading comics and that means that a lot of girls are going to want to make comics. Over the years I think we’re going to a huge increase in the proportion of women making comics. This is just the leading edge.
JPK: So then how does it feel to be part of that leading edge?
Abel: It will be nice when I don’t have to talk about it anymore. It will be nice when it’s just automatic. You know, when it’s not notable and it’s not special to be a woman in comics — when it’s just normal. That will be the mark of us having come really, really far.
JPK: What were your influences when you started reading comics?
Abel: I read lots and lots of comics when I was a kid — anything I could get my hands on — and I did like super-hero comics. Not deeply, but I liked them enough, which was some part of what helped me stay in it, stay reading until I found really good comics.
When I was in college, the real turning point for me, although I had seen other comics that I had really loved before that, the one thing that made me want to do it myself was Love And Rockets.
I could name off a whole bunch of other influences that were around the same time, but that was the really thing that turned me from being just a reader to wanting to do it.
JPK: Do you see influences from Love And Rockets in your work?
Abel: I think it’s more for others to say whether it shows or not, but Jaime’s work has been a perpetual favourite of mine. I don’t think his work and my work are very similar now, but they do have the same basic approach, which is the semi-realistic, and yet fully fiction world.
That’s a really broad category when you’re talking about literature or film or something — not even worth mentioning — but in comics it’s not such a huge category.
JPK: Your new book, La Perdida, is excellent. What has the reaction to it been like?
Abel: Thanks. The reception has been really, really good. There’ve certainly been a few people who have picked on stuff about it, but for the most part, say 99 per cent of the reaction has been very positive.
But of course, I’ve been releasing it in installments, so it’s not new for me. But the book is new and there are a lot of new readers, which is nice. It’s been nice to encounter people who’ve found it for the first time because now it’s outside of the comics’ ghetto.
JPK: So what’s the follow up project?
Abel: Right now I’m working on the script for a comic with a co-writer and it’s being drawn by a guy name Warren Pleece. It’s called Life Sucks and it’ll probably be out in 2007.
My husband, Matt Madden, and I are also working on a textbook for making comics.
I’m also working on a non-graphic novel — that’s what we’re going to call them from now on, by the way.
JPK: A non-graphic novel?
Abel: Anything that’s not a comic is now called a non-graphic novel.
JPK: I like that.
She’s frank, funny and intelligent. She’s also one of the most talented artists in the comic book industry today. Jill Thompson, the Eisner Award-winning creator of Scary Godmother, is one of almost two-dozen top female creators who attended the Women Of Comics symposium at the Paradise Comics Toronto Comicon (www.torontocomicon.com) in 2006.
She spoke with JPK about her views on the status of women in comics, why the monthly comic grind isn’t for her and the status of a long-awaited collaboration with husband, Brian Azzarello.
JPK: What does it mean to you to be part of such a large collection of female creators?
Jill Thompson: It’s nice that someone’s taken the time to track down as many of us as possible. Usually that’s not considered very marketable.
I know a lot of the women who are going to be there, but then there are many that I don’t know, so it’s going to be nice to meet other people that do what I do that are the same gender as myself.
JPK: I’m told you were the inspiration for the event. Organizer Peter Fisico of www.allnewcomics.com said seeing you at a store appearance interacting with a woman and her little girl was the spark that more attention needed to be paid to women in comics. What’s it like to be the inspiration?
Thompson: I didn’t even know that. (Laughs)
Pete does pay attention to stuff like that. He’s always thinking about ‘how do we get people who go to bookstores all the time into comic book stores where they will find stuff they’d like if they only knew about it?’
JPK: What’s your impression of the status of women in comics right now? Do you think they get the respect they deserve?
Thompson: I’ve never had a problem. But I know that there are a lot of women that would argue otherwise.
JPK: Did you have any female artistic role models?
Thompson: There was a couple: Hilary Barta and Sandy Plunkett. But then I found out they were guys.
Wendy Pini [of Elfquest fame] is probably one of the only high-profile females in the field when first started reading comics. I enjoyed the books she created and her art style.
I liked Marie Severin, too.
I liked men and women — I was a huge John Bucema fan and a John Byrne fan. It was always an added bonus, like frosting on the cake, to find out that ‘oh and a girl did this’.
I always wanted to do this. It didn’t bother me that there weren’t many other girls doing it. I felt like it was this secret thing that I knew about that no one else did.
JPK: When you get the opportunity to meet young girls, in particular, at these events, is it a meaningful thing to you that you might be inspiring them?
Thompson: It’s very meaningful. One of the biggest influences on me was a friend of mine, a fellow named Bill Reinhold who works for Marvel and DC and used to work for First Comics illustrating The Badger. He took the time to look at all my drawings, to give me critiques about what was wrong or right with my artwork and really just push me along.
I think if I could do for someone else, boy or girl, what Bill did for me — it would be a great thing.
JPK: What can your fans expect from you next?
Thompson: I’m just finishing up a Goosebumps adaptation for Scholastic/Graphix. Then I’ll be working on another collaboration with Evan Dorkin for another Dark Horse ‘The Book of…’
JPK: And that is?
Thompson: The Book of Monsters.
JPK: Is it another dog story?
Thompson: Yeah. I think it’s called The Dog And His Boy. It made me cry when I read it so now I’ll have to do my best to make everyone else cry.
After that I’m going to be doing a four-book series for HarperCollins — a series of creator-owned graphic novels (for kids). It’s all painted and about 94-96 pages each.
JPK: Do you ever see yourself working on monthly comic again?
Thompson: No. I don’t need to be in the most extreme version of the monthly comic grind. I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with doing that, it’s just that I’ve moved to the point where I like to do black and white comics myself and I also like to paint my own comics so I just like to control everything.
JPK: And now the question that must be asked…
Thompson: Let me see if I can guess: Will Brian and I ever work together?
JPK: You win. The answer?
Thompson: Not on anything we can think of right now. People kind of expected us to and now they don’t — so maybe now we should. (Laughs)
It just has to be the right thing. I’m sure it’ll be just one of those things that’ll happen by accident.
JPK: Any negatives to having a symposium like the Women Of Comics?
Thompson: I guess you wouldn’t want a plane to fall on the convention centre because then there wouldn’t be any women in comics left.
Sara “Samm” Barnes has a fascinating dual life. She’s not only a television, movie and radio producer, having worked on such films as Cats And Dogs and Mission To Mars and the TV show Jeremiah, she is also a writer for Marvel Comics.
In fact, her mini-series Doctor Spectrum earned Barnes the 2005 Joe Shuster Award for outstanding Canadian comic book writer. She’s up for the 2006 honour, too, for co-authoring last year’s Dr. Strange mini-series with friend and colleague, J. Michael Straczynski.
She is also one of almost two dozen top female creators featured at the Women Of Comics symposium at the 2006 Paradise Comics Toronto Comicon and over a hastily eaten lunch, she spoke with JPK about what it’s like living her dual life.
JPK: What does it feel like to be part of this amazing collective of female creators?
Barnes: Humbling… amazing. I’m as interested as the fans to hear what they have to say. I’m a huge fan of many of the people on the panel.
I’ll be doing a lot of listening, I think.
JPK: What is your impression of the status of women in comic right now?
Barnes: We’re better than we were.
I’m a huge fan of so many male writers, but I’m reading them because they’re good writers. The same is true of women: I’m a fan of women who are great writers, not because they happen to be women
I think we need to encourage more women to read (comic) books —no matter who wrote or drew or created those books.
JPK: You are one of a minority of women working on mainstream comics. Do you feel any added pressure with that?
Barnes: I write what I like. I write from my gut. I hear the story, I watch it in my head and I write it down.
JPK: You have a dual career as a film/TV producer/writer and as a comic book writer. Do you prefer one ahead of the other?
Barnes: Comic books are like candy — they’re like dessert. I love writing for television, I’ve enjoyed working in radio drama, I’m just about to start my first foray into directing and I love producing, but there’s something about comic books that are so fun and free. It’s imagination — you can go absolutely anywhere within a page.
JPK: Anything you’ve got in mind to work on next?
Barnes: I have one small seed of an idea. It’s a strong female character and it’s something that’s been playing in the back of my mind, it’s like a little whisper and I’m starting to listen to it. It’s definitely not Spectrum, it’s not as serious as that.
It’s something quirky and different. I’m ready to write something like that.
I also think we need to write the follow up to Dr. Strange. The six parts were good, we left it at a point where we wanted to launch off and now I think we’re ready to do the next six parts.
JPK: With Straczynski?
Barnes: Yeah, I think we’ll do it together.
JPK: How did you feel when you heard about your second consecutive Joe Shuster Award nomination (for outstanding Canadian comic book writer)?
Barnes: Gobsmacked. I’m speechless. I’m floored.
It’s a really honour and I’m so thrilled.
JPK: Do you think your TV work has been a benefit to your comic book work or vice-versa?
Barnes: My comic book work helps me in so many ways because you are forced to direct, to see it in your head.
It forces you to keep the story condensed. You can’t just go off and rabbit trail for four pages — who’s going to tune in? You really need to focus, to know what the core of your story is and hit those beats. I think I’m much stronger thanks to my comic book work.
The Women Of Comics took centre stage at the Paradise Comics Toronto Comicon in 2006, but that didn't mean they didn't let the men come out and play.
There was an all-star list of dozens of creators, including Greg Rucka (52, Checkmate), Frank Cho (Liberty Meadows), Michael Lark (Daredevil), Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets) and Dave Sim (Cerebus) and featuring guests of honour David Lloyd (V For Vendetta) and George Perez (Infinite Crisis).
But one late addition is a coup for event organizers: DC Comics vice-president and executive editor, Dan DiDio, who took time out of his busy schedule to talk to JPK about why he just had to be there, what he thought of Infinite Crisis #7, the weekly series 52 and the DCU One Year Later and the love of the DC Nation.
JPK: So what was it that made you want to come up and do this event in Toronto?
DiDio: “First, we have a lot of exciting things taking place at DC right now and we’re trying to get out there are ring the bell as loud as we can. There’s a lot of great momentum and great excitement about our work … and I like to go out and meet them face to face and get a chance to talk to them about what’s going on.
“The fans’ enthusiasm is infectious. The more excited they get, the more excited we get about the work that we’re doing and we want to do even better.
“Second: A lot of my top creators are actually in the Toronto area so it allows me the opportunity to see a lot of my guys up there. We have such a strong talent pool in town that it’s good for me to get a chance to sit down face to face with them about new projects we’ve got going on.
“The third thing is that I absolutely love the city of Toronto. In my old job I used to work for a Canadian animation company out of Vancouver and that used to bring me to Toronto about once a month for about six years. I haven’t been up for a while, so it’s going to be fun getting up there again.”
JPK: What’s are your impressions about Toronto as a comic book town?
DiDio: “Every time I went to Toronto I was always surprised to see the number of comic stores in the area and how well they were frequented by the fans. I always got the impression there’s a real strong base of comic fans up there.
“I also always felt that the fans there had a real sense of the current, of what trends are going on. I really got a good taste of where the industry is going and what might be breaking soon by what’s working well in Toronto.”
JPK: What can fans expect from your DC Nation tour?
DiDio: “A lot of silliness. The whole purpose of the DC Nation tour is to create something that is fan-centric and interactive with the company. Over the last year and a half we’ve felt a lot of support and a lot of good will from our fans, but to get out there and meet them face to face and to talk about comics, not just to get them to ask us questions, but for us to ask them questions about what makes them love the comic business and what they’re really excited by. That whole interaction is what built the whole industry of comics — that sense of community.
JPK: Any big announcements this weekend?
DiDio: “Probably not. We’re getting up there less than a week before the final issue of Infinite Crisis hits so I’m sure we’ll be able to tease a couple of bits and pieces from that story, hopefully without giving too much away. And we’re just two weeks from the first issue of our big epic, 52, going on.”
JPK: Infinite Crisis has been one of the biggest and most successful comic projects in years. Do you think the payoff is going to be worth the buildup?
DiDio: “I was just going through the final proofs for Infinite Crisis #7 and it exceeds all my expectations. I’m pretty cynical about this book after being so close to it for so long, but it’s everything I thought it would be in the end. That’s a great feeling.
“I didn’t turn one single page and say: ‘Oh I wish we did this.” It’s all there.”
JPK: Any fears about doing a weekly title with 52?
DiDio: “Tons of fears. Everything’s build on a schedule so it’s just a matter of keeping schedule, but also maintaining a level of quality that’s essential to bring back readers on a weekly basis.
“We’re pulling out all stops to make sure that book exceeds all expectations.
“The interesting thing about 52 is that it challenges the reader because the pacing, the style of storytelling, the amount of story that goes on in a single issue is completely different that what people have gotten used to.”
JPK: As we’re midway through the second month of One Year Later in the DCU, what’s caught your attention so far?
DiDio: “The thing that’s been most amazing, as least from the fans’ side, is that I thought people would take a chance to sample a book or two here or there — it might have been an interesting point to see what’s going on in a particular series or with a particular character — but I’m hearing that a lot of people are sampling the entire line of One Year Later, which couldn’t please more. It shows that it has really created a level of interest in DC that we haven’t seen in a very long time.
“Part of what I wanted to do is try to create different levels of change throughout the whole DCU line and we’ve achieved that. Some books have drastic changes, some have minor changes, but when you look at the whole you really feel the DC Universe has been pointed and refocused in a new direction and hopefully an exciting ...
April 24, 2006 | Trades
Birds Of Prey: Between Dark & Dawn
Gail Simone, Ed Benes
$19.99/$14.99 US (Paperback)
**** (out of five)
Talented writer Gail Simone puts the Birds Of Prey — Oracle, Black Canary and Huntress —through the wringer in this third collection of her fantastic run on this series as Huntress investigates a mysterious cult that may be connected to the suicide deaths of three teens and Oracle battles the nastiest computer virus ever: Braniac. Meanwhile, Black Canary has some unfinished business with a new ally and the team gets a whole new mission and a new member.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: when you’ve got a comic about three smart, quick-witted heroines, it pays to have a smart, quick-witted woman writing it and Simone nails it every time.
The Baby-sitters Club: Kristy’s Great Idea
Adapted by Raina Telgemeier
$11.99/$8.99 US (Paperback)
**** (out of five)
Ann M. Martin’s über-popular Baby-sitters Club series have sold over 175 million copies, but alas I was too engrossed in the angst of Archie to have read one as a kid and missed out — until now.
Cartoonist Raina Telgemeier adapts the adventures of four tween girls — Kristy, Mary Anne, Stacey and Claudia — into comic book form for the first time and really comes up with something sweet and bright. Sure, this volume is a little sappy, but its aimed squarely at the same young audience as its principle characters and it will no doubt please them greatly. It may even stir a nostalgic ember for those of you who devoured the club’s adventures back when you were a kid.
$14.95 US (Paperback)
*** 1/2 (out of five)
Hope Larson’s art just isn’t for squares.
That may be why you won’t find many at all in her 112-page sophomore book, Gray Horses.
Following French exchange student Noemie through her forays into the mysteries of Onion City (A.K.A. Chicago), readers are treated to some sweet visual candy, with pages of panels that break out of the six-panel grid and roll and flow gently into one another. But it is in Noemie’s dreams, of a dark-haired girl named Marcy and, of course, horses, that the visuals are taken to someplace truly unique.
Gray Horses is worth buying simply so you can read it more than once.
April 24, 2006 | Trades
Nightwing: Mobbed Up
Devin Grayson, Phil Hester, Ande Parks, Cliff Chang
*** 1/2 (out of five)
Nightwing’s life has come crumbling in on him.
The vigilante formerly known as Robin has cut ties with Batman and with his super-hero friends in the Teen Titans and the Outsiders. So what’s left for him to turn to? How about the least likely thing — a life of crime.
Mobbed Up shows Dick Grayson — A.K.A. Nightwing —kicked off the Blüdhaven police force and embittered by the events of last year’s big Bat-crossover War Games that saw him shot in the leg, begin the slow infiltration of the city’s organized crime.
But after displaying his initiative to his new bosses with a little more rough stuff than a hero might usually use, the question of Grayson’s true motives becomes a mystery.
Is he truly so frustrated with the side of angels that he’s turned to the dark?
Writer Devin Grayson and artists Phil Hester, Ande Parks and Cliff Chang give us another solid Nightwing volume — one with more twists and turns than the average mountain pass.
April 24, 2006 | Trades
Batman: War Crimes
*** 1/2 (out of five)
It was an event that shook Batman to the core — the death of another Robin.
Stephanie Brown was only the Dark Knight’s sidekick for a very brief while before he fired her for being too reckless. Shortly thereafter, Brown, back in her original guise as the Spoiler, inadvertently began the War Games that enveloped all of Gotham City’s gang and led to many violent deaths — including her own at the hands of the fiendish Black Mask.
But now Batman is beginning to doubt the facts. Stephanie shouldn’t have died from the wounds inflicted on her. So who killed her?
The search for the answer threatens to drive the Dark Knight mad, while the eventual truth may push him over the edge.
A terrific ensemble of creators provides this interesting dénouement to this dark chapter in Batman’s life.