mike sterling's progressive ruin

Saturday, December 31, 2005

New Year's Eve Morning Miscellany. 

Okay, as I figured, I forgot one from my favorite 2005 comics list in yesterday's review. Hero Squared from Boom! Studios had J.M. DeMatteis and Keith Giffen successfully transplant their humorous take on the 1980s Justice League to a brand new title, along with the able assistance of Joe Abraham. Good, funny stuff.

Speaking of year-end reviews, pal Dorian kicks ass and takes names with his wrap-up.

One of my favorite things about Tom Spurgeon's mighty Comics Reporter is the occasional one-line humorous dismissal he'll use in his news links: "This Person Loved the Year in Mainstream Comics" is the most recent one to bring a smile to my face.

It reminds me of something similar that used to pop up in the Comics Journal news columns once in a while (and Mr. Spurgeon may have been responsible for, perhaps, come to think of it): in the middle of the usual comprehensive coverage of the non-mainstream comics world, there'd be a one or two line piece along the lines of "Apparently Superman has a new costume," and that'd be pretty much that...and that would be all it deserved, given the lasting impact these "permanent" changes usually have in the superhero market. It's particularly funny when one considers how many column inches that, say, Wizard would have devoted to the subject.

Okay, I promise I'll stop flogging the dead Bat-horse after this, but I had a customer on Friday tell me that he was questioning his own taste in comics, since he thought All-Star Batman was a hoot, but everything he read on the internet was telling him how bad it was. I had to reassure him that, no, in fact the comic is good, and all those folks on the internet just, I don't know, got up on the wrong side of bed this year or something. I think I have the beginnings of a support group, here.

Added yourself to my Frappr map yet? If you do, feel free to plug your website (or band, or whatever) in the map's "shout out" section. Go ahead, I won't mind.

Have a happy (and safe!) New Year's, pals!

Friday, December 30, 2005

2005: The Year in Review... 

...well, more or less. I'm really terrible at this sort of thing (go see Dave for a good year-end review, and not just because he said something nice about me in it...Alan David Doane and Chris Allen have a good'un as well), but I did it last year, and by golly, I'm gonna do it again.

Actually, the temptation was to go all movie-reviewer on you, and just make a year's-ten-best list comprised entirely of comics that came out this week, but, well, I've been a jerk enough this year, I think. Not that'll stop me from being a jerk anyway.

Favorite comics: I know I'm gonna leave some things out of my "favorites" lists, but lemme try anyway -- Simpsons/Futurama Crossover Crisis II (a funny and imaginative follow-up), Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's All-Star Superman (only one issue, and they've already impressed), Morrison's Seven Soldiers project, The Stuff of Dreams #3 by Kim Deitch (one of my all-time favorite cartoonists), Fell (good and inexpensive), Love & Rockets (a perennial favorite), and several others I'm sure I'm overlooking. I really need to plan for these year-end posts.

Favorite conniption-causing comic book: Countdown to Infinite Crisis was a contender, if only because the death of the Blue Beetle caused everyone who previously couldn't give a rat's hinder about him to suddenly declare their undying love and affection, which almost certainly will not translate to sales for DC's forthcoming Blue Beetle series.

However, I gotta give it to Frank Miller and Jim Lee's All-Star Batman & Robin...I admit I wasn't sold on it with the first issue, but once the second issue came out, I got into Miller's "big budget Hollywood action movie on paper" vibe. The fact that he's also screwing with the uptight Bat-fans is a plus.

Favorite trade paperbacks/graphic novels: Daisy Kutter: The Last Train (sci-fi western with appealing cartoony art), Demo (a handsome collection of the excellent Brian Wood/Becky Cloonan mini-series), WE3 (Morrison and Quitely cybernetic animal comic...attractive and affecting), Black Hole (Charles Burns' terrifying horror comic, finally collected after its decade-long run), the Complete Bone (every issue of Jeff Smith's fantasy series, collected into one volume at the bargain-of-the-century price of $39.95), the new Acme Novelty Library (in just under the wire), and Absolute Watchmen (finally bringing the extras from the old Graphitti Designs hardcover back into print).

Favorite reprints: DC's Showcase line...like Marvel's Essentials line, only with better printing and a more interesting (to me, anyway) selection of comics. Dark Horse's Little Lulu series also continues to impress.

Favorite comic strip collection: While the Fantagraphics collections of Peanuts continue to excel, the Complete Calvin & Hobbes takes the cake, just for the sheer spectacle of it. I mean, holy cow.

Biggest surprise: For me, anyway...being nominated for the sexiest man in comics. Or, at least, of that comments thread.

The other biggest surprise...being linked to by a National Review column.

Biggest disappointment: No announcements of further digest-sized reprints from DC (unless I missed something, somewhere).

Best irony: Liberality for All, a "satire" of left-wing attitudes, primarily being purchased by liberal-minded folks to laugh at, not with.

Best comic book related toy: Thanos. Just look at it. It's a freakin' huge chunk of plastic.

Best comics related thingie in another medium: The fact that they were apparently mispronouncing "Constantine" in the Constantine movie. Oh, okay, seriously, the Batman Begins movie was surprisingly good, proving once and for all a healthy dose of Michael Caine can improve anything. (Jaws: The Revenge notwithstanding.) The Naked Cosmos DVD is just barely comics-related, but it stars Love & Rockets' Gilbert Hernandez, and that's good enough for me. Oh, and it does come with a comic book, so there you go.

Online trends that need to stop: Page by page, panel by panel, angry and allegedly-humorous screeds lambasting certain "event" comics...pal Dorian should have been the final word on this sort of behavior, but alas....

Favorite "meme:" ...And by "meme," I mean "quiz/questionnaire/fad that everyone posted in their weblogs." I'm gonna say the "100 Things I Love About Comics" craze from Valentine's Day, which started with Fred Hembeck, continued with Alan David Doane's magnum opus, and eventually copied by me. You can find links to more Top 100 lists in my post.

Most needed mercy killing: The ill-advised Doom Patrol revamp, featuring a "all previous versions of DP retroactively did not exist" angle that everyone else working in the DC Universe pretty much ignored.

Favorite weblog: Usually, I cop out and say I love everybody, since I don't want to play favorites and hurt anyone's feelings. I do love reading all the different weblogs out there, don't get me wrong...but I do want to point out a weblog that started at the beginning of the year, written by another fellow in the funnybook selling business: Chris's Invincible Super-Blog. Go, visit, enjoy.

And enjoy the other comic weblogs out there as well...there's a little something for everybody!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Just a couple brief reviews.... 

All Star Batman and Robin #3 - Pal Dorian flipped it open to a particular panel in the book, and laughed and laughed and laughed. Pal Corey looked at the same panel, and did the same. Now that I've brought it home, sat down, and read the whole thing...God bless Frank Miller, for bringing this comic of pure freakin' joy into existence.

Acme Novelty Library #16 - It's depress-o-riffic!

Well, okay, it's the beginning of the Rusty Brown/Chalky White saga...Rusty Brown, for the uninitiated, is sorta like The Simpsons' Comic Book Guy, only far less socialized, and far more cringe-inducing. This volume focuses on Rusty's unhappy childhood, his unhappy school life, his unhappy family life, his unhappy father, his unhappy soon-to-be-best-pal Chalky, Chalky's unhappy sister, and several more unhappy people. And yet, it's funny. Depressing, but funny. The book itself is another of Chris Ware's usual impeccable presentations...designed like a school textbook, with one of those "student's name/year issued/condition of book" thingies on the inside front cover, complete with some very authentic looking vandalism and the scribbled names of Chalky and Rusty. Well played, sir.

This gives me the excuse to show you my favorite incredibly depressing Rusty panel, from a 2001 Acme edition, showing Rusty's future six (well, now two) years hence:

There, but for the grace of God...but then again, it ain't 2007 yet. Check back with me in a couple years.

10 - New from Boom! Studios is this one-shot by Keith Giffen and Andy Kuhn, in which ten people are given a gun and a list of people to kill, before they're killed themselves. Graham, the "hero" of the book, enters the game late, having been on vacation when the guns and lists were distributed, and finds himself face to face with the last remaining survivors of the event. It's a fast-paced read, nasty and brutal, with plenty of gunfights and not so much plot...not that it really needs it. Kuhn's art, with its jagged line and rough feel, brings a gritty, down-to-earth, yet disturbing, note to Giffen's violent story. Without trying to give anything away, I will note that the ambiguity behind the intentions of the other "contestant" adds to the unsettling effect of the climax, leaving the readers to fill in some of the backstory on their own. In short, it's quick, disposable entertainment that your mom wouldn't approve of, just like comics should be.

Harlequin Pink A Girl In A Million & Harlequin Violet Response - Probably not a good sign for Dark Horse & Harlequin Romance's romance manga line when my biggest manga customers laughed mockingly at these books. Oh, dear.

And just to keep myself from getting on my high horse, here...the DEVO action figure I special ordered for myself came in. Woo hoo! Kid Chris got one, too.

Now, each package comes with one figure, and five heads (one for each member of the band). To form the whole band, you'd have to buy five figures, and have each one wearing a different head...which of course would leave with you with 20 extra heads to deal with. However, if you were to buy five potatoes, and plug some of the extra heads into them, you could possibly reproduce the "Oh, No! It's Devo" album cover. You're on your own for spud ring construction.

No, they're not for sale. 

You can kinda see 'em over pal Dorian's shoulder in the picture at the end of this post...it's two pieces of original art on loan to us from a longtime customer of ours. On the left is an original Nexus piece by Steve "The Dude" Rude. On the right is an original page from Matt Wagner's first Mage series (from issue #13 or #14...don't recall offhand).

And if you look really closely, you might be able to see the reflection of my arms way over my head, snapping this picture with the digital camera.

The same customer that let us borrow these also loaned us a framed cel from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon -- one that features Usagi Yojimbo. I keep meaning to get that one put up, too....

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Mike is cynical and cranky (but there's some holiday cheer in here as well). 

1. Before you ask, yeah, new comics are delayed a day due to the Christmas holiday. Same thing next week, too.

Why, I remember one year new comics were delayed so badly by the holidays that we didn't get them until Sunday. That was back when Diamond still delivered the books themselves, instead of using an independent delivery service.

Yes, Diamond used to transport the comics to the retailers themselves. That was also back when there was more than one distributor servicing the direct market with new comics. Coincidence?

2. Many folks have commented on Chris Butcher's tale of 300 woe...with a forthcoming movie based on this Frank Miller comic, the collection of said comic is in short supply. Gee, Dark Horse graphic novels with a forthcoming movie tie-in suddenly hard to get a hold of? What a freakin' surprise. Given what happened with Hellboy and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Sin City (I'm giving them a pass on Aliens/Predator, since that apparently was out of their hands), I have no confidence that we'll have any 300 when we need them. Though once the movie is out of theatres, and the bookstore returns have come in, we'll have 300 out the wazoo, I bet...long after the customers we've had looking for them have moved on to the next big thing.

3. Speaking of which, what's this I hear about the Watchmen movie perhaps having a chance at being back on track? Oh, goodness, I hope that's not true. I've already resigned myself to the fact that V for Vendetta graphic novel sales are going to completely dry up once the movie finishes its run (a la League of Extraordinary Gentlemen)...I don't want to lose Watchmen, too.

4. Back to my comic strip talk from the last couple of days...man, you folks really didn't care for Berke Breathed's follow-up strips to Bloom County, did you? Okay, I can understand not liking his most recent effort, Opus. I figured the first few strips would be a bit rough, and that things would get better...but they never really seemed to, did they? But Outland...actually, I liked Outland quite a bit. Yeah, I know it became Bloom County II as it progressed, as more and more characters from the old strip began to pop up, but overall I thought it was a lot of fun, well drawn, with plenty of good gags. There was some overly familiar subjects and themes, and it probably was retired at the right time, but overall I thought it was pretty good. Certainly better than Opus, which just makes me kind of sad.

5. This man got a Skrull Kill Krew t-shirt for Christmas. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A message to you, Rudy. 

Tom mentioned the short-lived William Overgard comic strip Rudy in response to my comic strip post from yesterday. Though I haven't read the strip since its run twenty years ago, I still have fond memories of the witty dialogue and the fine line art. Oh, what was the strip about? It was about a talking chimpanzee, a former star of vaudeville, trying to make a comeback in Hollywood. The gimmick was that the chimp (the titular Rudy) was patterned after George Burns, down to the dialogue and the trademark cigar. Here's a sample strip, featuring images from an auction on the eBay a few months ago:

Okay, maybe not the best example gagwise, but the art is impeccable. You can find a couple more examples on this page.

There was a collection of this strip released long ago, and is of course out of print, leaving me to haunt the eBay looking for a copy...at least until I decide to break down and buy it from an online used book seller. Apparently the Sunday strips aren't included in the collection, which is a drag, and makes me want a definitive and complete collection all the more.

More discussion of Rudy may be found at this fine comic strip weblog.

Chris mentioned the dreaded "Peeing Calvin" stickers that arose out of the rush to produce Calvin & Hobbes merchandise that wasn't coming from any official source. As I said to Chris, "nature abhors a merchandising vacuum," and since Bill Watterson wasn't going to allow any licensed products based on his characters, "bootlegs ahoy" was pretty much the result.

A former coworker of mine once told me about going to store in the Los Angeles area and spotting a rack full of Calvin & Hobbes shirts. Knowing full well that such a thing was unauthorized, she confronted the proprietor about them. "What's with the 'Calvin & Hobbes' shirts?" she asked. The store owner's response? "Those aren't 'Calvin & Hobbes' shirts, those are 'boy and tiger' shirts." Yeah, that guy was a real criminal mastermind.

Jim Hill Media has more information on the topic of Calvin & Hobbes merchandise, noting some of the actual real products based on the property that have been released. Not mentioned in the article was a limited run of a "collectible glass," done, I believe, as a one-time special deal with Pepsi (referenced on this page at #500..."Hobbes" is misspelled). Supposedly this glass was authorized, but I can't find any online support one way or the other. Perhaps an actual glass collector out there can give me more details about it.

If you want to see some real C&H bootleg items, dig this page, man. The Pez dispensers are fantastic...the 9-11 tribute, somewhat less so.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Hey, look... 

...Ben Grimm got Thing hands for Christmas!*

from Fantastic Four #107 (Feb 1970) by Stan Lee, John Buscema, & Joe Sinnott

I didn't get Thing hands (I still have to settle for Mike hands), but I did receive from my parents the Complete Calvin & Hobbes collection, which is just as wonderful as people have been saying. And boy howdy, is the set heavy. A nice touch is the inclusion of some of the tryout strips, with a slightly different visual take on Calvin.

And that puts me in the mind of another complete comic strip set I'd like to see...the complete Bloom County. It ran about the same length of time as Calvin & Hobbes, so the book set would potentially be about the same size. However, whereas Calvin & Hobbes is still fondly remembered, even all these years on (though I have to wonder if the majority of people with Peeing Calvin stickers on their cars even know its comic-strip origins), it seems Bloom County doesn't have quite the same following. I know there are a number of people who still remember it fondly, but perhaps not enough to support a $150 set of books. Plus, a handful of times I've had to explain to some younger folk that Bloom County was the strip in which Opus first appeared...they hadn't heard of it, otherwise.

On top of all that, Bloom County may be too much a product of its time. Calvin & Hobbes is more or less timeless...Bloom County's Jeane Kirkpatrick jokes aren't timeless -- who knew? Perhaps an annotated collection may be in order...though if I recall correctly, the strip's creator, Berke Breathed, isn't terribly interested in bringing collections back into print precisely for this reason:

"[Onion AV Club]: Do you think the political issues you addressed at the time have dated the strips, or are they still as relevant today?

BB: That's why it'd be silly to reprint them. They have the half-life of a flounder laying on the back porch."

That's a shame, since I did have quite a bit of fondness for this strip. I remember trying to clip 'n' save Bloom County strips from the newspaper, until I gave up after a few weeks when I realized that this was completely insane. When one of the paperback collections came out that reprinted from the same period I was clipping strips, I noticed that several installments from a particular storyline (I believe it was involving Oliver's entry in the school science fair) weren't included. So I know there are strips that haven't seen the light of day since they were originally printed.

Ah, well, one can hope.

Any other strips that you'd like to see given the "Complete" treatment?

* Yeah, I know, technically it should be Hanukkah, given his religious leanings.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

from The Comic Reader #139 (January 1977) - art by Mike Tiefenbacher

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