Friday, October 28, 2005

The Return of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R.!

Hey for all of you T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent fans, Two Morrows Publishing has recently published a T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent Companion volume. I mention this now, as I have an interview published in the book (and just received my copy).

If you are interested in reading the book (and I heartily recommend it as it is fascinating — even the stuff that isn’t mine), you should all go out and buy it at either Two Morrows or Amazon. (the beauty of using either one of those links is that you don’t even have to “go out” to buy it, just click through and buy a copy.

Part of the reason that I happen to get involved with this project is that I am good friends with John Carbonaro) who owns the rights to the Agents, having purchased them from Tower (and then having won a copyright infringement suit against the unscrupulous individual who attempted to steal it out from under him) back in the ‘80s. As we all know, John has been attempting to get the Agents back in print all those years, and has nearly succeeded a number of times (and actually succeeded almost as many times).

zoomWell, anyway, I’ve known John for quite a number of years, and have written extensively about the Agents. In this new book, I managed to get an interview I conducted with one of the supergroup’s original writers published, and I’m about as giddy as a schoolgirl over it.

If anyone is interested in acquiring a copy of the book, you can get one at either the Two Morrows Web site, or off Amazon. Personally I’m hoping that you go to Two Morrows (let’s support the guys in our industry, and all that).

Anyway, the book is available, and I just got my copy, so I’m a happy guy. Now go and buy one. (And if you ever run into me at a Comic Con, and have your copy, I’ll autograph it for you.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

By Robert J. Sodaro

As a rule, I’ve always been a bigger fan of Marvel’s Heroes than of DC’s Heroes, which is not to say that I don’t like DC heroes, I just gravitated towards Marvel’s heroes. I’m sure there is a reason for that, but I’m not going to go into it here. That’s not what this post is about.

Still, I do have extensive runs (knowledge and fondness) of many DC titles and characters, so I found this article in the New York Times interesting.

Since I haven’t followed the DC heroes as much in recent years as I have in years past, I’m just going to post the link, and present the information without comment, except to say that what DC is proposing is an interesting idea, and merely the fact that it is an interesting idea, makes it worth the effort.

Will DC succeed in re-tooling their characters? Well, I for one, certainly hope that they do — not — I might add, because I think that their characters are tired, or need re-tooling, but because I’m interested in seeing in what they will do, and yes, this is a new Millennium, and thus a new breed of readership, so perhaps re-tooling is necessary.

Is this to become DC’s Ultimate universe? Who knows? Will I sign on for the ride? I don’t know that as yet either, but I am considering it.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Rising to the Challenge?

Well, it’s all over the Net now, Erik Larson’s tirade against mediocrity — at least I think that’s what Erik was mewling over this time — I’m honestly not entirely certain what set him off this time (remember boys and girls, The esteemed Mr. Larson was the author of the infamous CBG letter “Name Withheld” many years ago), and I’ve also read Peter David’s knee-jerk reaction to Erik’s rambling, venomous, and scatological rant.

Now as loath as I am to put myself in the middle of these two industry giants (and no, I’m neither being snide nor glib — I have an immense amount or respect for both men, I know Peter (or, more to the point, Peter knows who I am, and we’ve chatted on a number of occasions over the years), and (while he probably doesn’t recall) I did meet Erik once (back in ’97 or so when I was at San Diego Con). Though, as I’ve never had any formal contact with Erik (outside that brief meeting on the floor of the Con), it is entirely possible that he knows me by reputation (I used to write extensively for various publications in the fan press, as well for several publishers, most notably (in this case, at lease) for Rob Liefeld’s Extreme Studios (back Rob was still at Image), which is why I was at San Diego that year (Rob flew me out at his expense, and then assigned me several articles to write for him while I was there).

I say all this up front not only to establish my bona fides, but also to make it clear that I harbor no ill will towards either Erik or Peter. Nor is it lost on me that there is no small amount of animosity between these two blokes, for reasons that are both inexplicable as well as pass all understanding. Thus, for me to enter the fray at this point is sort of akin to me saying, “Do I want to be mauled by the tiger, or do I want to be mauled by the other tiger?” Still, I (foolishly?) move forward in my quest for understanding.

Having said all of that, I now blithely throw myself into the pit.

In his Thursday, September 29 column for Comic Book Resources, Erik threw down the gauntlet to comicbook creators everywhere (especially those who work on company-owned characters) by calling them (us) both pathetic and pussies. By way of comparison, he holds up Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko — later on in the piece he also cites Mike Mignola, Todd McFarlane, and Frank Miller (and of course, by subtle references, to himself). That’s when he calls us pathetic and pussies, and compares us to some nameless chump who works at McDonald’s (we don’t own the franchise, we can’t even eat the food without permission, all we do is wear hair nets and pass out company-owned product — OK, that last part was mine, but I’m fairly certain that’s what he meant), with nothing at all to contribute to the world of comics.

Perhaps he’s right, but I’ll get back to Mr. Larsen in a moment. First I want to examine Mr. David’s response.

I mostly agree with Peter. As always, Peter makes well-reasoned, well-thought out comments that very clearly make his point (he cites a couple of possible reasons for Erik’s column including but not limited to a) To challenge the community of creators to submit something of interest to Image, b) Jealousy towards Peter and other creators, for their better-selling work, c) Larsen’s inability to sell a Hulk concept to Marvel. There are others, but these will do for now. I’m going to guess that Peter might be right on some level, but I simply don’t know, and refuse to personally speculate. Peter goes on to point out that Stan Jack Steve and all the rest of the Silver Age Marvel staff actually did work on company-owned products, (and did so without publicly griping about it I might add). However Peter’s main point seems to be that if someone is happy working on someone else’s concept, they should do that, but if people want to create something out of whole cloth, they should go and do that instead.

I agree. Not everyone is adept enough to create new, exciting material (I’ll even go so far as to point out that when Stan, Jack, and Steve were working together, what they did was magic. However (and I know that I’m going to get slammed for positing this), in later years (with the possible exceptions of Kirby’s Fourth World, Ditko’s Creeper, and all of the Silver Age Marvel material the Stan co-created with other Marvel artists) when these three worked apart from each other their material was simply not as popular, ground-breaking, or even memorable as their Silver Age Marvel Collaborations. (Erik cited Kirby’s Devil Dinosaur, but can anyone honestly tell me (with a straight face) that Devil Dinosaur was as compelling as the FF, Galactus, the Silver Surfer? Ditko gave us The Question and Mr. A (whom I personally love), but neither rose to the levels of his work on Spidey or Dr. Strange. And Stan? Now I’m a huge fan of Stan, but even I’m willing to admit that since Stan stopped writing Spidey and the FF, nothing he’s done has risen to those levels. With all due respect, I’ll cite the revisionist history he did on the origins of a number of DC heroes a few years back. I personally found them mostly unreadable.)

Still, by comparing us to the guys who, by all accounts resurrected the industry and for all intents and purposes, saved comics from winding up on the trash heap of Pop Culture is completely unfair. Going by Erik’s own example (comparing us to Stan, Jack, and Steve), my own son who is just now learning to play guitar probably shouldn’t touch the instrument unless he can measure up to Mozart or Beethoven; my brother who learned to play guitar as a teen, should have probably shot himself in the head because he only got as far as playing at our church’s folk mass and never even got as far as playing someone else’s music in a garage band.

In my own response to Peter’s post, I said in part ”…Ultimately, it shouldn’t really matter, some guys have what it takes to create something interesting out of whole cloth, and some guys don’t. You can’t (or shouldn’t) denigrate an excellent carpenter simply because he isn’t Frank Lloyd Wright, and can’t design buildings. It simply isn’t fair.”

Especially when you consider that in an earlier post (Thursday September 15) Erik blasted all of the fanboys and wanabe creators who deluge the Image office with crap submissions. “Seriously.” He writes, “What were you thinking?” He chides at great length under-talented individuals who seem to look at their fannish work and think that it is good enough to get them published alongside Larson (and Jack, and Steve, and Mike, and Frank). “What were you thinking?” He asks. “Of course [your mom] thinks what you’re doing is terrific — she's trying to be encouraging!” He then goes on to say that most people suck, and don’t have a single original idea in their heads. I actually understand what you mean, but, by the by, nice way to talk to the people who put money in your pocket, Erik.

If one were to compare the tone of these two columns, Erik seems to be telling us that unless we are as good as the very best this field has to offer, we should stay home and continue to flip burgers like the snot-nosed punks we are, and yeah, and by the way, thanks for buying all of my way-cool shit. (You can almost see him channeling Bugs Bunny saying “What a Maroon!”) Making him come off like some popular actor who refuses to mingle with the rabble that pay their hard-earned money to go and see his films. Which creates an unfortunate image that I’m not entirely sure that Erik wants to foster amongst his fan base, or the industry, for that matter.

Still, I can’t help but to think that both men are entirely oversimplifying the creative process, and quite frankly, both of them should really know better. Here’s my point, and one they both missed. You can have the most tantalizing brilliant idea in the entire universe, but if you don’t have the means or wherewithal to get it to someone who actually cares about it, or can do something about getting it published, it is absolutely worthless. Think I’m wrong?

Consider comicstrips, there are like a handful, a handful and a half of comic strips that appear in newspapers around the country, and most of them look like all the rest. Want to know why Peanuts is still in the paper, even though its creator Charles Schultz has been dead for a couple of years and there I no one creating new strips? It’s the licensing agreement that’s keeping it there now. So even if some new, young, up and coming, dynamic artist were to have the new Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes, Doonesbury, or whathaveyou it couldn’t get into the paper because the 50-year-old strip of a dead guy is is currently occupying the Real Estate that the company that controls the strip’s image won’t gamble on the possibility that some new, wet-behind-the-ears punk can make them as much money as what they already have. Imagine for a minute that 50+ years ago the young Mr. Schultz was denied entrance to the funny page because some other strip was then occupying the spot to which he was entitled?

What do you have to say about that, Mr. Larsen? And, by the way, what do you have to say about the dozens of comicbook creators who work at Image on titles and/or characters that you created but don’t own them? Are they pathetic pussies as well?

Hey, has anyone looked at TV lately? I have, and (from a dramatic viewpoint) it is full of three kinds of shows, Cops, Lawyers, and Doctors). Need I go further? Look at the cop shows CSI and Law and Order each of which have three or four franchises, and five or 10 derivative shows (good as it may be, NCIS is just CSI gone military).

The people who make the decisions tend to buy what has already sold. Need more proof? Last season Medium proved to be a compelling show about a psychic that solves crimes by talking to dead people. This season there are one or two new dramas about people talking to the dead, as well as more than a couple of reality shows about psychic detectives, plus a movie or two on their way to the theaters.

Oh yeah, and while were here, let’s look at movies. Check out much of the films of the past few years and you’ll see that a significant percentage of them that are big-screen versions of old TV shows — not to mention that most of the rest of them that are film adaptations of books, comics, and stage shows. Books? More of the same Tom Clancy has become his own cottage industry and has half a dozen on-going series on the shelves (written by other authors) that are essentially mining the same vein of military action/thriller. Sci Fi books? They are mostly other authors (including the esteemed Mr. David) adding to the established universes of series adapted from film and/or TV (Star Trek, Star Wars, Babylon 5, et. al.)

The guys in power like to buy stuff that has already sold.

Want more proof? Look at the history of our own industry. The FF and Avengers were — by his own admission — Stan’s spin on comics already being published by DC. Plus, how many times has one publisher knocked off their version of a character on the other side of the aisle? You can put all the twists and turns on “new and improved” characters but aren’t they all just more of the same?

Anyone besides me remember all of the very cool universes that exploded on the scene in the ‘80s and ‘90s? Malibu, Milestone, Valiant, Image (whoops)? Look across the board, folks, and you can see iconoclastic archetype characters in every one of these companies. (Malibu’s Prime was Fawcett’s Captain Marvel, while The Night Man was Batman, and Prototype was Iron Man. Over at Milestone Static, Hardware, and Icon were that company’s (ethnic) versions of Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Superman. Even Image had its fair share of Wolverines, Hawkeye/Green Arrows, X-Men/Factor/Force, etc. ad. nausium). Not that any of the “derivative” characters were bad, many of them were actually quite good.

In fact, look at Daredevil was, when created, cast by Stan in the role of an adult Spider-Man (the wise-cracking, fearless, adventurer with a sense of duty). In the late ‘70s/early ‘80s DD was deconstructed by Frank Miller and then reformed into Miller’s personal take (Marvel style) on Batman (the dark and brooding avenger of the night — a role into which DD better fits, by the way). Static, Backlash, and The Creeper were all “inspired” by Spider-Man and I enjoyed each of those characters, because of that relationship to Spidey.

To return to the point, I personally took no umbrage to Erik’s challenge and determined to get up off my fat, aging butt and DO something I’ve been talking about for years. I fully intend to actually submit some project ideas that have been kicking around in my head for a time (I’ll report back to you later on how that goes). Personally, while I have a huge amount of respect for Peter, and love to read his writings (both column/opinion work, as well as his fiction) I truly believe that he really does have it in for those Image guys — granted it goes both ways, but I tend to see it on the same level that I tacitly observe arguments between my kids, one says one thing just to get the other’s goat, and then other responds in kind.)

You see, while I feel that Erik's rant was overly vitriolic and unnecessarily scatological in nature, I really do understand (I think) what Erik was attempting to say. I picture him sort of like that football coach who is attempting to guide his potentially talented, but underscoring team to a state championship. I read this column by Erik as akin to the half time locker-room rant by that angry coach who is majorly POed that his team is down by a touchdown and two conversions, and now they seem to have given up the ghost on ever winning. All the coach (Erik) is attempting to do is light a fire under us to get the blood rushing back into our game, so we will produce the kind of results that he knows we are capable of producing.

Now, while I don’t entirely agree with the way he chose to do it, I do believe that as much as he may or may not like or approve of them, Erik is just as tired of CSI knock offs on TV, Peanuts still appearing in newspapers after his creator is dead, and Spider-Man re-boots as are the rest of us, and he really just wants us (the next generation of creators) to succeed and produce a new pantheon of heroes for this new millennium. At least that’s the way I’m choosing to read his column. So I’m going to move forward, convinced that he wrote this particular column just for me.

I’m going to do this because, I’ve always felt that the thing that made me a writer was not so much that I had something to say, but that what I had to say was of such value that people would not only seek me out to read what I had to say, but actually offer me money for the privilege of publishing my words in order for other people to be able to read what I had to say as well.

Thus far (20+ years after my first published article, and still selling) nothing has come to my attention that has caused me to think otherwise. This, of course, makes me either an incredible egoist, or — quite frankly — right, and I still don’t have enough evidence to prove that issue one way or the other.

Having said all of that, boys and girls, it is important to remember this one thing: Nothing is Sacred