Posts Tagged ‘comics’

Hemp and how it could save comics

Posted: January 31, 2011 in comics
Tags: , , , ,

I’ve been talking a lot about the cost of comics lately. Just about every customer I talk to has had to cut back on the number of books they read due to cost concerns. Trimming down to just the bare minimum, usually sticking with a certain character or team. There are a bunch of weird side effects of this that I have been noticing especially of late. Those people who stick with their favorite character often become disenchanted with the books they read because they keep reading that character no matter how awful the story might be. I have noticed a much higher level of comic book satisfaction from the people who follow creators as opposed to those who follow characters. For the most part, if you know you like a persons work, it doesn’t matter what they are writing at the moment. You are going to like it. I’ve started taking that road when shopping for comics. I follow people like Brian Wood, Gail Simone and Ed Brubaker to whatever book they are working on at the time. I wasn’t really excited for the “Fear Itself” event this summer until I heard that Brubaker was the mastermind behind it. Reading books that are good as opposed to sticking with your favorite regardless of how good it is can help keep your love of comics alive and in the process, make you a more satisfied consumer.

That doesn’t really address the issue with cost though. I can help you find books you will love but that doesn’t mean much when you can’t afford to buy them. I’ve been doing some research about pricing trends especially where comics are concerned to try and combat the “comics cost too much” argument. I agree that $4 a book is a lot to pay, especially if you consider comics disposable entertainment as so many do. I see a lot of people pointing at Marvel and complaining about the cost of their comics and trades and hardcovers. On average Marvel books are around 20% more expensive than their competitors. For a long time I looked at it as corporate greed but I have changed my assessment of late. But we will get back to that in a moment. First I want to mention DC’s new PR campaign, “Drawing the line at $2.99.” That is some extremely clever marketing going on there and at first, I was stoked to see one of the big companies listening to their fans and doing something proactive. I thought, “why can’t Marvel do that?” Now I’m thinking “What is the reasoning behind this?”

From my limited perspective it seems to me that both companies see comics as something of a loss leader. They keep making books and creating characters they can put on tee shirts and turn into action figures and movie franchises. Who cares if the company makes a profit on the comics when the movies will bring in big bucks? The argument can be made here that DC couldn’t possibly be doing that because with their track record in film. I disagree. Cartoons featuring DC characters have been huge for decades and licensed merchandise is always a big seller. It seems to me that the lowering to $2.99 is DC’s way of saying “we care about you more than those other guys.”

However you look at it nobody makes a lot of money from actual comics. Even with Marvel charging 20% more than the other guys they aren’t making a lot off their comics. Why do these major companies keep making comics if they aren’t profitable? Movies, toys, merchandise.

Maybe that’s why so many people see comics as disposable entertainment.

As for the price of paper, there is a very simple solution to that problem. Sadly I don’t see it happening any time soon. Here is part of an article from Hemphasis.net.

Making paper from trees is kind of a joke, because trees are made up of only 30% cellulose. The other 70% of the tree must be removed using toxic chemicals, until the cellulose can be formed into paper. The higher the percentage of cellulose in a plant, the better, because fewer chemicals need to be used, and less work needs to be done before the paper can be made. Almost any plant in nature with a strong stalk is better suited to make paper than trees, especially hemp because it can be 85% cellulose.

Hemp makes paper stronger and which lasts centuries longer than wood paper, which could be very valuable for people who want to keep records aside from on computers. Hemp paper does not yellow, crack, or otherwise deteriorate like tree paper does now. The acids which are needed for wood paper eventually eat away at the pulp and cause it to turn yellow and fall apart. Because of this publishers, libraries, and archives have to order specially processed acid free paper, but they could just buy hemp paper which already meets their quality standards.

Hemp paper also does not require any bleaching, and so does not poison the water with dioxins or chlorine like tree paper mills do. The chemicals involved in making hemp paper are much less toxic, in fact, both paper made from hemp hurd, and from the long bast fiber can be made without any chemicals at all, but it takes longer to separate the fiber from the lignin. Making paper from hemp could also eliminate erosion due to logging, reduces topsoil loss, and water pollution caused by soil runoff.

One acre of hemp can produce as much paper as 4 to 10 acres of trees over a 20-year cycle, but hemp stalks only take four months to mature, whereas trees take 20 to 80 years. This information was known in 1916, according to a USDA report. Hemp paper can also be recycled more often, though this fact is not of much value, since hemp is a reusable resource.

Anyone else feel a need to call their congressman?

The past week or so I keep seeing postings on the internet about the best female characters in comics. I don’t know if these lists and declarations are due to a beginning of the year desire to do best of lists or if there is a larger agenda involved but it seemed like a good idea to jump on. I’ve been a big fan of strong female leads since I was a child and my love for the empowered woman of today cemented because of Joss Whedon’s portrayal of real people with real emotions on the ironically titled “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. Over the past decade female characters in comics, film and television have been getting more three dimensional and they are being written much better. They are no longer sexy villians or saintly mothers, they are something in between. Strength, intelligence and character are winning the war on cleavage and I couldn’t be happier.

My pick for best female character of the past decade is Renee Montoya, former police detective, current Question.

DC Comics may have accidentally given us one of the most diverse characters in the history of comics, a strong woman of color who happens to be a lesbian. Let me back up a little bit and explain how such a thing is possible.

I’m sure everyone remembers Batman The Animated Series. It stands as arguably one of the best cartoons ever aired with solid plot lines that weren’t so dumbed down for five year olds that adults found them annoying (I’m looking at you Teen Titans Go). One of the new characters created just for the animated series was Officer Renee Montoya, the young idealistic partner of the cranky veteran Harvey Bullock. The character was an instant hit and soon made her debut as one of Gotham’s finest in Batman. Promoted to Homicide Detective in Batman #475 by Commissioner James Gordon, she was once again partnered with Bullock. When Harvey was promoted, Renee was partnered with Crispus Allen. During the epic No Man’s Land storyline where Gotham was destroyed by an earthquake and unceremoniously thrown out of the United States, Renee was a key player in the city’s survival tricking the villain Harvey Dent into helping with relief efforts after he fell in love with her.

During Greg Rucka’s fantastic run on Gotham Central, Two Face feeling spurned by Renee after No Man’s Land outs her as a lesbian in public and frames her for murder. She is eventually cleared of all charges but her overtly religious parents disown her because of her sexuality. Not long after her personal life falls apart including the destruction of the relationship with her girlfriend, Renee’s partner Crispus is murdered by a corrupt cop named Jim Corrigan. Vowing vengeance Renee beats Corrigan’s girlfriend unconscious and pulls a gun on Corrigan. Unable to enact her vengeance and feeling lost and broken, Renee quit the GCPD and spiraled further down into a pit of casual sex and alcohol abuse.

In the pages of 52 Renee goes though a journey both physical and spiritual. Her friendship with The Question and his eventual demise at the hands of one of the worlds worst villains, cancer, has caused a huge transformation. During 52 Renee spent a considerable amount of time in the city of Nanda Parbat, a mystical city in a Tibetesque region of the DCU. During her time there she struggled with her identity with the help of Richard Dragon, one of the men who helped mold Bruce Wayne into the Batman. Before his death the Question told Renee that his wish was for her to take over his mantle and continue his work. During and after 52 Renee, as the Question fought against the church of crime in Gotham and around the world finally ending up as the backup feature in Detective Comics.
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That brings us to the opening statement. A strong, lesbian woman of color following her own agenda and taking charge of the situation. Earlier in 52 we saw that there is already a relationship between Renee and the new Batwoman Kate Kane. A relationship that has the potential to be the Willow/Tara of the DC universe. An empowered lesbian couple who defy media stereotypes by being a loving committed couple. We have seen plenty of heterosexual couples who have healthy monogamous relationships. In DC alone we have Lois and Clark and Ralph and Sue.

There are still plenty of stories to tell about Renee Montoya. She has conflicted parents, a loving brother, loyal friends in Bullock and Gordon and a potential love interest that could bring the term “team up” to a whole new level. I’ve been there with Renee though her entire “career”. From her humble origins as a uniformed officer on the animated series through her transformation into the new Question and rarely have I cheered and moaned and wept for a character as intensely as I have done for her. I don’t know if DC understands what they have but they have had enough intelligence to allow Greg Rucka to continue plotting her course.

Best comics of 2009

Posted: January 11, 2010 in Non Fiction, Writing
Tags: ,

Here we are kids at the end of another year. 2009 was a tumultuous year to say the least with an economic crisis and terrorist threats and a new Twilight movie. As we move into the next decade I am hopeful that the world will calm down, people will be nicer and my car will start. Hopeful yet knowing that none of these things are likely to happen. That is what hope is for; to see the world as you wish it to be, to believe that people are generally decent and good. I will hold on to my hope and I implore you all to try to do the same.

That’s all the hippy talk you’ll get from me today as I plan to talk about what I loved in 2009. I think this was a fantastic year for those of us who love comics, sci-fi and fantasy. I won’t lie, there were some huge disappointments this year (Final Crisis) but I think the bad was out shined by the books that either raised the intelligence of the reader or provided a sense of fun that comics have been missing for quite some time. I’m sure there will be some disagreement with my picks but I won’t say that these are the “best” books of 2009 but I will say these are the books I enjoyed the most.

BEST ONGOING SERIES

DETECTIVE COMICS
Since Bruce Wayne died the whole Bat-family of books has been top notch but none of them compare to the magnificence that is Detective Comics. Greg Rucka’s handling of Batwoman is some of his finest character work but what makes this book so great is the artwork of JH Williams III. Never have I seen an artist who is able to not only draw in multiple styles but make them blend seamlessly. If you aren’t reading this book you are missing out on the most visualy stunning comic book I’ve ever read.

BEST MINI SERIES

INCOGNITO
Ed Brubaker has become one of my favorite writers over the last few years. Between his landmark work on Captain America and his older DC series like Catwoman and Gotham Central he has earned a reputation as the go to guy for deep character work with big event level action scenes. Incognito was a smaller story about a former super villain stuck in the hell of witness protection. The series started off as a character study of a bad guy trying to do right for the wrong reasons and then blossomed into a thriller full of action and intense drama. Sean Phillips gritty noir art style was perfect for this story about broken people.

BEST NEW SERIES

UNWRITTEN
Vertigo has long been the premier imprint for edgy and intelligent comics and they have done it again with the literary beauty of Unwritten. The premise sounded kind of silly to me, the son of a prolific teen fantasy writer finds out he’s a Harry Potter like character come to life. The book itself takes you on a tour of some of the most famous literary geography Europe has to offer and gives a peek at some of the most famous writers of the last hundred years. One issue is devoted entirely to Rudyard Kipling and while it has little to do with the plot of the series, its possibly the best written issue so far. This is a brilliant series that I look forward to every month.

MOST AMBITIOUS SERIES

WEDNESDAY COMICS
I’ll be honest and tell you that I thought the idea of Wednesday Comics was a bad one. Who reads comic strips anymore? Apparently the smart people do. I sort of accidentally found myself on the pull list for this series and I have rarely been so happy with being wrong. There were a couple of stories that I didn’t love but overall the size of the book gave the artists some room to really show off what they can do. Mike Allred was born to draw Metamorpho and Adam Strange by Paul Pope was a revelation. If you missed out on this landmark series we have most of the issues in the store but more importantly, there will be an oversize hardcover next year. I implore you all to look into it as the Supergirl story alone was enough fun to buy the whole series.

BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL

RICHARD STARKE’S PARKER: THE HUNTER
I decided a while ago that I didn’t care what Darwyn Cooke did, I would buy it. If his next project is to doodle on trash bags with crayons I will pick it up. When I heard that he was adapting a crime noir novel that had already been made into a Mel Gibson movie I wasn’t all that thrilled but as it was Mr Cooke, I knew I would be buying it. As everything else the man has done it was nothing short of magnificent. The bulk of the first twenty pages is nearly textless allowing Cooke’s incredible visual storytelling to set the tone of the book. Having never read any of the Parker novels I came into this with fresh eyes and loved every monochrome panel. I can’t wait for the next volume.

BEST “EVENT”

WAR OF KINGS
While everyone else continues to talk about Blackest Night and Dark Reign they seem to keep missing the best events in comics with the Marvel cosmic line. Going back to Annihilation and leading to the current Realm of Kings the team of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have been the best part of the Marvel Universe. War of Kings also uses plot threads started by Ed Brubaker when he was writing Uncanny X-Men. Not only have these two shined a spotlight on the Inhumans, the Kree and Rocket Raccoon but they made Darkhawk cool, a herculean feat no matter how you slice it.

BEST ALL AGES COMIC

TINY TITANS
Every single month my whole family looks forward to reading this book. Its fun and silly and at times it reminds me a bit of the old Loony Tunes cartoons where the adults laugh at different parts of the show than the kids do. The premise is pretty simple, the Titans are in Kindergarten and their teachers and other faculty are all DCU villains. The book is quite possibly the most fun thing I have ever read.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

MUPPETS – BOOM KIDS is a new imprint from BOOM Studios and they are on a roll. They currently have the license for a multitude of Disney characters including the Muppets. The characters voices are all spot on and the stories are just as fun and quirky as the TV show. My favorite bit was the writer getting kidnapped in the middle of the Muppet Robin Hood mini series.

GAIL SIMONE– Why can’t she write every book featuring a female lead? Her run on Wonder Woman is the best that character has ever been and Secret Six is awesome every month. I have rarely read a book so deliciously demented as Secret Six. Ragdoll has quickly become one of the best parts of the DCU.