Saturday, April 25, 2015

My First Ever C2E2 Report!

It didn't start out great. Coming from Parking Lot B, on the south side of McCormick Place, there was no signage saying where to go for will call or registration. Even when we got to the exhibit hall, there was no signage. We spent 40 minutes looking for the room where the ticket booths were tucked away out of sight and then, because we had split up to look for them, spent another 20 minutes finding each other. I found it so upsetting, I couldn't even enjoy all the cosplay I was seeing. We also made the mistake of not bringing anything to drink, so we bought a $4 water bottle at the Starbucks. Then we found the free water upstairs by the panel rooms later. Oops.

But after that, things improved immensely. The exhibit hall was packed with a full day's worth of interesting viewing. The artist's alley was packed with a full day's worth of interesting viewing. We had to cut some corners to combine the two. I, of course, pursued spending money at a convention in my normal, thrifty fashion -- haunting the dollar bins (where I did pick up some amazing bargains). This was Megan's first comic book convention ever and, it turns out, she is a fairly expensive date at a comic book convention. She was finding t-shirts and posters and games everywhere that she wanted.

We geeked out over lots of celebrities. The autograph booths were 200' away, so we could not get good photos of Sean Astin and Sylvester McCoy -- but Megan managed *okay* photos of them. Conversely, while I was waiting for Megan at will call, Scott Adsit walked right by me. I thought "That guy looks just like the guy from 30 Rock" -- but I didn't know he was scheduled to be at the con today until I got home tonight.

We attended the "Unmasking the Hero" panel and got to see Jewel Staite, who was funny and charming, and David Ramsey, who was a lot more funny and charismatic than he ever seemed to be on Arrow. And what a lot of Arrow fans in the audience! I was surprised. Favorite moments were Jewel faking a smarmy attitude and saying, "Oh, you guys don't have action figures?" and the generous response of the moderator who invited a couple on stage after a man popped the question to his girlfriend in the audience.

I wasn't planning on staying in that room for the special sneak preview of M. Night Shyamalan's first TV show, Wayward Pines, since I wasn't interested in seeing it. And neither was Megan, but when she learned yesterday that Matt Dillon would be there she told me we were going. She moved us right up front so she could be about 25' away from him. Oh, and M. Night was there too. Now, Wayward Pines itself was making me want to hurl -- but not why you'd think. Sitting so close to the big screen was disorienting and made both of us nauseous, though me more so.

Creator Connection was a networking event for people who need collaborators on their comic book projects, which would include me! I was disappointed, though, in how disingenuous some of the people there were. Like, one artist wasn't there looking for work at all; he was there to give sales pitches for his own already-published graphic novel. I wasn't meeting anyone with an old school vibe, and Megan told me that the exhibit hall closed at 7 and she wanted to get back there first, so we left that early.

I wish we had reserved more than 45 minutes for Artist's Alley at the end of the day. I was looking for Angel Medina at 6:30 for an arm wrestling match, but he was away from his table then. I saw Ali Cantarella, who I had met at the Schaumburg Township District Library's comic book convention. I didn't have a lot of cash left on me to spend, but she always comes up with such imaginative ways to part me from my dollars. Last time it was art magnets, this time it was the "$1 Mystery Box". I was really impressed with Sean Archer's Milo the Cloud and bought a copy. Scott Larsen traded me an issue of Femforce he was in for the information that Big Bang Comics is going to come out with their first issue published by AC Comics soon. And the lucky dog is making a comic book with Len Strazewski!

Also impressive were Spinner Rack Comics and Mindwave Comics, both of which promised good old-fashioned fun superheroes, like the big companies used to know how to do. Adam Fotos impressed me. Jenny Parks Illustration blew us both away with her cat-pop culture character mash-ups. Hugely ambitious, and way beyond what I could afford, was a $120 tribute book about Little Nemo in Slumberland released by Locust Moon Comics, in the same size as the original newspaper strip. The nice man at that booth said they were going to re-re-release it in softcover sections that would look more like old newspaper comic sections -- I'm there when that comes out. The last of my cash went to Aw Yeah Comics' table, where I picked up a Tiny Titans I was missing -- the only comic book on my 46-issue shopping list I managed to find while I was there!

We had both lunch and dinner at the McDonalds in the convention center, which only gave us the novelty of paying $11-15 for meals that would normally cost us $5-8. I had hoped to dine in the Connie's Pizza there for dinner, but they were closed by 7.

The last thing we did was go to a panel about Comixology. I asked some questions about what I could submit if I *did* have a finished comic book for sale and got a free t-shirt for my troubles. Pretty sweet! Also, Art Baltazar was there talking about his experience using Comixology. The whole time he was staring at the audience, but doodling with his hands. At the end, he had all these sketches of Adventure Bug on Aw Yeah Comics stationery to give away -- and they looked great!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

My Top 10 Comic Book Collections

I already have a whole bunch of lists on this blog, so it seemed appropriate to do some more. This subject is particularly apropos because Megan has been after me to give her more early birthday present ideas. So, looking at just my collection on shelf (as opposed to things I've read from other sources, or would just like to own)...
Top 10 Marvel Comics
1. Fantastic Four. From Lee & Kirby's literally fantastic 102-issue run to John Byrne's equally remarkable 64-isssue run, to also-great runs like Englehart & Pollard's or Walt Simonson's -- this is the comic book that has always been the brain of the Marvel Universe.
2. Amazing Spider-Man. Lee & Ditko's 38-issue initial run has never been eclipsed, though Stern & Romita's 29-issue run came close. Micheline's long run with McFarlane and then Larsen is an also-great. Spider-Man has always been the heart of the Marvel Universe.
3. Avengers. The Avengers was always a whirlwind of fun but, at its best -- like the 20-issue run of Thomas & Buscema, and virtually every issue from 1977 to 1988 by various combinations of writers and artists -- this was an epic saga.
4. Incredible Iron Man. From David Micheline's 41-issue run, to John Byrne's 20-issue run, followed by Len Kaminski's 42-issue run -- all with various artists -- Iron Man has always emphasized the writing.
5. Mighty Thor. Walt Simonson's 30-issue magnum opus. DeFalco & Frenz aping Lee & Kirby for 5 years. Thor has been a grand epic almost as big and as long as the Avengers.
6. Incredible Hulk. Peter David's magnum opus.
7. West Coast Avengers. Englehart, reminding Marvel how to make comics fun.
8. Alpha Flight. John Byrne's superhero-soap opera mash-up masterpiece.
9. Silver Surfer. Englehart again, this time doing Marvel's best space opera ever.
10. Captain America. The aborted Stern & Byrne run set the bar too high to top, but Mark Gruenwald spent 10 years trying very hard and sometimes coming very close.
Top 10 DC Comics
1. Superman. Siegel & Shuster. The superhero genre at its most basic and primal. Pure magic in the making.
2. Batman. Not the dark and gritty stuff, but the joking, smiling Batman, and his pal Robin, of the 1940s. Pure fun.
3. Flash. Mark Waid's amazing, definitive run of the Wally West Flash.
4. Justice Society. Kaminski & Parobeck's canceled WAY-too soon 10-issue masterpiece.
5. Batman Adventures. The magic of the Animated Series, captured on paper by various hands, but principally Mike Parobeck.
6. Power of Shazam. The best use of Captain Marvel by DC, ever. Jerry Ordway's magnum opus.
7. Legion of Super-Heroes/Legionnaires. From the reboot. No, not that reboot, the one after that. No, no...more to the left. That's it. Mainly the ones Roger Stern wrote.
8. Kingdom Come. I know, I know. It's hardly fair to include this if Marvels didn't make my top 10 Marvel list. But this is still amazing stuff.
9. Tom Strong. Alan Moore's best/least cynical/most inventive work ever.
10. JSA. Geoff Johns' celebration of a multi-generational superhero community that feels like one big family.
Top 10 Independents

1. Bone. Couldn't be anything else.
2. Usagi Yojimbo. Such a remarkably intelligent, well-researched epic for one man to have produced monthly.
3. Thieves & Kings. Mark Oakley's fascinating (and hugely inspirational to me) fantasy series.
4. Kurt Busiek's Astro City. Kurt's continuing love letter to the superhero genre.
5. Akiko. Mark Crilley's amazingly inventive sci fi/comedy series.
6. Knights of the Dinner Table. Simply the best comic about D&D ever. Even better than mine!
7. Big Bang Comics. Uneven, but sometimes brilliant homage to the superhero genre.
8. Groo the Wanderer. Maybe should have gone on the Marvel list, but Aragones & Evanier's comic masterpiece had to be one of these lists somewhere. Mulch!
9. Radioactive Man. A brilliant and funny homage/parody of the superhero genre. Too few issues to rate higher.
10. Scott Pilgrim. A beautifully absurd look at the world through the eyes of an unreliable narrator, obsessed with teen-oriented popular culture. Or a gonzo superhero love story. Or both.

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Best of Simon and Kirby reviewed

Or is it?  With such a slim selection – only 26 stories – there are bound to be worthies left out.  But how does this “best of” list stack up?

“Captain America and the Riddle of the Red Skull” (from Captain America Comics #1, Mar. 1941).  Grade:  B.  You can see the Red Skull’s potential dripping from the page, though this early Simon/Kirby work looks fairly primitive compared to what comes later, and the story itself has its weaknesses.  Cap’s origin story from the same issue is much, much better.

“The Vision [vs. the Werewolf]” (from Marvel Mystery Comics #14, Dec. 1940).  Grade: B.  Rushed, sometimes confusing story, but with a great backstory to it that would have been even more exciting.

“Sandman: The Villain from Valhalla” (from Adventure Comics #75, Jun. 1942).  Grade: A.  Here is the fantastic, dynamic art that we expect when we see Kirby. The fight scene is all of one page long – but what a page! You just wish there was more, or that the villain didn’t have to wind up being so ordinary in the end.

“Stuntman: Killer in the Big Top” (from Stuntman Comics #1, Apr. 1946). Grade: A. Great art, a terrific set-up for a series filled with excitement, humor, and mystery – the only weakness is that Stuntman himself is a little boring (and his origin seems to be cribbed from Robin!).

“Fighting American: Assignment: Find the King of the Crime Syndicate” (from Fighting America #2, Jun. 1954). Grade: B-.  A fun little story, though too short and strains the suspense of disbelief. Though this was generally true of Fighting American, several of his stories would have been stronger choices.

[The Fly:] “Come into My Parlor” (from Adventures of the Fly #1, Aug. 1959). Grade: B+. A technically proficient preview of the Marvel Age of Comics Kirby would soon introduce…but there’s just not that level of excitement here.

“Solar Patrol [vs. The Tree Men of Uranus]” (from Silver Streak Comics #2, Jan. 1940).  Grade: D.  Kirby barely had a hand in this very early, very campy tale, and it shows. Almost unintentionally comical, in a Fletcher Hanks way.

“Blue Bolt [shrinks]” (from Blue Bolt Comics #4, Sep. 1940).  Grade: B+.  There’s a surprising amount of moral ambiguity here.  Which is the evil one, the Green Sorceress, who wants to conquer, but loves Blue Bolt; or Dr. Bertoff, who will stop at nothing – even murder -- to thwart the Green Sorceress? It’s almost a shame that a character as boring as Blue Bolt is stuck in the middle.

“The Thing on Sputnik 4” (from Race for the Moon #2, Sep. 1958).  Grade: B+. Perhaps based on the Arthur C. Clarke stories 2001 a Space Odyssey would be based on, this story is about as confusing as 2001, though mainly because of its brevity. 

“Satan Wears a Swastika” (from Boy Commandos #1, Win. 1942).  Grade: A-. What a wild ride! In the meta-comic part of the story, Simon and Kirby are in trouble at DC Comics when their best-selling characters, the Boy Commandos get killed in Germany. They get the news from their other characters, the Newsboy Legion, and get help from their version of the Sandman to find out what happened! This part is spliced not-quite seamlessly with a more normal story of midgets being mistaken for the Boy Commandos, while the Boy Commandos hunt a club-footed Nazi killer. 

“The Duke of Broadway: My City Is No More” (from Black Cat Comics #5, Apr. 1947).  Grade: A. More of a parable against nuclear weapons than a real adventure story, which is good because it’s pretty weak on details.

“Booby Trap” (from Foxhole #2, Dec. 1954). Grade: A. Short, but near-perfect story about the senseless carnage of war.

“Weddin’ at Red Rock” (from Western Love #1, Jul. 1949). Grade: C-. It’s a Western! It’s a love story!  It’s got a twist ending! But, at 3 pages, it’s not much of any one of those things.

“The Savage in Me” (from Young Romance #22, Jun. 1950). Grade:  B.  This one’s a weird critter. It starts, rather remarkably, with the attempted rape of a pretty missionary in Southeast Asia, and then follows her descent into shame for the first three pages. That’s all well and good by today’s standards, but then the would-be rapist “turns out” to not be such a bad guy, saves her and her dad from invading soldiers. Now she sort of feels obligated to love him and, more disturbing still, her father practically pushes her on the guy. In the middle of all this weird “love” garbage is a pretty suspenseful story about the political scene in Southeast Asia circa 1950.

“Trapping New England’s Chain Murderer” (from Headline Comics #24, May 1947).  Grade: C-.  I kept expecting a twist ending! This is a fairly pedestrian police procedural, worthy of the first half of an episode of Law & Order.

“Mother of Crime” from Real Clue Crime Stories v. 2 #4, Jun. 1947.  Grade: B-.  A mundane mini-bio for Ma Barker is elevated by its framing device of Ma speaking to the reader from Heck.

“The Case against Scarface” from Justice Traps the Guilty #1, Oct. 1947.  Grade: C+.  I’m not that impressed by this Scarface bio. It also makes me think that maybe Kirby couldn’t draw a pie…

“Apache Justice” from Kid Cowboys of Boys’ Ranch #6, Aug. 1951. Grade: B+.  A sometimes intriguing cowboy ranch soap opera with some action and adventure mixed in. The Indian stuff is horribly cliche, but the mystery of Angel is intriguing and I wonder if more was ever revealed.

[Bulls Eye:] “Doom Town” from Bulls Eye #4, Feb. 1955.  Grade: A.  An intriguing scenario, plenty of action, and some compelling backstory are marred, mainly, by Bulls Eye being upstaged by the more interesting Major Calamity.

“Scorn of the Faceless People” from Black Magic #2, Dec. 1950.  Grade: B-. An intriguing dream sequence segues into a dull love story.

“Up There!” from Black Magic #13, Jun. 1952.  Grade: A.  An effective supernatural mystery, mildly horrific, but with a powerful ending; marred only by being too short and not having a more interesting protagonist.

“Woman in the Tower” from Strange World of Your Dreams #3, Nov. 1952.  Grade: B-. Atmospheric and creepy, but way too abbreviated -- almost as if they found out while drawing the last page that they had a smaller page count than promised and had to rush an ending.

“Rainy Day with House-Date Harry” from My Date #4, Jan. 1948.  Grade: C+.  Eh.  Really only mildly amusing.

“20,000 Lugs under the Sea” from From Here to Insanity #11, Aug. 1955.  Grade: A.  Quite funny and visually inventive -- if not original, since it reads just like a Mad magazine parody. The lines they give Kirk Douglas’ character from the movie are laugh out loud funny. Could have used a stronger punchline ending, though.