A Valuable Reminder for Comic Women

The following sketch was done for me by Rob Walton (Ragmop). I thought it was from the one and only Philadelphia Comicfest in 1993, but googling suggests it was more likely 1996. Release dates confirm that, since the Ragmop comic started in 1995.

Rob Walton sketch

As you can see, it says “We women have to stick together.” That’s his character Alice on the left, and well, me on the right. I’d stopped by his table to tell him how I liked his series, which had a handful of issues out at that time. Later, he presented this to me as a surprise, which touched me, to say thank you for talking up his work (which happened on Usenet, back then). I’ve hung it in my office at work, as a reminder.

Comic Publishers Aren’t Looking for Writers

At least, that’s the message I took from Steve Morris’ useful round-up of submission guidelines for comic writers.

Stack of mail

The best-known flat-out don’t accept unsolicited submissions. Others only want to see completed comics or, at least, pitches from creative teams with several pages of sample art, which means an aspiring writer has to find an artist to team up with. You want to write comics? You’re going to have to do a lot of work, including talent review and networking.

This makes sense — there are so many aspiring comic writers that they’re a drag on the market. Everyone thinks they have a story for their favorite character, but a career as a writer takes a lot more than just generating ideas. Better to work with someone who knows the value of an artist and how hard it can be to get a comic published and sold.

Saturday Night Live Makes Fun of Marvel Movie Success

From Saturday Night Live this past weekend, guest-starring Chris Pratt.

Two key points: They’re already making fun of the idea of Ant-Man as a movie. And the line “We don’t even need comic books any more” I hope is not prophetic.

Happy Non-Existent National Comic Book Day! Have Some Free Comics

Apparently, today is National Comic Book Day, although no one knows why. But at least ComiXology is giving away 25 free comics, today only, to celebrate. They’re from Boom!, IDW, Oni, and Valiant, for the most part.

National Comic Book Day  2015

I really liked their feature where you could add them all to your cart, apply the discount code, and then remove the ones you didn’t want. I ended up only with a handful — some of these have been given away before, and some I knew I wasn’t interested in — but they’re ones I look forward to reading. Here are my picks for the ones worth the effort:

Tonight at Madison College: Writing for the Comic Book Industry Panel

KC will be appearing tonight at Madison College as part of their Writer’s Life Lecture Series. “Writing for the Comic Book Industry” will feature

  • KC Carlson, former DC Comics editor and current writer on comics history
  • Cory Carani, a Raven Software video game artist and former inker on Legionnaires
  • Jeff Butler, a 30-year veteran of the comic book industry
  • and as moderator, Larry Hansen, journalism instructor at Madison College

The discussion will take place at 7 PM at the Downtown campus (211 North Carroll St.), Room D240. The event is free and open to the public. Hope to see you there!

*Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey — Recommended

One of the most amazing things about the explosion of graphic novels in the current era is how many great non-fiction comics have come out. One might argue whether or not book publishers are too focused on “graphic memoir” these days, but if I can read more stories like this bizarre true-life story of Ernest Shackleton, Antarctic explorer, I don’t mind.

The early 1900s was the “heroic age of Antarctic Exploration”, where daring men struggled to find out more about the ice-bound seventh continent. Shackleton’s third try involved a plan to walk across Antarctica, coast to coast via the south pole.

Nick Bertozzi presents all this in honest detail, but he doesn’t skimp on the dry humor. The first, failed expedition is summed up in three panels, with tiny figures engaging in this exchange:

“We all have scurvy, we should turn back.”
“But we’re only 460 miles way from the Pole!”
“I’d rather live.”

His use of white space is also amazing. When he uses the little people in wide panels, the scale reminds us of what a sparse, desolate environment they’re exploring. The panels without borders similarly open up the pages. He combines maps, diagrams, and more traditional comic storytelling, using whichever techniques better convey the information coherently and effectively. For example, here’s a breakdown of the expedition crew:

Shackleton page by Nick Bertozzi

It’s difficult to keep all the men straight, with so many of similar looks and character, but I do adore that he drew all the little dog heads, since they were such an important part of the mission (although it did not end well for them). Bertozzi’s use of detail throughout the book brings home the difficulty (and somewhat foolhardiness) and danger of this expedition, making it both real to the reader and entertaining.

Shackleton’s determination to keep returning to an uninhabitable place that almost killed him comes across as rather pig-headed, but the historical English setting of his homeland provides a (perhaps superficial) explanation, what with the stiff upper lip determination of his people. His search for national pride and glory was a significant part of his motivation.

The tasks needed to accomplish this are astounding. The men had to physically break a path for the ship to proceed, for example, and when they got stuck, they spent the winter camped on the ice (with a football game as a distraction and a bicycle trip past penguins). When the ice destroyed one of the ships, they hiked, considering carefully every possession they had to carry, before settling into a new camp. The trip began at the beginning of August, 1914, and concluded with an appeal for rescue in May, 1916, after a daring small boat trip to a whaling station.

Breaking ice and unpredictable currents put them at the mercy of wind and water forces much greater than any man. Yet the crew’s attitude, full of determination and good humor in the face of life-threatening adversity, is the kind of strength not much celebrated any more. Amazingly, no human life was lost (although the same can’t be said for everyone’s toes). Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey is a fascinating book about an adventure most readers know nothing about. Bertozzi takes just the right tone, light and straightforward. I’m not sure I respect Shackleton’s sincerity, but reading this in a comfy, warm home was a lot more enjoyable than being there.

There are preview pages available at the publisher’s website. Bertozzi was interviewed about the book at the National Geographic website. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

New Kingsman Trailer Emphasizes Action

I’m guessing the folks behind Kingsman: The Secret Service want to show viewers what they’re waiting for, now that the film has been moved from next month to next February. Here’s the official second trailer. (For comparison, I previously posted the first.)

This one has more Samuel L. Jackson as the bad guy, a lot less Michael Caine. It’s centered on an action scene with Colin Firth and his umbrella — yay for more Firth! — with a lot more of the action scenes shown overall. I was more interested in the class conflict and cheeky humor of the first one, but I’m not the target for this kind of movie; the audience that is will likely be more attracted to this kind of spectacle. Plus, the trailer has a snippet of a new track from Iggy Azalea featuring Ellie Goulding.

A Curious Man

The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert “Believe It or Not!” Ripley

I hadn’t thought about “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” in years. I remember reading it as a kid, before the internet made it much easier to find these kinds of weird factoids and information about different cultures.

And that’s why Neal Thompson’s biography of Robert Ripley appealed to me — it reminded me of a long-ago time when the world was a much larger, more unusual place. Ripley lived during the days when travel was exciting, dangerous, and exotic. Newspapermen could change the world … while making a good living. And cartoonists could make a fortune.

A hundred years ago, Ripley went from shy, young, aspiring newspaper cartoonist to globe-trotting, athletic millionaire. Thompson intersperses background factoids through Ripley’s life story in a reminder of his style and what made him famous. He began by drawing sports cartoons, in a time before photography, before moving to New York and being sent overseas. He was almost 30 when he created his famous comic strip, which developed slowly, over several years, in between competing in handball, a short failed marriage to a showgirl, and an around-the-world trip, where he combined curiosity and parochialism. Later, he wound up looking for women and drinking his way across South America, pastimes that punctuated his life.

His strip led him to radio shows, films, books, lectures, and celebrity appearances, as others did the work, uncredited. Later chapters begin to resemble a tabloid, rolling out scandalous stories and freak show examples. There’s not much sense of the man; he’s portrayed as something to watch, with no indication of what might be going on in his head.

That said, the biggest flaw in this book is the lack of examples of Ripley’s work. It’s a crime to talk about a cartoonist while not reprinting the art he’s known for. The book follows the old-fashioned approach of putting all the photographs together in one short (16-page) section, with a promise that downloading an app and scanning the page would show videos and cartoons. I didn’t bother to try.

As for the famous strip, there’s one poorly reprinted example at the end of the book. It’s a disappointment. Believe it or not, the comic is still running, now done by John Graziano. You can find out more about the book at the author’s website. (The publisher provided a review copy.)




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