Comic Foundry Launches First Issue
It looks terrific, with a very modern, professional design (although I do find myself agreeing with Diamond that it would be much better in color). It definitely fulfills Leong’s goal to do something unique, unlike any other comic periodical out there.
The snarky sense of humor is evident from the cover, where near the top, next to the $5.98 price, is a line reading “One cent cheaper than Wizard!” Not that a Wizard reader would be interested in this anyway… the magazine wants to approach those between “the hardcore superheroes or the indie elite” who are interested in culture/lifestyle articles. (I think there’s a word like “fan” missing after “superheroes” in that sentiment. Unless they’re expecting Clark Kent to subscribe.)
The format is … I don’t know if there’s a formal term for this in the magazine biz, but it’s perfect for bathroom reading. That’s not a putdown; I really enjoyed the diversity of content. Pages have two or three short features each, like one-sentence recommendations from creators or quick interviews (subjects include Brad Meltzer, Garth Ennis, and Kyle Baker) or one-page previews of upcoming books from promising artists or a list of much-hyped projects that haven’t yet appeared. (Great idea, that last one; I’d love to see it as a recurring feature.) Lots of interesting thoughts, but nothing too deep, and always more on the next page.
Take, for example, Vaughan’s recommendation of Preacher, which reads in toto “This is one of those classics right up there with Watchmen and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.” Nice company, but that doesn’t really tell us anything about the book, and the only person likely to be swayed by this is someone who knows enough about comics to know who Vaughan is, respect his taste enough to follow it blindly, and yet have never heard of Preacher on their own. Doesn’t seem too plausible to me.
Audience reaction to much of this is more likely to be “oh, yeah, I like that, too, neat, I have something in common with that writer” than “good analysis, I’ll have to look for that”. In that way, it’s very surface, well-suited to a Hollywood poser who wants to know what names to drop without actually reading anything. But I don’t underestimate how attractive that feeling of being part of an in-crowd can be for building an audience. I was seduced by it, too.
The same is true of a section titled “Comics You Probably Don’t Know Of, But Should”. For each of four titles, there’s a thumbnail-sized image, the author and publisher names, and when it’s available (since three out of four say “now”, not very useful). That’s it. The recommendation of editors from a magazine with a track record may mean something (although I’d argue that as well); from a new publication, it means squat.
Then comes the Life+Style section. The page on how to turn a comic cover into a poster is geeky but interesting; pickup lines comic characters might use, with reactions from random women, is just creepy. “Who we think should play comic characters in movies” and “cocktails named after superheroes” reminded me of the kind of thing I’d see in, yes, Wizard.
But it gets better. The “inside the office” feature (this issue, Brian Wood) is just the kind of thing I’d like to see more of, though, and examining comic-related places to visit state-by-state is something no one else is doing. Those types of articles are less fanboy, much more involving to this reader, along with the “whatever happened to” interview and “How to Sound Smart About” key-element writeup about Tintin.
There are longer pieces, too, at the back of the book — a story (fiction) about working in a comic shop, an interview with Kristen Bell, an analysis of “Sex and the Super-Hero”, and Bryan Lee O’Malley on the fourth Scott Pilgrim installment.
Visually, it all kept blending together for me. There are plenty of images, but modern comics and graphic novel covers don’t reproduce well in grey, because they’re too busy. I had a hard time distinguishing at first glance where one feature left off and another began. With color, it’d be a lot easier, because you could use different background shades to set apart the little features.
Some cool content ideas (like “Sex Scene or Comic Cover?”, previously seen online with different images) are unreadable in black-and-white. Again, that’s because of the material they’re reproducing, which isn’t designed for monochrome. The fashion section (five pages of comic-inspired t-shirts and shoes) was a total failure because of this. And I didn’t get the point of restaging comic panels with photos of people stuck in for the figures (unless it got someone free clothes in return for the fashion credits).
I’m hoping, without any basis, that the next issue, due Spring 2008, features an upgrade to color printing. I don’t mean to keep harping on this, but it’s such an obvious lack, given the approach. It’s a perfect magazine for the blog generation, with a wide-ranging, entertaining, creative approach to the medium, but it needs to be able to make full use of the design and images that set it apart from similar online content.
I’ve been very harsh because there’s so much potential here and I’d like to see the magazine flourish, but I don’t think that’s going to happen when pushing through all that grey gives the reader a headache. (At least, in my case.) I’m looking forward to seeing what the next issue brings, and I encourage everyone to at least give Comic Foundry a flip-through.
Update: The editor has stated “We’re already working on ways to go color for the next issue.” Yay!