At first after I saw Thor today I thought I really didn’t have much to say about it, and I don’t, really. It’s a decent enough movie, very pretty sometimes, Loki is kinda hot, that’s about it. As far as a silly kinda fun thing with a good balance of self-respect when it should take itself seriously, and when it should relax and have fun with the basic nature of what it is, it did alright.
I realized that the reason it’s kinda bothering me is the way it, and the recent and future stable of Marvel and DC movies, have been discussed that bothers me. It bothers me that when people see these things, they think that these are what comic books are. I mean, of course they’re from comic books, but how did we get to a situation where this is the representation of an entire medium? A lot of people watch these movies and then never go to comic books, because these movies don’t show them anything about what comics can be. Superheroes are fun, I like ‘em, and they could have a place in the comic book world if they were handled differently. But these are movies from comics books, I don’t like calling them “Comic Book Movies.”
I realized that the problem isn’t just the superhero genre, it’s the way that that genre has been handled and manhandled since, seemingly, time immemorial by the various publishers through the last several decades that have now, more or less, boiled down to the “Big Two.” I think the distinction that it’s important for us to make now is that Marvel and DC just really aren’t comic book publishers at all now, haven’t been for a long time. What they are is a couple of large corporations with baroque, tied up business obligations that compel them to maximize the profits that they can turn from a small stable of licensed “properties” which are sometimes actually used as, and at other times erroneously referred to as, “characters”.
Some of there characters are cool. I’m being honest here, I read Batman a lot, and I’ve always had a soft spot for Fantastic Four and Spider-man since I found them in liquor stores at around the age of 10. But think about it, man, is there any other medium in the world where the same “character” has been in continual– monthly, not occasional, and often between four and eight times a month– publication for 70 years? I mean, what the fuck is that? Genuine personal and artistic expression can and have been found with these licensed characters, but I’d say it happens a handful of times a decade, which would put the number of stories using these characters with a non-financial impetus at about, I dunno, some small part of a percent of the vast sea of junk that’s shoved out with ‘em. And in many of these cases, the comics they make with these characters aren’t even the real impetus so much as lunchboxes, T-shirts, whatever, action figures and, yeah, feature films.
And that still wouldn’t be such a big deal, if these two tiny, claustrophobic companies hadn’t managed to almost completely take over an entire medium. You go into most comic book stores, and they mostly, if not exclusively, carry books by these two publishers. This has happened for a variety of reasons, distribution considerations, and is sometimes the fault of the consumers, too, but can you imagine going into someplace called a “Movie Theater,” only all they played, 24/7 was Star Wars, and maybe Clone Wars episodes. Imagine, nobody calls this a Star Wars store, they just call it a Movie Theater. I have to think that anybody who really loved movies, or especially anybody who was interested in making them and saw film as an inspirational outlet for his creative expression, would be kind of fucking irritated at these novelty shops taking over.
And again, the thing isn’t just superheroes in general, or even the particular superheroes that are most popular, it’s the shortsightedness and, historically, frequent cowardice of these companies that’s the problem. I keep seeing the movie Thor being cited as risky of them, because he’s a “lesser known,” hero, or that the success of Thor is an exciting affirmation that they can dig deeper into their stable of established characters and still sell movie tickets. Wow, that’s exciting. Call me an elitist (And that’s been done) but I really don’t consider making a mega budget superhero movie that ties into a dozen other Avenger tie-in movies and is based on a character that’s been continually used to pump out popular merchandise and magazines for about 50 years like some great red-caped sausage factory, that just doesn’t exactly reek to me of cutting edge risk or avant-garde filmmaking. It is what it was, which was a fun summer movie, but, because character B has slightly less underroo exposure than character A, that the people on the business ends of these things look to this as their version of a risky or innovative endeavor? Jesus. And the fact that this signals to them that they can dig deeper into their stable of characters, by the way, does not signal that they have any interest in producing new or interesting characters or comic books, it signals the opposite: that they’re excited that they can get even more mileage of strip-mining the bitches they’ve already been riding for decades. That is not exciting to me.
What is exciting to me is the internet. As these people bitch and moan about the loss of print sales– while simultaneously of course refusing to do anything to make their printed comics any more accessible or interesting to a fanbase outside of the aging group of people they have who have already been reading these comics since they were in their teens or younger– they have of course ignored that the technological advances that might be making people loose interest in print are opening up an exponential number of new opportunities. They’re doing exactly what the music industry did, which is to bitch about what it’s loosing rather than making any real effort to see what they might gain. And if it fucks ‘em out of business, well I can say that might just be the best thing for comics ever, really. The internet is a great way to distribute and consume comics in traditional formats, and it’s also a great way to innovate and play with the artistry in ways that paper might never have allowed. Things like Body World, Chester 5000, and, hopefully at times, my own comics, are all things that previously never would have seen the light of day in the formats they seem to thrive best in. And while a lot of those have initially been available online for free, their later publication in print, and in some cases their ancillary merchandising sales, have proved that people are still perfectly willing to spend money on art and entertainment that they like, even as their preferred methods of consuming it may change. Things like Achewood and Penny Arcade have shown you can do pretty alright money-wise from webcomics. Bands like Pomplamoose, simultaneously, have shown that with, youtube and other digital distribution, you can make a living from music now without ever pressing CD’s.
And if the main distributors of these things are as timid and retrograde as they keep proving themselves to be, well, I like Batman, but I’m not gonna cry about DC fucking itself over. I think that with the internet, actually, comics are going to prove to be one of the real populist mediums. With media as prevalent as it has been in the last several decades, a large portion of the way that people think about the world and express themselves now contains a non-verbal visual element. To use that visual vocabulary for self-expression, film and video games and things like that are of course awesome, but the problem with those for me is that there’s so much money and so many people involved. With comics, if all you want is a pen and some paper, you can make some comics. Before what was standing in the way of those comics being shown to the world was the business interests of the companies that published them, and now that’s not the case. Comics seem to me like they’re rapidly becoming seen as an egalitarian way to tell stories you want without a budget, and to tell them how you want, and their limits as a vehicle of personal expression seem to me, well they actually almost don’t seem to have any. And that’s a really fucking good thing.
Oh, and speaking of comics, for anybody who’s been wondering where I’ve gone since I posted the most recent one of mine, I’ve been planning a lot of things for the upcoming comics, and I’m gonna post a new one on Monday, so check back then :)
I just figured I’d post a brief explanatory note for anybody who’s been following along that the storyline I started and posted the first page of, Matching to “The City”, will be continued later on. The story is mostly scripted and supposed to be around 24 pages without dialogue, and I’m excited for it, but I started to get distracted by some of the other things I’m working on. Since the story is supposed to go back in time a little bit and tell the origin of Rickets the Robot, it would probably shed some light on some of the things that I’m posting now, but it seemed more important to continue along with the present state of things. There is also an origin that I have in mind for Prester the Bear, and lots of stuff for all of them going forward, so hopefully I’ll get to all of it in time. In the meantime, the above is a sketch that I later based the cover inks for Marchin’ to “The City” on, and I really love the image of the two robots a lot. The whole story is based on a collection of personal memories and is really important to me for a whole bunch of reasons, so I’ll get to it, but I’ve gotta approach all these things intuitively for them to make sense to me.
Now that it’s all posted, I think I should at least talk about the title. The title’s kind of a semi-elaborate Bob Dylan nerd joke. Dylan’s song Marchin’ to the City is one of those songs he’s great at that feels like he wrote it exactly about you. When I was writing this story, I heard it and knew it was perfect. There are a lot of lyrics in the song with resonance for me, but the chorus is, “Once I had a pretty girl/ she done me wrong/ Now I’m marchin’ to the city/ And the road ain’t long,” which was perfect for Rickets’ story. There are a few meanings for the changes I made from the title of Dylan’s song. I put “The City” in quotation marks as a nod to Dylan, because using a version of this lyric as the title is meant to be done in the spirit of the references Dylan has been fond of recently to older songs, using bits and turns of phrase from older lyrics and writing them and putting them to a different purpose. Dylan’s album “Love and Theft” is full of those kinds of references, and he has the title in quotation marks to acknowledge that even the title itself is actually a quotation from a book, so my quotes are referencing that I’m quoting Dylan’s use of quotes I suppose. The other reason, and the reason I capitalized “The City,” is because, as you might have thought of seeing the last page of the story, “The City” is one of the common nicknames for a particular city, which is San Francisco, where I live.
I thought when I drew the city in the distance on this last page here, the buildings should be generic enough that it could be an image of a universal large city that Rickets is heading off toward, but I felt that I really should have the Transamerica building in there, because I wanted to have the visual rhyme to this comic here . In that other comic, the Boy From Santa Cruz and the bunny have one of their first serious conversations about their relationship, and the conversation takes place in Jack Kerouac Alley. I liked setting that comic there partly because I thought it tied in well to the whole idea of On the Road and all that mythology, and it fit because a theme of those comics is trying to find your place in life, and figure out what it is you want to be doing. That’s what Rickets is doing here, too, and the two stories can be metaphors for each other.
I’m hoping I still struck a balance between the last panel being universal and also particular to my experiences, but I did also end up drawing the hills a bit to look like the rolling country side between Southern and Northern California that I remember from my trip up here. The last panel is also meant to have a nice symmetry to the first panel of the story, as they’re almost the same shot of Rickets’ neighborhood, except there’s been the equivalent of a camera tilt so that instead of looking down into the neighborhood it’s now looking up a little and you can see what was there before, but outside of the panel frame and not visible. So I know that this story seemed kind of dark at some points, but now Rickets is on that road, and hopefully headed out to see all the parts of the world he wasn’t looking at before.
Alright, here we are at the second to last page. I’m gonna post the last page later tonight, and maybe I’ll blog some about the story then or maybe I’ll leave well enough alone for the moment, but either way check back soon because it’ll be posted very shortly :)
Almost there, only two more pages to go! the key thing I was trying to make clear on this page is that Rickets didn’t just destroy certain memories, he destroyed his entire memory chip, so now he kind of has to decide where he goes from there.
I think I’ll hold off on going on about what the images on this page mean, since I like the fact that some of these things can be taken different ways and hopefully have personal meaning for people. I do like that a lot of the things on this page and the next few pages have a nice symmetry to things panels from earlier in the story. I’m gonna post the next new page later tonight or tomorrow, and another new page soon after.
Alright, here it is, the big moment a lot of things in this story have been leading up to. When I first came up with the character of Rickets a few years ago, the idea was to do a robot who was essentially broken. He wasn’t supposed to be dumb or anything, in a lot of the early Rickets strips he was sort of the calm voice of reason, but most people don’t usually react calmly and reasonably to everything, so this was the reason I gave him for it. His essential self is still there, and in the comics I’m writing now with him and Prester he’s rediscovering things, but his history is all gone. The next few pages of Marching to “The City” will show some of the immediate fallout and what exactly him destroying his memory chip means, but there’s more to it and elements from this storyline will hopefully come into play in the future.