Thursday, April 21, 2016

Shelly Bond Was Always Going To Fail

The story is Vertigo Comics' Executive Editor Shelly Bond got reorganized out of her position yesterday. Rumor has it her head needed to roll because Vertigo's sales were bad. We don't know for sure. No one has yet spoken on the record.

What goes unremarked on is that Shelly Bond's job, the head of DC Comics' premiere indie imprint was in danger the instant she stepped into the role.

To understand what went wrong, we have to understand what changed, and who Ms. Bond followed. Ms. Bond followed Karen Berger, the long running editor in chief of Vertigo Comics. Ms. Berger stepped away and down in 2012 after a career that introduced Garth Ennis (Preacher), Neil Gaiman (Sandman), Peter Milligan (Enigma, Shade), Alan Moore (Oh, Come The Fuck On) and Grant Morrison (Invisibles) to the American mainstream. And that's only the 90s. In the 2000s, Vertigo published early major works from Jason Aaron (The Other Side, Scalped), Ed Brubaker (Scene Of The Crime, Deadenders), Brian Wood (DMZ, Northlanders), Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets), Cliff Chiang (Beware the Creeper), Jeff Lemire (Essex County), Becky Cloonan (American Virgin), Scott Snyder (American Vampire), G. WIllow Wilson (Air, Cairo) and Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man).

How did this happen? Contracts and trust.

The Vertigo contract was structured such that creators kept most of the rights associated with their comic, but Warner Brothers had a first look at any adaptation of the material.

Before Karen Berger stepped into Vertigo, she'd worked for DC for 10 years under the impresario Paul Levitz. Industry gossip tells us Levitz made a deal with Warner Brothers that went to the tune of "as long as we're profitable, you don't tell me how to run my company" and Warner allegedly accepted. Vertigo was given, fittingly, room to fall. Most of Vertigo's perennial sellers did badly in single issues, but made the money back on the collections.

Both changed. Levitz left or was pushed out and the contract was allegedly looked at by a Warner Brothers executive who said "why don't we have these rights" in the early 2010s.

There were two other things that happened which murdered Vertigo and they both start with an i.

The internet is the most obvious, and it decimated much of the physical book market, which is not coincidentally where most people went to spend money on Vertigo titles.

Image in the 2000s was a publishing house that was not terribly exciting. It had The Walking Dead and a roll of the dice. It was "creator owned," but in a world where Vertigo's deal was still the place to go if you wanted an editor and a marketing department talking about your comic, Image wasn't terribly attractive. The major creator owned success stories outside of Vertigo didn't often break 10,000 single issues sold a month.

Image's Eric Stephenson was slowly making deals with people to make Image a player, but it wouldn't pay off in 2000s. It would pay off around 2012, with Brian K. Vaughan's Saga.

And bolstered by the runaway success of Saga, Image turned out more and more and more and more comics, some incredible, some bad, but most okay or mediocre. This caused a second Image bubble.

Now what does this have to go with Shelly Bond?

Ms. Bond steps into the head of Vertigo in 2012, a time when
1) the internet makes pirating things you're kind of interested in easy
2) physical bookstores are sinking
3) Image will ascend to the premiere creator owned comics company
4) Vertigo's m.o., long runs allowed to fail in singles buoyed by strong trade sales will no longer be tolerated by the parent company
5) Bond's ability to manage her house is constrained even more by whim and fiat
6) her predecessor is arguably the most important American mainstream comic book editor in 30 years
7) perception of Vertigo is at an all time low

Ms. Bond's four years at Vertigo, like her tastes or not, were spent keeping a Wile E. Coyote sized anvil afloat.

Shelly Bond was always going to fail.

p.s. Birds in my ear tell me Ms. Bond was a shit boss and difficult to work with.
p.p.s. The sad epilogue is that DC's most widely known harasser, Eddie Berganza, still has a job. Mr. Berganza runs the Superman office.






This is looser than usual and without links, because, well, I'll be talking about this at length for a podcast and I could keep it all in my head for juuuuuuuuuuust long enough to type it out. I'd normally source this stuff, but a couple minutes on a browser and you'll find what I write corroborated. I want it out of my head and into the wild. Song is Murder By Death's I Came Around. I admittedly haven't cared for Ms. Bond's output at Vertigo, but the more I think about the circumstances she had to deal with, the more I had to acknowledge the trying times she faced. Get some sleep, 'mam, you're finally off the clock.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Error Is In The Text: Material #1.

Ales Kot was kind to me at NYCC 2014. I believe that experience influences this review.

Mr. Kot has said he could write his new comic, Material, forever. I bought the first issue. I won't buy the second.

It's not that I want my money back, I felt entertained for a long enough duration of time that satisfies my desire for "THINGS THAT I MAY NOT HAVE SEEN" though a large amount of that entertainment was at the issue's expense.

It is my opinion that Mr. Kot's copious footnotes work against him, except in two instances that require the reader to know that footnotes exist and are to be expected. The footnotes condescend to the reader more often than they illuminate. (Throw 'em in the back, properly annotated, Mr. Kot, and you'll achieve your aims.) I'd argue they're not even footnotes, as there's no markers for them in the word balloons. It does not read as Mr. Kot being helpful or showing his work, it reads as Mr. Kot telling you he's very intelligent.

Wil Tempest's pencils in this issue are rough in the way that makes him the target of jokes, and deservedly so.* It is a terrible introduction to his work, and I heard this from people who have seen his art before and like him. His use of color and panel composition makes up for it. Mr. Tempest knows when to use a secondary color to highlight a particular character and to maintain the reader's eye. Which is good, because his backgrounds are abysmal. To be more charitable, Mr. Tempest has a strong grasp of storytelling, which is done no favors by his shoddy pencils.

There are four plots in Material, two of them worth following, and one of those is only if you squint.

-I'm from Chicago. The Horman Square story will probably be handled with care. It's also there that the most egregious "you have got to be fucking kidding me" footnote** appears. It concerns the abuse of a protestor.

-True to Wild Children, there is an incurious professor on a pedestal, ripe for an Ales Kot monologue to knock him off. His interlocutor this time around is a stretch even within the writer's bibliography.

-There is a plot which appears to be an excuse for Mr. Kot to tell the reader that he has seen 8 1/2 and Contempt.*** It contains a scene so flimsy it must be lampshaded. Watch 8 1/2 instead. ****, *****, ******, ********, *********

-The Guantanamo Bay plot resonated with me. It suggests a problem that is difficult to talk about and the dangers to the problem's resolution many. It is the strongest of the plots and the one that involves actual characters and not ambulatory vehicles for Mr. Kot's monologues.

I don't have much to say about the Material #1 that I haven't said about Wild Children. Mr. Kot remains precocious and reaches beyond his grasp. To finish the Warren Ellis line, good, that's how you grow.

There is an essay by Fiona Duncan in the back which earnestly extols the virtues of Franco Berardi (don't worry, the Wikipedia link is here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franco_Berardi) while unintentionally highlighting the low quality ********** of Mr. Tempest's pencils. In praise of the comic she's writing in, she says, "The students, save for the one who walk outs, are a sketchy mess." (The error is in the text, I've reproduced it.) Which is true for precisely one panel. Of the four panels the character is in, two of them that character is just as sketchy as the other students, he's merely colored brown and not that shade of light blue. In the third, he differs from the other students because he gets dots for eyes and a smiley face. *********** In the fourth, he gets a head shot.************ (I grabbed the first two pages from the CBR preview.)





I could argue, were I inclined*************, that the choice to be a sketchy mess was specifically chosen to non-verbally reinforce the professor's bored, jaundiced perspective and the student slowly making themselves known as a distinct person.************** I could also argue that Mr. Tempest's work is just as bad elsewhere in the comic and it detracts from the effectiveness of the story, which I do not believe can stand many more of these choices. His use of a different style, in a purple background, presumably to highlight lingering traumas is effective. He's better than this. So is Mr. Kot.

Perhaps something will come of Material, but I'm not optimistic. It is difficult to recommend this comic without massive qualifications. If you've taken an intro to film class, you're probably familiar enough with Mr. Kot's references to seek out other works by those authors you haven't already consumed. Buy those. If you still feel compelled to spend money on this comic, don't. Instead, donate to a local Narcotics Anonymous chapter. Or Southern Poverty Law Center. Or any organization that works with prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to get them reacclimated. Or any of the many charities doing great work on Chicago's south and west sides.

I believe Mr. Kot is sincere, which makes this review difficult. If Material #1 was a cynical exercise at our expense, I could be more dismissive. There is simply too much crammed into this comic to make it feel disingenuous. I feel compelled to write this not merely because of my inescapable ego, but because the comic required a reaction. We need authors like Mr. Kot and Mr. Tempest. We don't need Material. You don't, either. *************





*See also: "I spent more time on this comic than Wil Tempest did" -Anonymous reviewer

** See also: telling you to Google something is not worthy of a fucking footnote it actively insults the reader's intelligence not to mention, putting Horman Square in a footnote is redundant when the writer introduces the place in the very next panel

*** See also: He could have put it in a footnote

**** See also: Fuck this, I'm gonna read the Flash, there's a talking gorilla there with more personality than every single one of the characters in this particular plot without exception

***** See also: Plus, the guy who is drawing the gorilla is a goddamned professional that understands human faces and was paid well for his work (hyper capitalism!)

****** See also: hyper capitalism is my new safeword

******* See also: That and YOLO

******** See also: And Shelley

********* See also: I'm commenting on the text /within the text/? I'm being metatextual! HOW NOVEL

********** See also: I HAVE READ ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE DO I GET A PRIZE

*********** See also: Footnote #1

************ See also: Quake II, I guess

************* See also: But I'm not!

************** See also: Actually, wait. This is a good storytelling shoring up either an inability to make a drawing of a human being look convincing or laziness or a deadline

*************** See also: Do you see how distracting and unhelpful this is now

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Stuttering.

It was Brian Wood that got me to think about this directly again.

I don't know what your experiences are with this. I don't know what your experiences are with anything similar or more socially stigmatizing. If I offend you, it was not by design. Before I start, the usual prostration about how of all the ways in which our one life can be made more difficult, a stutter is preferable to many other things.



I stutter. It's not fun, but it's livable. My friends got used to it. Now, I run roughshod over the sentences I speak. I suppose it goes without typing that I allow myself to stutter obviously. (Some people hide it or get it ironed out. To each their own.)

Thanks to the stutter, I had to discover a vocal rhythm. That, I now believe, was the beginning of my "voice." When I'm on, my sentences sound, deliberately, a certain way. Lots of commas, some single word sentences. In other words, plenty of places where I can pause for dramatic effect or if the engine of my voice cuts out.

I learned a lot of things from managing the stutter, some good, some bad, most useful. If given a choice, I'd excise the stutter. I hate it, but the task is serenity.

If I sound frustrated, it's nervousness compounded by an actual and not figurative inability to speak my desires. Even when the words are right, I still can't vocalize them. The issue is not desire and fear intertwining to compel the speaker to choose to speak multiple words simultaneously, but having nothing come out at all.

It is as if all of the lubricant in the gears of your voice disappears without rhyme or warning. Or, most damningly, another impregnable syllable in the middle of the most unremarkable sentence.

The rest is merely embarrassing details: I have pride, the stutter doesn't allow it. Stuttering in front of people I'd like to stand up straight in front of is rough. I imagine pity in their looks, and I can't stand that. I doubt the stutter has cost me lovers or friends, but my mind uses it as an excuse to believe the worst. The stutter activates my shame, which more powerful than it should be.

I don't know if I've ever wrote about this. I imagine I must have, I've littered the internet with writing, but looking at the publish button feels fresh and relieving, so I suppose I haven't. How have you been, though?







For some reason, I don't find Elastica's "Stutter" terribly insulting. I think it's because I understand I believe the singer (Justine Frischmann) is talking about her boyfriend (Damon Albarn from Blur?) being tongue tied in her presence, which happens to everyone. That, and probably residual love for Phonogram. Anyway. Above image from adsoftheworld.com

Sunday, February 22, 2015

When Blacklisted Grows, People Go

I thought they were gonna write longer songs. It's Blacklisted, though. It's never quite what you expect.

The return of Blacklisted feels spartan. No interviews. No teaser trailers. No touring. One assumes Deathwish Inc. co-owner Tre McCarthy cajoled the band into doing pre-order packages and a music video. "Oh, by the way," Blacklisted says, "here's a new full length. You might like it."

You know the story. Philly hardcore band does two full lengths worth of traditional mosh, loses a couple members, grows weird and mutates into something stranger and more compelling.

In between all of this, US tours, EU tours, Japan tours, everything falls apart. Blacklisted breaks up twice, once in a London Urban Outfitters. Vocalist George Hirsch attempts suicide (he talked about it at This Is Hell 2013 or 2014, I forget which), allegedly goes to prison and records an acoustic album under the name of a character from a book called Der Wehrwolf.



The previous Blacklisted release (So, You Are A Magician?) was about nine minutes long and three songs. When People Grow, People Go is 21 minutes and eleven songs. I get the impression of men returning to their boyhood love of the genre. The fast tempos and final cathartic seconds before the song cuts short are all here.

When People Grow, People Go is about the things you don't talk about. The sense that you're desperately stuffing your slimy, slippery intestines back into your stomach. The lyrics include:

-A friend's in prison for opiate addiction.
-The continued disintegration of Mr. Hirsch's relationships with friends or lovers.
-The many kaleidoscopic expectations of Mr. Hirsch as "guy in a hardcore band."
-His struggles with depression.

Unlike in No One Deserves To Be Here More Than Me, the venue of one minute plus hardcore feels like a more comfortable venue for the lyrics.

A step backwards perhaps, though that implies that the quality isn't there. It is. When People Grow, People Go still a traditional hardcore record more than anything else. The tracklist and song lengths don't lie, but it's shoegazey and grungy in spots and I remember those parts more than I remember Gossamer or Riptide. Though Riptide does have a really cool "maybe I'll break somebody's jaw" moment. Gossamer and Riptide are serviceable and perhaps good (many bands would be happy to author the songs), but are ultimately forgettable. Can George write another batch of lyrics regarding people gossiping about him? Sure. Do you really want to hear it? Nah.

Foreign Observer has the only guest and that's Nick from Cold World singing the title through a vocal effect that makes him sound distant. Speaking of equipment, if you have ever wondered what a proper hardcore band would sound like through major label recording equipment, producer Will Yip's Studio 4 answers the question here: massive and clear.

Everything has space in the mix, with special attention paid to the drums. Describing it analytically is a minefield since I understand very little about mixing and mastering, but the recording feels correct and the drums sound exquisite and sharp.

It is hard not to look into the lyrics. It is hard not to take Mr. Hirsch at his word. Turn In The Pike begins with "they will kill you for your dreams" but continues "so what I need / is for you to shake me / when I start to drift to sleep." Mr. Hirsch is a man who knows the price of dreams and the price of art, and he's honest enough to say that for him the price is too high.

"when creation fills my mouth / just break my teeth"

I have trust issues. I believe Mr. Hirsch does too. I celebrate (literally, I danced around my kitchen when I first heard Insularized) a new Blacklisted record because it feels like someone else who understands how much of a gamble intimacy and sex are, and what can be taken from the person on a losing bet.

The final track (also the title track) is an object lesson in being alive and male. You want to do it on your own, but you know you can't. And asking for help is cheating or it's impossible. "I couldn't just call your name/Too proud to reach out when I was dying…" If it feels like a dirge, well, it is. What I get out of Blacklisted records is the acknowledgment that all is not well and the nerve, only occasionally, to admit it in public.

When People Grow, People Go is a record about abuse, given and received. It's about moving past the abuse or moving away. It feels ugly. It feels true. It's the best record this year.







The first song from this record, and also my favorite. Maybe this should be the single. Between this and Foreign Observer, you might actually get people outside our genre to listen. But whatever. You're reading this, you know my tastes. Play loud.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Purity doesn't absolve you. (cleaned up and crossposted)

"They were not working to save our country," writes David Simon. I disagree. What makes Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and that gang frightening is that they were trying to save our country. The law doesn't require that group of people to come to torture as their instinct, the law only requires that they came to it at all. I believe Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld led a group of cowboys and zealots towards a war, and committed war crimes because they believed it was necessary for the survival of the United States.

The sincere belief that it was necessary for the country's survival doesn't absolve them of what they did. The frightening thing is that Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are still human beings. They hug their kids sincerely. They're grandparents that want to make sure their families have good lives. In other words: They're normal people (a given value of normal, I'll grant you) and the trick is normal people can commit atrocities.

I don’t care if Bush, Cheney or Rumsfeld is a torturer in their hearts. I do care that they ordered and authorized torture. That’s the only way this matters. I believe they’ll go in front of God or St. Peter or whomever and say “we did unto those sons of bitches before they could do unto us” and face judgment with a shit grin. You won’t get Bush, Cheney or Rumsfeld that way.

Here’s how you get them: They hid it. They knew it was wrong and that’s why they went to such lengths to justify it and then hide it. Treat them like Snidely Whiplash and you get nowhere. Treat them like men who got seduced by confirmation bias and then said “take the gloves off” when they could have said “feeding a prisoner through their asshole,” and you get ‘em dead to rights.

They should be prosecuted.




There are other versions of this on the internet, but I'm calling this one definitive until I add or subtract something again in a couple days. This seems like a good place for the epic closer I, Stateside by Crime In Stereo. Play loud, get sad.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Pomplamoney



Rebecca got livid.

Hearing that Jack Conte, one half of Pomplamoose (the other half is Nataly Dawn), is a co-founder of Patreon and arguably used his "I have no idea how to budget a tour" blog to subtly promote his other, presumably real, job, she was displeased. "Completely disgusting and dishonest" was how she put it.

I…am less angry. It's dishonest, sure, but I can't summon disgust.

Indie isn't what it used to be. There's judgment in there, for sure, but that's mostly a statement of fact. When indie was a thing that people cared about, the world was different. CDs were $18 a pop, unless you were Dischord. College radio stations mattered, because access was a thing that major labels had absolute control over. What you would listen to was whatever the conglomerate had decided would be on air in your market, or whatever you were willing to take a $18 gamble on. Indie meant you were willing to take that gamble.

It's a different world now, and the main point is one of engagement, not access. So when Conte declares that he's a part of the creative class, and like all indie bands, he's willing to lose five figures on a tour, I shrug.

(I shrug after yelling with Rebecca on Twitter about Conte's budgeting for an hour, to be fair. It is not impossible for indie bands of a different stripe to go five figures in debt, but they certainly don't do it for a month long US tour booked like a family vacation.)

Indie, now, only means not currently signed directly to a major label. And Pomplamoose fits that. My question is "why does this guy want to buy in?" Pomplamoose are already tremendously successful through actively avoiding the traditional indie path of tour, record, US tour, EU tour, US tour, repeat.

Because if he thinks indie has cachet, the joke's on him. Cachet is an infinitely decomposing currency, easily lost. Indie bands struggle to keep their heads above water. Pomplamoose, through their hustle, has an inflatable raft.

Pomplamoose gets $6,395 per music video on Patreon, last I checked. Conte and Dawn crank out two a month. Most indie bands have to work two jobs when they're not on tour. Pomplamoose earns enough to give each member a $30,000 yearly salary. I don't know what Conte draws from Patreon.

They've arrived.

The rest feels like errata: Before this, Dawn had her major label debut on Nonesuch, (a Warner subsidiary) underwritten by Kickstarter money. She also appeared on a Barry Manilow record. Of course there's a major label connection somewhere, but at this point, it hardly matters.

The numbers Conte throws around show he's not from around here, and learning that he's also sitting on Patreon money takes the sting out of his "indie band guy/creative making it work" posturing.

To presume to speak to him directly: Mr. Conte. Bro. You don't want to be here. Here isn't anywhere, really. You've got the career you dreamed of, right now, and all you have to do to keep it going is pruning. If your bandmate booked the tour, why are you paying a booking agent? If you know you're going to lose $50,000 on hired guns, workshop a live set that is just as compelling as "big rock show." It'll be a new challenge. Given how intense your band's churn is at normal output, it shouldn't be too hard.

There's a dirty secret, one we're especially ashamed to tell: In all but this respect, we should be taking advice from you. $30,000 a year, on no touring? Sleeping in your own bed every night? Only recording and making videos? Bands dream about that.

You guys don't do tours anyway. You have a loud, intensely engaged fanbase that's willing to support you. You already do the hard work. The rest is just being willing to absorb discomfort.

Which, incidentally, might be the most indie thing you can do.






I thought about embedding a Pomplamoose song, but then realized I have no desire to listen to that band. You'll make do with "We Built This City! (On Debts And Booze)," won't you?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Ring Of The Incredible First Impression

The Ring Of The Nibelung by P. Craig Russell is so pretty it hurts. $30 for a ~450 page hardcover, which you can almost certainly find for cheaper on the internet, but it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter that penciller P. Craig Russell's lines are delicate and exquisite. It doesn't matter how many years in the making the project took. It doesn't matter that Lovern Kindzierski's colors make P. Craig Russell look like Moebius. It doesn't matter that it's a 400 odd page distillation of a four night long opera (Wagner's 15 hour Ring Cycle) and is therefore not merely an act of tremendous investment but also judicious editing, before anyone titled an editor ever sees it.

I'm passing over all of these things.

I'm only going to talk about the first story page. Because this first story page below is genius.



1) The creation of life compressed into a single page.
2) Wordlessly.
3) The very first thing you see, before panel borders, is a hand, breaking through panels. Panels are how you indicate time, the first thing you see is God's hand, beyond time.
4) Life gives color to the world. In this case, literally, God's hand, and time before life is in blue pencil. Blue pencils are usually used as the rough guides for a penciller, with final inks done in black, with color added after inks. So: Before life, there was no color. Life springs up? Color, brilliant color, greens, yellows and celebratory golds. Actually, if you look closely at panel five, you see the greens and golds in the seedling that springs up from where the water is dropped. Life introduces color into the comic!
5) And you understand it all, instantly.

It's not merely a neat trick, it's a neat trick that tells the story, introduces characters, scale, and setting on the very first page. This will be an epic, in a literal and figurative sense of the word. The next major question,  how the comic compares to the music it is based on, I have no idea. I am only listening to the first track now. Of course, I really ought to be watching a performance but alas, technology can only take us so far.

The trouble with good first impressions is that they make expectations for the rest of what comes very high. The trouble with P. Craig Russell is that he has the talent and vision to live up to the bar he sets.

The Ring Of The Nibelung by P. Craig Russell is $30 and can be bought from Dark Horse's sister retail operation Things From Another Planet and other booksellers. I got mine for $12, at In Stock Trades.



You can guess what this is going to be, I think.
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