SHOWCASE PRESENTS THE PHANTOM STRANGER V1
Writers: Mike Friedrich, John Broome, France Herron, Robert Kanigher, Mike Sekowsky, Denny O'Neil, Gerry Conway, Jack Oleck, Len Wein, Steve Skeates, Mark Hanerfield, John Albano Artists: Jerry Grandenetti, Bill Draut, Leonard Starr, Wayne Howard, Carmine Infantino, Sy Barry, Frank Giacoia, Neal Adams, Murphy Anderson, Mike Sekowsky, Curt Swan, Nick Cardy, Vince Colletta, Jim Aparo, Tony DeZuniga, Jack Sparling Publisher: DC Reviewer: Dan Grendell"I was called by a name once-- but it doesn't seem applicable any longer! Now I'm a pilgrim-- a vagabond-- wandering the earth in search of-- who knows what! Call me what you will!"
I've always loved the Phantom Stranger. He just looked cool, for one thing, with his hat and weird maybe-mask eyes and suit and half-cape. Most people would just look stupid, but I always thought he looked damn sophisticated. Unfortunately, the character became somewhat of a joke in the DC universe as an uberpowered deus ex machina, appearing only when somebody wrote themselves into a magical corner, but I still liked seeing him from time to time, so I was glad to see this volume of reprints from his original series.
In these older stories, the Stranger is still a bit of a deus ex machina figure, but he's a much more proactive one. Each story is some supernatural mystery that he is involved in helping solve, usually just showing up out of nowhere to aid some luckless person and generally opposed by his opposite number, the evil but sexy Tala. Also involved in the mysteries is the mortal ghostbreaker Dr. Terry Thirteen, an avowed realist who looks for ways in each case to prove that there was nothing supernatural involved. The Stranger appears and disappears in front of Dr. Thirteen a lot, which just makes him angry, and he tends to blame the Stranger for everything, considering him some mastermind of supernatural fakery. This dynamic carries on through story after entertaining story, about subjects ranging from ghosts to voodoo to ice giants in the Arctic.
The artwork ranges from decent to good, as does the writing, but overall the book is well worth picking up and will certainly be a fun read for anyone who, like me, has always wanted to see just a bit more of the Stranger.
Writer: Ed Brubaker Artist: Sean Phillips Publisher: Marvel Icon Reviewer: Ambush BugCRIMINAL is a good comic. It may very well be a great comic. It’s Ed Brubaker doing what he does best: writing gritty crime stories. CRIMINAL is about a streetwise crook named Leo. In the first issue, it was established that Leo has a set of rules that he follows strictly so that he ends up being a free man and not an inmate. Issue one was a really dense issue, setting up said rules and how Leo ultimately breaks all of these rules in this, his most recent heist. Issue two takes us up to the crime itself and the inevitable unraveling of the orderly way Leo has been enacting his criminal career.
CRIMINAL #2 was a pretty dense read itself. You’re definitely getting your money’s worth when you pick this book up. No decrompression here. There’s a lot done and said between the covers of this book and a lot of writers could learn from Brubaker’s mastery of giving you enough bang for your buck in a single issue.
The problem I found with CRIMINAL in these first two issues is the sense I get that Brubaker loves him some crime/detective/ noir films. He’s proven his skill at telling these types of stories in GOTHAM CENTRAL, the classic SLEEPER series and its sequel. And he’s telling a heck of a good crime drama here as well. But after reading the first few issues of this series, I couldn’t help but notice that a whole hell of a lot of what’s going on seems awfully familiar. I just couldn’t help but think of some of filmdom’s most famous crime movies while reading these first two issues. And that’s good, except for the fact that the details from both the films and these two issues are so similar it made me feel as if I wasn’t reading anything new. Issue two sealed it for me with a cover image straight from the movie HEAT featuring two hooded robbers toting machine guns. Issue two also features a daytime robbery a la HEAT. And more than a few of the details of that robbery are almost exactly the same as those from another little movie called USUAL SUSPECTS. You might have heard of it. In that film, criminals rob some crooked cops in broad daylight. In SLEEPER, you guessed it, it’s the cops transporting diamonds that are robbed in broad daylight. Had Bru lifted details from some more obscure crime films, I’d be okay with it. But these are two of the most famous crime films in recent cinema and I have to call foul when I see it.
Now, I’m not accusing Brubaker of plagiarism or hackery or anything like that. Homage is homage. But compared to the truly innovative crime fiction I am used to from Brubaker, CRIMINAL doesn’t really compare. CRIMINAL is still one of the best crime comics out there. Brubaker knows his stuff and has been churning out one great comic book story after another be it in DAREDEVIL, CAPTAIN AMERICA, or here in CRIMINAL. It’s just that I’ve read some of the best crime fiction comics ever and Brubaker has been at the writing helm of most of them. He’s set the bar pretty high with SLEEPER and GOTHAM CENTRAL. CRIMINAL hasn’t reached that level of sophisticated crime storytelling yet. It could and I’ll be there if and when it does, but I felt that I’d seen it all before in these first two issues and seen much better come from a book with Brubaker in the credits.
Writer: Garth Ennis Artist: Chris Sprouse Publisher: DC/WildStorm Reviewer: BaytorThis is, hands down, the funniest title of the year.
The delivery is so deadpan you might not realize it at first. Sure, Ennis utilizes his standard trademark humor, but nothing in the issue suggests that it's anything more than a bloody, light-hearted action romp. But when you get to that last page, you're going to be rolling in hysterics. A lesser writer might attempt to put that joke on the first page and play up the absurdity of the situation, but Ennis bides his time and lets the full weight of its stupidity hit the reader on the final page.
I don't want to spoil it, yet I find myself unable to. Midnighter is being blackmailed to kill Hitler. Yes, that Hitler, the guy who's been dead for half a century and is probably spending his days giving Gandhi a wedgie in the afterlife. Garth Ennis has brushed him off and set him loose on the WildStorm universe with nary a trace of irony.
Why, you may ask, does this organization need to blackmail Midnighter, when you need only say "we need you to kill Hitler" to get any sane, blood-thirsty vigilante to say "yes"? All you need to know is that they've gone to considerable expense and trouble to capture, beat up, and inflict gay jokes on Midnighter, and that this is frakkin' cool.
Okay, so obviously this book has some tremendous problems, most notably the complete and total unintentional humor of the big reveal at the end, but it's Ennis and he delivers some good (if not particularly noteworthy) thrills along the way. Chris Sprouse has always been a bit of an understated artist, laying down crisp, clean lines with a minimum of glitz, which might be a bit of a misstep for this book, as it might need a bit more razzle-dazzle to distract you from the fact that there's not a lot of meat on the bones. Still, it ends up being a reasonably fun read if you don't think about it too hard.
But really, Hitler? Maybe it's time to give him a bit of a rest in modern day stories. At least give us a giant Hitler robot story or something.
THE FOUNTAIN GN
Writer: Darren Aronofsky Artist: Kent Williams Publisher: Vertigo/DC Comics Reviewed by Humphrey LeeAlmost a full year after the release of the forty dollar hardcover version, and less than a month before the release of the feature film it was always intended to be, Darren Aronofsky's opus THE FOUNTAIN has now hit the shelves in a sleek and much more affordable softcover package. And right off the bat you can tell this book is something special. Forget the name attached to it, one look at the brilliantly painted cover shot and you just know this story is going to be a very epic, heartfelt, and emotional rollercoaster of a read.
And THE FOUNTAIN is all those and more. The story therein is a very unusual but brilliantly designed one. Spanning a milennia and three separate time periods, this is the story about a man named Thomas and a love and dedication that spans beyond the laws of time and space. From the jungles of Mexico and fierce battling with the Mayan army to the deep reaches of space and a quest for knowledge of a dying star to a present day struggle to cure his wife's cancer, THE FOUNTAIN is a love story that shows that no conflict is too great and that the laws of space and time mean nothing when it’s down to the one thing that makes our lives worth living.
The story, as you would expect, flows very cinematically. Lots of widescreen paneling and extreme zooms and close ups to put the reader exactly where Aronofsky wants them. Now, I'll say this now, this doesn't always work. If there is any fault I found with this completely engrossing read, it's that sometimes the choice of framework for the events in this book doesn't really do the scene the proper justice. Sometimes it goes into a close shot that feels too cramped for what it is, or it pulls back into too much empty space needlessly. The actual story itself flows very, very well as far as pacing goes, I just can't help but think that this work would be close to perfection if maybe a co-writer was attached to this that has more experience in the medium of comics and that could help choose the right devices for the right occasion.
But that's about all I can do for negativity when it comes to this work of art. It had some paneling issues. Big deal. In the big scheme of things it doesn't matter. The story is beautiful, you can't deny that. There is so much genuine emotion in the book you can't help but be overwhelmed by it all. The scenes where present-day Thomas is fighting for the life of his cancer-ridden wife are absolutely devastating, and the stalwartness of his Izzy in the face of death does well to make an already heartbreaking moment that much more tragic. And the feelings of awe and wonder invoked during the futuristic sequences as Thomas traverses space itself are equally astounding. I really can't say too much about the plot threads that occur in these sequences because I don't want to ruin the overall experience that the story contains, but I can just keep reiterating how deep this book will take you into its pages. And that is the sign of a truly brilliant work.
A lot of the brilliance that makes this comic just that is the amazing painted art by Kent Williams, of BLOOD: A TALE fame. I already said earlier that the cover alone will hook you and give you just a hint of what THE FOUNTAIN will be, but the interiors are a sight to behold as well. The art here is a collage of storytelling techniques done to a "t". You've got tons of lighting varieties and uses of stark contrast; you've got some basic stripped down lines to depict moments of breakdown and decay, and then great moments of detail and clarity to pull you back into our lead's sense of determination. And there's some simply unbelievable splash page work that I would love to have as oversized prints, like the one of page 35 as future Thomas is meditating at the edge of the galaxy on the life tree Xibalba. It's all just glorious work.
THE FOUNTAIN is another one of those prime examples I like to cite of just what the medium of comics can and should be. Think about it. We have an up-and-coming, highly acclaimed director who is having issues getting a movie of his made. So since he can't get it on the big screen, he sits back and says then it absolutely has to be done as a graphic novel. No other medium would do. These are the kinds of stories comics are made for. These are what bring back legitamacy to an artform that seems to be doing nothing right now but reveling in mediocre crossover "events" and desperately throwing out shock value to try and raise interest in its properties. Sometimes you just have to let the writers write and let unbridled creativity rule the day.
Writer: Dwayne McDuffie Artist: Scott Kolins Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Ambush BugAs an avid comic book reader, I love this miniseries. It’s one of those comics that I dive into as soon as I get home from the store. I find this type of comic hard to come by these days. And when they do come along, I like to savor them, usually reading them once, then thinking about it, and picking it up again for a second go-around. As an avid comic book reader, I love this miniseries.
But I’m also a comic book reviewer and because of that, I have to sometimes take a critical eye to things that I love. I know that there’s no such thing as a perfect comic book. There are always things that work better than others and as a comic book reviewer I try my best to point those things out. So let me turn my critical eye towards that which I love…BEYOND!
BEYOND! is a miniseries much like the old MARVEL SUPER HEROES SECRET WARS (not the piece of crap Bendis mini) where a bushel of super beings are tossed onto a distant world to do battle with one another. It’s a simple premise, but what makes this series work is the obscure cast of characters and the way the writer of this series, the under-appreciated Dwayne McDuffie, bounces these characters off of one another.
Let’s look specifically at issue #5. It’s another great one as our heroes find themselves trapped in a limbo pocket universe, a predicament made possible by a slobbering Venom and the insidious Space Phantom. Hank Pym, the Wasp, Firebird, Medusa, the Hood, Gravity, and Kraven Jr. find themselves in the Space Phantom’s lair. This is one of those downtime issues--the calm before the big finale--but that doesn’t mean that nothing happens. This miniseries from start to finish has been filled from fold to flap with really nice action bits and character moments that make this oddball cast shine like icons. In this issue, we get an escape, a first kiss, a battle, and a betrayal. It’s all here and I loved it, but that doesn’t make this a perfect issue.
First off, this issue centers on the development depicted on the cover--that is, the kiss shared between Hank Pym and Firebird. Now, I’m all for this development. I think Hank has been following around the Wasp for way too long and it’d be great for the character to step out from under her shadow and develop some type of new relationship. And Firebird is an interesting choice as a *ahem* flame *ahem* for the good doctor. She’s been one of those recognizable characters that pops up whenever reserve Avengers are needed, but is a pretty flat character every time. Writer McDuffie does a good job of fleshing her out to be a genuinely good soul, wanting to help the flawed Dr. Pym. My problem, though, is that we’ve had four issues before this one, and this issue is the first time even a hint of an attraction between the two characters has been made evident. It all seems to be a bit forced. Had the writer been building to this since the beginning of the series it wouldn’t be so jarring, but because McDuffie decides to plop this relationship into the next to last issue, it just loses relevance and seems to be acting only as filler. Kudos to putting these two overlooked characters together, but raspberries to waiting till the end of the miniseries to square-peg-round-hole it into the storyline.
My only other complaint about this issue has to do with the artwork. And I honestly wouldn’t be so hard on Scott Kolins had I not been so blown away by his work on THE FLASH. I loved Kolins’ definite line work with little shading. His work is distinct and immediately recognizable. But since leaving THE FLASH and moving to Marvel, Kolins’ work seems to lack definition and focus. His lines are less confident and shaky. His body posturings are stiff and unnatural. The overall look of his panels is uneventful. Don’t get me wrong, Kolins gets the job done when it comes to telling a decent panel to panel progression, but something has been off with his work since he made the crossover to the House of Ideas. His work at Marvel just isn’t up to par with his work on THE FLASH. If his interior artwork would match the artistic level of Kolins’ beautifully rendered covers to the BEYOND! miniseries, there’d be no complaints.
But in the end, I still love this series. There’s a great little scene as the wet behind the ears Gravity gets to know the streetwise Hood. This scene highlights the differences in the two personalities perfectly. And the cliffhanger at the end of the book is a doozy. Despite the flaws I pointed out in this issue, this really is one of my favorite miniseries Marvel has put out this year. And with such capable contenders as DAUGHTERS OF THE DRAGON, IRON MAN: THE INEVITABLE, and ARES to compete with for the top Marvel mini of the year, that’s high praise indeed.
TOM STRONG BOOK SIX HC
Writer: Alan Moore, Michael Moorcock, Joe Casey, Steve Moore, Peter Hogan Artist: Chris Sprouse, Jerry Ordway, Ben Oliver, Paul Gulacy Publisher: DC/ABC Reviewer: BaytorTOM STRONG limps to its conclusion and it’s like déjà vu all over again.
This has always been a fun book, but there’s no denying that it suffered tremendously after Alan Moore and Chris Sprouse left it, made all the worse by it becoming a glorified series of fill-ins. Some decent tales in the mix, but more than a few writers failed to capture the whimsical tone of the book.
Like Michael Moorcock, who penned the two-part adventure that starts this volume. Noted sci-fi writer paired up with the talented Jerry Ordway, how could you go wrong? But it’s here that my déjà got vued the most. Not only do we have a pirate tale evoking “Pirates Of The Caribbean” but the story also has numerous elements lifted straight out of “King Kong”. If only the thievery stopped there, but Moorcock raids his own literary storehouse with the inclusion of a multiverse, an albino, and a black sword as the core story elements. The story attempts to be light and carefree, but it just never can seem to stop poking you in the ribs to point out all the obvious bits of similarities between the two universes, which ceased being the slightest bit novel about 30 years ago.
Joe Casey has more luck with his installment, which plays off the plot of “Fantastic Voyage”. Good light-hearted fare that focuses more on Tom’s compassion than his brawn, which always struck me as one of the defining elements of the character.
Steve Moore’s tale isn’t nearly as good, which will be pretty familiar territory for PROMETHEA readers. Tom Strong journeys to China to take on a fictional threat brought to life by an old pulp writer. It’s a pretty good imitation of Alan Moore’s imaginative tales, but lacks the wit and heart. Peter Hogan has the opposite problem, as we revisit a couple of old friends (one good, one bad), in a nice heart-warming tale that is otherwise not terribly impressive.
The big draw here is Alan Moore and Chris Sprouse’s finale. It calls back to PROMETHEA’s finale, following Tom Strong after he failed to prevent the end of the world. It’s filled with revelations about old adversaries, wit, wisdom, and everything you’ve come to expect from an Alan Moore TOM STRONG story, focusing on compassion and understanding instead of mindless punch-ups. And if that’s not enough for you, it’s also got Jack B. Quick delivering his patented brand of nonsense, which is always welcome in my house. It’s light on plot, but it does manage to bring the series to a fitting conclusion.
Is it worth the $25? Probably not. I confess to buying it out of compulsion to complete my set. The Moore story is good, but mainly serves to remind us that it probably would have been best for all involved to call it a day when Moore left the first time, since none of the fill-ins ever came close to matching the quality of even his worst tales. I’m kind of glad it’s all over, so I won’t feel compelled to buy any more of these hard covers.
THE KILLER #1
Writer: Matz Artist: Luc Jacamon Publisher: Archaia Studios Press Reviewer: Dan Grendell"We're living on a pile of corpses, but people say that man is good."
Archaia has a way of choosing some spectacular projects to publish. ARTESIA. ROBOTIKA. MOUSE GUARD. Everything they've put out so far has been a work of quality, and THE KILLER is no exception. Originally published in France in 1998, this version was translated by the artist himself, so you know the contexts and subtleties are there. As always, paper stock is high-grade, and the colors are lovely.
THE KILLER is the story of just that: a killer. An assassin, more precisely. As he sits, waiting for a target to arrive, we see inside his mind, hear what he is thinking, learn why he does what he does, and flash back to a few significant events. This is not a healthy man. But, surprisingly, he isn't as crazy as you might think. The difference between the killer and an ordinary person is one foot over a line, and that's the scary part. Even scarier is that the life of a professional assassin is based around methodical precision, and the killer is starting to break under the strain. If he's dangerous now, what will happen then?
Matz has woven an intriguing and frightening look inside the mind of a murderer here, and it is as chilling as it is entertaining. What it reveals about the way people think and how easy it is to delude yourself is interesting, but so is the character. I'm intrigued, and can't wait for the story to unfold.
Luc Jacamon's art here is phenomenal, and really drives the book home. His choice of muted earth tones for all but the underwater scenes fits perfectly, and his detail work is striking. It takes a great artist to make the minute to minute activities of a man waiting seem interesting, but Jacamon does it perfectly, accenting each thought the killer has with his bored activities. Very impressive.
This book is clearly not for kids, and is marked as such, but I think any adult will get plenty of satisfaction from reading it. This is comics literature.
Remember, if you have an Indie book you’d like one of the @$$holes to take a look at, click on your favorite reviewer’s link and drop us an email.
LOVELESS #12 Vertigo/DC ComicsI want to like this series. I really do. But the characters all speak in the same voice, and they’re all so busy trying to sound like manly men that their personalities don’t shine through enough. This is problematic because of the art. See, I like the art. I really do. I like the mood it sets and the dark noirish shadows and the subdued palette. Both Marcello Frusin and Werther Dell’Edera have a lot of style and I look forward to seeing more from them. But dammit, the art. You just can’t tell what the hell is going on, like, ever. All the men look alike, and so do all the women, and then you’ve got the jumping from the past to the future, and panels where you’re not sure if it’s the current version of the character looking at their past self or just two guys who look the same…dammit. I want to like LOVELESS, but I can feel it slipping away. The events of the issue were pretty huge (I think), but they really needed to hit with a lot more impact. Please, somebody over at Vertigo—more distinct work in the art and more distinct characterization in the dialogue so things aren’t so muddied. Otherwise I’m worried the book won’t retain an audience that really does want to like it. - Sleazy G
SHE-HULK #13 Marvel ComicsThe last two issues of SHE-HULK have felt more like a clean-up rather than a follow-up to the “Starfox as rapist” trial from a few issues back. The end is wrapped up so neatly that it frustrated me. These issues are still filled with the most nougatty of comic book goodness with continuity nods, in-jokes, and a whole lotta action and guest stars. That’s something we’ve come to expect from any issue of SHE-HULK. And I understand why Slott and Marvel would write a story like this since the whole issue of rape wasn’t really resolved or handled as tactfully as it could have been in the last arc, but to remove all blame from Starfox in the manner that it was done just screamed of editorial mandate. I almost would have respected Marvel a bit more if they would have left Starfox as a letch. That would’ve been the ballsier thing to do and would have made him a much more interesting character. This way, all flaws in Starfox’s character are due to a villain’s interference and seemed like a cop out by the end of this perfectly wrapped and safely packaged arc. - Bug
BLUE BEETLE #8 DC ComicsSo the Mexican kid and his girl pal and some mysterious guy who calls himself Peacemaker take a road trip to meet Dan Garrett, the original Blue Beetle's namesake. We get a sketchy bit of background from his sketchy descendant, the Blue Beetle gets some dirty looks from the mysterious guy, and Beetle has a rematch with the unimpressively designed Frankenstein-meets-Igor beast that showed up a couple issues back. There's the usual banter, a couple of half-clues, some minor alluded-to future plot, and appropriate characterization: the envious woman acts like an envious woman, the cute sidekick girl acts like a cute sidekick girl, the gruff veteran acts like a gruff veteran; it's all there, but it just didn't grab me this time around. I'll stick with the series it for a couple more issues, but this wasn't anything special; an attempt to find the original Blue Beetle that felt like so much wasted potential. - Squashua
THE INCREDIBLE HULK #100 Marvel ComicsThe appeal of this series is simply the slow cooking feeling that the Hulk will very soon return to Earth and kick @$$. There have been moments of cool in this “Planet Hulk” storyline, but not enough to recommend it too loudly. The spores that have been popping up in the last issues are pretty easily taken care of in this issue which doesn’t really match up with all of the hubbub that was raised when they first arrived. The people are still flip-flopping as to whether or not the Hulk is the prophesized savior of the people. All in all, it wasn’t a bad issue and it had a nice little short story rendered beautifully by Gary Frank concerning a child genius leaving an ominous message warning Mr. Fantastic of the Hulk’s return. But in all honestly, I’m just hanging around to see the Hulk dent Iron Man’s @$$. Anything up until then just won’t do. - Bug
SUPERMAN CONFIDENTIAL #1 DC ComicsThis book is an excellent start to an all new re-examination of the early days of Superman. Yes, it's yet another re-examination that beats the crocodile of continuity over the head with an oar, but it's done really well and is worth your time; go pick up a copy. What isn't worth your time is what comes with the issue: (1) 3D glasses for a HeroScape advertisement, (2) a TEEN TITANS GO insert, and (3) a pull-out center ad for SparkTop, which, even after reading the advertisement, I still have no idea what it is. These things piss me off. It's not like the Captain Carrot insert in THE NEW TEEN TITANS #16; these are the ads I rip out of my monthly CONSUMER REPORTS so I can read the damn thing without it opening up to a particular page. But where are these ads now? They're in a comic book. An amazing comic book, the type of book that might actually increase in value with time. And all I want to do is rip those goddamn ads out of the book so it can be read properly. Fuck. - Squashua
JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #3 DC ComicsNot to beat the same drum all night like I’m Matthew McConaghey, but man, is the coloring on this title a problem. I’d noticed it over the last few issues, but this month’s is the most egregious by far. I had no idea there were blue, green and black Tornado replicas on panel until the characters said so. Hell, when Hal Jordan is referring to a “green one” in panel with him, he’s half blue-green and half green-blue. As if all the dark colors and panels weren’t bad enough, the problem spills over into the monologue boxes. Yellow on navy for dialogue? Ouch. Against a black background? Double ouch. I’d like the book a whole lot better if I could actually read the words. Other than that, though, Melzer’s doing okay. Love the focus on Red Tornado, glad to see solid characters like Black Lightning, Arsenal and Black Canary getting the credit they’ve earned, and it’s nice to see some old JLA foes turning up for the cliffhanger. A well-written title with good art but a definite problem with the finished product. Awright awright awright…Sleazy G
Hey folks, Ambush Bug here. Those tenacious All Week Cogs from our beloved Talkbacks cornered Editor-in-Chief of IDW Publishing Chris Ryall for a couple of questions and he was gracious enough to find time during his busy schedule running one of independent comics’ most successful companies and writing the comic book adaptation of Clive Barker’s THE GREAT AND SECRET SHOW to answer them. Hold tight, folks! It’s time to let loose the Cogs!COGS: First an intro question: Who is Chris Ryall and where did he come from?
CHRIS RYALL (CR): Right now, until he screws up, he’s managed to become the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of IDW Publishing. But as for where he came from, ahh, that’s a longer tale.
Okay, not really. Prior to IDW, though, he (that is, I) came from Los Angeles, where I (he?) ran Kevin Smith’s pop culture Web site, Movie Poop Shoot.com, for four years. I also worked as a copywriter for a large ad agency in Santa Monica, a corporate speechwriter and a project director for “that” Dick Clark. Before that, I mostly just drank, read comics and tried to talk non-comics-reading women into sleeping with me.
COGS: You have, in the past, tackled projects like SHAUN OF THE DEAD, LAND OF THE DEAD, and most recently, CLIVE BARKER’S THE GREAT AND SECRET SHOW. Per your bio on IDW's site, how did a business/marketing major end up adapting novels and movies to comic books?
CR: Perseverance? You know, I was a marketing/business major because my dad said I should go that route, instead of my chosen Communications. And like an idiot, even though he wouldn’t foot the bill for college, I listened anyway. You find yourself listening to your parents long past the point you should, just because that’s what you’d done up to that point. So I took these god-awful classes like statistics and economics, classes that had no relevance to a real-world economy (as I knew since I was already working full-time) and then just slipped in creative writing classes on the side. And even in my first marketing job, I was doing random copywriting on the side—corporate brochures, inter-company newsletters, music reviews in free papers, that sort of stuff, just to build a portfolio of writing samples. Most are pretty bad now, but the first $35 check I received for my first sale, a short prose story for a free LA mag, is still a very sweet feeling.
So after lots of dabbling, I also started writing comics reviews on the ‘Net, and through various means too long to delve into here, I got to know and went to work for Kevin Smith, running the site, which then led to IDW. Part of my gig in coming here was that I’d be writing some comics for us, and now I’m in the nice position of being able to pick and choose the things I really want to work on, like the above-mentioned titles (as well as ZOMBIES VS ROBOTS, with Ashley Wood, if I can plug a book that’s coming out soon. It’s an original tale, not an adaptation, though).
COGS: Take us through your average day as EIC of IDW Publishing.
CR: I know everyone says this, but there’s no real average day. Every day is ruled by about 500 e-mails, plus assorted tasks that include but are never limited to: editing copy, reading proofs, looking at artwork, assembling creative teams, working on the publishing schedule, talking to licensors about new properties or creators about new titles, assembling our letters page, working on solicitations, writing ads, working with our production department, talking to retailers, and just generally chasing deadlines. For a start.
COGS: How, as a smaller publisher, do you stay viable in a market dominated by the Big 2?
CR: Well, we’ve always tried to be an alternative to the Big Two. They’ve pretty well mastered the superhero book. We decided to offer alternatives to that. If your tastes run more to horror or slightly more adult fare, we’re here. If you like great production values on reprints of classis comics like GRIMJACK or, now, DICK TRACY, we’ve got that; art books by guys like Ashley Wood. There’s all kinds of ways to stay viable for an audience that’s looking for more than just the same old thing.
COGS: What do you do to keep your company afloat in such a harsh and uninviting market?
CR: Well, the market has always fluctuated, and everyone is always predicting the Death of Comics (of course, in comics, death is never final, remember), so we just make sure we publish books on time to the best of our abilities, while keeping our costs down. We’re a privately owned shop, so we’re not dependent on 100,000-sellers to keep shareholders happy.
COGS: Are the unconventional, by Marvel/DC standards, projects your company puts out a benefit or a hindrance in this?
COGS: What state do you feel that independent comics are in right now? And as a follow up to that, where do you think they are going and what is yours and IDW's place in the scheme of things?
CR: It’s weird—maybe because we have great production values on our books or because we have big licenses like TRANSFORMERS and now STAR TREK, but we’re not often thought of as an “indie” publisher when people talk about others like Oni, Boom, or Avatar. So thanks for at least recognizing that we are still independent—we’re like the biggest of the smalls, which is like being the smartest kid on the short bus. I think independent publishers get much more press attention and credit than they used to, although they could still use more representation in comics shops and bookstores. But then again, retailers also stock what their fans request and buy, so… well, I’ve come nowhere near answering this question, have I? I think indie comics overall are in a good place right now. As Big Two storylines get ever-larger and more off-putting to new fans, we all offer good, creative, viable alternatives when you want something more.
COGS: We are seeing declining sales and an ever-decreasing fan base, surprisingly, in an era of almost non-stop comic-related movies. What impact do you think a movie like 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, which is already geared towards a "genre" niche of sorts, will have on this?
CR: I think a movie like this will help bring more exposure to comics than, say, a Spider-Man or Superman flick. Just like GHOST WORLD, SIN CITY and HELLBOY helped show people that comic movies can be so much more than spandex flicks. I think Frank Miller’s 300 is going to be great for that, too. And we hope that 30 DAYS has the same effect. Many people still think of comics as capes-n-tights. If they see that comics also offer darker stories or horror on par with any other horror movie, well, it might get more people into stores and looking at the books. Which is all we can ask.
COGS: And with that, can you give us a spoiler-filled rundown of what you are going to be doing/overseeing on your upcoming trip to New Zealand?
CR: Well, it might be more spoiler-filled AFTER the trip, anyway, but yeah, tomorrow morning, I fly out to New Zealand to spend a week on the set of the 30 DAYS OF NIGHT movie. I’m going to take a lot of pictures and document the trip in an upcoming issue of Wizard, too, so maybe I can throw some spoilers in there. 30 DAYS artist Ben Templesmith is flying over from Australia to meet me there. Should be fun, to see his visuals and Niles’ story come to life.
COGS: A movie related question: IDW has published awesome TRANSFORMERS-related material that expands the overall universe. With the upcoming movie on the horizon, are there any plans to publish any movie tie-ins or related events that will increase IDW's visibility and help promote the company more?
CR: Absolutely—in fact, I’m breaking my TRANSFORMERS-writing cherry on a four-part prequel story that I’m co-writing with Simon Furman. It really enhances, expands and explains a lot of the TF movie world, and should go a long way to showing reticent fans that while some of the designs might be a bit different, this IS still going to be a good TF story. We have Don Figueroa on art, too, which also ensures that the book will look amazing.
COGS: And finally, one for the road: How do you feel, as an EIC, about editorial influence and control over books? In this age of superstar writers and "creative summits," how do think the EIC position has changed/is changing?
CR: I can’t speak for the summits the Big Two have, but again, I think that comes back to mandates other than editorial. If Spider-Man HAS to take his mask off and join a team he’s not right for or whatever, then the writer on that book HAS to make it work. We don’t operate like that. The creative summit I had with writer Simon Furman was spent drinking at various bars in Kentucky during the recent BotCon. So I’d say, at least for IDW, the role of the EIC functions as it should. Plus, we don’t really ever have a situation where we have a “superstar” dictating things to us we don’t like. Rather, I only hire people I’m comfortable with and who I trust to tell a good story. I don’t have a red pen out with Peter David for FALLEN ANGEL since those are his characters and I trust him to do what’s best for the book. So he’s free of editorial dictates, but still, if anything ever ran counter to what I wanted, we’d discuss it. It’s a pretty free, creative place, I think most of our writers would say.
That's it from us, Chris! Thanks again for graciously accepting our request to have us pick your brain! I’d also like to say that if you haven’t picked up an IDW book then you should. I was in my local comic shop yesterday and the quality of the printing and the cover stock was so nice on the IDW books that I used them to support the flimsier books from the bigger publishers, but I was torn because I wanted to look at the haunting cover to the latest WORMWOOD too. It was a bind I was happy to be in! You’ll find no better publisher in comics that has better production values. Check out what IDW has to offer here.