Friday, December 23, 2011

Thoughts on Digital Comics

Digital Comics. Is there such a thing, or is it just "Comics?"

The comics news sites seem to be abuzz that 2012 will be a make-or-break year for digital delivery. Some going so far as to suggest the make or break will be for the industry as a whole (well we've been hearing that one for a while now). 

There are two interesting reads lately that spell things out. The first is found at Savage Critic, a lengthy and thoughtful dissemination by Brian Hibbs. This primarily takes a retailers' point of view, though I have to say that personally I rarely find retailers espousing anything remotely resembling logic on the subject of their industry. I don't hold that against Hibbs, tho, as he raises several strong concerns about the increasing move to digital distribution. I don't even agree with some of his conclusions, but I respect anyone in his position that is actually thinking and communicating about it in a helpful way. He's not entirely alone, and these steadfast (and smart) businessmen are the ones who can survive.

The second comes from a creator, an Op-Ed over at The Beat by Dave Castelnuovo. In my opinion he's right on the ball here, much more so that I've heard from many a retailer or publisher who are intent to keep the blinders on. There is a new generation of content generators who are embracing digital distribution for one sole purpose: get content to readers that is not only sustainable, but profitable.

Form factor is a terribly hard argument to win on either side. I love printed comics, but comics on an iPad look pretty damn sweet. Comics on Kindle, not so much. There are wonderful advantages and nitpicky drawbacks on both sides. It's hard to look past the technology of the now, but surely if we're in the midst of a Star Trek era of portable devices, the future can only get better. Lighter, thinner, sturdier, tactile. Cheaper. When that price point finds the sweet spot, content providers better be fucking ready or they'll be left in the dust. You think that's happening now? Just wait.

What it comes down to for me has less to do with the creators and the retailers than it does with the publishers whose bloated ways seem to barely grasp the potential on all fronts. This is doubly hampered by publishers' desires to not only reach their audience and hopefully expand it, but contradictorily bow to pressures imposed by physical distribution and retailer angst. By publishers I'm only really inferring the big two, DC and Marvel, as for all intents their stock is the stock and trade of comics retailers. Should one of them choose to grab the future's brass ring and jump into the digital deep end entirely, it effectively puts at least 85% of comics retailers out of business over night. I wish they would do that and get it over with, cruel as it sounds. But for now neither of them have the insight, means, nor the balls to do so.

Publishers seem to be missing the win-win. They have an immense catalog that can be cheaply ported to digital and sold again. There's even some double dipping potential with not only a new audience but an old one who has quit previously and of course the existing one that wants to move to a new format. On the physical distribution side, there's no need to stop. Floppies, yes, there are dozens of reasons to stop the equally dozens of mediocre titles that come out week after week. But prestige titles, original graphic novels, omnibi, Absolute editions, etc., they can all still be the draw in the shops and Amazon. Think about it. Would you really miss a Batman comic every week, if you got the equivalent via digital? Maybe... but what if throughout the year an original Batman graphic novel by some kick-ass team came out that was just dying to be read in that groovy page-flipping format? It can be offered digital, too, but there will be a stronger market for it on both sides. The largest obstacle here is one that Hibbs nails, in that again it's the publishers who can't seem to market themselves in a way to make them accessible.

One last note on something that alot of people seem to refuse to consider. Perhaps 2012 does mark the end of comics distribution in a retail environment, and that's okay. At least, on a national, readily available scale (which is pushing it as it is). There are never ending tales of comics stores struggling, there have been for years and years. If it's done, it's done. A physical retail location will suddenly become much more rare, but it will be for those who's passion remains. This for both customers and owners. That's the way it has to be for any niche market. And here we are on the cusp of printed comics becoming just that-- niche. 

As an extreme example, ask yourself where you can go buy a horse-drawn carriage. Sure everyone loves cars, anyone can get a car. But you want a carriage, with all it's history, tangibility, and craftsmanship. And you know what? You can get one. Sure it may cost more and be harder to find, but when you do find one it will have been made by people who are just like you. And there will be fellow customers who are like you as well, and that's a community you will be glad to belong to. Most people cannot be bothered with this. Most people could care less about the demise of the mass-market carriage building industry that came along with the onslaught of the automobile. And that's why most people have a car, likely including yourself.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Last Bud Plant Catalog?!?

I've received the Bud Plant Catalog for years. Years and years, close to 20, probably. It's been one of my favorite things to browse through and order from when the art book bug bites. Bud Plant-- eventually re-branded to Bud's Art Books-- has probably the largest book catalog of all things art that there is. I've met the man in person at cons, and it's certainly no secret he loves what he does.

There have always been periodic updates and a couple times a year the big "brick" catalog would come. Many a Saturday morning was spent on the couch watching TV and dog-earing my wishlist. So I was more than surprised to see the latest catalog arrive a couple weeks ago branded along the top: "This is the LAST Bud Plant Catalog!"

Fret not, the business is merely moving orders exclusively online. A sign of the times, Bud admits himself in an editorial inside. I'll miss the print edition, tho I have to admit at times I thought it might have come with more frequency than it needed to. I remember more than a few times during spring cleaning finding a literal stack of those things that had built up :-) The website may not be as tactile, but it certainly has its conveniences, not to mention some ripe selections you're not likely to find on Amazon. I encourage all book lovers to stop by and browse-- often!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Disneyland, ORLY?

Here are 11 photos I took at Disneyland that one might not necessarily associate with Disneyland. Can you decipher their origins?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

My Little Felsteed

A fun project from a while ago I'm just now getting posted:

Special thanks to Mary for 1) supplying the blank Pony and 2) re-rooting the hair!

And before you ask, this little dude is one-of-a-kind for my <3 Vicky!

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Farewell Austin

It was a grand run in what I think may be the only truly hospitable city in Texas. Not that I've grown to have any dislike of the Lone Star State or its fine residents, just that for a west coast boy like me Austin was a pretty good fit.

Four years is one of my longer durations in a single place, if you can believe it. And of course I've made some wonderful and hopefully life-long friends during that time. I met my special gal here, too, and that counts for alot. Austin is a lush, hilly oasis in the vastness that is Texas, and it is home to good people. The town has a liberal bent compared to its conservative surroundings, and was often described to me as "a little blue island in a sea of red."

The city itself is small and compact. Downtown has a great culture and atmosphere. Music really can be had just about anywhere, and I've been fortunate enough to see some great shows, big and small. The surrounding areas and suburbs are what you's expect from the urban sprawl America has come to excel at-- but it's the rolling hill country, rivers, lakes, and greenery that set it apart.

But as one's path in life meanders and forks, so it goes that I move on again to new endeavors, back to the sunny shores of California... more on that and some additional thoughts on Austin to come.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Ye be free to see thee away to sea!

Yer back be breakin' from runnin' the decks, but it's a far better task than walkin' the plank!

Call forth your heart's desires over these wide waters-- ifn' yer toils be worthy and your luck be just, it's a life's treasure that awaits. The only question left is if it wer earned... or stolen!

International Talk like a Pirate Day

Friday, August 19, 2011

A pre-determined love for Hanzell

I do like a sip of the grape, especially a tart, smooth merlot or pinot noir. Now I haven't had the pleasure of sampling a bottle from Hanzell Vinyards, but I do plan to soon continue my fine, misguided tradition of sampling wines based solely on the appeal of their label.

Or more specifically in this case, the warm and lovely script of their namesake.

An extra cool feature of Hanzell's web site includes an index of all their labels and bottles!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

El Camino High School 50th Anniversary

The high school I once attended (and subsequently graduated, thank you) recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. A good friend with close ties to our old teenage gauntlet reached out to request a logo design to celebrate the event. It was a fun project to doll up the traditional mascot logo, which then ended up on a variety of promotional materials and swag-- including a pretty sharp hoodie and the requisite tee.

Yeah, I did make use of an Adobe Illustrator flourish, but hopefully by way of its included intent.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Goodbye comics, you may or may not be missed.

So today I handed off the last of my decades of acquired comics to the brother of a good friend. This has been a steady procedure over recent years as chunks have been sold off to ebay and local comics stores, but never in the bulk or finality of this instance.

As I had gone through my collection looking for books I wished to keep (a longbox and a half as it turns out) I was reminded of many great stories, artists, and rare gems that only comics had to offer. Many of these I have since purchased in other forms such as trades or nice hardbacks, so I don't think it is a total expulsion by far. I mean shit, I'm still buying those trades and nice hardbacks, maybe not in the frequency I used to, however lax I have been of late in relaying that here.

And yet it was a very good feeling to hand them off to someone who genuinely loved comics and wanted these books. A better choice than random ebays and wholly underpriced trade-in to stores if you ask me. We chatted about how comics and comics collecting was transitory, how the whole basis of the classic collection was based on books trading hands. So now my collection, too, has been put into the care of another. It is likley one day he may do the same.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

The unexpected beauty of Francine

Every once in a while, an animated show surprises me with a shot or sequence above the norm. Contrary to many who would bash McFarlane series for being cheap and static, I find them endearingly efficient by necessity. American Dad is more story driven and has only gotten stronger in its short lifetime (whereas I find Family Guy falling fast, albeit still amusing), and when they "spend the money" it's a great bang for the buck. While Family Guy has its moments, they are primarily for shock and guffaw, whereas American Dad showcases much smarter payoffs and more than a few that are downright genius.

And yet something more subtle can have just as nice an impression-- the screengrabs here from the recent episode "Flirting with Disaster" caught my attention instantly for their staging, composition, and color.

These are two beautiful stills, surely by intent, because the gag that follows is a real kicker.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The beauty of Big Red

I had never heard of Big Red soda before coming to Austin. As far as I can tell it's an overly sweet, vaguely cream soda of indiscernable flavor. It has me curious, if only there was some way to find out the history of this intriguing beverage...

Ah, Yes.

I leave it to other consumers to decide the flavor for themselves. In this instance it's not the taste that excites me (as a patron of cream sodas I've had many better), but the "Delicious" design screened over what could only be yet another offering of the retro label throwback trend. Its beauty is in its bold simplicity, and while it mysteriously found the need to make use of five fonts (on the whole), it is thankfully bereft of any additional "retro" or "classic" branding so often forced on the public as if we'd be so shocked by an certain aesthetic that we might think the actual decade had changed around us. In fact the only truly anachronistic detail on the bottle is a discreet listing of under the UPC.

Should you visit the site you'll no doubt notice the current logo and branding has nowhere near the class or charm of this red and white treat.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Hellboy: The Wild Hunt

Hellboy is a unique book in a couple ways beyond the amazing art and crafting of Mignola's macabre and oddly humorous world. First, it's a rare book that "stuck," a smaller title that endured long enough to steadily grow devoted followers. And unlike the majority of classic comics characters, fans of Hellboy have been there since it's beginning. While that's going on -gasp- 18 years now, it's a far cry from the decades upon decades heaped onto Marvel and DC historians. There is a much younger generation that knows the whole of Hellboy and has grown along with it.

Second, Hellboy is fortunate to have a greater than average readership of "people who don't read comics." That is, an audience outside of the weekly warriors and die hards. Certainly a feature film or two helped grow this audience, but I'd bet far more people are going to be familiar with Hellboy than with, say, Booster Gold.

Hellboy's roots will always be in the comics, found in increasingly better formats as trades and Library Editions. Even though I resigned myself to the Library Editions at first sight, it is difficult to not pick up a new trade. Hellboy: The Wild Hunt is one of the most recent, and one of my favorites. What sets The Wild Hunt apart is that it is not only a great self-contained story, but a huge payoff to longtime Hellboy readers. Many old plot threads and characters start coming together out of seemingly forgotten tales and quickly build to a fever pitch. There is a foreboding finality to it all, as the book as a whole begins to build to the crisis point that may or may not define Hellboy's existence. Mignola as a storyteller is firing on all cylinders here, sweeping through his mythology with bravado and giving all those around the campfire a rollicking good time.

Mignola has a firm grasp on the story, probably more so than ever, and does treat us to his artwork in chapter breaks and covers. It's a shame that he can't maintain the work on actual story art, but... not really. Hellboy's cache is such that is can draw in some of the greatest talent in the field. The Wild Hunt brings on Duncan Fegredo, who is no stranger to the pages of Hellboy already. And I LOVE Duncan Fregredo! Always have. Fegredo's interpretation of the house that Mignola built is filled with the wonderful contrasts and interspersions of detail that make Hellboy unique. The populating characters are eccentric, the environments mysterious, and the monsters epic. It's not as minimalist a look as Mignola's signature, which is good, there's no real point in xeroxing. Fegredo's personality shines through the character and does a tremendous justice to the world he inhabits. It's awesome.

It's not a huge secret that Mignola is wrapping up Hellboy to meet its climactic end (literally), and book like The Wild Hunt keeps the anticipation at peak levels.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Superman: Brainiac

I've been a fan of Gary Frank since near the beginning of his career. His early work on Hulk would end up eclipsing superstar Dale Keown's fervent re-invigoration of the title, and it was Frank who would set the character's signature style for years to come. He would hop around titles quite a bit after that, with the occasional creator-owned work like Kin filling in the gaps. And of course his time on Gen13 is near and dear to me, marking a period of the book that was the most mature it's ever been, this in spite of the immaturity required of the series.

It was only to my joy to see that what I feel is his best work has exploded in the last couple of years. When I first saw a fill-in of his on Superman, my first thought was an odd familiarity mixed with an artistic excitement that rarely comes over me. Probably not unlike many comics followers, I said to myself, "This is Gary Frank?" Indeed it was and on further inspection it had all of his qualities encased in a hard-edged, crisp determination that fit Superman like a glove. Thankfully more than a few recognized this as well, and Frank was soon onto producing story arcs and regular covers. Frank is currently oft-aided no less deftly by Jon Sibal, a highly skilled (and adaptable) inker in his own right.

With Superman: Brainiac, we are treated to a re-introduction of the titular villain that is one of the best. Writer Geoff Johns continues his path on quilting the DCU from his personal whole cloth, which I've found questionable on more than one occasion. But I do have to say, when he gets it, he gets it. It's a very powerful and driven version of Superman and Clark Kent, facing off against a Brainiac that's every bit as cunning, calculated, and ruthless as one would expect him to be. Some riveting conflicts and truly great battle scenes lead to a tragic end, where the climax of Superman and Brainiac's rivalry shadows the far away death of Pa Kent. The theme of Superman not being able to save everyone has been seen many times-- here the combination of story and art make it one of the more memorable ones.

Again, enough can't be said of Frank's work on these chapters. His Superman's features ever-so-slightly invoke the memory Christopher Reeve with an effortless consistency that can only be the mark of a master artist. All of his characters are great, from Lois Lane to Supergirl, and the supporting cast as well. Rarely is a villain as one-note as Brainiac been represented with a depiction of power that matches his eerie state of being. The fight scenes are just fantastic to look at. And all the moments in between-- the whole book is a visual treat from start to finish.

Oh, and everything said above can also be said of Superman and the Legion of Superheroes, which is even better!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Artist Himself: Rand Holmes

Published by Fantagraphics, The Artist Himself: Rand Holmes is a true artist retrospective. It wonderfully chronicles both the art and life of artist Holmes, illustrated througout with what is likley the most comprehensive catalogue of his art available.

Several of his indie comics stories are re-printed in full, as well as selected paintings and personal art pieces that show his tremendous skill and adaptability. His fine art paintings are pristine and inspiring, but I myself adore his black and white comics art that holds the style of the greats and clearly represents the best of the indie genre. The pages are at times rough and loose, yet elvolve over time in to pure comics craftsmanship. Holmes covers many subjects of his day, which thankfully include a healthy dose of drugs and smut.

Any art fan or would-be comics historian will revel in the text that rolls over the years of the birth of the underground comics scene through the indie comics boom of the 80's. This peppered with the story of one artist's life and all his ups and downs, loves, losses, struggles and successes. At times Holmes seemed to have lived a hard-luck life, at others a carefree hippy lifestyle with just the right amount of luck. It's decades before Holmes finds his place as both an artist and a man, sadly his final determinations come only shortly before his death. This, along with other key moments of his career, is punctuated by Holmes' own journal entries, heightening the personal tale with few details omitted. It is an amazing story of an amazing storyteller.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

I also like to grow onions

If you're looking for something more dramatic.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

I like to grow garlic

Mmmmmm... garlic. I love garlic. And whenever I come across a bulb that shows signs of a little green, I throw it in a jar and watch it sprout at a tremendous rate over just a few days.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Mac and Cheese Refresh

You may have noticed (or not) the bold new design on boxes of the Kraft classic. It's actually been out for a while now, but each time I see it I take a second look. There have been quite a few designs over the years but they haven't strayed far from home.

This design literally turns the heritage upside down! Another small detail that's so subtle it barey registered: That box has got a spoonfull of mac and cheese-- on a fork.