Michael Cray, Wildstorm, and the 6.

Michael Cray #1I have discussed the new Ellis-helmed Wildstorm line before and my concerns regarding an art direction that has veered so sharply from its predecessor. Gone are the cinematic layouts, unique fonts, lush colors, and perhaps overly rendered figures giving the work a three-dimensional pop. The art in early Wildstorm was busy and complicated and I truly miss it. It was representative of an eager creative class that wanted to make its mark on the world by bringing in new influences not shared by the men who came before them—a perfect blend of classic American cartooning and dynamic East Asian visual storytelling. A collection of men who cherished Neal Adams, Walt Disney, Ryouichi Ikegami, and John Woo.

But Wildstorm has had various maestros over the years and the art direction shifts to match their preferences. Jim Lee is no longer at the helm. Warren Ellis is.

I am frustrated…but also understanding? Today’s audiences do not have any nostalgic reverence for Wildstorm’s early incarnations. Given the line’s meager sales during the World’s End era, those early fans are long gone. And so Ellis leans on what he and his fans have nostalgic reverence for when selecting creative partners. The stamp of Watchmen is clearly evident in the first issue of The Wild Storm, as I have stated in other short pieces. And in his personal newsletters Ellis reminisces on the British illustrators of his youth and their impact on his creative partner Jon Davis-Hunt.

“From #7 to #12 we are to expect covers reminiscent of 1970s science fiction paperback covers, or basically, my father’s bookshelf when I was about six, naming the likes of Peter Elson, Jim Burns and Angus McKie.”Warren Ellis

The new Wildstorm is wholly British now, in both its literary and visual expressions. I think the sweeping aside of the line’s Asian and Asian American roots does Wildstorm a great disservice—akin to a removal of Milestone’s African American foundation. And if you replace a publishing house’s cultural lynchpin, what remains? Can it really be a continuation of what came before?

Michael Cray #1And so enters Michael Cray to further cloud these murky waters. Ellis has tapped black creators Bryan Hill, N. Steven Harris, and Dexter Vines to work on the next Wildstorm series (along with Milestone founder Denys Cowan on covers). The series features a new iteration of Deathblow, now black and more intelligent and successful than his white predecessor. The work perhaps lampoons that fact in its early pages; we see Cray given a speech all too familiar to black children—Bryan Hill’s version of “twice as good for half as much.” The new Wildstorm universe will blame Michael Cray for more and give him less.

It is a bitterly hilarious comment on a black man’s place in the new Wildstorm, in the comics industry, and in American society. Hill is a black screenwriter, not a comics-industry alum, and is yet another instance of the mainstream’s preference for recruiting established black writers from other mediums for minor projects instead of allowing black comic writers to work their way through the ranks as scribes from other racial groups do. I also predict sales of this work will be a fraction of the original Deathblow series even though the creators involved are phenomenally talented and the character is already more intriguing than his alternate-reality predecessor. Twice as good for half as much.

I have questions! (I always have questions.) I have repeatedly praised Wildstorm and Milestone for their ability to successfully build truly multi-cultural publishing houses instead of using members of marginalized groups as “seasoning” for primarily white institutions. But are founders who are men of color necessary for that success? Can you create a multi-cultural line from a world envisioned and rebuilt by a British white man? Can fans put their trust in a new imprint when its first public act was to jettison its Asian artistic roots? I’m wary.

But let’s drill down. I have discussed the lionized nine-panel grid and its current prominence in the universes beneath the DC umbrella. I have noted how it is linked in the collective memory of the industry to European works. The number nine has significance, but I am a writer, not an artist. And so it eludes me. It is a mystery within the new Wildstorm universe (and DC as a whole) that my brain doggedly pursues. And it has been made worse with the addition of the six-panel grid repeated throughout Michael Cray. Six and nine.


Six-panel grids are as American as apple pie and their presence in a wholly black work for a line recreated by a British white man is odd, subversive, and delightful. What is it doing here?! What is the message being conveyed? I’m stumped.

Jughead #193When I think of a six-panel grid I immediately think of Archie. I consumed Archie’s Double Digest at an absurd rate in my youth and the layout of the first page of Michael Cray instantly brought that comic to mind. And while the Archie line is currently a rainbow coalition of characters it was initially very straight, very Christian, and very white. So what in the world is this layout—known for its overwhelming presence in historical humorous comics for and about while children—doing in a work about a black assassin working within a technologically advanced dystopia? That is weird. And fascinating. For, Lord knows, blackness is as American as apple pie too, but America is loath to admit it. And so inserting blackness into American comics in this manner, reweaving it and us back into its cherished patterns, feels like the righting of a great wrong started long ago as the industry built itself upon racist black caricatures and chased black men such as Orrin C. Evans out of publishing.

But while Asian men such as Kevin Tsujihara and Jim Lee hold the highest positions one can achieve at both Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment, I cannot help but lament the lack of their presence at Wildstorm. And I do not think Wildstorm can be Wildstorm sans the presence of Asian men within the imprint’s new foundation.

Wonder Woman? Oh, brother!

Wonder Woman #31James Robinson is an incredible writer. And yet placing him on Wonder Woman for a six-issue arc focused on Wonder Woman’s brother is incredibly tone-deaf. I certainly understand the bind DC’s editorial department finds itself within. Fan favorite Greg Rucka has left the company to pursue creator-owned work. That leaves an open slot for a writer on Wonder Woman. And James Robinson is a writer whose strength resides in crafting cinematic adventures with a historical bent. Were I an editor at DC I would immediately wish to place him on Justice Society of America. However, the JSA is currently indisposed.

So what is an editor to do? I wouldn’t want to let a writer of Robinson’s caliber slip through my fingers. And yet there is no way I would entertain the idea of a man writing Wonder Woman given the current cultural climate and miniscule number of opportunities for female writers in the industry—especially on a story arc focused on a male character. But I would have six months to keep Robinson occupied until I could place him on JSA as well as an open Wonder Woman slot to attend to. What to do?

Partner up. DC has recently announced that select books will feature writers from the DC Talent Development Workshop paired with established writers for small arcs. Why not continue down this path and pair Robinson with Vita Ayala? It’d ensure that Wonder Woman possesses a female voice, cement a positive relationship between writers of different generations and cultural backgrounds, and raise the profile of a younger creator. In six months one could separate the two, leave Ayala on Wonder Woman, and move Robinson to JSA.

Status quo. Another option would be to leave writer Shea Fontana on Wonder Woman and allow Robinson to tell his Wonder Woman story elsewhere. Where? Justice League. But what of Bryan Hitch? Well, I would certainly want to hold onto him! And so I would encourage Hitch to create a title for DC’s Dark Matter line.

Relaunch. Nothing like pairing a hot creator with a brand new #1 issue, no? And so one could seek out a low-selling book to quietly cancel and place Robinson on a new Catwoman series. This would loop Robinson into the all-powerful Bat-house and create yet another solid mid-list title for DC. As for Wonder Woman? That title could again be left to Fontana.

King Kirby. Another possibility would be to use Robinson to help boost the profile of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World characters and build a brand around them. Robinson could work on a limited series featuring Darkseid or Orion—one that meshes well with Tom King’s and Mitch Gerads’ upcoming Mister Miracle project.

I believe the options listed above would help to keep both Robinson fans and Wonder Woman fans content, strengthen DC overall, and provide opportunities for marginalized creators.

Bitch Planet Triple Feature #1.

Bitch Planet Triple Feature #1 is in stores now and features work by me and an amazing assembly of creators—Maria Frölich, Conley Lyons, Craig Yeung, Marco D’Alfonso, Andrew Aydin, and Joanna Estep. I’m humbled to have been a part of that crew, to have worked within the world that Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro have created, and to have learned so much from editor Lauren Sankovitch. (One of the things I learned is that lettering is very hard, so kudos to Clayton Cowles for an amazing lettering job—a task that is often overlooked.) I’d also like to thank Christopher Calloway of Creator Talks for chatting with us about the book. The same goes for Rachael Krishna of Buzzfeed and David Brothers at Image+.

“Living racism is a horrifying experience. And then, having to normalize it and internalize it. Sexism or homophobia, all that shit is the same shit. It’s an everyday thing, and it’s so common, and that’s hard to really put your head around. And you having to stomach it in order to keep your job, or to get further in life. You’re having to compromise, and if you don’t, you’re a nuisance. And there’s a paranoia, ’cause you’re like, This is fuckin’ …am I going crazy? Is that person…Daniel Kaluuya

Here’s where it gets sappy. Because a handful of the people who I’ve listed above believed in me more than I believed in myself. Probably still do. Sat patiently with me and quietly and firmly countered the voice in my head that emphatically exclaimed that my lack of opportunity was because I wasn’t good enough. Not the twice as good that we’re often told we must be, not the baseline of adequacy needed for that first rung.

“I’m certainly not going to lie and say it’s not difficult—because it is difficult. Because as much as you want to be inspiring and delve deep into those power fantasies, the reality of discrimination is there tugging away at that thread to unravel any tapestry you weave. What does discrimination do? It curtails your actions. It robs you of your agency. It makes you second-guess your ability.”Cheryl Lynn Eaton

“You can do this.”Kelly Sue DeConnick

My brain translated that last quote to “You’re not crazy.” And, dear God, did I need to hear that more than anything. I needed someone willing to acknowledge that those obstacles exist, but also confirm that I could surmount them—that my words were of value. And I found those someones in the team at Milkfed. And I thank them for taking a chance on me. (And letting me cross a major item off that bucket list!)

Ignorance is bliss.

“There’s some people who they don’t even need to kick out because they’re never going to let them in the front door of the mainstream anyway.”J. A. Micheline

“Nobody owes you a job.”Standard Internet Response

After listening to the Ignorant Bliss podcast I participated in I just wanted to elaborate on a point that I brought up during the discussion. Comics—storytelling—is a rough and insular business. And it is that way for every novice writer regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender—a fact that is brought up frequently when individuals attempt to discuss anti-blackness within the industry. Anyone with even a superficial understanding of the industry would not dare refute that, for rejection is ubiquitous within any entertainment field. You try repeatedly and hope for the best, but sometimes—often times—things just don’t pan out.

Black writers are not demanding jobs “owed” to us, but are requesting the opportunity to apply for jobs—to pitch. The industry does not accept blind submissions. You must be invited to pitch by an editor. I have received one invitation to pitch. And luckily, my pitch was accepted and resulted in an 8-page story. I cannot begin to impress upon you how rare that opportunity is for black women. And I am honored and humbled to have received it.

Because the application process in comics is not blind and uniform but is dependent on an editor taking notice of you and wishing to establish a rapport with you, it is deeply impacted by a large number of societal factors that have nothing to do with one’s skill level. And yes, race is one of those factors.

Black individuals are not in the social circles of those in the position to hire creators. This means that black writers are denied the opportunity to “work our way up through the ranks.” To be frank, editors only briefly consider black writers when there is a story about a black character that is deeply defined by one’s racial or ethnic identity. At the moment, there are two characters who fit that description—Black Panther and Luke Cage. And given that both are A-list characters, they cannot and should not be handed to novice writers or writers without large fan followings. And so books featuring these characters are understandably handed to older established black writers (of which there are only two men—Walker and Priest) or black celebrities from television, film, music or non-comics publishing circles. I can’t find fault with this process when men like Coates and Hudlin are the result.

But the sad reality is that to have a career in comics as a black writer or to even be considered for the opportunity to apply for a job you must first become famous somewhere else. It is a rule that applies solely to black individuals. How insane and arbitrary it is that in order to write an 8-page story, one-shot, or miniseries about a D-list character I must first establish a career as a journalist, screenwriter, producer, rapper, academic, politician, or poet—one long and fruitful enough for an editor to consider my social status a desirable asset. But it is what it is.

The purpose of this post is not to effect change amongst editors and publishers. I honestly don’t believe that is possible any longer. But it is my hope that it results in a change in how fans and non-black creators respond to black writers who discuss the matter. Because we are often met with anger and are accused of demanding handouts when all we desire is equal access to be considered—to be treated like everyone else.

Island in the stream.

First things first, I love that song. Second things second, Julian Lytle’s Ignorant Bliss is my all-time favorite podcast and Lytle is perhaps one of the most insightful interviewers in the field today. Ignorant Bliss provides the rare chance to hear artists of color discuss their lives, the industry, and the creative process. So, of course, the minute I had the chance to be a part of it I was all in. Clearly operating in circles above my station, I discuss the cover to Island #15 with a crew of award-winning critics and creators—Darryl Ayo, Jonathan Gray, J. A. Micheline, and Ronald Wimberly. We also dig into issues of race, representation, and networking within the comics industry. Feel free to listen in.

My 9ine.

After page four, the whole thing goes into a 9-panel grid, and it’s to give you a sense of that claustrophobia. To give you a sense of what it is to be trapped, not only in the themes and the words, but in the actual panel structure. He’s trapped behind those bars we had in Omega Men, and how does he break out?Tom King


The Wild Storm #1

All right.


Are…are Moore and Gibbons secretly on deck for the ultimate Crisis story? Is this foreshadowing? Or is this just a shared love-letter to the nine-panel grid? Looking at this I can’t help but lament the lack of Milestone in this DC revival of worlds. Its absence is notable and, by God, I would love to write a story set in that universe with an artist who is absolutely committed to ruining the nine-panel grid! I’d purposely have a black character on every single page of said story just jacking the layout up and knocking panels out-of-place. I’d gleefully be the fly in the buttermilk. The dark speck marring one’s pristine nostalgic vision.

For that is what we are, no? The group here to remind you that the good old days weren’t so good? That we haven’t lost a way we never had? That returning to the nine-panel grid isn’t an indication that the walls are closing in because we’ve been hemmed in. Y’all just got here. And still refuse to acknowledge our presence a majority of the time. To hell with a nine. It’s the sequential art version of clapping on the one and three.

It’s not that I hate the shared art direction above. I love-to-hate it. There’s a big difference. It’s like relishing the presence of a cherished villain. Like setting a glass of perfectly chilled water on a ledge. Near a cat.

(I’m the cat.)

I see a nine-panel grid and within those gutters I see perfect order and a wallowing in nostalgic longing for a creative era that would have resulted in my ostracization had I been present. And I think to myself, I would love to create complete chaos and discomfort here. I see pacifiers for middle-aged, middle-class men in those grids, not bars. They are in our present day as creatively restrictive as a gimp mask. A familiar binding one seeks out and derives pleasure from.

But I’d be lying if I said the repetition wasn’t intriguing. It is highly intriguing! Here we have the nine-panel grid in four out of the six major DC worlds—Detective, Wildstorm, Charlton/Watchmen, and Kirby’s Fourth World. Only Milestone and Quality are missing. This cannot be a coincidence. I believe Mitch Gerads, Jon Davis-Hunt, Gary Frank and more are collectively up to something. I want to know what it is.

Doomsday clocks in.

Can you think of another creator who is as adept at strip-mining the works of Alan Moore for mass-market appeal? Is there another who could take a half-formed idea buried in the detritus of 30 years of continuity and polish it into a brass (power) ring for retailers to grasp? Morrison perhaps. Waid maybe. But none with the company loyalty and love that Johns has for DC. None so wholeheartedly drenched in Americana and the superheroic as Johns. He is the best man for the job.Cheryl Lynn Eaton

doomsday clockOh, I do so love being right.

So, Doomsday Clock! Will it be critically acclaimed? That I do not know, but I do believe that it will be commercially successful. Of course, there are those who still rightfully blanch at the treatment that Alan Moore and his Watchmen characters have received, but those people are not the direct market faithful being courted with this work. Abandoning the Watchmen property and reestablishing a relationship with Alan Moore—a nearly impossible task that I would not recommend DC pursue at this point—would not have brought those disgruntled (again, rightfully) critics in as regular DC Comics customers. Those individuals drew their line in the sand during the days of Before Watchmen. They will not cross it for loveable frat boy Geoff Johns.

They will for Tom King, perhaps.

To follow along the tangent I’ve just created, the mercenary marketer in me believes that DC should do its level best in the aftermath of Doomsday Clock to pull itself out from beneath the long shadow of Alan Moore. I believe reinvesting in Kirby’s work and placing it in the hands of critically acclaimed creators will work wonders. Direct market darlings and bookstore bros have done battle from Portland to New York to London, but Kirby’s work is our great uniter. There are three unspoken guidelines determining what American audiences deem to be “high art”—it must be old, it must be white, and it must be foreign. However, stellar craftsmanship and a monumental body of work such as Kirby’s often allow one safe passage into that exclusive realm. And in that realm Kirby is now king.

We are in an age where mass market elitism is now the goal. I swear that is not an oxymoron and is an achievable aim with the correct creative team and publicists in place! Because DC deals in archetypes—in simplistic symbols nearly a century old—it is the company in the best position to achieve said goal. Its creations have a level of flexibility not found at Marvel and the universal recognition creations at Image have yet to achieve. Although the criticism lobbed at Secret Empire (some fair and necessary, some unwarranted) has many creators wary of even mentioning controversial issues or politics, it is very easy to use DC’s characters to tell a poignant and topical story. More importantly, to tell one that is commercially viable and taken seriously by critics. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. Neither medium nor genre have the power they once did to dictate a work’s reception.

Which brings us back to Doomsday Clock and Geoff Johns. I like Johns a lot. We definitely don’t agree on the direction of Hal Jordan and Cyborg, but I think he provides exceptional soap and “shock and awe.” And y’all already know how I feel about that! He is a commercially successful and talented writer, but unlike a Moore or a Morrison, Johns does not have the reputation required to tackle the characters of Watchmen without raising quite a few eyebrows of critics. But that’s them.

My Body Is Ready

And that’s me. I love the work of Alan Moore but have absolutely no reverence for Watchmen. The stance that the “high art” of Watchmen should not be sullied by the “commercial shlock” of the DC universe is odd to me. Both worlds were birthed from a common starting point—a shared genre. And I am fascinated by what a creator as steeped in Americana as Johns will have to say via Doomsday Clock about the Anglophilic nature of the comics climate over the past decades. To be honest, as a black American reader I feel like a coolly detached observer regarding the situation. For though comics clamored for the presence of a counterculture willing to explore darker themes and corruption, it has been fairly adamant in regards to its hiring practices that it did not want the individuals exploring those themes to be black. The British invasion in comics mimicked the musical one in both its best and worst ways.

And now there is no counterculture. For those rebellious men grew up and grew in—accepted and embraced. And there is only a piecemeal mainstream culture as the industry spent decades carving particular groups out of it. Groups that I am a part of though distinctly and painfully American I be.

That said, DC did Moore dirty. DC has been doing Moore dirty for so long that there are people working at DC who have only known a world where DC was doing Moore dirty. We have had generational turnover. We are now at the “I never owned slaves so why should I have to pay reparations with my taxes?” level of doing Moore dirty.

And Moore isn’t the only person. And DC isn’t the only company.

Of course, you can’t change prior mistakes of others, only learn from them and do right going forward. You can bring fair contracts to the table. You can be inclusive and respectful. But other than that? It is what it is what it is.

Doomsday Clock seems like it will be the second part of a call and response. I do not believe it will be a sequel to Watchmen, but a sequel in spirit to Multiversity. This is what the superheroic genre was, what it is now, and what it has the potential to be. We have heard that message from one side of the pond with Morrison. And perhaps soon we will hear it from the other with Johns.

Comics, strip down and soap up!

A lot of folks believe that my love of the comic strip Mary Worth has been a “work” or something done in jest. Nah, son! I love that comic—much to the delight of some and the abject horror of others. And even though my breathless Twitter recaps have stopped I still read the strip religiously.

So, of course, you know why I’m here.

I was a little disappointed after the May-December romance between Zak and Iris petered out in an unsatisfying fashion. I (and every poor soul who I had roped in with my recaps) had begun to root for Iris and hoped that in finding a new young love the character would also find her self-esteem and self-worth. I have to admit, I was at first horrified that the middle-aged Iris would get involved with a man young enough to be her son, but was rightfully embarrassed by my own bias after it was pointed out by friends. Age is but a number—for everyone who is not me. (Don’t bring any men of twenty-five ‘round here.)

After Iris and Zak ended their affair the strip spent a few weeks as a commercial for several cruise ship lines. The change in story direction was a bizarre and bland move that was difficult to explain to those I had spent so long convincing that Mary Worth was a treasure trove of surreal soap and occasional unintentional comedy. Unlike the titular character of my favorite strip it seemed as though my advice was not worth heeding.

Enter Derek and Katie Hoosier. The Hoosiers are about to have a marital problem in the form of a pneumatic lounge singer named Esme and I am so here for it, y’all. Mary Worth is back in business!

Kubler-Ross Change Curve

As the comic strip sails towards a new love triangle, it has caused me to reflect on how the soap opera genre changes to fit the medium that is its current method of delivery. As a former fan of monthly superhero comics and daytime dramas I’d grown used to ascending and descending A and B plots. Be it X-Men or All My Children, as one plot rushes toward its conclusion another is beginning to unfold. Daily television soaps have so many hours to fill with content each month that they often have concurrent A, B, and C plots—each claiming a third of the Kubler-Ross change curve.

I am new to daily dramatic comic strips, but it seems as though they do not follow a similar pattern. There is merely one plot. Once one has concluded, another begins. So can comic strips still be called soap operas when the format has been changed so radically? Yes, I believe so.

That said, I still wonder if limiting the number of plotlines is necessary. A daytime drama has roughly three hours of content a week to work within. A comic book has twenty-two pages a month. A comic strip has fifteen to twenty panels a week. One may feel that twenty panels aren’t sufficient to cover more than one plotline. However, I’d argue that a narration box containing the word meanwhile does wonders. I’d also argue that readers are often smarter than they are given credit for being!

Young Animal: The Set List.

Previously I explained why I think Young Animal is ripe for expansion. Now it’s time to talk about the direction in which the imprint should expand and who should be brought on in order to round out the talent pool.

I’d love to see Young Animal focus on the Quality Comics line. While some of the Quality characters have made their way into the main DC universe as supporting heroic characters and have also had short stints at Vertigo, I think a small and select group of titles should be brought to Young Animal in order to illustrate that the line can be more than just another imprint established by and populated with “British Invasion” devotees. I have said in the past that “Morrisons beget Ways.” What I am proposing here is a chance to prove that saying false. Here is a chance to show that the mainstream industry can provide imprints that include visions beyond the (admittedly fantastic) Brit-pop influence seen in so many organizations overwhelmingly dominated by UK creators and their protegés.

In my first Young Animal piece I stressed the importance of uniqueness. It is, quite frankly, something that many new companies lack. There is no effort to separate one from what has come before in terms of shared influences, talent, a particular point of view, or a preferred genre. And so readers will cling to the company that is the most familiar and the most convenient if all else is equal (creators, production quality, theme, etc.).

The characters? Quality. The theme? Bicoastal (New York/Los Angeles) adventures. The genre? Action-oriented humor and surrealism.

Plastic Man

Kid Eternity

Crack Comics

Heart Throbs

Crack Comics and Heart Throbs would be alternating bimonthly anthologies with a main ongoing story by the creators listed and additional shorts selected to showcase Quality characters and individuals working within the creative circles of the established teams. Kid Eternity and Plastic Man would be standard ongoings.

Not to toot my own horn, but I think I’ve done a pretty good job curating here! I’ve selected a group of artists and colorists who are imaginative and excellent storytellers, which ensures a true collaborative effort in regards to theme and direction. I also wanted writers who could happily tap into the absurdity of both New York and Los Angeles—past, present, and future. And I’ve thrown myself in with the murderers’ row assembled here because (1) I’m the armchair curator, (2) I love Sophie’s work, and (3) she’s the one of the few artists who would put up with the ridiculous nonsense I would immediately try to sneak inside a comic. But I would happily replace myself with Adam Warren should there be a “No Editors Allowed” policy.

It’s a good crew—one I think would work well at Young Animal specifically given how much music means to the majority of creators I’ve assembled. And I think that is what should link all of the Young Animal titles in some regard—a strong musical influence. Be it punk or hip hop, glam rock, r&b, or pop. Of course, all of the creators I’ve listed can and have worked well at different companies. And would work well in different crews. Where and with who? Well, that’s for a different post and another time!

Young Animal: Way in.

It’s time for Young Animal to expand.

I’m sure Gerard Way, already consumed by deadlines, would cringe upon reading that sentence. But it is the truth. The line is poised to best its predecessor, Vertigo, with novel takes on oft-neglected titles. It is perhaps the setup Marvel has with Ta-Nehisi Coates on an even grander scale. As with Coates, Way lends his celebrity to the brand, beefing up the marketing on a select subset of titles with his name alone. There is also the added benefit of a company using a celebrity not only as a talented creator, but as a human Rolodex. Both DC and Marvel have the ability to use Way’s and Coates’ connections to reach out to creative circles to which they would not otherwise have access. And they do so. Eagerly.

Moreover, by placing creators on already existing brands in need of renovation, publishers skirt issues that arise with creator-owned properties such as licensing and credits. In some instances, as creators come up with concepts whole cloth that are tied only tangentially to an existing property, this feels rightfully like exploitation. If all that remains that is recognizable about an original character is the name? I would advise any popular creator to take his ideas to Image. However, if a creator is happy to work within an established framework? Young Animal is the perfect place to provide the stability one needs with the ability to explore themes and subjects that one could not explore with a beloved and tightly controlled brand such as Superman.

Why not Vertigo? Because Vertigo is considered old and Anglophilic, whereas Young Animal is considered…young and Anglophilic. Vertigo is iconic; Young Animal is now the brash upstart. And an expansion will help cement that idea in the public’s collective consciousness (1) before younger Vertigo doppelgängers can launch lines and (2) now that Image is best known as the premier place for established creators to publish creator-owned works. That’s where I would start as a mercenary marketer for Young Animal—doing my level best to portray Image as a playground for the old and famous, and any other upstart that leaned hard on Vertigo’s past glory (and let’s be honest, almost all of these imprints do, including Young Animal) as a poor facsimile.

And yet this is comics, not Highlander. There is room for everyone, but you must either be (1) unique or (2) the most talented to get the largest share. Since most creators aren’t exclusive, having the best crew is nearly impossible. The talent pool in comics is amazing, but every comic company dips a toe into it. An imprint must make its mark via individuality and authenticity. What does your imprint bring to the table that is truly distinctive? How is your “voice” different?

I was about to say that Young Animal is in the best position to usurp Vertigo’s role as the industry’s lightning rod, but I must correct myself. Vertigo lost that role to Image long before the creation of Young Animal. Sadly, Vertigo seems to have no interest in heeding my previous advice to become an exclusive playground for established creators with cult followings. And so Image will likely take that prestigious role and the evergreen backlist that comes with it as it abandons its former position as a rabble-rouser—resulting in two organizations benefitting from Vertigo’s decline.

Next up: Four new titles I’d like to see from Young Animal and the creative teams I believe they should hire for the project. See you Wednesday!

Mary Worth’s wiles.

I love Mary Worth.

Many would be surprised by that admission. Not the poor souls who unfortunately follow me on Twitter and bear witness to my endless string of Mary Worth recaps, of course, but many others would be shocked.

It isn’t the strongest strip in syndication. That award would go to the high-stakes and action-oriented Judge Parker. However, it is a heartwarming and formulaic romance at its worst. At its best?

Mary WorthAt its best that strip is the sequential art version of the beloved and oft-mourned Passions, my dear friends. Child psychics, lovelorn women in witness protection, former Secret Service agents, unhinged stalkers, child abductees, and bigamist thieves all make an appearance in the sleepy coastal town of Santa Royale. The strip dips in plausibility occasionally only to ricochet into the heights of absurdity. And absurdity is where Mary Worth excels.

For as much as I champion romances, the truth of the matter is this: if it isn’t unintentionally funny or outrageous? I’m not interested. I need my romances to be riotous Punch and Judy shows that I can comb through with friends to cheer and jeer over various plot points. A good writer knows that a soap opera is a spectator sport as much as it is a story. Did you root for Sonny or Jax? Sami or Carrie? Natalie or Evangeline? (If your answers don’t include Evangeline you can leave this blog right now. Evangeline and Cristian forever.) The point is that fans are drawn to a particular character and remain engaged in the hopes that said character will “win”—be it a man, a company, or the downfall of their evil twin.

Writer Karen Moy is well aware of that fact, generally drawing clear lines between antagonists and protagonists and ensuring that her protagonists have the happy endings that her readers crave. Are the endings pat? Well, yes. But “endings” in serial dramas can be pat. What they must never be is unsatisfying. Moy heeds this rule carefully, making sure each character receives his just deserts.

While good storytelling abounds in comics, good soap is in short supply. Truthfully, good storytelling and good soap do not always work in tandem and you can easily have one without the other. I believe that many creators are disdainful of the soap opera formula (no matter how many fans crave it) and would prefer to ape a procedural or action-adventure instead. I would love to see the resurgence of the soap opera in mainstream comics, but until then? I’ll simply check in with Mary Worth.

Fear of a Bitch Planet.

Bitch Planet Triple Feature #1I usually hate to double dip in regards to posts, but this news is too good not to share on the blog! First and foremost, solicitations for Image’s June slate of books have dropped and yours truly will have a short featured in Bitch Planet: Triple Feature #1! Massive shout out to my partner-in-crime and collaborator Maria Frölich as well as the entire Bitch Planet team from creative to editorial. I’m honored to be in same league as y’all, as fleeting as the moment for that might be!

Want to know more? Of course you do! So I advise you mosey on down to Image’s website and preorder a copy of Image+ #12 to find out more about it. The magazine not only contains interviews with the Bitch Planet: Triple Feature gang, but also a Walking Dead short for you zombie lovers, and an expose on Marc Silvestri (my favorite ol’ school Image artist). The homie David Brothers brings you the best in independent comics month after month. Don’t sleep.

Review: The Wild Storm #1.

Let’s talk The Wild Storm #1.

If you’re here I’ll assume that you are somewhat acquainted with the former Wildstorm universe, as well as with my previous post detailing my concerns regarding the art direction for The Wild Storm, the initial series that now serves as the lynchpin of the new pop-up imprint. If not, feel free to click here to catch up!

The Wild Storm #1Color: I stated that I wanted a war between colors in this series—the soothing pastels of modern technology, the vibrant hues of rogue agents and inventors, and the heavy blacks and deep grays of IO hardware. Ivan Plascencia does an incredible job providing readers with the first of the three. The mundane world that Halo dominates looks to be an absolute pleasure to reside in. Unlike the overwhelming and highly saturated colors you’d find in the real Times Square, the Midtown of Wildstorm is filled with baby blues, soft browns, and muted greens. It is relaxing—as deceptively nonthreatening as the company Marlowe has built. Unfortunately, those pastels persist in the underground bunkers of IO, which I think is a poor choice for what should be a grim and off-putting military environment. The struggle between Marlowe and Craven should play out via brightness. Halo hides in not only plain but illuminated sight; IO operates in the shadows.

But both IO and Halo are in different ways the establishment. And that should be shown via color—via a lack of vibrancy. Plascencia capably achieves that, and perhaps also leaves clues as to who our rogue agents will be via saturation. Angela’s independence is marked by color—her bright red blood and the vibrant blue of her transformation. Zealot’s eyes are a vivid blue. Voodoo’s? Green. And of course there is the crimson that bleeds from Cray. All four of these characters wear gray, making the flashes of red, blue, and green seem much more important.

Lettering: Normally you notice lettering only if it is bad. But I noticed Simon Bowland’s excellent lettering because the chosen font is terrible. It’s too narrow and reminds me of Comic Sans. Straight up. A nice nostalgic nod would have been to use the unique fonts found in the first Wildcats (not WildC.A.T.S.) series. And if I can remember a font from 1999 you know it must be good (or else I have an absolutely insane attention to detail).

I will add that I think the removal of bold to indicate speech patterns flattens out the work. It’s used less often now—probably a push back against its previous overuse (and also nonsensical use). American dialects and accents are so rhythmic, musical, and varied. Bolding is a great way to visually emphasize (no pun intended) that sonic uniqueness—that Voodoo doesn’t sound like Angela and Angela doesn’t sound like Zealot, etc.

The Wild Storm #1Pencils: I’d be lying if I stated that my previous concerns regarding the art direction had been alleviated. Jon Davis-Hunt is a talented artist, but the work here in no way presents itself as what one would typically want and expect from a Wildstorm book. The layout is, quite frankly, dull and devoid of dynamic movement. Nine-, six-, and three-panel grids dominate the pages.

I do understand their presence. Opening with a nine-panel grid harkens back to the era of Watchmena work that deals with a slowly unravelling conspiracy. I do not, however, want to go back to that era artistically. Watchmen is not a part of my comics canon (or Wildstorm’s canon) and I do not have an iota of the Anglophilic and nostalgic adoration others have for the work. I grew up on Jim Lee and grew out with Travis Charest and Dustin Nguyen. If I grew up on Ashanti and you give me The Amazons instead of Kehlani we’re going to have a problem.

We have a problem.

It is my hope that as there is a war between colors there is also one in regards to art. That the further removed Angela is from IO the closer we get to the innovative and cinematic layouts that define the glory days of the Wildstorm universe, via artists who not only pay homage to Wildstorm’s past, but push boundaries as well. In comics the marriage of art and script tell a story. A successful reboot must provide the essence of both halves. The art here is quite pretty. But it is in no way the essence of Wildstorm. Readers unfamiliar with the Wildstorm universe will likely not care. For a former reader like myself the change is jarring.

Script: Oh, we’re good. I’ve loved Ellis’ work since Stormwatch and that hasn’t changed in the slightest. It is my hope that the characters involved maintain distinct ways of speaking that feel natural and authentic. A challenging task given the wide variety of ethnicities, classes, and cultures these characters spring from!

All in all, I am pleased with The Wild Storm #1 and am curious to see where this new world leads.

Wildstorm designs.

The Wild Storm #1As I have said before I am excited about the relaunch of the Wildstorm universe, though I do have some concerns. Those concerns do not reside with Warren Ellis, whose breakdowns of the key players and organizations of the Wildstorm universe have only intrigued me. No, rather it is Ellis’ views regarding the art direction for the upcoming The Wild Storm and other untitled tie-in works he plans to launch that have raised warning flares.

I often compare Wildstorm to Milestone. I have an extremely high opinion of the two imprints and I believe the diversity contained within both had a huge impact on the quality and type of work released. Wildstorm and Milestone were clearly multicultural in nature. They made comics about everyone for everyone. However, the story direction at Milestone was led by African American men. The art direction at Wildstorm was led by Asian American men. And it—no pun intended—colored the work. If one is to relaunch Milestone (as Lion Forge has done in spirit with Catalyst Prime) or Wildstorm effectively, I believe this must be duplicated. The heart of both imprints reside with men of color. It is that simple.

Lion Forge has risen to the challenge. Though its selection of writers for Catalyst Prime is diverse, Christopher Priest and Joseph Illidge, both black men present during either the creation of Milestone or its flourishing, are at the helm. Lion Forge is poised to replicate what made Milestone unique in the marketplace—a multicultural band of talented creators building a world envisioned by black men.

Given the dominating presence of skilled writers such as Warren Ellis, Alan Moore, James Robinson, and Mark Millar, it is clear that Wildstorm’s story direction was overwhelmingly Anglophilic in nature even though the imprint’s roots reside with writer Brandon Choi. This is certainly not a negative, but a positive—the works produced were wonderful—and this setup has been reproduced with Warren Ellis’ return. What has not yet been duplicated, and something I think should be duplicated if this imprint is to successfully recapture the “heart” of Wildstorm, is to have Asian American men at the helm in regards to art direction.

Now just as Milestone hired writers of myriad backgrounds, so should Wildstorm have a diverse selection of artists. After all, men like J. Scott Campbell, Matt Broome, and Lee Bermejo all thrived there. But they did so under the watchful eye of Jim Lee. Wildstorm’s artists had multiple influences, of course, but one can clearly see that Asian and Asian American artists were not only among them, but in the early days those influences perhaps dominated.

“When Jim launched WildStorm, the look was best-in-class for commercial superhero comics—computer-assisted colour, pinsharp printing, great paper. We can’t replicate that, and, frankly, I can’t think of a technological way to top it. So let’s try something else. Stripped-down, stark and authentic.”Warren Ellis

Looking at the preview art released it appears as though Jon Davis-Hunt wears the UK on his sleeve. His work is lovely, and in the panel layouts and body language depicted one can see strains of Dave Gibbons and Steve Dillon. But an Anglophilic writer paired with an Anglophilic artist leaves one with an imprint highly reminiscent of Vertigo, not Wildstorm. And to follow in the footsteps of Vertigo does a clear disservice to what Wildstorm was and could be again—a marriage of the UK and Asia nestled in a multicultural American setting.

Academi GRS OperatorsI will paraphrase what I’ve said elsewhere in conversations with friends in regards to the stripped-down, desaturated, and spot-color approach to art and design in the new Wildstorm universe: I am not a fan though I understand its presence. It is my hope that the art and color in The Wild Storm apes multiple styles as a nod to the design wars taking place within the story—Academi (formerly Blackwater) versus Apple versus rogue street tech. I want to see heavy black mecha, sleek white tools, and the inventions of children of color who are working with the vibrant branded refuse discarded by our society.

“By the end of it I’d want an explosion of color as the universe drills down to the street. Renzi on Loose Ends. Or Bellaire brightness.”Cheryl Lynn Eaton

I think that vivid kinetic faction is where Asian and American artistic influences should make their presence felt. And if or when they do, Wildstorm will have truly become Wildstorm.

“Keep your politics out of my comics!”

Comic books have always been political. Comic books have always made a cultural statement. Much like a fish is not aware of the water surrounding it until the creature has been removed from a lake or an ocean, readers are often not aware of the political statements and cultural agendas promoted in the work they consume until those agendas no longer adhere to the ones they hold dear. A slow-witted Mammy in a Tom & Jerry cartoon was deemed benign by non-black audiences prior to a shift in American attitudes about African Americans. Captain America punching Hitler was deemed acceptable for generations until a resurgence of white nationalists grew increasingly distressed that such depictions were encouraging people to (rightfully) respond to their bigoted desires for genocide and the revocation of civil rights with violence.

While I believe that work that champions the hatred and denigration of a group for whom they inherently are has no place in the art we consume, to remove politics (or in layman’s terms, to remove propaganda or a cultural agenda) from one’s work is wholly impossible. Even something as innocuous as a 1980s sitcom such as Growing Pains championed the traditional nuclear American family. And so long as there is room for other families to be depicted, what is wrong with that?

Absolutely nothing.

I find that there are two distinct groups clamoring for an imaginary era when comics were not political. The first group is comprised of reactionary individuals deeply angered by the presence of subcultures that are not their own in the work they consume. They are your typical racists, homophobes, anti-Semites, misogynists, etc.  However, there is another group that I believe does not wish to whitewash or censor an industry, but is having difficulty expressing what it really wants, which is a curtailing of ham-fisted depictions of current events or thinly veiled lectures disguised as story arcs.

Sadly, I believe the second group is much smaller than the first. However, it exists and its grievance is a valid one. I’ve enjoyed the work of creators possessing cultural viewpoints and political agendas that differ wildly from my own—and it certainly wasn’t because men like Frank Miller and Chuck Dixon are somehow adept at not letting their agendas and viewpoints bleed through their work. In fact they are absolutely terrible at it! But as long as one is not terrible at crafting a good story, one can enjoy work like Team 7 or Sin City: Hell and Back as much as one enjoys Bitch Planet or Empowered.

And I do.