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

Okay.

The Wild Storm #1

All right.

Hrm.

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.


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.


Image is everything.

The title of this post is a bit of a misnomer since I plan to touch upon comic companies directly competing with Image, but good headlines are hard to come by! I’ve been thinking a bit about my previous posts concerning the fate of Vertigo (of which there were many). I had come to the conclusion that Image would usurp Vertigo’s grip on the publication of cutting-edge titles from superstar creators and talent on the cusp of notoriety. Looking at Image’s line-up, I can certainly say that I was right. I had also assumed that Vertigo would then conquer IDW’s domain, bringing quality cult classics from other arenas to the world of comics. My belief was that IDW would simply roll over, unable to compete with DC’s monetary resources. Those predictions were wrong. IDW has in fact strengthened its position: securing work from creators Jeff Parker, Steve Niles, and Duane Swierczynski; luring away former DC editor Sarah Gaydos (who can boast of her work on Vertigo’s Django Unchained); and expanding its list of titles. Clearly realizing that there is strength in numbers, Dark Horse and Dynamite have entered into a partnership. While the partnership concerns only digital works, there are still many more months of announcements and a long stretch of convention season still ahead of us.

Where does this leave Vertigo? Stripped of its power and glory—seemingly embedded in its former executive editor, Karen Berger—it must begin once more as a fledgling imprint, laying the groundwork necessary to rebuild its talent pool and brand. At first glance, it seems to be doing a superb job, publishing work such as Prince of Cats and Django Unchained. Though the works listed are of a higher quality than the fare once found on UPN and the WB, I can’t help but recall how the struggling stations bolstered their ratings by reaching out to talent of color—and wonder if DC has attempted the same with projects from writers such as Mat Johnson and Ronald Wimberly (as well as the earlier acquisition of Milestone’s characters). That Prince of Cats does not boast an i in its upper left-hand-corner should honestly be of great embarrassment to Image. That Mat Johnson has made Vertigo his home in the four-color realm should be unsettling as well. Why is Image unable to “seal the deal” with creators such as these?

But will Vertigo possess the ability to do so much longer given the absence of Berger and her protégés?

“I wrote a scene where Juliet is smoking weed with her homegirls in the bathroom. I started thinking about NY in the late ’70s and ’80s, [so] I put that in there. Karen liked it. Karen was real supportive. It was important to me that Karen dug the characters. I broke down the whole book.

“I guess here’s where things got difficult. I got lost in the bureaucracy. They switched editors twice on ‘PoC,’ and in the end, I lost that game of musical chairs, and badly. I had to nag to get things looked at and approved. Because I wanted certain control over things like color and design, the process was held up further. The fact that I’m a bit mercurial didn’t help.”Ronald Wimberly

The empire has clearly fallen, and I think this remaining dominion of Vertigo will be conquered by organizations such as Dark Horse, Oni, Top Shelf, Drawn & Quarterly, and—of course—Kickstarter. As for Vertigo, I wonder if it will simply become an imprint for quirky off-brand works featuring existing DC properties.

I (and many others) have jokingly referred to Image as the new Vertigo, but can Image become the new DC?

“Image will increasingly shift from creator-owned to in-house properties. These ‘in-house’ properties may themselves be partially creator-owned, but the focus will be far more on developing their own brands (in the style of ‘The Walking Dead’) than launching those of independent entities. Of course, a big part of this has to do with TV/movie options, etc.”Valerie D’Orazio

A shift in Image from creator-owned to in-house properties? Sounds ludicrous, no? For those paying attention to interviews with Stephenson, it shouldn’t seem too farfetched.

“One of the things we’ve been working on this year, with our What’s Next campaign is to focus more attention on continuing series, through both ads and retail posters, because it is important for people to be aware of those books. We’re also working on a variety of retail incentives to make it as easier for retailers to support a title at literally any point in its run, whether it’s on issue one or 100.”Eric Stephenson

I don’t think Image will ever abandon its focus on creator-owned properties, but I think there will be greater emphasis placed on promoting books featuring characters owned by the Image partners. After all, charity begins at home.

Can Image become the new DC? DC is an engine that runs on the fuel of its beloved icons; Image is a young company and possesses no icons. However, with twenty years beneath its belt, Image can certainly use nostalgia to its advantage. Just as it was successfully achieved with the Extreme titles, Image can reinvigorate interest by (1) relaunching earlier works with new visions by popular creators and (2) providing longstanding Image titles with consistent material by their original creators, cosmetic revisions for struggling works, and new “jumping on” points for all.

In regards to diversity, DC simply takes a consumer’s approach, using its vast resources in an attempt to acquire what it has difficultly cultivating in house—popular characters of color and a diverse writing staff. Image appears content to be pursued by talent, which generally results in homogeneity in regards to race and gender. Earlier, I was discussing with a friend how I felt that talented black writers mainly tended to eschew the mainstream, convinced in the belief they are not welcome. Now, it seems there is even an avoidance of smaller companies, with Kickstarter reaping the benefits—leaving slim pickings for actual publishing companies.

“No one likes to say this out loud, but for the most part, the submissions publishers receive are not very good. By and large, the art is so bad that even the proudest parent in the world wouldn’t put it on the fridge if their kid brought it home from school. There are endless pitches that are either re-hashed versions of stories that have already been told, or even worse, completely incoherent. Most of the time, looking through the submissions pile is pretty depressing.”
Eric Stephenson

If a racially diverse selection of writers is a goal—and to be honest, it seemingly isn’t a goal for the industry, nor a concern outside of Black History Month—both DC and Image will have to select representatives who can act as talent scouts and impress upon the populace that diversity is a concern. Image will need to woo established writers of color (Liu, Bernardin, etc.) from other comic companies and arenas; DC—hit with a wave of bad press that has made many established writers wary—may have to settle for grooming novice writers with potential.

“Don’t know if [Milestone] would fit at Image. They’re kind of about that solo pioneer spirit. And imprints revolve around one creator’s properties.”
—Cheryl Lynn Eaton

The above quote is one from a debate I had on Twitter on whether Image could succeed with an imprint akin to Milestone where DC had clearly failed. Though Image excels at world-building across multiple titles (as most comic companies excel), those worlds clearly spring from one writer’s creative vision—generally, one lone white guy (Kirkman, Silvestri, etc.). What was so wonderful about Milestone was that men and women from a large variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds came together to create quality comics featuring a world that was equally as diverse. Image cannot provide that. DC cannot provide that. I cannot think of one company that possesses the diversity, the level of talent, and the financial stability required to recreate such an operation. All three are required for it to work.

All in all, I’m interested to see how things unfold—for Vertigo, for Image, and for the industry as a whole. Even Milestone, which celebrates its twentieth anniversary this year, may have surprises in store.


There’s no place like home.

New York City has often been referred to as its own major character in the series Sex and the City. While I don’t agree, the importance of New York to the series cannot be denied. New York—any city—has an impact on its denizens, shaping them to fit the existing culture within its borders. To move to a new area, not as a tourist or transient figure, but as a settler, is to assume the customs and lifestyle of one’s neighbors that are necessary to survive and maneuver efficiently. If not, problems quickly occur. For example, Brooklyn-born, the excessive socialization required amongst strangers while in Atlanta is still disconcerting. Privacy and solitude are at a premium in New York and are not to be relinquished without great reluctance.

Good fiction requires cities to have their own cultures as well. The character of a region is shown by how the landscape and structures are depicted. It is also reflected in the temperament and appearance of its citizens. For these reasons, team-ups and crossovers must be created with care. Unless the “hook” of a tale is to show a “fish out of water,” a mish-mash of incompatible worlds and characters is confusing and distasteful to the reader. One cannot build the foundation of a good story on earth that is not firm.

Seemingly rebroadcast at least once yearly, the crossover between Homicide: Life on the Street and Law and Order is fantastic. Both worlds are clearly defined, and characters from both series find themselves as strangers in a strange land. Another tactic that works is to simply create a new world for all the characters in question. This has been successfully executed repeatedly in comics, the Amalgam universe (depicting blended versions of Marvel and DC characters) likely being the most lucrative example.

With DC Entertainment’s New 52 initiative, the DC, Wildstorm, and Milestone universes have been folded into one world. As a former fan of Wildstorm and Milestone characters, the development is frustrating. It is frustrating because I do not feel that a new world was developed that was hospitable to all characters; Milestone and Wildstorm characters were simply plugged into the DC universe. The number of Milestone characters appearing has been minimal, so a fish-out-of-water approach could have been successfully taken with Static and Xombi. However, given the sheer volume of Wildstorm characters inserted and the incompatibility of the former DC and Wildstorm universes—one an idealistic place with nearly black and white depictions of good and evil, the other a more sinister place with various shades of gray—results have been dreadful. DC fans have largely ignored Wildstorm characters. Wildstorm fans, given a strange world that in no way exploited already weakened nostalgic ties, had no reason to stay. I am apprehensive about what will occur should more Milestone characters make an appearance.

DC’s recreation of Earth 2, a world that could have easily been shaped to fit Wildstorm and Milestone characters, is essentially the existing DC universe with different characters plugged in. The culture remains the same—charmingly idealistic. In contrast, Marvel’s Ultimate universe began as a world that was much darker and cynical in nature compared to the existing Marvel universe. As of now, the two Marvel worlds are largely similar, and a large event featuring a rebooted world containing the most popular characters and concepts from both would work fabulously—though given fan resistance to change, it would probably be best to test the waters with a temporary revision akin to Age of Apocalypse.

But, uh, back to the lecture at hand: how does DC solve the problem of compatibility? There are three options: remove the Wildstorm characters from the DC universe; alter the Wildstorm characters to fit the DC universe; present the Wildstorm characters as part of DC’s underground, an off-the-grid assemblage of cynical characters largely not in contact with DC’s icons.

I’m curious to see which path DC decides to choose.


Vertigo a go-go!

The writing is on the wall in regards to Vertigo. Thankfully, the message written is a positive one. With the promotion of Shelly Bond to executive editor, it appears evident that DC plans to pursue the same avant-garde material it had been known for publishing during the reign of Karen Berger. However, with the promotion of Hank Kanalz—known for his work at Wildstorm, an imprint that dealt heavily with movie and film tie-ins—it is also clear that creating commercial successes is also a key factor. Vertigo will likely become a R&D farm for cult classics, creating comics that in time will mature into a strong backlist of graphic novels to be cherished for decades. The strength of the Vertigo brand will hopefully also improve DC’s reputation in regards to creative freedom. In layman’s terms, Vertigo will be expected to create an army of Watchmen and a legion of Snyders to hold down the fort.

In the future, how can Vertigo cater to demands for commercial success while continuing to create quality material that veers off the beaten path? Perhaps a Frankenstein’s monster of an imprint is in order, merging parts of Vertigo, Wildstorm, and Milestone to create a new imprint that usurps the dominion of all three.

Like Wildstorm, Vertigo should aggressively pursue cult classics in film, television, and video games in order to create tie-in works. It is important to seek works that have made an impact in American culture: the Grand Theft Auto series; Django Unchained, etc. However, I think it is important that the imprint bring something new to the table in order to create a lasting desire for its graphic novels. New stories must be told. For example, the adaptation of Django Unchained was a fabulous idea, but it is odd to me that no editor at Vertigo made an attempt to also produce a graphic novel featuring all-new material set in the Django universe. Imagine an anthology featuring Priest, Hama, Vachss, Hudlin, Miller, etc. With the inclusion of an introduction by Tarantino its status as a backlist tent pole would likely be a given. Why was an editor not assigned the task of sweet-talking Tarantino in order to bring such a work to fruition?

The list of creators I compiled featured individuals from a variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds. It is an arena in which Vertigo can take its cue from Milestone. Not limited to the narrow selection of mainly white male creators adored by mainstream fans, Vertigo can—like Milestone—reach out to underrepresented groups in the industry and provide them with a voice. Milestone was always labeled as a black imprint providing black books to black readers. While there is nothing wrong with said goal, it is not what Milestone was about. Milestone was multi-ethnic in all forms: creators, characters, and consumer base. Vertigo should be as well. Vertigo should be an imprint that reaches out to groups that mainstream DC has been unable to grasp. Imagine a miniseries penned by Junot Diaz and drawn by Ming Doyle, or a Scandal one-shot written by Shonda Rhimes and drawn by Amanda Conner. I’ve listed popular writers from other fields because I feel that it is the best way to add diversity to the talent pool while maintaining or improving the quality of work submitted. Look at Marvel’s success with Marjorie Liu. Vertigo must replicate it.

Finally, Vertigo must maintain the status quo in regards to the creative freedom offered to its talent. It must find a way to wrest its title back from Image as a place where an artist is provided free rein to share his vision. Perhaps it can also become an arena where a creator is able to maintain some semblance of control over her creation; this will be important if the imprint wishes to foster good will and lure creators away from independent companies.


For everyone, by everyone.

Marking your own territory via the creation of a comic company is a scary venture in the world of publishing. In order to be successful, you must have one of two things: a “deep bench” filled with popular creators or a unique vision that separates you from the competition. Two weeks from now at the San Diego Comic Convention, we will witness the triumphant return of a familiar face in Valiant and the new debut of an African American-owned comic company in Lion Forge.

I am hoping for the success of both companies. The existence of the two publishers is key in diversifying the small professional pool in the comics industry. As I’ve said many times before, the comic characters of today and of our recent past are the myths of our future. They are the myths of today. Therefore, it is important that these myths accurately represent a plethora of people and cultures and are not limited to the skewed viewpoint that arises when only one group is granted the liberty of creating worlds (or just as vital, veto power over which worlds are granted longevity).

It is not about shoving a segment of characters of one particular shade onto a flat canvas and hoping for their acceptance. It is about depicting a rainbow of hues from multiple viewpoints. We have clearly surpassed the first hurdle, providing a colorful cast of characters with ease thanks to a long list of dedicated creators. At one point it seemed as though the second hurdle was far behind us, crossed during the creation of Milestone and Image. However, the diversity of talent discovered at all companies seemed to languish as titles slipped from print and creators vanished into the ether. During “lean” times, those who are less established in the industry—and often women and minorities are found in higher numbers in said category—tend to “fall through the cracks.” While there is no active attempt to curtail women and minority creators and deny them input, the result is still the same.

Luckily, we seem to be witnessing a creator renaissance at the moment. We are enjoying a focus on the creator as well as the character. This is likely due to the success of creator-owned properties such as The Walking Dead and Kick-Ass. In addition, comics overall are getting more press now that movies such as Marvel’s Avengers have shoved the superhero back into the spotlight. The chance is there to reach a wider audience than ever before. And what better way to reach said audience than to reflect it?