Richard Kyle Interview

Mike Royer, Richard Kyle and Erik Larsen. From San Diego Comic Con 2011, Jack Kirby Tribute Panel.

From about 1998 to 2012 I did interviews off and on for CollectorTimes.com under the column name Coville’s Clubhouse. The website stopped updating in 2014 and has since gone off line. I’ll be reposting my interviews here one at a time in no particular order and in some cases be talking a bit about the interview. This one is was published online in the July 2012 edition of Collector Times.

This interview with Richard Kyle was the last one I done. I was “retired” from doing interviews but this was an opportunity that I could not resist. I had learned from Bob Beerbohm that the first person to use/create the term “Graphic Novel” was Richard Kyle. In 2011 San Diego Comic Con was celebrating 50 Years of Comic Fandom and brought in a number of people involved with the earliest comic fanzines and Richard Kyle was one of them.

After a panel he was on, I asked him about doing an interview some time after the con was over. He agreed and we exchanged phone numbers. I called him, we did the interview, I transcribed it and mailed it to him for review. Then I broke my right foot. Richard mailed back an altered transcription which I read, I knew would want to make changes to but didn’t do anything about it for a while. My office was upstairs and I was living downstairs on a lazy boy chair as my foot needed to be elevated at all times otherwise it would swell.

After my foot healed somewhat and with some prodding from Richard, I got back to the interview and we worked out an mutually agreed upon transcription of the interview. I also got Richard to give me permission to post the original column, giving his definition of the Graphic Novel. He also had another column that he wanted posted as well about his theory on comics, which I happily did.

Some of the interview goes into more detail about what he meant by Graphic Novel. Around this time there was much discussion online about what a Graphic Novel was by people in the industry. Some would say it had to be an original story, not a collection of previously printed comics and that Maus & Watchmen weren’t really Graphic Novels. I heard Will Eisner on a panel insist it wasn’t about “two mutants smashing each other” not long before he passed away. Others felt it had to be a complete story that ended and books like The Walking Dead series didn’t fit the definition. One creator believed it was the story that mattered and not the format. Some creators still have animosity towards the term and only have it on their books begrudgingly, in part due to what could be incorrect assumptions of what the term is supposed to represent.

I thought the best thing to do was to go to the source, Richard Kyle and get his take on what he meant when he created the term Graphic Novel. The interview covers more than just his definition of the term Graphic Novel, but I’ll let you read about the other things Richard has done within comics in the interview itself.

Richard Kyle came up with the term “graphic novel” in a 1964 article titled “The Future of Comics.” He was a contributor to early comic fanzines and often argued that the comics industry should publish more sophisticated stories for an older audience. He was also a comics retailer and in 1976 co-published the first book identified as a “graphic novel,” Beyond Time and Again by George Metzger. I met Richard at the San Diego Comic Con 2011 and he agreed to be interviewed about his thoughts on the graphic novel.

 

Jamie: I guess we’ll get started with your background. Where abouts were you born?

Richard Kyle: Oakland, California in 1929. A couple of months later the stock market crashed.

 

Jamie: Did your family go through hardship during the Great Depression?

Richard Kyle: Not the Depression itself, initially. My father had tuberculosis and was on 100% medical disability from the Navy, so there was enough money to get by. He’d been in the submarine service – I think he served on the D-1 – and a chlorine gas accident had seriously damaged his lungs. Tuberculosis set in. He died when I was four years old, and although my mother remarried, the years afterward were not easy. It wasn’t until the war came along that things began to get better. Then there were jobs for everyone. So after my mother and stepfather divorced, I left school to work. I got my education from science fiction magazines, pulp magazines, detective stories, and comic books. On balance, they were no worse teachers than the ones in public schools.

 

Jamie: When did you get interested in comic books?

Richard Kyle: Apparently with comic books with the first regularly published comic book – Famous Funnies. Maybe its first issue. At the time, there weren’t any others for me to see. Now I know it was made of up of newspaper comic strip reprints. Then, I didn’t have a clue.

One evening I went to the corner grocery with my stepfather to get milk and bread. Right beside the cash register was a pile of comic books. I’d never seen anything like them. They cost a dime, the equivalent of two dollars in today’s money, and that was a lot in the Depression – so I knew better than to ask for a copy. Especially since I couldn’t read worth beans. But, read ’em or not, I was in love with comic books the minute I saw them. They were something new, and I’ve always been in love with new.

I haven’t any memory of actually buying a comic book early on. I know I must’ve read practically everything that was being printed, however, because I have scraps of memories of so many of them. From New Comics to Pioneer Picture Stories to the early Funny Pages, to the newspaper strip reprint comic books and so on. Although I don’t remember most of them in detail, I do remember individual strips. Siegel and Shuster’s “Dr. Occult,” and “Radio Squad,” “The Clock,” “The Wake of the Wander,” and others. The Clock was probably the first masked character in comic books, although his mask was just a square black cloth with slits cut out for the eyes. He left a card behind, something like The Saint. It said “The Clock Strikes,” or something like that. He had his own private torture chamber –really-that he used to get the truth out of bad guys [laughter]. As near as I recall, there was an episode where he had a guy hanging up by his hands, trying to keep his bare feet off broken glass.

“The Clock” was created by George Brenner who later would take him over to Quality, where Brenner became editor. At Quality he would also do “Bozo, the Robot,” about a guy fighting crime inside a giant, rocket-propelled hot water heater with arms and legs and lots of rivets-an early-day Iron Man-and a strip called “711,” about a guy – inmate #711 – who escaped jail every episode to fight crime. And then broke back in at night to hide his secret identity. Something like that.

But they’re only pieces of memories until just a little while before Superman appeared. Then I-and the other kids-suddenly became conscious of comic books as something unlike anything else. Guys stopped collecting Big Little Books and started collecting comic books. We got them used from a nearby Salvation Army store.

I loved Siegel and Shuster’s “Slam Bradley,” in Detective Comics. As long as it was drawn by Shuster, I liked it more than “Superman.” Then there was Paul Gustavson’s great “Fantom of the Fair,” for Amazing Mystery Funnies, about a caped crime-fighter who lived in the catacombs under the New York World’s Fair. It was produced by Funnies Inc., one of the original comic book art studios. And over at Blue Bolt, from Novelty Press, Funnies Inc. had Bob Davis’ terrific, and now virtually forgotten “Dick Cole, Wonder Boy.” He wasn’t a costumed character, but the strip was a great favorite of mine. Funnies, Inc. also produced “The Human Torch” and “Sub-Mariner” for Timely/Marvel, along with Tarpé Mills’ forgotten “Fantastic Feature Films,” another favorite.

In fact, I guess it was Funnies Incorporated that I was a fan of more than any single publisher, including DC-although I was a great Batman fan. I’d initially been a full-on fan of “Superman,” then Joe started doing halfhearted layouts. But when it was Siegel and Shuster together it was a great strip.

 

Jamie: Yes, they put together a studio and were asked to crank out a bunch of work quickly and the quality of it went downhill.

Richard Kyle: Still, they also had a unique touch. Take “Slam Bradley.” Slam was a detective, he had a partner named Shorty. He was Slam Bradley’s pal. The little guy rode around on Slam’s shoulder a lot of times. He was ridiculous when you think about it, but as a kid without a father, I identified with Shorty. A lot of other kids my age did too. There were a lot of ’em in orphanages in those days. But, Joe left to produce “Superman,” even though Jerry was still writing the stories, it wasn’t the same. There was a magic between Jerry and Joe that made their work together unforgettable.

Once, I was talking with Jerry about how much I liked “Slam Bradley,” and he said that it was created after “Superman” but published first. That it was a more realistic development of the “Superman” idea, which the publishers of the day thought was too far-fetched for the customers. And if you think about it, Fawcett’s “Captain Marvel” has the same structure as “Slam Bradley”-in one, a young boy is literally transformed into a strongman, in the other a little guy gets to ride around on his shoulder, almost becoming him.

 

Jamie: Jumping ahead, how did you discover comic fanzines?

Richard Kyle: A science fiction fanzine I subscribed to mentioned Dick Lupoff’s fanzine Xero and praised its comics coverage. I subscribed, and Dick asked me to write a piece about the Fox line of comics for him. [Roy Thomas’ Alter Ego #101 has just reprinted it.] At the same time, comics fandom was forming, and because of the Fox article I became a part of it. I’m not an organizer, so my contribution to the creation of comics fandom was mainly the comics stuff I wrote.

 

Jamie: From what I’m reading, you came up with the terms “graphic novel” and “graphic story” in Capa Alpha #2. This was in 1964. How did you come up with those terms?

Richard Kyle: It’s curious. Until recently, I thought I’d invented them solely for Capa Alpha. But a while back, I discovered an earlier remark in an old letter of mine where I said “there ought to be a name for more serious comic book stories.” So it must have been in the back of my mind.

I was aware that Lev Gleason’s editor Charles Biro–Daredevil, Boy, and Crime Does Not Pay–called his more grown-up comics “illustories.” And, as I’ve mentioned, in the mid-’30s a few comic books tried putting “picture-stories” in their title. And then Picture Stories from the Bible, of course. (And that in the ’50s, EC had identified their new and lame half-text, half-comics stories as “picto-fiction.”) But they were really “shame names,” except Biro’s, that tried to avoid the perceived semi-literacy of “comic book,” not names created to describe the form accurately and to celebrate comic books for what they really are.

I wanted a name to match the kinds of stories I wanted to read-that is, stories for guys in their late teens to their mid-forties that used all the conventions of the “comic book” without apology, sound effects, motion lines and all the other devices that a lot of editors and writers and artists were ashamed of. I was aware of how careful I would have to be, given the failure of earlier attempts. So I thought of basic words and terms. “Novel” and “story” were about as basic as you could get. And “graphic”-my dictionary told me-was exactly right. [I used the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, Fifth Edition, definitions 1, 2 and 3.] The words felt good in my mouth, too, and that was important.

So, “graphic story” and “graphic novel” were it. And why these commonplace words were called pretentious, or why comics for grown-ups were, too, I’ll never know.

However, no one in Capa Alpha commented on this column-nor any other column of mine. So when Bill Spicer, the publisher of Fantasy Illustrated, invited me to take “Graphic Story Review” over to FI, I jumped at the chance. His magazine, which would be renamed Graphic Story Magazine, was the single most important and influential fan magazine of that time.

I soon realized no professional would take the advice of a fan. I had thought the comic book publishers would be smart enough to at least test a comics magazine in a good-looking, uncontaminated format that had only grown-up stories in it. But none of them ever did-except Lev Gleason, Charles Biro’s publisher on Boy, Daredevil and Crime Does Not Pay–and he chickened-out before Tops’ first sales figures came in. Tops was the same size as Life magazine and was displayed with the grown-up periodicals, so it had a job penetrating the market. However, its final sales figures for Tops weren’t that bad at all. I know because I was working for a major San Francisco magazine distributor at the time. A lot of the big newsstands sold out three or four times.

It is amazing how conservative comic book publishers have been over the years. Even in the days when they were taking in money hand-over-fist they were afraid to do anything new. The publishers needed a demo. They’ve always needed a demo.

Years later, in 1976, there was an opportunity to provide that demo, and when Denis Wheary and I published George Metzger’s Beyond Time and Again in hardback we subtitled it “A Graphic Novel.” It had taken its time, but once that demo stared the publishers in the face they finally accepted it-after Will Eisner legitimized the term, with a book that wasn’t a novel. The publishers were afraid to the end.

 

Jamie: Now did you see Graphic Novels as a literary designation, for stories that were more sophisticated regardless of how they were published or more of a format, like a think hardcover book?

Richard Kyle: Both. Because one requires the other. In the literary world “short story” and “novel” don’t just describe the length, they also describe the complexity of the material and suggest the seriousness of it. So I saw the graphic novel as having content that was as complex and serious as a motion picture or a text novel.

 

Jamie: You weren’t thinking about the Europeans-?

Richard Kyle: No. The Wikipedia entry for “graphic novel” says that I created it to describe European comics, and that I regarded them as superior to American comics. That’s wrong. Some were, some weren’t. At the time I came up with the term “graphic novel” in 1964, I hadn’t seen-or heard about-any of the European albums except “Tin-Tin”. I was introduced to the others in ’70 or ’71 by Fred Patten, a comics fan and member of LASFS, the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, who became my partner in an international comics and fiction bookstore. We carried only new, in-print, books and magazines. No back issues. Fred wrote and spoke French, so we had access to everything, fan and professional, that was being published in Europe. But that was years after I introduced “graphic novel.”

It’s true enough that up to that time, with few exceptions-say a piece by Jack Cole, or Will Eisner or Kurtzman or Krigstein or Kirby or Alex Toth or-very soon-Jim Steranko, American comics seldom presented what I would regard as serious graphic novels or graphic stories. And, even when the exception came along, it was almost always presented in a format that made it seem shoddy and cheesy until you took a second look.

Actually, I shouldn’t say “serious” in this connection. I should say “grown-up.” I didn’t demand that the stories be thoughtful and profound and grim and all that. Just something that would interest and entertain me as a grown-up. But despite exceptions, despite superior packaging, the Europeans weren’t doing that much better than we were. They had brilliant layouts by Guido Crepax, Hugo Pratt, Druillet, and Mobius, but we had the guys I mentioned, Cole, Eisner, Kurtzman, Krigstein, Kirby, Toth, and Steranko, and others, who were admired by the Europeans.

Anyway, despite the refusal of the American comic books publishers to experiment with a fan-created term and format, “graphic novel” eventually caught on, and the professionals were forced to accept it. Even public libraries have a graphic novel section now. And it turns out that despite all the professional resistance here in the U.S., they’d been using the term in Portuguese for years-as “novela grafica,” or something similar. I wish I had known. It would have been a lot easier to talk professionals here into using the term if professionals there, even in another language, were using it.

 

Jamie: Some people think a graphic novel needs to have a beginning, middle, and an end. That it can’t continue on, book after book, with an endless narrative. Do you have an opinion on that?

Richard Kyle: You can do anything with a graphic novel that you can do with a text novel – good or bad. Somebody once described a novel as a full-length portrait of the author’s universe, and a short story as a detail from that portrait. That applies to the “graphic novel” and the “graphic story” too.

 

Jamie: Something sequential-like?

Richard Kyle: No, not sequential. At least, not completely. I’d say “Narrative Art.” “Sequential” is a beautiful, important-sounding word that seems to describe comic book art at large. But it doesn’t. It only describes newspaper strip art. Reality isn’t merely a series of so-called “still” pictures strung end-to-end, like a movie or newspaper strip. It’s endlessly complex, and the comic book story – the graphic novel and the graphic story – has the capacity to portray that world more fully, more realistically, than the simplistic cause-and-effect world of the daily newspaper strip.

 

Jamie: In what way?

Richard Kyle: The comic book story couldn’t develop in newspapers. There was only a limited amount of space, three or four panels, except on Sundays, where the best they had to work with was a page. And newspapers were in the news business, not the comic strip business. They hired news editors, not full-time comic editors. Comics were tolerated because they brought in readers, not because they wanted comic strips defiling their newspapers, taking the place of real news — and the newspaper syndicates served those papers. Many editors were openly hostile to comics. And still are. They’ve never understood that just as newspapers cover current news, comics in those same newspapers cover current emotions. The syndicates are no better.

A sort of exception was Will Eisner’s “Spirit Section,” and it was inadequate. Despite Eisner’s best intentions, there was the short story limitation. Not much room fro growth there.

 

Jamie: What kind of growth?

Richard Kyle: The panels of comic book stories – graphic stories and graphic novels – relate not only to the frame behind and the frame ahead, as the frames of newspaper strips and movies do, but, like a hologram, they relate to everything – not only the frame in front and the frame behind, but to the whole page or spread or book, just the way we relate to the universe around us. Our modern conception of “time” hasn’t been with us very long. Just a few years ago, before the invention of the movies, the ordinary person would describe “time” as an endlessly flowing river, formless, without boundaries. Then, after the invention of movies, he’d describe time as something like a movie reel that could be run backward into the past and forward into the future, like H.G. Wells’ brand-new Time Machine. It was natural, then, that people would see newspaper comic strips as analogs of movies-as “paper movies.” We accepted that conception of time as real because we could easily visualize it, correct or not. But movies don’t report reality, they represent it. We can’t run life backwards and forwards like a reel of film in a movie projector.

We’re part of the universe, and the universe is a part of us. Somehow or another, like waves and particles in physics, comic book stories combine a serial view of time with another view – a hologram that embraces everything, from a “full-length portrait of the authors universe” to “a detail from the portrait.”

It’s a matter of time. The thing about both newspaper strips and comic book stories that differentiates them from other forms of pictorial storytelling, is their conception of time. When you put a border around a comic book illustration, it becomes a new universe. And that frame contains all of the conventions of the comic book story within it. If, say, you take all the borders off a Hal Foster “Prince Valiant,” something goes wrong. And if you put frames around the pictures in a New Yorker spot cartoon spread, that seems equally wrong. Why?

“Prince Valiant” which used no word balloons or sound effects, but it’s clearly a comic strip. It has the frame around its panels. Occasionally Foster uses the vignette without the frame, but it’s understood to be there. Within those frames is another universe, complete in itself, like an equation. However, “before-and-after” is good enough for a cartoon spread.

A panel may represent any amount of time. I remember a lecture given by Burne Hogarth, who drew the Sunday “Tarzan” strip and taught drawing and anatomy. He showed one panel from his Sunday “Tarzan,” and explained how that single panel represented 15 minutes. And it did. He had crammed 15 minutes of time into this one panel. His inspiration was Michelangelo and the Renaissance artists.

If you look at photos of the Sistine Chapel you can see that Michelangelo’s use of the idea of painting a picture in time. And Jack Kirby’s Silver Surfer may have had his origin in a panel of the Last Judgement. The figure is in extreme perspective, so that as your eye tracks from the back of a panel to the foreground it gives a sense of dynamic movement. The seemingly broad exaggerations that people see in Jack’s work are Jack’s way of telling a story in time. Instead of having a dozen little frames, as Krigstein might, he would have one large and powerful frame containing the same information.

But the thing about the so-called “still” picture is that it isn’t still. The nearest thing you can find is that represents a still picture is a terrific blur. We live in a world of blurs. The whole universe is moving at incredible speed, in every direction. But we’ve so accustomed ourselves to the blurs, to the selective seeing, that we don’t see them. They merely provide fodder for comic book critics, along with the sound effects, thought balloons, and the rest of the conventions. Jack knew this, and he drew the blurs.

You take a picture of somebody, even with a good camera and they can be alive and dead in the same photograph because the camera hasn’t stopped time, it hasn’t slowed down the bullet, it has just made reality a little less blurry. If you’ve seen photographs of insects that are taken by electronic microscopes you see them in extraordinary detail because you are seeing them almost completely frozen in time, close to absolute zero. Truly “still.” they look unreal, alien.

The impressionists re-saw the way we looked at things. Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” was painted while he was in a mental hospital, true enough, but consciously or unconsciously, Van Gogh was painting a picture of the blazing Einsteinian universe – before Einstein.

The graphic novel has the potential to re-examine the world and see it on fresh terms. You do that by seeing something other than a river flowing by. There is something else that time is. It’s doing something sequentially and not sequentially at the same time. In Eastern philosophy, there is a sense of the world being a gestalt, that it’s all happening everywhere, all at once, right now. There isn’t a past, present or future, There is now. The conception of time is seen as an artifice.

But you asked about “sequential.” I think Eisner successfully applied this sequential terminology to his own work, the post-“Spirit” stuff when he started doing his self-described “graphic novels.” But the sequential universe is entirely cause-and-effect, before-and-after. It doesn’t see the other side of anything. You need enough pages to do that.

 

Jamie: With graphic novels, do you think they need to be a minimum number of pages?

Richard Kyle: They need enough to fully exploit a complex storyline. If it’s just an incident of something of that kind, no matter how long it is, it’s still not a novel.

There are short graphic stories that have done it – Steranko’s “At the Stroke of Midnight,” Krigstein’s “The Master Race,” Metzger’s “Möbius Tripp,” and work by Cole and Kurtzman and others – so it clearly can be done.

 

Jamie: Nowadays, it seems the graphic novel term applies to the physical format. They really don’t care about the content. Do you agree with how the term has evolved over the years?

Richard Kyle: Probably not. As near as I can tell, the term is made to describe something thick that has some sort of pictorial narrative. But if you notice, people-including the news media-also confuse matters with straight novels. They’ll still describe, say, a non-fiction book by a well-known non-fiction writer as a “novel”-either because it’s thick or because all thick books are novels. Or because all bestselling books are novels. Or something. But some genuine graphic novels are being done, I think, and that’s what counts. It’s always that way in the arts.

 

Jamie: I’m not sure if you are aware of some thicker books that were published prior to George Metzger’s Beyond Time and Again–Lynd Ward’s novels-in-woodcuts, Obadiah Oldbuck by Rodolphe Töpffer, Milt Gross’ He Done Her Wrong. Dell did a couple of paperbacks that were all comics and St. John published another, The Case of the Winking Buddha. Have you seen any of those things?

Richard Kyle: I don’t know anything about Obadiah Oldbuck. Lynd Ward’s books are novels-in-wood-cuts, pantomimes on paper, one picture to a page, wordless, soundless, with time presented as simple before-and-after. They are fine books, but they’re not comics. Some interesting novels-in-woodcuts were also done in France during the ’30s.

In the case of the novels-in-woodcuts there is no delineation of time except before-and-after, and very little of that. So, although I enjoy them, they don’t deal with time satisfactorily.

As for the paperback-size comic books, I thought they were pretty lame, with disappointing breakdown. I read a couple of them. The writing was pretty poor. They were over the top, caricatures of private eye novels with smart-ass remarks and that kind of stuff. But none of them were labeled graphic novels. The publishers called them comic novels or something.

 

Jamie: Would this be The Case of the Winking Buddha that St. John put out?

Richard Kyle: I don’t know. Probably another one. There were three or four different companies. I never thought they were serious works. It was kinda like doing a deliberately lame motion picture. A near-inadvertent “Airplane.”

In any case they weren’t called “graphic novels” which is what the argument seems to be about. So the answer is that there may have been comic book stories that people might have called “graphic novels”- but they weren’t labeled that on the book itself. Which could be true of a lot of the stuff like that Milt Gross book.

 

Jamie: He Done Her Wrong?

Richard Kyle: Yeah, that was a parody – a funny one, I recall – of the woodcut novels, which was very popular at the time. It was a spoof.

 

Jamie: What do you consider to be the first graphic novel? There are a number of claims to the first one.

Richard Kyle: The only thing I’ve ever said was that Denis Wheary and I – he was my partner in publishing George Metzger’s Beyond Time and Again – published the first book labeled a “graphic novel.” It was a hardback, bound in blue cloth, with silver stamping. The term “graphic novel” appears on the dust jacket copy and the title page.

You can call things anything, however. In Eisner’s case, he called a collection of short stories a graphic novel. But before he did that, Joe Orlando who had access to Bill Spicer’s Graphic Story Magazine, where there was a discussion of graphic novels, used the term on a romance comic. [Jamie’s Note: Sinister House of Secret Love #2 (1972) was called a “graphic novel”].

 

Jamie: For a while there Eisner was saying he had created the term and that he even published the first one, but he would correct this towards the end of his career.

Richard Kyle: At that point I hadn’t paid much attention to inside-comics for several years. But there was an article in the local Los Angeles Times. They used the term with Eisner’s name on it, and it was obvious that they were working from material supplied by DC Comics. I wrote letter to DC and included a copy of Metzger’s book, published two years before Eisner used it. They talked to Eisner and Eisner ran a quote about having come up with the term independently, which is not implausible.

However, he also used the term “graphic storytelling” which isn’t the best coinage I ever made but it was mine. Then Eisner then came up with a book title Graphic Storytelling and there were some other things. It was clear that whether consciously or subconsciously, directly or indirectly, Eisner picked up the title from our reviews of “The Spirit” in Graphic Story Magazine.

In the beginning I didn’t make any effort to identify myself with the creation of the term. I was certain that the pros, being what they are, pros, weren’t going to take suggestions from some fan in the jillikins. That turned out to be the case, and when Eisner began producing his collections and calling them “graphic novels,” well, then, the professionals had finally spoken. I only made an issue of it when Eisner began to lay claim to the term. If it was important enough for Eisner, then it was important enough for me. Eisner had read my reviews of his work. He knew me.

 

Jamie: I believe they’ve just discovered some letters between Eisner and Jack Katz where Katz was talking about The First Kingdom as a graphic novel, this was before Eisner even started A Contract With God so some people think he might have picked it up from there.

Richard Kyle: He could have. But Beyond Time and Again was the first book labeled a graphic novel.

 

Jamie: With Metzger’s Beyond Time and Again, you said you published over a thousand of them?

Richard Kyle: A hair over or under 1,000 copies. Somewhere in that range. The records are packed away.

 

Jamie: Do you recall the markets it was sold in? Was it in both what would be become the direct market and in bookstores as well?

Richard Kyle: No. Remember there was no direct market. And the regular bookstores regarded every kind of comics except Disney reprints as something out of a sewer. We sold a lot of books pre-publication. We sold them retail at conventions. And to large dealer-wholesalers like Bud Plant and Bob Sidebottom. We sold a lot of copies at my own bookstore. And through my Graphic Story World / Wonderworld magazine, which had a circulation of almost 3,000-a big circulation before the direct market.

 

Jamie: Over the years the term “trade paperback” has become interchangeable with the word “graphic novel.” Do you know how that came about?

Richard Kyle: I don’t know. I haven’t been in touch with inside-comics stuff since I closed my bookstore. But I imagine they borrowed the term from mainstream publishing-mainly to avoid calling them some fan name, I expect. However, the thin and flat 8 ½ x 11 format doesn’t really lend itself to commercial success-it resists bookstore display. It’s too tall. It doesn’t shelve well. It doesn’t “show spine” at all well. We’ll see. People seem to like saying “graphic novel.”

 

Jamie:  Jim Steranko did a book called Chandler: Red Tide and people consider it a proto-graphic novel because there was a lot of text and some panels with some word balloons. Do you consider a book like that to be a graphic novel?

Richard Kyle: I’ve only read the original book and Jim was dissatisfied with that. He seems to feel much happier about this one. I’ll have to see what the new Red Tide looks like to make any judgment. I’m looking forward to it.

 

Jamie:  Okay, with the term “graphic novel,” some people feel the term diminishes comic books. Was that the intention?

Richard Kyle: No. I’ve never had anything against comic books. I read ’em.

My objection is that comic book publishers have seldom published anything for grown-ups. And when they do, they try to hide it. If adults want to read comic books mainly directed towards much younger people, fine. In fact, of course they do. And among text novels, Treasure Island is a favorite of mine, and Tom Sawyer, and there are a whole slew of children’s books are among my favorites, not just comic books.

My argument is quite simple. If you want to reach a five-year-old child, you publish five-year-old child stories. If you want to reach ten-year-old children, then you publish stories a ten-year-old would be interested in, and so on. If you want to sell to a thirty-year-old or an eighty-year-old then you publish a book that a thirty-year-old or an eighty-year-old would want to read. It seems simple. But, no.

Most comic book publishers will tell you they’re not in it for the art, they’re in it for the money. Well, if they’re in it for the money, then why don’t they test the market, so they can make more money? Why don’t they find out if they can sell something to sixteen-year-olds in addition to the fourteen-year-olds that they already have? And so on.

And if they are only interested in the money, then why don’t they go where the money is-to young adults with a lot of disposable income? There is something wrong with the comic book “industry.”

For a time, Marvel was so successful they could have easily have tested the market with a good-looking, magazine-size, graphic story magazine of at least 100 pages of new stories, in full color and priced right for an older, more affluent, audience-a good solid magazine that published in the same issue every month, on a running basis Smith’s or Buscema’s “Conan,” Archie Goodwin’s and Gene Colan’s “Dracula,” the Englehart/Starlin “Master of Kung Fu,” and Jim Steranko’s great “SHIELD,” which was always too sophisticated for little kids but a hit with adults.

They didn’t. And it’s strange, because Marvel did publish the next thing to it, the first issue of the Savage Sword of Conan, 8 ½ x 11, in full process color, and it sold out and had to be reprinted. But they never did it again. The rest of the industry did no better – except for one shining moment-when Dick Giordano gave the go ahead for The Dark Knight Returns and The Watchmen books. Heavy Metal has always been too esoteric for a general audience. Marvel’s Epic was simply lame.

And then look at the case of The Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. They came out, they were a huge success, they made an unbelievable amount of money. It may have saved DC Comics from just being folded up and written off. And what did DC do? They got in a silly argument about censorship with Frank Miller and Alan Moore, the creators of all that money-and the guys who had made a great success with a new format. So Miller and Moore quit and went to other companies, more or less permanently. It’s just dumbness, it’s incredible that these people could have been so foolish. Many years have passed, but I don’t know of anything dumber in the business.

DC couldn’t experiment intelligently. They came out with tabloid-sized comic books in a brand-new format. You remember ’em? And what did they put in them? Reprints. I recall standing in a line at a grocery store, and they had the tabloid-sized comics displayed by the cash register. There were two guys behind me. One of them said, “Hey, Tarzan!” and the other said, “Forget it. It’s just a reprint.”

And on top of that, because of the format DC was using, they couldn’t publish the complete original comic book story. So they dropped four pages or so. Instead of offering more, they offered less. What a way to promote a new format. Then they came out with Action Comics Weekly, a sure disaster from 3000 miles away. It was, I suppose, DC’s idea of testing.

 

Jamie: Any last words, Richard?

Richard Kyle: Yes. The idea of the graphic novel, and the graphic novel itself, did not originate with the professional comic book writers or the professional comic book artists or the professional comic book editors or the professional comic book publishers – it originated from the demand by comic book fans themselves for grown-up comic book stories.

And even though many years have passed, every comics fan should remember the industry’s folly, because it is waiting to happen again.

The iPad Plus is on the way.

Richard Kyle also supplied us with his theory on comics titled “The Graphic Narrative.”

Tips for covering Comic Conventions

As some of you know I go to comic book conventions and cover them, usually as a member of the press. My first convention was in the summer of 2002 which means I’m coming up on 15 years now. So I’ve been thinking about all of the stuff I’ve learned over the years covering conventions and decided I would share them for anybody who is either just starting to cover comic conventions or thinking about doing so.

 

If you are there to cover the con and have fun, remember that covering the con comes before having fun. This means if there are things you want to do as a fan conflict with things you should do as a member of the press, then do the press thing. Especially if you are working for another website and not for yourself. If the convention has given you a free ticket to get in, you should do the job that you’re there to do and not just have fun for “free.” There have been several conventions where pro-wrestlers I really liked were there and doing a panel, people whom I’ve always wanted to meet and ask questions. Sadly, doing so conflicted with covering comic related stuff so I wasn’t able to do it.

 

Just because the convention gave you a press pass doesn’t mean owe the convention a positive review. Some conventions are run badly or at least did not work out as well as they hoped. You can and should be the voice of the people who paid money to be at the con, both vendors and fans. When I was writing convention reports I’d talk to the exhibitors that were at the con. Sometimes exhibitors will tell you something completely different than they say to the convention organizers or what they say out loud when convention staff are nearby. They might do this in fear of petty retribution by the convention organization, be it getting kicked out other shows the organization is doing, getting a poor spot on the convention floor next show or something like that. Some people just don’t want to say negative things about somebody’s work to their face. Go with what they tell you, as they know you are press and they want the word to get out.

 

Some people very loudly complain about the convention and are not shy at all. It might be the same complaint every convention, every year. The market is evolving and they refuse to evolve with it and they get mad at the convention for it. For example, it was (and still is with some dealers) common practice to mix up the dollar bin books so that fans would need to look through all of them to find the books they want. In the old days die-hard fans would go through all the books and find some they want and maybe pick up something they didn’t originally plan on buying, which is why the dealers did it. It was also much less labour intensive to have them mixed up then putting them all in order. These days more and more fans just won’t spend the time to do that anymore. If the books aren’t sorted so they can quickly find if what they’re looking for is there, then they move on. Either another dealer will have them sorted (and they’ll pay $2 or $3 for the same book if it’s easy to find) or they’ll buy it on online. Vendors who don’t adapt see their sales falling and they blame it on the convention. It’s always best to get a variety of views and not let just one or two colour your view of the whole convention.

 

I get a number of people asking me the details about who I work for and the purpose of my coverage. Have business cards to give them. Some people will really appreciate them and it looks more professional. Sometimes you’ll get a business card back that will have a way to contact them that’s not public and can be useful down the line.

 

Look at how other professionals are dressed. Are they wearing Wolverine and Walking Dead t-shirts? With rare exceptions they’re not. Dress in normal clothes and not like a fan. Feel free to buy and wear those clothes when you’re at home, but while you’re at a convention, don’t pay money to be a walking billboard for a company’s product. It’s a subtle thing, but if you don’t want professionals to treat you like a fan, then don’t dress like a fan. The rare exceptions I’ve seen a professional dressed in fandom clothes are usually older creators wearing a t-shirt of a character they created. If you’re Len Wein and you co-created Wolverine and Swamp Thing you’re totally permitted to wear a  t-shirt with them on it.

 

With many conventions you really need to pick and choose what you’re going to cover as conventions are multifaceted and have a mix of comics, gaming, celebrities and other stuff going on. When I first started covering conventions I tried to cover it all, but that quickly got frustrating. Especially when some parts of the conventions weren’t very receptive to the press. In my case it was covering the celebrities. They wanted everybody to pay for photos and often there were mechanisms to block anybody from taking a photo without paying for it, including the press. In one case a celebrity did a panel, but had the convention block access to anybody with a press pass from attending said panel. At that point I stopped covering celebrities and decided I was there for the comics so I would focus on the comic aspect of the convention.

 

Plan ahead and have backup plans. Have a schedule of what you’re going to do and when it’s happening. This means if there is panel you wish to cover, get there a head of time. If the convention doesn’t clear out the rooms, you might want to attend the panel prior to it while its ongoing so you’re in the room when the next panel starts. If you have to miss said panel (this always happens to me at least once per convention), think about what else is going on that you can cover and rearrange your schedule to compensate. Sometimes this is a bonus as you get something nobody else is covering, effectively giving you an exclusive and learn something new that’s really interesting or cool. Best part will be passing this along to your readers.

 

Not every creator is going to agree to what you want or even follow through on their promises. I’ve had creators skip out on doing scheduled interviews, then refuse to make alternative plans to do the interview at a different date (or even some other method after the convention). Some have agree to having their panel recorded at one convention, then refuse the same request at another.  I have even helped a lost creator find their room they’re doing a panel in and then said creator refused to have the panel recorded. It’s best to not take this stuff personally. For starters you’re not entitled the the professional’s time. It also  doesn’t do you any good to hold on to the anger. Let it go and just know that you can’t rely on that creator in the future. There are lots of people who want coverage and many that aren’t getting the coverage they ought to.

 

Assuming you use electronics, have spare charged batteries and/or chargers with you at all times. This is especially true for cameras and tablets/laptops. Sometimes things get left on or a battery that you thought was charged suddenly isn’t. It really sucks not having the tools you need to cover something. Also, bring a notepad and pen(s). It’s often just easier to pull it out of your back pocket and write stuff down. Especially if you are taking pictures of pro’s you’ve never seen before. I always make sure I write down their names in the order that I took the pictures, even if I know who the pro is. I also write down something about them to identify the picture. Something like green T-shirt and glasses, standing with book, etc.. This will really help when putting names to faces. The photos of people you know mixed in with these photo’s will help assure you that your putting the correct names to faces.

 

After the convention is over for the day, if you have any writing to do you should spend at least part of your evening writing. I know with most conventions there are parties at night and it’ll be tempting to go to said parties but again, if you’re there to do a job, then do that job. Otherwise, you’re going to need to make up the time somewhere else to meet your deadline which may involve missing sleep – which is never a good thing to do on purpose. Often I have a tablet (with keyboard) with me and when I’m getting dinner at a restaurant I’ll pull out the tablet and start writing while I’m waiting for food and my bill. Squeeze in your writing where you can. If you miss something you wanted to cover and there is nothing else between now and and the next thing you want to do, find the press room and use it to get some writing done. The less work there is to do after the convention is over the better it is for you.

 

If you ARE at a party with lots of professionals, know that your presence might be a downer at the party. Because you are press, people might be more guarded about what they talk about in fear of what they say getting spread online, even if you reassure them that’s not going to happen. Also if you are conversing with a pro at a party, don’t ask them the same fanboy questions they’ve probably been asked 2 dozen times that day.

 

Another thing you will notice is different press organizations get different levels of access. If it’s a TV show with a camera crew, they are probably going to be able to get the interviews with people you can’t just because of how large their audience is. Same goes for the more popular websites that cover comics. Don’t fret over what other people are doing as covering a convention isn’t a competition. If you have stuff you wanted to do, go and do that and be happy with it. Not everything at a convention gets coverage and often people/events that aren’t big names are very appreciative for the coverage you bring.

 

If you do this long enough, some creators who you’re used to seeing and chatting with are going to become very popular. Then you’re not going to be able to just walk up to their table and chat with them like you used to anymore. Chip Zdarsky and Agnes Garbowska are two examples for me right now. For years I would walk up to their tables, make small talk with them and ask them for a picture. Now their tables are usually surrounded with people and sometimes they just do signings at specific times. Be happy for their success. You may still see them at a panel or elsewhere outside the convention itself.

 

Beyond that, do try to enjoy your time at the convention. While you still need to work and focus your energies to that end, the work you are doing should still be enjoyable. Otherwise, why do it?

 

San Diego Comic Con 2016

Joker Trump

I went to San Diego Comic Con again and this year things went a little differently for me.

First, I got a direct non-stop flight from Toronto to San Diego, which was nice because normally I have at least 1 layover ever when I fly there. On the flight back I saw quite a few comic peeps I recognized. The flight was also significantly cheaper than what I normally pay.

I landed in San Diego on Tuesday and got around to do some things in San Diego before the con, like go to the Coronado Beach. The sand looked like gold and I saw small crabs in the barnacles. I also saw the hotel that was in the Marilyn Monroe movie Some Like it Hot. I’m told it’s been used in a lot of TV shows and movies.

Normally I land in San Diego on Wednesday afternoon, go straight to my hotel, check and get lunch, unpack, relax for a bit, then head down to the convention to get my badge. All of this makes for a really long day, so coming in Tuesday made it much easier on me. The only problem is needing to find a Hotel for Tuesday only and having to pack up and leave on Wednesday to your comic con hotel. As I’ve learned a couple of years ago, even if you get the same hotel the staff will have a different room for you for the convention days and you’ll have to move to that room.

For the con itself what was different was that I didn’t spend that much time on the exhibit floor. There were days where I didn’t hit the exhibit floor at all. I didn’t go there on Thursday or Saturday. I was only on there for a bit on Friday and Sunday towards the very end. Normally I make it a point to walk every isle and see everything. This year I felt fine skipping about a 3rd of the exhibit floor.

In previous years in the non comic area’s you’d sometimes find booths with a couple long boxes of comics or trades. Often it would be a mix of odd stuff that they’re just trying to get rid of and you’d get a decent deal. The last couple of years I haven’t seen any comics at all in that area, so I skipped it. The publishers (big and small) and back issue dealers are primarily in Hall B & C then you find artists alley, some artists collective booths and original art dealers in Hall’s F.

I discovered some booths I normally shop at either had smaller spaces or reduced/changed what they had brought. Bud Plants booth was half of what it normally is. There were a couple of underground dealers that didn’t have much in the way of old underground collections like they normally did. I also noticed Mile High didn’t bring any GNs and was only selling back issues, which was a switch. As a result I bought less than I normally do there.

I don’t know how the publishers are doing when it comes to selling their books but I haven’t heard any complaints. When I typically walk by their booths I see lots of people in them. I did find it a little odd that the Image Comics booth didn’t have any Savage Dragon trades there. Considering Erik Larsen was an Image founder you’d think they’d bring something. It’s pretty sad when the publisher you help create decides to abandon you at the biggest show of the year.

The moment the con announced the show was closing in a half hour all the dealers started taking down their “wall” comics and packing up. I didn’t talk to many dealers about how the show went, but when dealers start packing up early (or at least as early as they’re allowed), that’s almost always a sign it was a bad show and they just want to cut their losses and get out of there ASAP.

I know dealers are increasingly unhappy with the con because they feel back issue buyers can’t get into the con because tickets sell out so quickly. I have no doubt that’s true, but I think there’s more to it. I think there are less people buying back issues than before. Those that do want a good deal (EG: below guide) and normally dealers that exhibit at San Diego can’t give them that deal due to the high costs of being there. Discounts don’t always pay for themselves with volume sadly.

I also suspect a lot back issue buyers are older and they don’t like the difficulty of getting tickets, a hotel room and the large crowds. Plus all that is really expensive. It’s much cheaper and more convenient for them to buy online and/or go to a closer, quieter convention. I’m wondering what a traditional comic convention might look like without any back issue dealers and I might actually see that within my lifetime.

The slower sales may also have something to do with the smaller crowds this year. It’s been said that San Diego’s switch to using badges with RFID chips made it harder for people to pass (or counterfeit) badges and get in. The less crowded exhibit floor was nicer for the attendee’s that were there. I suspect another reason the floor was less crowded was due to people playing Pokemon Go around the con. Even on Wednesday night I saw numerous people walking around in circles looking at their phones. One professional I talked during the day to told me his daughter was out playing Pokemon Go at that moment.

During my TCAF post I mentioned I was unhappy with my camera and was getting a new one. I got a Canon Powershot SX710 HS and am quite happy with it. There camera does not get the best rating on the various review websites, but it worked well for my purposes. I’m learning to not just blindly follow reviews & ratings and instead focus on what the pro’s and cons of the camera and applying that to what I’m using it for. I don’t think those reviewers have taking pictures at comic conventions and darkly lit award ceremonies in mind when doing their reviews.

I am especially happy with how using the sport scene worked on the Eisner Award pictures. I took a whole bunch of pictures in that mode (over 2,000 of them) but that allowed me to get better pics than usual. I’m typically in the pro seats behind the tables, which is quite a ways away from the stage. My camera ‘s 30X zoom was used to the fullest to get pics of people on stage and less than that was used on the big screens showing what’s happening on the stage.

Surprisingly I did not see any celebrities outside of the Eisner Awards. Normally San Diego is crawling with so many celebrities I end up seeing somebody somewhere even though I only focus on comics programming. For example, one year during a Ted Naifeh panel the back door opens up and Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Sons of Anarchy, etc..) walks out. He apparently just wanted to go outside for a smoke. He came back in after the panel was done and was giving an interview to a camera crew as the audience was leaving the room. Of course it’s entirely possible I did see one, but didn’t know it was a celebrity.

I was quite happy to be able to audio record some panels with creators whom I’ve never met in real life before like Christopher J Priest, Howard Chaykin and Mike Baron. I was only turned down by one creator but I knew in advance that was a strong possibility. I’m not bothered by it as I was able to record him at at another convention recently. The only disappointing situation I had was a creator who wouldn’t let you take a picture of him unless you bought a $15 print/sketch.

The panels I recorded can be found on the audio page of my other website. Also at that link is the Will Eisner Awards recording and pictures to both the convention and Eisner Awards. I should warn you that there is a bit of swearing of almost every panel. Off the top of my head the YA? Why Not? panel does not have swearing, but the rest I can’t vouch for. The saddest panel was the Darywn Cooke tribute, while you won’t hear this on audio I can tell you from being there that several panelists were in tears at the end. What’s also sad was that there was no tribute panel for Paul Ryan, who worked in the comics industry since the 1980s. I’m hoping a convention that’s local to where he used to live puts something on for him.

As always with San Diego there usually multiple panels I wanted to be at and record happening at the same time. I shockingly did not record a single panel that Mark Evanier was on.  The same goes for Paul Levitz except for a surprise appearance at the Fan vs Pro Comic Trivia challenge. I sometimes question the choices that I’ve made when it comes to which panels to cover, but in the end I’m very happy with all the panels I got. I just wish I had a 2nd person who could go to the panels I can’t be at and record them, despite the extra work that would bring.

The only panel I did not like that much was one about goal setting for creative people. I only came in part way through but it was clear to me that this was a rewording of a standard SMART goals course/lecture that almost everybody in business has to take at least once. The main difference was the presenter telling people to draw their goals instead of writing them down and an artist was demonstrating how to do so with large paper flip chart and markers.

There are official video recording of panels going on now. It’s something called Comic Con HQ but they are understandably only recording the panels with the widest commercial appeal thus far. Outside of the Will Eisner Awards which was live streamed online there is no overlapping between us that I know of. If they do decide to record everything I’ll have to decide if I want to keep recording or even if I can. Chances are they’ll want exclusive rights to the panels.

I also got to see and hang out with some friends which is always great, but there were many people whom I usually see that I missed this year or only saw very briefly / in passing. While that happens every year, it seemed more pronounced this year. I think I’ll have to make a more concerted effort to find and say Hi to people next year.

Of those that I did talk to Donald Trump’s name came up a lot when the conversion drifted outside of comics. Everybody was speaking about him in an “OMG how can anybody vote for this freaking lunatic?!?” type way. He was also the butt of many jokes when people were in front of a microphone.

I am very much looking forward to going back next year, where it’s the 100 year anniversary of Jack Kirby and Will Eisner. I learned that there are supposed to be extra panels on the two creators next year and that sounds great.

Review: Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus

mary_wept_over_feet_jesus_chester_brown_drawn_quarterly_cover-580x1024

Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus by Chester Brown. Published by Drawn and Quarterly.

Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus

By Chester Brown

Published by Drawn and Quarterly

Format: Hardcover

Price: 21.95 USD, 24.95 CAD

 

This is Chester Brown’s new book that was published earlier this year. The book contains a number of biblical stories that reinterpret the stories of women in the bible and specifically the women mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy. Chester’s last book, Paying For It was about his experience being a John and using the services of prostitutes. Chester believes prostitution should be legalized and uses these biblical stories to further that goal. This might seem odd because laws and moral disapproval of prostitution comes from Abrahamic religions, but Chester backs up the reinterpretations with research. Within a lengthy notes section Chester goes into detail to which biblical scholars, their books and earlier versions of biblical scripture he used to come to his conclusions.

 

I suspect this book will be more interesting to those who are into Christianity and biblical studies. Fundamental Christians who view the Bible that absolute truth and the word of god will likely be upset, but reading the notes section (if they get that far) may awaken them to the reality that the bible as we know today is heavily edited. There are earlier scriptures that tell different versions of the stories, issues with how certain words were mistranslated among other things (google Bart D. Ehrman if you want to know more). People who have no interest in religion or prostitution may not find this book all that interesting.

 

While I did enjoy this book and do have an interest in this stuff, I suspect people who are expecting another Louis Riel or Paying For It might be disappointed in this book.  This collection of short stories doesn’t provide the satisfying feeling of Chester’s longer stories.

You can learn more about the book and read an except at the Drawn and Quarterly website.

TCAF & DWA 2016

Steven Twigg at TCAF

Steven Twigg at TCAF

So I went to TCAF a week ago. I did my usual audio recording of panels and took some pictures of creators. Normally I try and get pics of all of the creators there, but I was unable to this time due to recovering from a cold and dealing with back pain.

This year’s TCAF was a little different in that the ground floor wasn’t so crammed with creators and publishers. One of the back rooms was being renovated so they weren’t able to use it. Other areas where they would normally have tables on both sides of the isle only had tables on the 1 side. This made walking around and browsing much more pleasurable. I also noticed a lot of new faces this year as well. I think having a bunch of different creators with new (thus more popular books) is good for the overall vibe of the convention. Seeing so many new/good things to buy I think gets people spending money and enjoying the event more. I imagine it leads a more positive conversations among creators after the event if they all sold a lot of books.

They were able to more effectively use the 2nd and 3rd floors in terms of putting creators up there. I doubt they got as much foot traffic as the usual places creators were but when I was there people were there browsing and shopping so I hope they did okay. They also put most of their big mainstream creators in a new spot (the Masonic Temple) which was about a block away from the Library. I never got to visit there but I’m told it was really nice. My understanding is the place was mainly used for signings and wasn’t a place where creators sat all day selling their stuff.

One panel I attended for myself was about dealing with back pain. It was aimed at creators who are at their drawing tables (or computers) all day. I did not record it because 1. I came in late after the panel started and 2. It was a very visual panel with lots of slides showing drawing of bodies and things you can do prevent and manage back pain. Personally it was a very useful panel and I’ll be seeking out Kriota Willberg for more information.

One of the oddest things I saw while in Toronto was a homeless person sitting on the sidewalk selling back issue sets of comics. I only got to do a bit of shopping myself and I did the majority of it in the last 10 minutes of the show. I bought Mary Wept at the Feet of Jesus by Chester Brown and Bernie by Ted Rall. I’m about half way through the Bernie book now and I’m enjoying it. The book is like comic version of a Bernie Sanders speech, but with historical and economic information to back up the points he makes. So far it’s covered income inequality and the move of the US Democratic Party to the Center/Right in the 1970s and how it doesn’t represent progressive Liberal voters.

I did something else I very rarely do at panels and that is ask questions. I did this at the Chester Brown panel that quickly went from being about the book to being about sex workers and how/why the Catholic church has worked to criminalize their profession. I don’t disagree with anything that was said but I think room started getting tense as not everybody was comfortable with the criticism of the Catholic church. I tried to steer the panel back to talking about the book. That said, Chester might want to consider making a book about the history of prostitution and how/why it’s illegal. I think much of what was said at the panel would make for some interesting reading.

The Doug Wright Awards were a bit different this year. For starters Brad Mackay wasn’t there due to a family emergency. Dustin Harbin stepped in to host the awards. Usually they get some celebrity involvement in the awards but there was none of that this year, which was fine as it wasn’t needed. The awards ran a bit quicker than usual which was good as they got off to a late start.

I feel I should note that I’m not that happy with my camera. Last year I bought a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS40 that had multiple review sites saying it was the best point and shoot camera out there. Those sites are wrong. The biggest problem with the camera is the Auto Intelligent Scene picker setting. The camera examines the shot you want to take and then picks the scene mode best for that shot. Sounds great doesn’t it? Problem is, nearly half of all the scene modes say it should be used with the camera on a tripod. So when you’re taking pictures by hand you get blurry or bad pictures and you normally have no way of knowing what you’re going to get.

I took the majority of the pictures at the show at either Portrait or “Food” setting, but still wasn’t happy with the results. Some of it is because the camera takes the shot right when the flash is shooting, which leads to wicked shadows behind the people and flash light washed out faces.  I plan on buying a new camera before San Diego Comic Con and I think I’m going to sell this one on Ebay. My previous camera took much better pictures but I stopped using it because of increasing delays between pressing the shutter button and getting the shot and also inconsistent flash settings. Also, it took 4 AA batteries, which increased the cameras weight and my backpack weight due to me having spares.

King Con 2016

KingCon2016

I went to King Con and a related event from March 11 to 13th. King Con is a local comic/gaming convention. Originally King Con was just a gaming convention, I never attended it but my understanding is it was on hiatus for a while before our local public library took it over last year. Now it’s half gaming convention and half TCAF like convention, but on a very small scale.

On the 11th, I went to the Screening Room (local mainly indy movie theatre) for a showing of Seth’s Dominion, which is a documentary about the cartoonist Seth. They gave out tickets for a door price of the latest Palookaville book. Seth gave a small introduction explaining that they were going to start with two short animated cartoons done using Seth’s work. One was called the Great Machine, the other Kao-Kuk. Seth wanted it known that these stories were not typical of his work.

The documentary was a mix of Seth talking about his life, his work – both personal and commercial, it showed a number of his friends talking about him, Seth’s parents were discussed too. I was surprised to learn about some of the things Seth does for himself, this includes developing puppets and doing a show with them and his building a large model city. In between all this are animated short Seth stories.

After the show there was a question and answer with Seth himself. I counted 35 people in the theatre. Among the things Seth revealed is his puppet work is going to become it’s own movie. Seth talked about his relationship with Joe Matt and Chester Brown and said they’ve grown apart because they don’t see each other very often. He said when they all lived in Toronto they were constantly talking comics and sharing their work with each other for feedback, but now that they’ve grown more experienced in their cartooning they don’t need that feedback anymore.

Seth talked about the importance of establishing rules in comics and working within them, then breaking those rules. Seth said he really liked the animation of his work in the documentary and he had nothing to do with it. Seth gave all the credit to the person behind the documentary director and animator Luc Chamberland. He liked it so much he’s now thinking about doing some work in Animation.

Seth revealed that the next Clyde Fans is almost done. He needs to revisit what he’s done and he believes he’ll be making some changes to it. Seth also talked about his relationship with computers. He said he went from hating them to tolerating and using them, but he still keeps his computer on the 3rd floor of his house while he works in the basement so it’s not a distraction.

Seth’s Dominion can be rented or purchased here at the National Film Board of Canada’s website. A DVD will be coming out soon is my understanding.

On Saturday and Sunday I went to the King Con convention itself. There were 2 panels featuring comic creators on Saturday and I’ve audio recorded them. One was on Dan Parent and the other on Seth. I also took some pictures, which are a mix of cosplayers and creators.

On Sunday I came back to chit chat with some of the creators, which was nice. I also came across a pirate musical group called Capt’n Tor & The Naer Do Well Cads. They were going around and singing songs, drawing people to tables that weren’t getting much traffic on the first floor. Here are 2 of their songs. Personally I like the 2nd one better, but both are fun to watch.

 

I only got a couple of books for myself at the convention, one was Lucifer’s Sword by Phil Cross and Ronn Sutton and Epochs #1 by Cody Yeo, Greg Moser and Christian Wolf.

 

R.I.P. Paul Ryan (1949 – 2016)

Paul Ryan, 2004 Paradise Comics Toronto Comic Con

Paul Ryan, 2004 Paradise Comics Toronto Comic Con

Artist Paul Ryan has passed away at the age of 66. You hear about comic creators dying and while they are all sad, this one hit me harder than most. I met Paul at least once or twice at conventions and was always happy to see and talk with him.

Paul drew the 2nd comic I ever bought, which was D.P. 7 #2. I would eventually go on to collect the entire series. It is one of my favourite comics of my youth. Paul drew all 32 issues of the comic but Lee Weeks drew the D.P. 7 Annual. The entire New Universe line of books were panned back in the day, but many noted that D.P. 7 was easily the best of the bunch and is fondly remembered by fans like myself.

Paul and D.P. 7 writer Mark Gruenwald worked together on the first 6 issues of Quasar. While I didn’t collect it I did buy the odd issue, particularly the issue that had Quasar go to the New Universe and visit the D.P. 7 cast of characters. I’ve never had any desire to buy original art but I had a serious look at Paul’s D.P. 7 pages. If I saw something I really liked for a decent price I likely would have bought it. Sadly most of the good pages I would have been interested in had been bought already.

Amazing Spider-Man Annual 21

Amazing Spider-Man Annual 21

Paul’s most famous 80’s comic was The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21, which featured the marriage of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson. I also enjoyed Paul’s run on Fantastic Four with Tom DeFalco in the 90s. I know those comics get a bad rap but they were fun, fast paced, popcorn reading. At the time comic industry sales were crashing and if I remember Dan Ravi’s Comic Wars correctly the editors were put under immense pressure to increase sales every quarter in spite of this. DeFalco (who was then the Editor in Chief) and Ryan did their best to do entertaining stories while keeping the upstairs people happy. Their run was filled with with gimmick covers, shocking revelations (Alicia is really a Skrull named Lyja the Lazerfist!), costume changes and more. Paul would go on to draw many more comics for Marvel, DC and other publishers.

Paul had been drawing the Phantom newspaper strip since 2005 and I always happy that he found solid, steady work as he fell out of flavour in comic books. Sadly, many artists do not and are heavily reliant on the convention circuit and fan commissions to support themselves. Many more just don’t get any more work in comics and have to go into some other field. Paul’s consistency and clarity in telling a story were among the qualities that lead to him having a long and successful career in comics.

Comic History Secrets Revealed!

I’ve been going to comic book conventions since 2003 and have been audio recording panels and awards since 2005. Along the way creators have spoken about some behind the scenes happenings that don’t always become public knowledge.

DC Bloodlines Logo

Marvel Superstar!

 

On the Comics Can Be Good column at CBR, Brian Cronin writes about the 1993 DC Bloodlines Annuals. In these annuals a new superhero character was created, which was a selling point to get fans to buy these books. The vast majority of these characters were not very popular and went into comic book limbo almost immediately after their appearance. The same thing happened with the 1993 Marvel Annuals that had new characters in them too.

 

 

 

 

 

Creator Mike Grell wrote the Green Arrow Annual #6 and came up with a character called The Hook. Grell was at the 2008 Toronto Hobbystar ComiCON and was on a panel along with Bob Layton and David Michelinie. It was called The Men of Iron / Sketch Off Panel where Layton and Grell did sketches and all 3 talked about their careers, focusing mainly on their time on Iron Man. The panel was moderated by Blake Bell.

The conversation drifted towards working with editors and around the 37:30 mark, David Michelinie spoke about declining to work on the Marvel annual (he was writing Amazing Spider-Man at the time). Mike Grell spoke about working on the Green Arrow Annual #6.

Michelinie: I remember one year in the annuals. (…) One year they had everybody create a new character which Marvel would then own. So I declined to do the annual that year. You always have a choice. You can always say no.

 

Grell: DC had that policy. There was a line of books that they did. They mandated that everybody had to create a new character and by the way, it was work for hire and DC owned the character. Being a professional prostitute [laughter from the panel] I did, but I accidentally created a good one. I had already sent in the outline for the story as soon as it went in I went “OH CRAP! THAT’S A GOOD CHARACTER!” [Laughter] I got on the phone with the editor and I unsold it. [Lots of Laughter] The character that I created, I convinced them it wasn’t very good. The character I created, the one that showed up in print was this war veteran who had a prosthetic hand or a prosthesis and when he would active his power, his hook would become this giant hook/claw thing that could cut through anything. By the time I’m done the editor was going “Yeah that’s great! That’s great!” *Whew!* that was close.

GreenArrowAnn-06-47

The Hook from Green Arrow Annual #6 – created by Mike Grell and Mike Collins.  © DC Comics

 

Marvel and DC likely did this because of Image Comics. They began publishing in 1992 and very quickly became the #3 publisher in the industry. Image was creating lots of new characters that had fans excited. Marvel and DC likely wanted to counter with their own “exciting” new characters but didn’t want to pay creators for them. So they got what they got. I should say that not all characters to come from this were a bust. Garth Ennis and John McCrea created Hitman, who had a well loved solo series.

I can’t speak for all creators, but I think with a lot of creators would really hate to have created a character and have it earn all sorts of money and none (or very little) of it going to them. It bothers them a lot and it can bother them for the rest of their lives. Much like if somebody broke into your house and stole your prized possession and then flaunted it in front of you at every chance they got for the rest of your life and you can’t do anything about it. The pain is such they’d rather not have created the character at all.

Plus there is always the possibility that they might use the character in a situation where it’s much more agreeable to them. It could be with another publisher or even the same publisher with different editorial policy down the line. Some creators work in other mediums like prose books, cartoons, video games, etc.. and those other fields may provide better deals. There is simply no reason for creators to provide good characters to non paying publishers if they think they’re going to regret the decision.

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