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Thursday, Jul 23, 2009
Why I support the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund enough to go to a not-so-great convention.

As I mentioned in my last post, I attended Wizard World Philly 2009 to volunteer at the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund table.  So, I thought I’d tell you a little about that organization and why I chose to support it in this way (other than I didn’t have the resources to give money myself).


Since 1986, the CBLDF has been working to protect the First Amendment within the comic book industry.  Historically, comics have been associated with youth.  Even as they have become mainstream and more adults are reading them, they remain an easy target for people who would censor a writer’s work, because it’s one of the few industries in which it’s still easy to do so in the name of the children.


As a writer, I understand how important it is to be allowed to express yourself in a way that makes your story successful, or allows non-fiction to get your point across.  As an adult comic fan, I want to be allowed the choice to read what I want and when, and I firmly believe that it is up to parents to keep objectionable material away from their children.  More than that, I think that parents should be willing and prepared to discuss objectionable material with their children.  Children armed with information are less vulnerable than those who are not.


So, I spent two days shilling a variety of signed collectibles for a good cause.  Creators like Neil Gaiman, Brian K. Vaughan, and Frank Miller all donated books.  Artists like Jeff Smith, Amanda Conner, and Matt Wagner donated prints.  Then there were unique items exclusive to the CBLDF, like the fragrances inspired by Neil Gaiman’s novels!  All of these items are also available at their website.  Visit www.cbldf.org.


I’ll leave you with a word from Neil Gaiman, who provides a unique perspective regarding the First Amendment:


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Thursday, Jul 23, 2009
When you reach for the stars, who knows what dreams may come?

Two men of very different destinies. Artist Craig Hamilton makes a compelling visual statement about writer James Robinson’s project of an art deco city in comics evolving from the lives of great men.


For writer James Robinson, the dream of an art deco comics has been a long, slow project. By issue 54 of Starman it had taken nearly five years. Winding its way through a passing exchange between characters, and on to being visualized by the series’ regular artists, Starman’s home of Opal eventually became as much a character as any other. But it is with issue 54, and with guest illustrator Hamilton, that the art deco theme finally transcends the visualization of Opal and influences the medium of comics itself. Ironically, issue 54 is set in the nineteenth century, long before the art deco movement properly took hold.


Hamilton depicts two men whose contribution to Opal live on for longer than a century. In doing so he opposes their individual characters, but also the fabric of the city’s life.


To the left is legendary blood-and-guts lawman, Sheriff Brian Savage, the Scalphunter. To the right stands Herman Moll reclusive (and by the close of the twentieth century, little-remembered) visionary, the fictive inventor of the first spaceship. Contrasted as looking down on their achievements, both remain unaware of the full impact they will have on the future of Opal.


The vibrancy and warmth of the palette used to depict Savage in the Chinese parlor differs sharply from the cold, clinical hues of Moll’s hangar. Yet for all its warmth, Savage’s world will require of Opal defenders prepared to spill blood. While for all the apparent cold of Moll’s panel, it is his work that will nurture the dreams of Ted Knight, the first Starman and provide Jack Knight a means to the stars.


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Wednesday, Jul 22, 2009
The San Diego Comic-Con starts on Wednesday with preview night. There will be plenty of pop-culture bliss to spread around to the 125,000 attendees, but actual comic books don't have nearly as much impact at the event as they once did.

Another Comic-Con gets going on Wednesday with preview night, San Diego’s 40th. I love Comic-Con and this will be my seventh in a row. But even in the relatively brief time I’ve been attending, the event has changed a great deal. Despite retaining the name “Comic-Con”, these days the convention bills itself as the largest pop-culture gathering in America. Comic books still have a presence, of course. Panels involving Marvel and DC’s biggest titles can come close to filling the mid-sized 1,400-seat rooms, and occasionally a creator will build a big enough name for himself to hold court in the 3,000 or 4,000-seat rooms. But that’s a rarity. Those rooms are mostly reserved for television shows these days.


Down on the main floor, several dozen retailers sell current graphic novels and individual issues, while an entire section of the floor is donated to dealers who trade in comic books from the golden (1930’s, ‘40s) and silver (‘50s, and ‘60s) ages. Individual comic publishers have booths on the floor, everything from the biggest (Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Image) to small press imprints you’ve probably never heard of. Not to mention artists’ alley, where dozens of artists, some famous, some not, set up to sell their work, talk with fans, and create new sketches. But even on the massive main floor, the comic book people and the major tv and movie studios don’t always get along. In the wake of Comic-Con 2008, Chuck Rozanski, who runs Mile High Comics, one of the largest dealers at the show (and in the United States, for that matter), had a long and fascinating column about the dealers being virtually ignored in favor of catering to the major film and television studios. Comic-Con PR man David Glanzer’s take was that the same percentage of floor space is dedicated to comic books as in previous years. But if we’re to take Rozanski at his word then clearly something that was once the lifeblood of the show is now more of an afterthought.


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Wednesday, Jul 22, 2009
Wally Wood's refusal of celebration offers a magnificent statement on the potential of the comics medium.

Perhaps more so than any other artist, Wally Wood has come to symbolize the frustrated genius of comics, bowdlerized and ultimately defeated by mass medium publication. What could his lasting contribution have been if the comics industry of the ‘50s had been primed for creator-ownership like the industry of the ‘90s? Or more to the point, what innovations might the creator of Daredevil’s red suit have given audiences, had he found that acknowledgement he sought from Marvel and DC and gone on to work with classic superheroes?


While Wally Wood’s will always remain as visionary inventor of the ‘32 Panels That Always Work’, the lack of his fuller impact on established superhero characters is sorely lamented. Perhaps the happiest time of his productive life was to be had at the carefree studios of MAD Magazine. Despite his frustration by mass-media corporations Wood’s genius deserves to be recognized, even celebrated.


In an example of his work from that period, Wood pens the closing panels to ‘Flesh Garden’ a parody of Flash Gordon. In an unexpected twist readers discover that Flesh did not return to earth. Instead, he chose to remain on Planet Ming. Once Dale exits, the rocketship is empty.


Wood’s empty rocketship provides a strange and unwitting reply to compliment made by the visionary Will Eisner. Speaking to Frank Miller in their book-length conversation, Eisner/Miller, Eisner appraises Wood as, ‘Wally was a genius. In 1950, he did spaceship interiors that were valid in 1980! I mean thirty years ahead of his time!’.


With ‘Flesh Garden’ Wood presents his audience with an alternative recognition; the idea of potential. Just as the empty rocketship is an exhortation to venture beyond the planet, Wood’s refusal to draw a (no doubt genius) interior reminds readers that like science fiction, comics is ultimately germinal of the world we deserve.


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Tuesday, Jul 21, 2009
Ultimates writer Mark Millar, and artist Bryan Hitch present a compelling argument for the superhero genre being the thematic successor the western, and at the same time tap the elation and exhilaration of spaceflight.

In ‘Grand Theft America’, the final volume of the seminal Millar/Hitch run on Ultimates, the chips are down one last time. America has been overrun by super-powered terrorists and the Ultimates, the first line of defense seem down for the count. With Captain America and Thor incarcerated, Hawkeye tortured, and Black Widow revealed as a traitor, the odds seem stacked against the cadre of superheroes.


Unexpectedly, it is Tony Stark’s Iron Man, drunk and held at gunpoint by the Black Widow, who is first to turn the tide in America’s favor. Escaping capture he dons the earliest model of the Iron Man armor. In another twist, he does not engage the enemy directly; instead he flies towards Stark Space Station, there to activate the most advanced Iron Man to date.


With the theme of self-rescue, Millar provides a cogent argument for the superhero genre being a thematic successor to the western. In westerns the cavalry arriving was a sign of heroes being reintegrated into society, coming home from the frontier. But what happens when society is everywhere, and society itself is being threatened? In this way, superheroes always perform a self-rescue before rescuing others.


Millar’s genius however is to associate the theme of self-rescue with exhilaration of spaceflight. As the view of the Manhattan skyline recedes, eventually replaced with a view of the Eastern Seaboard from the troposphere, Millar and Hitch present their audience with a clear and concise logic. That performing a superhero-style self-rescue for our entire species, is as simple as entering into orbit.


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