Pipeline: 52 New Variant Covers, Sandy and Groo

Tue, November 6th, 2012 at 2:58pm PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist
11

BECAUSE WE NEVER LEARN

DC announced 52 different variant covers (in addition to the main one) for their upcoming "Justice League of America" launch in February.

Quoth DC Co-Publisher Dan DiDio:

"Given the title of the comic and the year in which we're announcing -- an election year -- we wanted to celebrate the country, as well as the various states."

This is not an Onion article.

52 variant covers is one cover for every state, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. DC purposefully omitted the 51st state, Canada.

I can't wait to see what they do for the inevitable second printing they'll announce the day before the comic ships.

This is for a book being drawn by David Finch, who likely won't make it through 52 pages without running into deadline issues.

There should be a sequel to this desperate cry for attention with the publication of a "Royal Flush Gang" miniseries. The first issue could have 54 covers: one for each card in the deck, plus two Jokers, drawn by Greg Capullo in a special 250:1 collector's item variant. That'll bring in the sales.

Seriously, though, what DC has done here is so ludicrous that it should naturally prevent retailers from falling into the trap DC is trying to set out for them. They can't possibly order 52 in quantity. Order the bulk from the main cover and the state the retailer is in, take special orders from any marks silly enough to want to lay out over $200 for all the covers, and that's it. It won't increase sales all that much, unless there are retailers self-destructive enough to order 53 covers in quantity. At most, all they need to do is ask customers to pre-order which state they want and collect partial payment up front to keep them honest.

There's always the fail safe plan: Wait for DC to announce a hardcover art book for $50 to collect all of these covers, coupled with some grandiose marketing praise of this "one of a kind" event that "taps into the zeitgeist" of the election that happened four months before the covers came out. On the high end, that 50-some-odd page book will cost you $50, so you'll save three-quarters of the price.

READING COMICS BY SANDY'S LIGHTS

The hurricane knocked power out in my neighborhood at 7:30 last Monday night, two hours after I sent in last week's Pipeline.

Dodged that bullet, at least.

What do you do when the lights go out? You suddenly realize just how much of your life is on the network. Your laptop looks like dead weight. It has no internet connection, so what's the point? Your phone is an awesome lifeline, but the battery life gets very very short when family members keep calling with or for status updates. Your laptop is instantly repurposed to be your daughter's DVD viewer.

Sandy comes through, and suddenly you're Amish. The Amish do it by choice. I'm a technophile consigned to hell.

I make light of it, but I had it far easier than people in Staten Island or along the New Jersey shore line. The waters didn't rise up around here this time. All of the damage was done by the wind, which snapped telephone poles holding up power lines and pushed trees out of the ground onto houses and across streets and, in one case, on top of a police car making rounds during the storm.

We lost power for five days. I still had hot water, but the house wouldn't heat up past 57 degrees. My wife and daughter stayed elsewhere while I stayed home and went to work during the day. I worked late, got takeout on the way home, read comics by flashlight, and then went searching for gas as the week ended and the gas lines built up.

Yes, we found the cure for climate change: People don't drive as mjuch when they have to get into one of those awful gas lines to refill. That's where they idle their cars for hours on end, burning up needless mounts of gasoline, and reversing any of the progress that they're driving stinginess might have done. Ironic. Don'tcha think?

I also look at "The Walking Dead" in a new light. I wasn't the only person making jokes the day after the hurricane blew through about waiting for the zombies to come shambling down the road. It was windy, there was no power anywhere, cars were sparse save the regular alarm sounds of a fire engine or police car roaring down the street, and everyone was staying in their houses. And then with the gas shortages, you could start easily imagining the end of civilization. This is how it would happen. You'd see runs on the supermarkets, clearing out their shelves next. And if they didn't have power? Well, you have to feed your family and no locks are going to stop the hungry. So when there are still canned goods to be found in a civilization that's been without power or order for well over a year -- well, you learn to accept the whole "suspension of disbelief" thing and run with it.

Thankfully, there are comics. I've tried reading them on small pages and large pages, on my computer screen, on an iPad, and even on a 46" TV. Turns out, they can be read with a flashlight or the judicious use of candles, if you're in the right kind of room. I tried both, but a small handheld LED flashlight was the hero. It had remarkable battery life powered by two AAs. Reading comics with a flashlight is like usig Comixology on Guided View mode. You're looking at one panel at a time. The worst part is that the color of the comics might be off a bit. Thankfully, LEDs are pretty strong white lights. They don't have that slight yellow or green tint you get from some kind of light bulbs.

It's a slightly frustratingly slow process, but it's workable. Read books with more panels per page and it works better. Those smaller panels are easier to take in with one small flashlight.

I read the larger ("largest"?) format "Groo Artist's Edition" right after the hurricane, but that was during daylight hours. I'm not sure it would work as well at night, though I would have an easier time picking out all of Sergio Aragones' finest details looking at that book a couple square inches at a time.

The last time I read a comic in the near dark was during the great Blackout of 2003 that impacted the entire Northeast. It was a Thursday night in August. It got a little tricky with the last few pages as the sun sank behind the mountains. That was "Daredevil" #50, I believe, with a string of guest artists and Daredevil taking control of Hell's Kitchen.

I'm hoping I don't need to read too many more comics in that way for the near future, but it's nice to knew that I could.

WHAT I READ WHEN THE POWER WAS OUT

  • "Excalibur" #12-#28, #42-#43

  • "The Manhattan Projects" #6

  • "The Perhapanauts: Danger Down Under" #1

  • "Epic Kill" #6

  • "Groo: Mightier Than the Sword" #1-#4

  • "The Groo Library" ("Groo" #44, #45, #47, #49)

  • "The Walking Dead" #104

  • "Invincible" #97

  • "Thief of Thieves" #10

  • "Super Dinosaur" v1 (#0-#5)

  • "Super Dinosaur" v2 (#6-#11)

  • "Saga" #7

After that, the power returned. I can't remember the last time I read that many comics in one week.

You can see why, in the middle section, I started referring to my nighttime reading as "Kirkman by Candlelight."

You can also see why I'll be talking about "Excalibur" even more in the next couple of weeks.

GAS THE GROO!

On Friday morning, my car was down to a quarter tank of gas. It was time to take action. I rolled out of bed at 5:30, and headed out in the dark to look for a gas station with a fresh supply. At 5:50, I hit paydirt. It was an easy hour and a half line of cars, I knew. That's about the same time the sun would take to rise up over the distant hills. To pass the time, I brought two things: a flashlight and a copy of the "Groo: Mightier Than the Sword" trade paperback.

Stop, start, read a page, roll the car forward, read a page, roll, read, roll, read, read, read, etc. etc.

The good news is, it was a funny book that had me laughing out loud a couple of times. It's quintessential Groo, complete with commentary on the news, newspapers, and people's perceptions of the truth. (The conniving character plants stories in the local newspaper to convince the citizens that he's the best choice to be the next ruler.) It's filled with mendacity, cheese dip, Groo setting things on fire, winning frays, and totla mayhem. As usual, my favorite parts of the book are Groo's unwitting destructions. I like the way Aragones and Evanier do physical humor and use the verbal bits to misdirect you in hilarious ways. When when you can see the joke coming based on the set-up in the first word balloon, it's still funny because Aragones can draw the perfect gesture or perfect face. The characters "act" in the ways that best punctuate the gag. Aragones can sell each and every gag in a way that feels natural.

There's a lot to say about the dialogue in this issue, too, just because Groo is fighting against a population that thinks he's a giant monstrous three-headed beast. So when they talk about "Groo," he doesn't realize they're talking about him. It's "Duck! Rabbit! Duck!"-style pronoun trouble at times, which got a few good laughs.

When I finished the book, I didn't recognized the cold hard truth of the matter: I still had three hours to go in that gas line. I didn't fill my tank until 9:34. I had nothing else in the car to read.

Lesson learned: You can never have enough reading material. You can have too much, but that's just good planning. It would not have been overkill to bring a "Cerebus" phonebook with me. Maybe two. Live and learn.

THE WRITER/ARTIST BALANCE OF POWER

Ron Marz tweeted some stuff last week (start here) that got me to thinking about the balance of writer and artist in comics today. The argument goes that everything runs in a circle or that the pendulum swings both ways. If the 1990s were about the artist being dominant and the 2000s saw the rise of the writer, then the 2010s should be leaning back towards the artists. That isn't happening, though. It's happening a lot for me, but in the main I think the writer still holds greater power. Marz points to the time pressures artists face along with publishers' desires to be more timely (DC) or pump out more issues per year (Marvel) as making art teams swappable while the writer remains as the bedrock upon which a series is built.

There needs to be some way to balance the scales. It won't happen. I'm a realist enough to know that humanity works best in extremes and eventually evens out near the middle somewhere on the larger scale. But at any given moment, it will always seem lopsided. Here are some suggested ways to bring the role of the artist back into prominence in comics:

  • Let more artists write their own work. That's what the Image creators did in the early 90s to cement the Age of the Artist at the time. You can argue about the results, but giving them more control to write what they want to draw will bring about better art, at least in the short term. It's a shot in the arm that artists should be given. DC has experimented with this, but it hasn't worked out yet. Rob Liefeld ran screaming from the company, and David Finch quickly picked up a writer's credit.

  • Writers: talk to your artists and give them some of what they want. Marz brought this up, too, as Peter David did in his "The Incredible Hulk" farewell column, but playing to the artist's strengths can produce a better book. That artist is stuck drawing the same thing for a month. Let them have something to be excited about.

  • This is inside baseball and it's a title-to-title thing, but let's let artists choose the writers they want to work with more than writers approving artists. I don't know how often either of those happens in comics today. So many artists have paired themselves up with writers they enjoy working with already (see Brubaker/Phillips, for example), but we need more of them. Let the artists have greater say in how those pairings happen.

  • Stop producing more than 12 issues a year of superhero monthly titles. Make those extra issues into spin-off miniseries. Let artists have a chance at creating a "run" on a title, which is something that just doesn't happen in the current market. Yes, Peter David wrote "The Incredible Hulk" for 12 years, but you tend to break that run up into chunks based on the artists who stuck around for a string of issues: Todd McFarlane, Dale Keown, Gary Frank, Adam Kubert. (Jeff Purves was also in there, as well as Liam Sharpe, but they're not the first that came to your mind, are they?)

  • Don't publish something until you have enough in the can to guarantee the fourth issue won't be a fill-in artist or a series of guest inkers. Take consistency seriously, for once, and that goes straight down to the colorists and letterers. Keep a consistent look and feel to a book at all levels. That means all visual parts of the team work in tandem. That will help shore up the effects of the art. This will cost the publisher a little money up front for a bigger pay off down the road. That's why this won't happen. Stock reports are quarterly.

  • Schedule your fill-ins. And then make them top of the line fill-in artists. CrossGen did this, and had some amazing artists in those issues. I remember Rick Leonardi and Mike Wieringo, specifically, filling in at the beginning. And do make sure the story accommodates this change in artist. Don't make that fill-in issue be part 4 of 6 in a series.

  • Readers: Vote with your wallet. Buy only the good looking comics. Those are easy to determine at a glance on the stands. The risk should more often be in the writing, and that is often mitigated by readers following specific writers whose work they like, or characters that they enjoy.

    * Artists: Don't blow it. Give the readers something awesome to latch onto. Make readers won't to look for your work. Don't be afraid to push the boundaries or do something different. I bet Skottie Young didn't plan on doing awesomely popular X-Babies covers five or even ten years ago. But those set him apart and fit in his art style so well. And now they're ridiculously popular.

In the end, this won't happen. All of the suggestions mentioned above at the publisher level are too long range. They don't provide immediate sales boost and profits. They're long-term outlooks meant to steady the ship and provide more consistent results. This is a market that abhors those links, dominated by two publishers who are owned by larger companies that only want short term viability and research and development of their "properties" for their "brands." Their customers follow characters instead of creators, by and large, and live in the culture of "now" and "what's new?" They want big splashes and, ironically, they want the same old, same old. Look at the negative responses to, say, Eric Canete drawing an issue of Spider-Man in his own style. Remember that one?

So round and round it goes. If you want that level of consistency by creators who are committed to their stories and artists who aren't afraid to experiment a little bit, go buy something at Image.

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TAGS:  pipeline, dc comics, hurricane sandy, justice league of america, groo

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