Pipeline: Pipeline, Issue #303

Tue, April 1st, 2003 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

MY EPIC STORY

I know I should never be surprised when the fanboys start complaining in the face of a great opportunity or good news. Since Marvel finally announced the details of the Epic line last week, message boards have been buzzing about the opportunity. Some people are figuring out how to write scripts. Some are learning how to letter. Others are trying to line up creative teams for their prospective books.

The counter-argument for this, of course, is that if this is something they really want to do, why didn't they start earlier? Why wait for Marvel to open up its doors? On the other hand, I know what it's like to not get started on something until there's some kind of practical application for it, or a deadline set. I'm a computer programmer. I learn languages when I need them to get something done, and not as a pure hobbyist thing. Without an end goal in mind, it's a boring academic exercise.

So, I say, good for the fans that are getting their dander up now. Even if the Marvel thing doesn't work out, maybe they'll make their own comics for the fun of it, or just learn some new skills that might come in handy later in life.

There is, however, the ugly side for people who just want to complain.

Yes, the "creator owned" segment of the deal is a little iffy. In fact, I don't think I'd feel terribly comfortable doing something I'd want to be creator-owned at Marvel. The language used in that initial phone conference wouldn't fill me with hope on that. Would I berate or belittle Marvel for this? No, I'd just not give them any characters I'd want to keep. I'd write a different story. If Marvel wants a series set in the Marvel Universe, anyway, wouldn't it be an easier sell to write for a Marvel character? Yes, you'll probably create a supporting character or two for the sake of your story, but it's a small price to pay. Leave your lifelong ambition in the bag for now. Save that character for later. That seems to have worked out pretty well for Todd McFarlane with SPAWN, no matter what you think of him.

ALIAS exists because of Brian Bendis. I doubt Joe Schmoe could have sold Marvel on that idea. You're talking about a proven creator with a solid track record doing ALIAS. That's why Marvel was willing to give Bendis some unusual slack. You, the on-line fanboy whose delusions of grandeur are limited to message boards and chat rooms where "R U" is an acceptable sentence, have to prove yourself first.

Marvel would also like to publish books that fit in its PG ratings space. Why is this such a bone of contention? Did you expect Marvel to start publishing Vertigo books all of a sudden? They experimented with MAX, and that doesn't seem to have taken off. What hubris it would be to suggest that your idea could save such a line.

I don't mean to be harsh. I know there's more than that on-line, but I want you to be aware of Marvel's thought process and what ends up being the truth. Heck, I often see it in the reactions this column gets. I'm already laying down the asbestos for the e-mails this column will no doubt get me.

Yes, I was contacted about the Epic line back in December, as were a host of other on-line writers. We were asked to keep quiet about it until the line had been announced. I'm happy to see that we all did. Word of the Epic line didn't start hitting until a few short weeks ago when Rich Johnston started to piece together some parts of the story, but not nearly all of it. Now that the line and most of its details are in the open, I can talk about my experiences with it.

I had a phone call with some people at Marvel last December. They sent a follow-up e-mail with most of the details you saw in all the press on the announcement last week. I did have a couple of ideas in mind. Those ideas were not for creator-owned material, but for Marvel characters. Yes, I do have ideas of my own, and I'm saving them for the perfect world in which I could self-publish them or somehow retain full ownership of them.

The bottom line is this: I'm not writing Pipeline as a way to get into the industry. I don't have a stack of scripts sitting here that I've toyed with in the past. Yes, I've written some fan-fics in the past (that were positively received by the creator of the characters, I might add) and a couple of different scripts for stories all my own. I've learned a lot about the process of writing from a blank screen that way and can respect the daunting task that so many writers face each and every month. I am not a creative writer first. I really have to be in the mindset to get going on that. When Epic opened, I wasn't there. I didn't have the fire burning inside of me to contribute anything I thought would be worthwhile, so I sat on it.

There's also the cynical and completely paranoid side that makes me sound like one of those whiney internet fanboys I was belittling a few paragraphs ago. The last thing I wanted to do was to give Bill Jemas the material to show how little writing talent the on-line community has by helping usher in a sea of horrible proposals to Marvel from reviewers. C'mon, you know he'd want to see that. He'd take the loss and publish the godawful pieces of crap just to embarrass the critics. I didn't want to risk that, particularly since I wasn't excited enough about an idea.

When the offer first came up, I thought about it for a couple of days and even posted a thread on the Pipeline message board asking people which defunct character they'd like to see in print again. I didn't mention why I was asking, and I think I included DC characters in the thread just to throw off any possible suspicion about the Epic line. The funny thing is that one of the first characters I thought of was echoed a couple times over in that thread. I made a quick jaunt to eBay, picked up some "reference" material, and started reading.

[Silver Sable #9]Ladies and gentlemen, I am here today to tell you that the SILVER SABLE series from the early 90s is one of the most abominable pieces of uninspired trash I've ever read. It's horrible, formulaic, occasionally exploitive, and an overall waste of time. The series lasted three years, but I couldn't stomach more than two years' worth of the material before I set it down.

The idea with Epic would be to rethink the character in a new way that doesn't necessarily negate anything that's come before. So here's a wide open character with plenty of possibilities -- bounty hunter, government agent, etc. -- who hasn't been around all that much in recent years. I had some ideas and some notes, but never the energy or ambition to put my head down and get to work on it. Thus, I never submitted anything to Epic and have no regrets about it.

I do hope someday to write a comic book that someone thinks enough of to publish. I'm only 27. I've got plenty of time. Epic is an amazing opportunity, though, and I'm honored to be amongst the first asked for proposals. I only wish the stars had aligned a little better for me on this one.

I give Silver Sable over to you fanboys looking for a character to recreate. Heck, for all I know there's already an accepted proposal at Epic for her. She seems too obvious not to jump at.

Side note: Joe Quesada was attached as an artist for the series in its early development in 1992. Luckily for him, he ended up elsewhere. If you're lucky, dear Epic Writer Wannabe, he'll look upon submissions for the character favorably.

Good luck.

Update: Newsarama has a piece with Bill Jemas that clears up some of the details regarding the Epic line, including the PG rating issue and some of the finer points on the creator ownership portion of the deal. I still say your best bet at Epic is to write something featuring a Marvel character that doesn't necessitate a mature rating. In any case, it looks like the door is open to other possibilities, as well.

LAST WEEK'S COMICS

[Fantastic Four #67]Mike Wieringo rejoins Mark Waid in time for FANTASTIC FOUR #67, a turning point in the characterization of Doctor Doom in anticipation of the coming storyline. The Fantastic Four, itself, doesn't appear in this issue. Instead, we're given a fascinating new look at the doctor with some spiritual and fantastic assistance. It's Waid's finest hour on the title, for reasons that I could only reveal with spoilers. If you want a Doctor Doom love story, you've come to the right place. If you want a classic Doctor Doom story where he takes no prisoners, this is also the story for you. If you've never read an issue of FANTASTIC FOUR, this one will still be accessible to you and well worth the time.

GLOBAL FREQUENCY #6 gives Warren Ellis the chance to expand a bit on a concept that might remind you a bit of Authority member, Jack Hawksmoor. Hawksmoor had an empathic relationship to cities. In GF #6, lead character Sita Patel is a "Le Parkour Runner," with the ability to find her way across a city in the most unusual manner or route. It's described as "treating the city as an obstacle course." Over the course of the issue, Patel runs across London over rooftops, through floors of buildings, down fire escapes, and more. I'm not sure it's a practical concept (surely running at top speed on the street is easier and quicker than running up and down to avoid a few corners), but it's a really cool one that works on the page as David Lloyd draws it.

[Batman: Gotham Adventures #60]As the cover indicates, BATMAN ADVENTURES #60 "goes out with a bang!" This is the final issue of the nearly-venerable animated series, wrapping up the tenure of Scott Peterson and Tim Levins on the series. Peterson goes all out and pits Joker against Batman. While I think the ending is a little too forced and filled with sunshine, it's still a valid story for this corner of the universe. It's family friendly in a warped sort of way. This is the last chance I'll have to say this, so I'll repeat it now for any Eisner Award judges, or anyone else who ever votes in a comic awards event: Lee Loughridge is one of the best colorists in the business, and his lack of nominations is striking. Take a look at this series someday and see how beautiful his coloring work can be.

COLLEGE LOVE AND MIDGET NAZIS

STYLISH VITTLES Volume 2, "All The Way," continues the story of two college kids, Nanette and Tyler, who find themselves falling in love and falling into all the traps that involves. Tyler Page's story is refreshingly honest, as freeform as life itself, and wonderfully absorbing. This second volume may not be as strongly structured as the first volume, but the series of vignettes and slices of life that it shows are captivating and engaging.

I raved about the first graphic novel in this series last year. It hit home in many places for me personally, which no doubt colored my opinion of it. While this second novel heads off in different directions, the characters are still distinctly likable, and their little dramas and self-induced frictions ring true in ways that fictional characters all too often don't. Neither Nanette nor Tyler are characters easily summarized in one sentence. They're too real for that.

Page doesn't change artistic styles in this volume as much as he did in the first. The art still fits the story, but it doesn't veer off into mock superheroic sylings during "action sequences" or into ultra-realistic pen and ink work for the super-serious moments. There are moments where Page experiments with storytelling: breaking the fourth wall, letting his characters narrate for themselves on-camera, and even quoting a page from the first volume. The story works on additional levels, too, as an avatar for Tyler appears sporadically as part of an attempt to attach cosmic significance to his newfound relationship with beautiful two page spreads of starscapes. That helps tie this book in with the first, as well.

If there is a disappointment in this volume, it's that the lettering gets sloppy in places. I had to work on more than a few caption boxes and balloons to sort out the letters to read the sentences. This book would suffer for the sterile look of computerized lettering, but some more time spent on the hand lettering might not be a bad idea.

STYLISH VITTLES is a hefty volume (296 pages) published by Dementian Comics for a small $17 price tag. Your local retailer should be able to get it through Diamond Distributors if it's not already on the shelves. You can find more information on the book at its web site, including a multi-page preview of the new volume, to give you an idea of what it looks like and how it reads.

[Highroads[HIGH ROADS is a book that didn't get a lot of respect when it first appeared last year. It is, however, a respectable series with a great sense of humor and a daring adventurous streak that reaches out, grabs you by the collar, and refuses to let go.

A six issue mini-series in the ill-defined Cliffhanger! line of comics, it featured the much admired art stylings of Leinel Francis Yu and the much more controversial scripting work of Scott Lobdell. Lobdell is the stand up comic who broke into Marvel Comics more than a decade ago with Captain Ultra stories in MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS, before parlaying it into a run on X-MEN (during the Joe Madureira era) and heading out to Hollywood, while keeping his toes in the water with a series of comics mini-series. His writing style has always been filled with plenty of gags, and his personal style on display at conventions is often the same. HIGH ROADS reflects that. It's the kind of funny story that you wish Ron Zimmerman would write.

HIGH ROADS tells the story of a motley crew on the run in France at the end of World War II, and how they come together to save the world from Hitler's true Final Solution. That crew includes a failed kamikaze pilot turned samurai pilot-for-hire, a failed midget British actor currently playing Hitler in a French musical review, a na´ve American soldier, and Hitler's original mistress. A wild plan to steal from Hitler runs into interference from a gang of Nazi ninjas, before turning into a western, a Saturday afternoon serial, a wild action piece, and an outright farce.

Yu's art has never looked better than it did in this book. That's in large part thanks to Gerry Alanguilan's inks and the suitably subdued coloring style of Avalon's Edgar Tadeo. It's so important for a comic to stand out in the crowd these days by creating its own style. HIGH ROADS succeeded in that, with a particular strength in covers that featured a painted movie poster montage motif.

HIGH ROADS will run you $15 at your favorite comic shop and is well worth every penny.

COMICS SPOTLIGHT

There's a Little Magazine That Could out there today that I'm afraid not enough people know about. That's probably because it isn't devoted to aiding the wannabe professionals out there. It isn't SKETCH, WRITE NOW, or DRAW!. I'm here today to remind you to look for it or to ask your local retailer for it. Yes, there is a bit of enlightened self-interest in this. I'm writing for the thing, and it's the first print publication that didn't go under quickly after asking me to write something for it. If only for that, it deserves your support. After all, don't we all root for the underdog? (I used to, but then my NCAA picks went down in a ball of flames.)

The magazine is called COMICS SPOTLIGHT, and the fourth issue just came out this past week. Each issue has a theme, and this one is Ultimate Marvel. Underneath a very pretty cover featuring the women of the Ultimate Marvel Universe from Claude St. Aubin, you'll find a series of articles and interviews about your favorite set of non-mainstream Marvel Universe characters. Included in the issue is "Pipeline Spotlight," a column written by yours truly that focuses in each issue on some comics that fit in with the issue's theme. In this case, I look at the highlights of the various Ultimate series, including (of course) ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #13, ULTIMATE X-MEN #6, and more.

The next issue is due out at the end of April, and I'll be writing something for the Batman theme of that issue sometime this week.

The magazine is in black and white and in standard comic book size for $5. It's a fan magazine run by intelligent fans. It's not colorful and gaudy like WIZARD, and it surely won't offend your sensibilities like WIZARD. You can see more about COMICS SPOTLIGHT at its home page.

Next week: A look at FABLES, the return of "Around the Web," and more reviews of the week's comics.

Various and Sundry has been updated all week with the mandatory look at the week's DVD releases, a review of THE LION KING on IMAX, some updates on television releases on DVD, Colin Quinn's TOUGH CROWD, and the harsh price of giving stuff away. All that, and more.

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

It's getting late and I still haven't locked down my final summer convention schedule. I have my plane tickets and hotel reservations for San Diego, so I'll definitely be there. I'm thinking about Chicago again this year, and Philadelphia is very likely since it's only a two hour drive from home.

Nearly 500 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are still available at the Original Pipeline page.

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