Pipeline: Pipeline, Issue #353

Tue, March 16th, 2004 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

RAIJIN ON HIATUS

I should have known it would be trouble when I first laid eyes on it in San Diego a couple of years ago. That year, there was a bit of a competition between two rival manga anthology magazines that were just starting up. SHONEN JUMP was much anticipated, due to its phenomenal success in Japan already. It was designed to be a monthly magazine and targeted towards the teenager-and-younger set who eat up Pokemon, Digimon, and all the rest on Saturday mornings. I went with the competition, RAIJIN COMICS, a weekly magazine aimed slightly older. It included a political melodrama about a world coming to war, an action/adventure piece set on a hijacked plane, a slick and sleazy city detective, a martial arts serial, and more.

A few months into the magazine's run, I was impressed enough by it to subscribe for a full year. It was a hefty check, since the magazine is normally about $5 or $6 per week already. A couple of weeks after sending the check, of course, RAIJIN announced it was scaling back to a monthly publication.

On Monday, March 15th 2004 (being The Ides of March), I received a check back from the people behind RAIJIN. The letter accompanying it reads:

Based on our research with readers, retailers and distributors, we have come to a conclusion - our publications, though appreciated by hard core manga fans, are not penetrating a larger market.

In order for us to reach a broader market, RAIJIN COMICS, RAIJIN GRAPHIC NOVELS, and MASTER EDITION will be placed on hiatus for the time being. We will be taking time out to come up with ways to broaden the appeal of our publications, retooling stories and overall editorial content. RAIJIN COMICS Issue 46 will be the last issue you will be receiving.

Wow, I'm now officially a "hard core manga" fan.

This is really bad news. I finally got my first collected volume of REVENGE OF THE MOUFLON, and then the whole thing goes on hiatus. I want the rest of the story now! I have to doublecheck, but I think THE FIRST PRESIDENT OF JAPAN, at least, was completed. Those who were enjoying SLAM DUNK or CITY HUNTER will be disappointed.

The ray of hope in all of this is that it's just a "hiatus." They're not shutting down and going away just yet. I hope they find a way to battle back and come up with a publishing program -- even one without the magazine -- that allows us to get more great works like the books I mentioned above. Still, getting a check in the mail is a bad sign for the magazine. At least they didn't wait until it was so late that they just stiffed their subscrbers. I imagine this might set off another round in the debate on the "manga glut." I'm disappointed that the one company that puts out a great deal of manga I enjoy is going on hiatus while other companies continue to pour out dozens of books a month I have no interest in.

A PIPELINE PLEA

Dave Sim deserves to win an award this year or next for his lettering. This isn't a tribute thing. This isn't a posthumous thing, where we reward creators long past their prime because they just died. Dave Sim's lettering is as strong and as vibrant a part of his art today as it was twenty years ago. It blows nearly everything else in comics today out of the water. Ignoring this any further is a black eye to any comics award presentation that includes a lettering category. You have two chances left to nominate him, obviously, if you're the Eisner Committee (for one example). It's this year and next. Do it soon.

Sim's lettering is unique and perfectly fitting for his art. It blends right in as an organic part of the presentation. It looks as though it's drawn in with the same tools as the rest of the art is done. It does not sit atop the art in harsh contrast to the art below it, like so much computer lettering does today.

Sim's lettering reflects the mood of the characters in the style and size of the letterforms. Sometimes, it's showy. Sometimes, it's camoflouged. Always, it is the class of the profession. It is easy to read, clear, and consistent.

He handles multiple fonts with ease. His sound effects lettering conveys the actions it describes as well as the mood of the panel. It's creative in its placement and design.

Screw politics. Reward Dave Sim for some small part of his life's work with the one part of it that has remained perfectly on top of its game throughout: the lettering. There's not that much lettering in CEREBUS #300, but it still blows away every computer-created letter I had the misfortune to read this week.

The Eisner Committee can't use the excuse that the publisher doesn't send in any samples of the work. (If, indeed, Aardvark-Vanaheim doesn't. I don't know for certain.) The judges can bring samples of works they think merit nomination with them. Surely, someone has a copy or two of CEREBUS to bring with them. If they don't, they owe it to the art form to pick one up before their flight out to San Diego for the nomination weekend.

Please, give Dave Sim the credit he deserves for his skills and creativity as a letterer. As more and more letterers enter the industry as graphic designers who just happen to do lettering, I think it's important to remember the unique things lettering can do inside of sequential art. CEREBUS is a great case study.

CEREBUS #300 doesn't contain all that much lettering, but it's well-integrated as a necessary part of the storytelling. It's more than just sound effects and dialogue here. Check out those last few pages for Cerebus' screams, as he calls on God, as he plops to the ground in a soft "oomph," or as his bubbly screams for "Help" drag across the page into a slow disappearance. These are all things that would be difficult to do with a separation between artist and letterer. Sim makes them look easy.

With CEREBUS #300, Sim and Gerhard combine one last time to bring the tale of everyone's favorite aardvark to a close, including a look back at the phases of his life over 300 issues and the long-prophesied "alone and unmourned" ending to the character's life. The 20-page story is only half the issue, though, as the other half of the book includes the last CEREBUS letters column, ending with Sim's letter to his attorney on the disposition of the CEREBUS "estate" upon his and Gerhard's death. It's an interesting look behind the scenes at the ideas of a man who truly believes in creator ownership, no matter how crazy it might make him seem at times.

CEREBUS #300 is obviously not the greatest jumping-on point for the series. It is a sedate issue that probably won't make sense for a new reader or a fair-weather fan. That's OK, though; it shouldn't be any of that. This should be an issue for the fans of the first 299 issues. You'll have to ask one of those people how fitting a last issue this was. I get the idea that you need to look at the last six issues together as the finale of the series, and not just the last 20 pages. This is a comic, remember, by a man who created the phonebook collection. Dave Sim thinks sprawling and epic. We could use one or two more of those in comics these days.

Congratulations to Dave Sim for sticking by his guns and finishing the story he set out to tell. I really hope we see him and/or Gerhard back on the comics page soon with a new project.

ANOTHER COMIC STRIP ENTERS THE FRAY

From Astonish Comics comes Ted Dawson's SPOONER, a new comic collecting newspaper comic strips of a series I've never heard of before now. SPOONER is the story of Spooner and his newlywed wife, Roxanne, as they try to work out what life is like for a young married couple. It's filled with the usual assortment of Men Don't Understand Women humor and vice versa, but it's done with a genuine feeling of warmth. It's a sweet strip that may not make you laugh out loud that often, but does provide a few solid minutes of entertainment.

SPOONER is an odd duck, format wise. It's printed at Silver Age comic size, just slightly larger than all the other comics on the rack, but not large enough to call "oversized" or "treasury format." That means the book fits very snugly into the Silver Age size bags and boards that I use. I find this odd given the fact that this book is a reprint of a comic strip that looks best at the smaller size. When Dawson creates new stories specifically for this comic book, his art gets larger but doesn't include any additional detail to help fill in the space. The pages that collect the strips also wind up with a lot of white space, only collecting three strips to a page. The reprint quality is high, though. The paper is a heavy glossy stock, and the strips are in full color.

For $2.99, it's an enjoyable read, but a little extra thought to the value for your money would help it tremendously. Like most comedy, your approach to the material will dictate how you respond to it.

MISCELLANEOUS AND SUNDRY

* Last week, three different comics written by Brian Bendis hit the stores. Two days later, a new movie written and directed by David Mamet arrived at your local movie theater. Coincidence?

Yeah, it is. However, I suddenly find myself stuttering as I talk. And using the "f" word an awful lot.

* ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #54 is a disappointment not due to the in-jokes on the Spider-Man movie set, but due to the repetition of the Doc Oc plot. Brian Bendis used the same prison break gag in the ULTIMATE 6 mini-series. Using the same trick twice like this -- complete with the same ending to the innocents around him -- does not make Bendis look too good.

* I just finished reading MASTERS OF DOOM, the excellent book detailing the story of John Carmack and John Romero's partnership in creating the First Person Shooter ("Doom," "Quake," etc.) phenomenon. It holds up well as the story of the rise and fall of a partnership and a gaming company, but there are some nuggets hidden throughout the book. For example: During the development cycle for one of the games, the technical side of things was running behind schedule. This left the artistic types twiddling their thumbs. To keep busy, they started creating their own comic based on the videogames they were working on. Once this was discovered, though, they were pulled from it as a waste of resources.

I don't know for certain that this is the same comic, but I laughed out loud when I saw this web site, with the DOOM comic book. It's insane, silly, and over-the-top. But after reading MASTERS OF DOOM, I recognize in it a lot of the attitude of the people working on the games at the time. They were young, immature, and only slightly blood-thirsty. This comic reflects that.

* We've been playing a bit of "Whatever Happened To?" on the Pipeline message board this week. One name that didn't come up -- but could easily have fit right in -- was Norm Breyfogle. After his heights as a BATMAN artist, he's bounced around a lot from company to company and series to series. The latest place his name is showing up is in the latest PREVIEWS catalog on page 240. He's listed on the credits of an adult title called JENNA JAMESON/WICKED WEAPON COLLECTION.

* Also in PREVIEWS is the list of comics that are cancelled, sold out, or held back for resoliciting, amongst other things. Sadly, Image has CLOUDFALL: LOOSE ENDS listed as a "cancelled" book. I'll try to track down the reason for that this week.

* FABLES and Y: THE LAST MAN are still only $2.50, despite sales that earn most books an immediate $2.95 price point. Those trades must be selling like hot cakes.

Pipeline Commentary and Review continues next week, as it always does. I'll leave the contents as a surprise, since I'll be surprising myself with them this weekend.

Various and Sundry soldiers on with more AMERICAN IDOL dissection, the world's most useless CD review, why game development is hard, Warner Bros' outlook on DVD, LAST COMIC STANDING controversy, 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.

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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