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Tue, August 5th, 2008 at 2:31pm PDT | Updated: August 5th, 2008 at 2:34pm

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

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THE ART OF STARMAN

Memory is a funny thing.

Looking at the "Starman Omnibus" today, I notice that Tony Harris' art isn't as refined as I thought it was. At the time, it was solid stuff. As the years pass by, that memory cemented itself into my brain. But when presented with the issues again, I see more of the flaws. Some of this is due to the hazy glow of my younger years of comics reading and potentially even the easier-to-remember copycat crappy art that was so prevalent at the time. Those copycats made work like Harris' look revolutionary. I also think there's a chunk of that reaction that stems from being a more mature comics reader, with a better idea of what makes for good storytelling, perspective, anatomy, ink line, etc. I'm not saying I'm an expert, mind you, but these are books that came out before I started writing this column and examining my comics in a completely different way every week.

I remembered and enjoyed seeing again the way Harris would often draw a line a little longer than it needed to be, not caring that it would hang in mid-air. Take a look at a profile of a face, and you'll often see a line flying off a character's nose or jaw. It's a slightly sketchier look. It reveals, perhaps, a bit of the construction that went into the art. It's a stylistic choice that I like it to this day, maybe because it's not a tic that other artists ever copied. I also liked that he would occasionally use DuoTone in the artwork, something that was fast fading in comics by then. The last work that I remember using it regularly was John Byrne's "Namor." That goes back to 1991 or so. The advances in coloring made the use of such tricks redundant.

There are, however, variances in the art that I didn't remember. Harris has some weird forced perspective things going on, where heads and hands often look far too large in relation to everything else in the scene. I can't tell you right now if that was a stylistic choice or not. Was Harris emulating a 3D effect and trying to draw a hand in the foreground far larger than the head a foot behind it in order to force a more three-dimensional look? Was he trying to do a bit of the forced perspective so popular in the "hot" comics of the day? Was it just sloppiness, or the rigors of a monthly deadline? I don't know.

This style is a far cry from Harris' style of today, as seen in "Ex Machina" or the recently-concluded Spider-Man mini-series, "With Great Power." They're far more obviously photo-referenced. You can see the photo refs in "Starman," but they serve more as an actual reference than a basis for the art. It's more cartooning in there, with added energy and motion and exaggeration. "Ex Machina" is a beautiful book with a definite style of its own, but there is an overall stiffness to the title from the art.

It's more than just the people that Harris draws in "Starman" that helps the book stand out. Opal City is treated as a real character of its own in the book, and Harris does an amazing job in giving the city a distinctive art deco look, without looking like a copy of Anton Furst's "Batman" movie designs ("Dark Deco") that found their way into the Batman titles of the late 80s and into the 90s. This is more art deco with sunshine. That look carries through into the clothes the characters wear and the interior decorating of the apartments, houses, and offices we see in these issues. It's very consistent, and nice to see. It's a strength of the DC Universe to have fictional cities, when they can be used so stylishly.

James Robinson does a lot of work throughout the "Omnibus" to bring Opal City to life, but we'll save that for next week.

Harris draws the majority of this volume, but not all of it. One issue is done by Teddy Kristiansen, set 100 years earlier in the Opal, detailing an adventure from Shade's past, with special guest star Oscar Wilde. Another is set in the past to tell the tale of Ted Knight's Justice Society going up against the Rag Doll. That's drawn by Matt Smith, whose art is very rough to look at in the confines of this book. Smith, no doubt, matured as an artist in later years, but this book is hardly the highlight of his career. It's a mess, honestly. A later issue features a team-up of a half-dozen artists for a single issue, including Chris Sprouse.

They're all wonderfully distinct looks at the "Starman" universe, but merely filler to give Tony Harris enough time to complete more issues.

We don't have to worry about this for another volume or so yet, but I'm already wondering how different the back half of this series might have been had the band stayed together and Harris remained as the artist for the entire run.

Or, perhaps my memory is faulty on the quality level of latter issues. Maybe the difference isn't as great as it's been built up in my head to be? Sadly, DC's release schedule for this Omnibus collection is slow enough that we won't find out for a couple of years.

If you missed "Starman" the first time around, give "The Starman Omnibus" a try. It's a great value for the money, and a wonderful read. It exists in its own little corner of the DCU, not dependent on an encyclopedic knowledge of it, though taking advantage of continuity and Starman history where appropriate.

Next week: The Writing of Starman.

WILL COMIC-CON SHRINK NATURALLY?

Nothing against the fine folks at Newsarama but, really, how does Tom Spurgeon not win an Eisner? His interview with Ted Adams about IDW's possible withdrawal from Comic-Con is the kind of thing we need from more comics reporters (pun intended.)

It also brings back the comparisons of Comic-Con to the video game world's E3. That convention got so big and so expensive for exhibitors that they all basically pulled out of it, and E3 got reimagined as a glorified press junket.

San Diego has gotten so big that any attempt to shrink it would take a couple of years and result in one solid year of bad press. If the organizers decided to ban Hollywood from the convention next year -- not a smart idea or a logical one by any stretch of the imagination -- you'll still get people coming next year expecting it, being horribly disappointed, and grumbling for weeks. It would be a rough year for the convention organizers who, everyone agrees, deserve better.

I think the free market idea will eventually catch up to Comic-Con. Hollywood will stop wanting to helicopter its people in for a day. Stars will get tired of the con experience after one or two bad fan interactions and the novelty wears off. (It'll happen twice as quickly if there's a shortage of Purell next summer.) And too much of it will make it impossible for anyone to be happy with their decisions. You can already see that starting to happen this year, as people felt frantic to get to all the panels they wanted to see. Eventually, that feeling will make them not want to come.

It may take a couple of years, but I have a feeling we'll see Comic-Con return to something resembling a workable size for the average comic fan.

Spurgeon posted a follow-up with reactions to the interview. Some see Adams as a pragmatic and smart businessman who's able to look at the bigger picture. Others think he's personally insulting them by hiding from his company's fans. Count me in the former camp, and running away in horror from the latter. It reminds me a little of some podcast or blog consumers, who think the free content they're eating up is owed to them. If a post or a show is a day late, it's a personal affront and they want their money back, despite not ever having paid a thing. C'est la vie, I suppose, though.

Let's also give Spurgeon credit for the quote of the week:

"...comics fans are specifically devoted to the art form and not likely to give that up because they're out of work (or, let's be honest, on fire)."

Ain't that the truth?

LARGE FORMAT COMICS AND OTHER LINKWORTHY NOTES

  • Seeing the Winsor McKay comic excerpts here reminds me of Francois Schuiten's work on "Cities of the Fantastic." That makes me realize that it's been years since one of those volumes was published. That makes me sad. I flipped through "Brusels" the other night and was drawn into the mad world all over again. It's marvelously detailed work, and I think a fresh look at "The Art of Francois Schuiten" is in order soon, too.

    It's a shame Eurocomics don't sell over here, to the point where comic companies think the only way to sell them is to reformat them and take out the unique visual statement they make.

    And shame on the comics buying population for not wanting a book that isn't "standard book size." I received word back from Devil's Due last week that, sadly, their collections of the Humanoids material will be in the standard trade paperback size and format.

    Sometimes, this hobby really makes me want to pull out my hair, then make expensive orders through a French book seller.
  • Potentially the best news of the week, though: Nabiel Kanan has a webcomic! And a blog. And a gallery. The site is very thin at the moment, but it's very promising for a very cool cartoonist.
  • Chris Sims does a wonderful job articulating everything he's learned by reading "Asterix." It takes him two posts to fit it all in. I hope we see a third someday, too. Even better, I hope these images spur someone on to give the series a chance.
  • Frank Miller's Eisner speech is available on YouTube. It makes me wonder if it's not time for a Comic-Con Keynote Address. As Preview Night's con floor becomes as crowded as Saturday's, wouldn't it be a great idea to shift as many people as possible off the con floor? There are no panels or presentations on Preview Night. Why not create one? Get a big name creator with a message to give a speech that night. Set it up in Hall H -- that room might as well host at least one purely comics event, after all. You might need a Miller or a Gaiman to fill that room, but it would be worth it. So many other conventions have keynotes. Why not the Comic-Con International?
  • Man, just how many panels were there at Comic-Con? The front page of CBR is still fully loaded with interesting-sounding panels.
  • By now, you've probably seen Triumph at Comic-Con. Yes, it's the same old bit about making fun of costumes at Comic-Con, but I have to admit that it cracked me up in spots.
  • I liked the two-part CBR Boat Show interview with Robert Kirkman. I linked to it last week. Now, the iFanboy gentlemen have posted their 25 minute interview with the man, and it's, er, goofy.
  • I missed one last week: "Death Mate" also had a 'red' issue. I must have given up buying them by then. Or perhaps that's the one with the art team I didn't care about. I don't know anymore. I was younger and foolish. (Thanks, Russel S., for the info drop!)
  • Also mentioned in a recent column, the comic shop previously in the Bergen Mall near me has since moved to a new location in Maywood, NJ. (Thanks, George, for the update!)
PURCHASES OF A DECADE AGO

On August 6, 1998, I bought six comics at the comic shop:

"Bone" #33 - Ah, the classics. I think the first issue of "Bone" I picked up at the comic shop was #4 or #5, based on the positive review given the series by Don Thompson in "The Comics Buyer's Guide." His reviews packed a punch in fandom of the early 90s. He was famous for occasionally saying, "You'll like this if you like this sort of thing," but I had another favorite line that I've used on occasion: "This comic is as subtle as a flying sledgehammer."

Has the value of those early "Bone" issues gone up with the series' popularity, or down with the availability of all the reprints?

"Fantastic Four" #10 - This would be from the Claremont years. I read this series far longer than I probably should have at the time.

"Gen13/MonkeyMan & O'Brien" #2 - Wasn't someone talking about collecting all these MonkeyMan tales into a book somewhere? Image Comics? Dark Horse? Don't these books deserve an oversized hardcover printing? The character appeared most recently in the CBLDF benefit comic that came out for San Diego.

"Starman" #47 - I admit it: this book is why I did this list this week. Sometimes, the timing is just too good.

"Uncle Scrooge" #313 and "Walt Disney's Comics and Stories" #628 - I couldn't even begin to tell you what stories were in these two issues. This is from the Gladstone II run. Both books were $6.95.

PIPELINE PODCAST FOR 30 JULY 2008

My apologies again for the late podcast last week. It might happen again this week, sorry to say.

Due to the soft shipping schedule from July 30th, I did away with the Top Ten list for the week. I couldn't drag ten comics into a list I'd be excited about, so I went over the many highlights of the entire shipping list, instead.

You can listen to the relatively short (less than ten minutes) podcast from this link. It's between two and three megabytes' worth of data.

As always, if you enjoy the show, please leave a review on iTunes. The more word of mouth a podcast gets, the better its chances are to grow. Podcasters have notoriously large and needy egos, after all.

Come to think of it, I haven't won an Eisner yet, either. I think the Eisner committee next year needs to invent a new category for me. "Best Six Foot or Taller Columnist with Ten Years of Reviewing Experience On-Line"? "Least Deserving of Wider Recognition"? "Best Internet Columnist in a Blogging World"? "They Redesigned the Website and He Kept His Job"?

I kid.

I think.

Next week: Your "Modern Masters" suggestions, some thoughts on the writing of "Starman," and some reviews.

The Various and Sundry blog is still updating daily. Read about my recent visit to the Cathedral of Baseball, Yankee Stadium last week. Check out the latest in DVD releases. Marvel (no comics pun intended) at how many links I can foul up in a Link Dump.

I've become more active in discussing comics stuff on my Twitter feed of late, though I also muse on anything that catches my fancy at any given moment. Plus: Continuous updates (it seems) on my attempts to paint a room for my forthcoming child.

The daily news bits that grab my attention in the worlds of tech and comics and more can be found at my Google Reader Shared Items. Several items are added to that page every day. I'm an RSS feed junkie.

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.

More than 800 columns -- more than eleven years' worth -- are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.

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