Pipeline

Tue, August 26th, 2008 at 2:32pm PDT | Updated: August 26th, 2008 at 2:53pm

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

GUESS THE ARTIST

I can't find it now. I don't know if it still exists. I feel guilty admitting to it, but I've lost a blog.

It's one I used to visit every day, but lost the URL a year and a half ago. Every Monday, they'd post a page from a comic early in a given artist's career, and challenge the readers to guess who did it. "Bart Sears" was a running gag answer, for some reason.

With apologies to that blog whose name I've forgotten, here's my challenge for you, dear Pipeline reader. Who drew this page:

I'll give you the answer at the end of this column.

Hint: He's done interiors at both Marvel and Image this summer.

And if you know the blog I'm talking about, please drop me a line. Thanks!

PAT RYAN, YOU CAD!

It's almost too easy to take "Terry and the Pirates" panels out of context for a cheap laugh. This one caught me when I read it, though, and I had to share it. It's the daily strip from February 11th, 1935.

I love the way Pat looks off-panel as he thinks of his "rough idea."

True story: Last weekend, I drove my wife's grandmother into town for a family event. Grandma is somewhere in her 80s. I happened to have a copy of IDW's first volume of the "Terry and the Pirates" hardcover series sitting in the back seat. On a lark, I showed it to her. She looked confused at first, opened it up, and quickly recognized it. "Oh, Terry!" She looked up at me with a smile and asked for "Skeezix" and "Little Orphan Annie" next.

I almost drove her straight to the nearest comic shop, as they're all being reprinted these days.

Comics: They Really Are For Everyone.

CRITICS AND LETTERING

I wanted to write this week about the role of critics in the world of comics. Given the recent events and discussions in the case of Johanna Draper-Carlson v. Scott Kurtz, it's something that's been tossed back and forth on message boards and blogs for the last couple of weeks. As with most internet discussions/arguments/debates, it tends to degrade rather quickly into a series of side arguments, tangents, and light-hearted banter. (See also Kirkman Video Manifesto v. The Internet)

At the center of the whole debate, though, is this question: Who does a critic write for? Draper-Carlson was upset to see critical reaction to a creator's work be universally dismissed by Dave Kellett in "How Make Webcomics." Scott Kurtz responded that he doesn't answer to critics, only his respected colleagues. Is he being insular? Is she being presumptuous?

Or are we all just gazing at our navels?

There are two issues that helped spark this debate. Kellett's chapter only addressed the low-hanging fruit -- the easily-dismissed opinions that so often come from cranks. It doesn't address serious criticism or criticism with merit. One might choose to believe that he implies that no such thing exists.

Kurtz's reaction started off on the wrong foot, instantly turning off potentially agreeable people. Whether or not you believe Johanna when she said the book fell open in her lap to the criticism chapter is completely immaterial to the argument, and opening with that attitude is the kind of thing that will quickly undercut your message.

Neither side is necessarily wrong, though. Stripping implications and inferences and attitudes from the debate, you can see that there are honest issues to be discussed between the differing parties. I don't even think there's a "right" answer or a wrong one. To a certain degree, it depends on your position and your attitude. If you're a creator, you need to put certain blocks in place to protect your sanity. Reading every bit of criticism (both positive and negative) that is thrown your way can drive you mad. It'll be contradictory. It can easily be missing the point. It can be a complete waste of time. You're better off getting back behind the drawing board and working on your craft.

From a critic's point of view, it can be frustrating when a creator automatically dismisses you or lumps you in with all the nuts on the 'net. If you work long and hard at rising above the mediocrity, it's very much annoying to hear that your hard work is not appreciated by one segment of potential readership; The Creator blindly dismisses you as another crank and pushes you away.

On the other hand, I believe the critic writes for the reader, not the creator. My job isn't to convince a creator that he or she is doing something wrong. My job is to inform a reader of what I think about a specific book, and why I think it's good or bad. They can do with that information what they see fit. That isn't to say my criticism is invalid, nor do I think it's always useless, to a creator. I have no problem with a creator ignoring what I write, but it's a sad attitude to have to so insulate yourself from your readership that you're not listening to them or taking them seriously.

There's something Brad Guigar said in last week's "Webcomics Weekly" podcast that bothers me. He said, basically, that he'll only listen to criticism from those who are better cartoonists than he is.

His editor at the newspaper must absolutely adore him.

I've heard the thought before, but I don't agree with it. There are people whose opinions I respect on the craft of comics and cartooning who aren't cartoonists, themselves. I have even found nuggets of wisdom in interviews with creators whose work I don't enjoy.

I only bring this all up now because I wanted to talk about lettering. Here's a sample from Radical Comics' "Caliber" #4. How many lettering mistakes or poor choices can you find in this one panel?

First, the classic crossbar-"I" issue is shown here. That character should only be used in the first person singular. Do not use the crossbars inside a word. It looks awful.

Second, the first balloon has a tangent with the panel border above it. Leave some space, or attach the balloon to the panel, itself, if need be.

Third, the connection between the two balloons at the bottom of the balloon is clunky. It looks like two balloons were positioned next to each other and then a white box was placed over it to connect them. Illustrator has a neat tool to merge the two balloons together so you don't get that ugly squared-off end in the middle of your word balloon. Use it.

Fourth, the tails are all dead straight. It's not just this panel.

It's the entire book. Todd Klein can get away with it, but he still sometimes curves the tails. Maybe this is more a stylistic thing, but I think it's distracting.

Fifth, there's too much white space between the lettering and the balloons. Note, in particular, the left and lower sides of the first balloon.

Sixth, the balloons are all perfect circles. This is the football problem. Every balloon throughout the comic looks like a football.

Seventh, the first balloon should probably go to the right of the speaker. You can't tell this from the excerpt, but this panel is in the middle of the page. The action flows from upper right corner, through this panel, to the lower left corner. You want the reader's eye to follow the balloons on that diagonal from upper right to lower left. The last two balloons do a good job with leading the eye to the next tier. I think it might have helped to place that first balloon to the right to help ease the eye down the page. Additionally, there's no lettering on the right side of the page at all in the first two tiers. That move would help break up that monotony a little.

Eighth, that second balloon forms a tangent with the woman's arm, doesn't it? I'm just noticing that now.

I could probably nit-pick about leading or kerning somewhere in there, but that's a topic slightly above my knowledge level with lettering. I admit it.

It's not all bad, though. The tails are pointing to the mouths of the characters talking. They're not touching the mouth or head of the person talking. The words inside each balloon are nicely shaped into the diamond formation that makes it easy to fit into a balloon. There are no typos. And they didn't use Whizbang or Comic Sans.

Now, is my criticism of this panel invalid because I'm not Todd Klein, or because I have no published lettering credits? Is it enough that I've tried it on my own or that I've studied the works of other letterers? According to Guigar -- whose work suffers from the crossbar-"I" problem in all of his lettering -- I can safely be ignored.

There are lots of things that go into a review, fairly or unfairly. Marketing, creator histories, publication timing, the current state of the industry, actual comic content, the last comic a reviewer read, publicity for a comic, etc. These are all things which might factor into a review. Not all of them are always fair. Not all of them are the creator's fault. Some reviews will, indeed, be worthless to a creator.

It's a matter of digging out the gold nuggets from the piles of pyrite. It's something all consumers of popular entertainment have to do. It's something I think more creators should spend a little time with. Creators don't owe critics a darn thing, but it is a potential opportunity lost to ignore them so thoroughly. At the very least, one who devotes so much time on such a regular basis towards looking critically at comics should be more apt to discover a shortcoming of a creator's work than a random letter writer.

As a critic, writing directly to the creator is presumptuous. As a creator, ignoring the critic strictly because they're not in the trenches is hubris. Both sides need to consider the other and make decisions for themselves on how to handle themselves.

In reality, though, no critic is owed an audience, not even of the professionals whose work is being considered.

Next week in Pipeline: In Praise of Kurtz. And Guigar. And Kellett. And Straub. Seriously. It's not even a book review, though I have enjoyed what I've read so far of it.

CAP IN ARMOR

Mark Gruenwald's run on "Captain America" was legendary, but not without its faults. "Werewolf Cap" comes up frequently, but I don't think we should ever lose sight of the oh-so-trendy "Armored Cap" from April 1995:

Believe it or not, the artist was consistent about drawing both sets of ribcages from every conceivable angle.

I think when people talk about Gruenwald's run on "Captain America," they usually forget about everything post-Ron Lim. The Kieron Dwyer and Ron Lim work was very cool. I'm afraid that everything after that is a mixed bag, partly due to the leitmotif of the era.

ANSWER TO THE ARTIST QUESTION

That page came from "Justice League Quarterly" #11. It's the Summer 1993 edition. The lead story featured art by a new talent, Mike Wieringo. The page pictured, though, is from a shorter back-up tale written by Michael Jan Friedman (then a regular "Star Trek: The Next Generation" writer at DC) with art by -- Mike Mayhew.

I bet some of you thought it was Darick Robertson. He did do "Justice League" work at the time, and some of the art here is reminiscent of his style. I assure you, though, this is all Mayhew, with inker Dan Davis and letterer Bob Pinaha. I like to think it's the inking that gives the art that early-90s flare, but the main character in the piece had a trench coat, a blond pony tail, sunglasses, and a big gun. He was DC's version of Thor, at the time, wasn't he?

PIPELINE PODCAST FOR AUGUST 20th, 2008

Another week, another stack of comics to get through. Once again being recorded through a real microphone, THE PIPELINE PODCAST returned last week to run down the new releases in the world of comics. Download it here, or just skip to the top ten list below:

10. "Madman Atomic Comics" #10
9. "Wolverine Logan Premiere" HC (Black & White Edition)
8. "Sandman Presents Dead Boy Detectives" TP
7. "Youngblood" TP Vol 01 "Focus Tested"
6. "MySpace Dark Horse Presents" TP Vol 01
5. "Donald Duck Family Daan Jippes Collection TP Vol 01
4. "Captain America" #41
3. "Punisher War Journal Classic" TP Vol 01
2. "Amazing Spider-Man" #568
1. "Will Eisner's Expressive Anatomy for Comics" SC

Early Jim Lee work, forgotten Ed Brubaker work, on-line comics coming to print, and the last instructional tome of a comics legend. It wasn't such a bad week, was it?

Remember those reviews I used to do in Pipeline? I promise, I'll get back to them. Soon.

The Various and Sundry blog is going strong. I even updated over the weekend. The highlight of the past week came on Friday in my rant against tech pundits. Why is it that every piece of technology they review has to be done in the context of "How will it work on a plane?" I know they fly a lot of places for conferences, appearances, meetings, etc. I bet 95% of their audience doesn't, though. It's the same way they review word processors based on the strength of the application's word count -- a feature newspaper/magazine reviewers need, but precious few others.

I'm still terribly busy on my Twitter feed of late, music on comics, house decorating, and life.

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.

TAGS:  pipeline, captain america, mark gruenwald, lettering, mike wieringo

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