Pipeline

Tue, November 25th, 2008 at 2:28pm PST | Updated: December 5th, 2008 at 8:47am

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

LOOKING BACK: "TOM STRONG"

Ten reflections on the first two hardcover volumes of "Tom Strong," mostly by Alan Moore and Chris Sprouse:

1. Tom Strong was raised in a chamber with multiple gravities by a father who used him as a science experiment. That's harsh, but it made him super strong. He's bulkier. He walks lighter in normal gravity. The thing that puts the characterization over the top, though, is the lettering. Todd Klein consistently made sure all of Tom Strong's word balloons were slightly bigger than everyone else's. The balloons and tails, themselves, had a thicker line. The letters were just a bit larger. It became an additional way to sell Tom's largeness that 99% of other letterers never would have thought of.

2. I liked this book better before Alan Moore seemed to grow tired of Tom Strong and Millennium City and just made the book a pulp anthology series. The first seven issues (Volume 1) have one overall storyline. While there were digressions into the past with each issue, they informed the present day story that was filled with nice twists and turns. It all culminated in a seventh issue spectacular. Much of this, from what I recall, had to do with Moore reusing ideas he didn't get to use in "Supreme" for "Tom Strong."

In the second volume, there is no routine. You get an anthology book. You get different artists in unpredictable ways. Then you'll get a two-parter set in present day. Then, there are more looks at cameo characters from previous chapters.

I can understand not wanting to repeat yourself, but "Tom Strong" lost its direction and much of my interest in that turnover.

I'm just starting the third hardcover volume now, which appears to move back towards the format the first book had. So there's hope. . .

3. Along the same lines: The first book is packed to the brim with high concepts and larger-than-life spectacles, but it's never overwhelming. Moore chooses his moments well. He's restrained. Each story is about one bigger concept, and Moore riffs off that until the end of the story. Compare that to the second book, particularly the storyline with "Terra Obscura," which introduces a new world, a new cast, a new high concept every three pages or so. It gets a bit overwhelming and annoying, to be honest.

4. On top of that, "Tom Strong" spun off an anthology title in "Tom Strong's Terrific Tales." In retrospect, that seems redundant. At the same time, Moore was writing (parts of) "Tomorrow Stories," another anthology series set in the same universe. It looks as though the turn-of-the-millennium era was Moore's time to experiment with the short story form.

5. Chris Sprouse captures a certain Tintin-esque ligne claire look to the title at the beginning of the series. When it's just little Tommy and his comic book, the art style is very clear and devoid of solid blacks. When the action jumps to Tom Strong and his family, the lines get thicker and solid blacks more commonplace. I enjoyed the minor variance in his art style, if only for a short time.

6. Alan Moore once again plays with time in this series. It's a crucial element of the series. When ABC debuted, we were at the height of Millennium Fever. Moore uses that, not only naming Strong's city "Millennium City," but also in setting the book at the then-current time. Strong is, we're told right off the bat, 100 years old, but aging slowly thanks to the wonders of a Galoka Root found on the island he was born on. (I'm also reminded of Warren Ellis' reliance on the millennium and Jenny Sparks in "The Authority.")

The flashbacks carefully take us to specific time periods, complete with month and year dates. We're told of adventures Strong had in the 50s and 60s and 80s. And it's not done so that Moore and Sprouse can get cutesie with the fashions of the time period. The Tom Strong of WWII is little different from the modern day Tom Strong. He doesn't suddenly have a buzz cut and horned rim glasses. He never travels to the 70s to sport an afro or bell bottom pants.

But the thing Moore has always done well -- including in "Watchmen" -- is planning backwards and forwards. He does that particularly well in the first volume, even going back to pre-human earth times, but setting that at a very specific time. The ability to flip back and forth between timeframes and do so in a way that heightens the drama is no easy task. Moore makes it look that way, though.

7. One big highlight from the second volume is the 50s science fiction humor story, "Space Family Strong!," as drawn by Hilary Barta. It's a farce of a story, as Tom leads his family to a vacation on another planet that turns out to be far more hostile than his guidebook led him to believe. Crazy things happen, one after the other. I love how ludicrous the story is; Moore uses the characters to put forth the gags, without worrying about making everything serious or even sensible.

I also like the way Todd Klein subtly alters the word balloons to conform to the style and shape of comic book balloons from that period of comics.

8. Did I mention the guest artists yet? The roster on the first two books includes Art Adams, Gary Frank, Dave Gibbons, Jerry Ordway, Russ Heath, Paul Chadwick, Gary Gianni, and Kyle Baker, amongst others. Not too shabby.

9. The production values on all of the ABC hardcovers are high. They did these right, with a consistent trade dress not just between volumes of each series, but throughout all the series, as a whole. One page spaces between issues function as teasers. New images serve as a title page. Creator bios in the back are even creative. The bookmark ribbon sewed into the binding is a wonderful touch, too. And at $25 a pop, you can't beat the price for a six or seven issue book collection.

In the end, it makes for a very nice looking shelf of books. I know that some portion of the credit goes to Todd Klein for his design work.

10. Tom Strong appears on the cover of the forthcoming "Modern Masters: Chris Sprouse" book, due out from TwoMorrows in January or February. I'm very much looking forward to that book. I hope they touch on Sprouse's brief time on the sadly unfinished "New Men," where he effectively replaced long-time series artist, Todd Nauck. For trivia buffs out there, Nauck replaced original series artist, Jeff Matsuda, whose early comics work was incomprehensible. Matsuda has since gone on to bigger and better work, mostly in animation.

QUICK THOUGHTS

* Todd Klein's next print -- a collaboration with Alex Ross -- goes on sale this weekend. I think I'll be filling a blank spot on the Pipeline World Headquarters wall with this one.

* Comic book collectors aren't alone in having issues with sorting their collections. How do you classify them? How do you line them up with so many different formats? Where do you put them all? Here's the story of a photography book collector having all the same problems we have in the comics world.

* Reactions to last week's long-awaited mug review came briskly. Let's turn it over to the Twitter readers for their responses:

  • jmstump: best review of a mug ever
  • tomkaters: I enjoyed your mug review. Nice to see someone talking about a non Big 2 mug.
  • BTimony: Best mug review ever. Someone should review my twin brothers ugly mug.

I can't help but feel that last one snuck a plug in. Pretty sneaky. It is left as an exercise to the reader and his blog to handle that last one.

OK, that's enough. Go drink lots of coffee. But do it in style!

* With Google Reader now capable of automatic translations, it's time to subscribe to French blogs! I welcome your suggestions. I'll try to come up with a few of my own in the weeks ahead.

* Back in June, I compared Jerry Yang at Yahoo! to Dan DiDio at DC. Yang recently announced his departure from the CEO's chair at Yahoo to rejoin the Board in a more diminished capacity. If the parallels hold up, Dan DiDio would be updating his resume today.

* The "Whiteout" movie release date has quietly been moved back (again) to September 11, 2009. UGH. I won't speculate on why this is, mostly because I can't work up the "Best Case Scenario" in my head, and that's depressing.

The people I feel sorriest for in this is Oni Press. They're the ones who've been publishing new editions of the "Whiteout" books, figuring on getting a return on their investment inside of a few months. Now that the movie's been pushed back by more than a year from its original release schedule, their whole marketing plan needs to be rewritten, and likely their publishing, as well. Shame.

* Yes, Marvel is slowly working its way up to the $3.99 price point across their line. But their collected editions pricing is pretty weird at times, also. Chris Marshall does the math so I don't have to.

IN A WORLD WITHOUT THE DIRECT MARKET

I have a great idea for a website in a world that doesn't exist.

Imagine for a moment, that the Direct Market never happened. Let's assume comic book distribution is the same today as it was 30 years ago. This time, however, we have the internet. So let me pitch to you the best website idea I can think of for a world

The Comic Book Locator Service. The CBLS is a Web 2.0 community-driven website aimed at helping comic book readers find their favorite comics. In a world where distribution heads out to 7-11s and other newsstands in unreliable ways, it can be tough to find your favorite comics. And who has the time to travel to three or four stores with magazine racks in search of this month's issue of "Action Comics?"

So here's the solution:

First, we use the Comic Book Store Locator Service as the basis. Now, there aren't any comic book stores out there in this world I've made up for the sake of a Thought Exercise. The CBSL is really just a list of stores (pharmacies, book stores, convenience stores, etc.) that stock comics, with links to Google Maps and an open API to allow for easy GPS detection of a store near you via your Google Phone or iPhone.


Next, we let users contribute the comics they find at their favorite local newsstand. If JohnyDC123 sees "Action Comics," "Detective Comics," and "Amazing Spider-Man" at his friendly neighborhood drug store, he can add those into the database specifically for that store. This will instantly allow someone else in his zip code looking for the last "Action Comics" to know which store in his nearby area stocks the comic he's looking for.


And, over the course of time, we should be able to track which series show up at which stores most often. It's never going to be completely fool proof, but it's a big step in the right direction towards predicting a pattern of sale opportunities from the ground-level.

Stores can then be rated based on the conditions in which they rack comics. Do they have mostly dog-eared copies? Are they bending over the spinner rack because the store's air conditioning barely works? It's a new layer atop the CBSL, which would never allow for ratings, given that they're sponsored by stores that never want bad ratings.

Community aspects are obvious, as users entering information are, by definition, telling the world they are in which they live or work. New local comic clubs could pop up, as people discover each other through the CBLS, no doubt on an associated site called "CBLSBook" or "CBLS Space" or something. Potential convention organizers could see where the fan base is, judging by which areas of the country have the most data entered into the CBLS. That's where the fans are.

Throw in some AJAX programming, a Google Ad or two, branch out into the "CBLS Podcast" and "CBLS Blog," and you have a modern web company that, no doubt, would be announcing its first round of layoffs right about now to slow down their burn rate and increase their runway.

Or, you can live in the real world with the Direct Market and just use the Comic Shop Locator Service. It's not quite as flashy, but the information is there.

Also, be sure to check out CBR's own Comic Shop Locator for a store near you today.

PIPELINE PODCAST FOR 19 NOVEMBER 2008

I've fallen a bit behind on keeping these show notes up to date. The podcast is back up and running, I assure you. We've had our fair share of technical glitches recently -- including a dead video card that took two weeks to replace -- but the show must go on!

Last week's show went about 13 minutes and you can listen to it here. Here's the top ten list:

  • 10. Firebreather Series #3
  • 9. Fantastic Four #5618. Thunderbolts #126
  • 7. Far West Pocket Manga TP Vol 1
  • 6. Ultimate Hulk Vs Iron Man TP Ultimate Human
  • 5. Punisher War Journal #25
  • 4. Ambush Bug Year None #4 (of 6)
  • 3. Watching The Watchmen HC
  • 2. Love And Capes TP
  • 1. Archer & Armstrong First Impressions HC

Plus, more talk about the high price of comics, everything else that came out, and random musings along the way.

Next week: I've got a lot of stuff lined up for the weeks ahead. Yes, I'm still mining the past. In an age of four dollar comics, I'm leading by example. There's a lot of gold to be mined from our collections, particularly if you've been reading comics for a decade or two.

Ironically, I might also want to cover the latest "Previews."

That reminds me -- this spring will mark 20 years of comics collecting for me. I'm awe struck and frightened by that fact all at the same time.

The Various and Sundry blog has devoted itself to the series finale of "The Shield," the best show being ignored on television today. But there's plenty more where that came from, including looks at "Kitchen Nightmares," "The World Series of Poker," and more. Plus, the usual DVD releases, link dumps, Tweet compilations, and more.

My Twitter stream flows briskly, carrying random thoughts through the ether with the force of white rapids. Very Zen.

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, tom strong, alan moore, chris sprouse

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