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Tue, July 28th, 2009 at 2:28pm PDT | Updated: July 28th, 2009 at 7:55pm

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

RANDOM THOUGHTS ABOUT CCI: SAN DIEGO 2009

* On Friday, Marvel announced that they picked up the rights to Marvelman direct from the character's creator, Mick Anglo. Marvel's lawyers, no doubt, already have a rebuttal for whatever Todd McFarlane says next.

* Johnny Depp made a two minute cameo appearance with Tim Burton to support "Alice in Wonderland." Really? What kind of money is involved to get a single person to a single panel for two minutes and then back out? Was there a helicopter out back with his name on it? Did it ever slow down its rotors?

* Todd McFarlane plans on drawing "Spawn" #200. Still no plans to bother with "Spawn & Batman," as announced at San Diego back in 2006.

* Is there a comics-related term similar to "vaporware?" We need to start a list of all the projects announced in San Diego that have never seen print.

Fantagraphics promises that you'll be able to strike their "Pogo" collections from that list next year, more than three years after they originally promised it.

Hey, so long as "Bloom County" makes it out this year from "IDW," I'm happy.

* IDW had a boatload of announcements this weekend. Picking up Bob Schreck was a smart move. Publishing a comic produced by Jennifer Love Hewitt was even smarter, as it gives every fanboy (A) something to whinge about and (B) hope that they might someday be able to have a comic produced by a major publisher based on only the slightest of high concepts.

* G4 TV did their annual show live from the convention hall on Saturday. They ran five hours of programming, and managed the amazing feat of never interviewing a comic book creator. Not one writer, not one artist. They had a couple of editors and vice presidents, but no single comic book creator was interviewed. How did they miss Tyrese Gibson, at the very least?!? The mind boggles.

It's quite the achievement. Even as the larger media booths grow to dominate the square footage of the convention hall, you can't seriously walk through the convention in a straight line for longer than 60 seconds without passing a comic creator at a comics booth. G4 really went out of their way to ignore that much of the convention.

I don't understand why the convention welcomes them back every year. For three mind-numbing hours, the show managed to insult the convention and its fans continuously, to its face. To their credit, they don't hide the "nerd funk" or the "lifeless losers" (approximate quote there, but it conveys the gist) comments. I guess the average G4 viewer is so stupid that they all laugh along, thinking G4 is talking about "that other guy."

Somehow, after watching three consecutive hours of that show, I still have enough brain cells left to write this column. I don't know how.

I did see a guy in a well done Savage Dragon costume, though, for about 1.5 seconds - -the average length of a crowd shot on G4 that didn't consist of a booth babe licking her finger. Those lingered for up to four seconds.

I had a tough time explaining to my wife what Olivia Munn was wearing when she changed into her White Queen costume. UGH.

Give it to G4, though: I've never seen another television show discuss its host's odds for a camel toe before.

Excuse me while I go shower.

* WildStorm confirmed again that they're going back to press on "Absolute Plantery" Volume 1. Amazon third party sellers hasve used copies starting at $238 as of this writing. I'm still tempted to sell mine off, buy the second printing and picket the difference.

* IDW's Alex Toth book sounds interesting, and didn't get any splashy headlines. But, hey, who sells more comics? Toth, or Love Hewitt? C'est la vie.

* I can somewhat sympathize with those who didn't want the screeching fangirls packing Hall H before the more testosterone-dominated panel that would follow it. Oil and water, and all. But, as I've said before, I've always hated how Hall H (and other rooms) get filled to capacity with people who have no interest in the current panel other than being able to mark their spot for a future one, their bladder be damned.

But, really, "Twilight" did not ruin Comic-Con in any way. If you believe that, or if you held up a sign to that effect, your weekend pass should have been revoked and you should have been placed on the next plane back home. Get a life.

* Likewise, complaining that your favorite hero isn't in the supposed "Avengers" movie lineup is ridiculous. This is a movie. This is coming out of the pre-existing movies that Marvel has been doing. This isn't a George Perez drawing. This is Hollywood making an Avengers movie, something with an actual budget, no matter how high it might be. What makes you honestly think you're favorite (often obscure) character should make the movie? After Cap, Iron Man, Thor, and Nick Fury, (Spider-Man isn't a Marvel movie, it's a Sony deal) it's all rather up in the air. Try to enjoy the movie for what it is, should it ever come out.

* While the "Bone: One Volume Edition" collection is on its thirteenth printing now, I vastly prefer reading the smaller hardcovers that are now sadly out of print. It's doubly sad since I never got them all. ::sigh:: Still, four new Jeff Smith-drawn "Bone" books is probably the biggest publishing news of the year. (Any talk of Alan Moore-written "Miracleman" reprints is vaporware at this point.)

* If I had gone to San Diego this year, I probably could have stayed on the CBR Yacht and had the bestest time ever. Did you see the lineup of videos coming off that boat? I'm supremely jealous of that guest lineup. I'd have killed for a day there. . .

* Congratulations again to my boss here, Jonah Weiland, for CBR's Eisner Award win this past week. He's done a lot of work on this site over the last 15 years or so, and richly deserves the accolades. To quote another cliché: What a long, strange trip it's been.

* Not at all related to San Diego, but I feel the need to share: Kevin Nowlan's blog. He shares pics he's drawn on a daily basis, often from the pencil roughs to finished inks and colors. Beautiful, wonderful stuff.

* Quote of the Con, via Robot 6's Chris Mautner:

"Lewis Trondheim will be doing a 16-page comic for the iPhone that will be available in 18 languages. Not to be outdone, Stan Lee is releasing Stripperella for the iPhone too.

Needless to say, I'm looking forward to Trondheim's work, as I just picked up the second volume of his awesome "Little Nothings" book.

And to Chris' question of a "Complete Carl Barks" being very far away -- I'm doubtful it'll be anytime soon. "Life and Times" can appeal to new fans. It's a finite series. It's focused. It's a much more modern book, even as it's set in the time frame of the 1880s through the 1950s or so. The Carl Barks works, I think, are the kind of thing Boom! is shying away from at the start, focusing instead on new and more modern Duck comics to appeal to today's kids.

That said, a Carl Barks hardcover series was in the works as Gemstone was dying. Perhaps the work done on that might be transferred over to Boom! relatively easily and cheaply? I'd love to see it. I just won't be holding my breath.

* Do you like Archie Comics? So does Archie! They're sharing the wealth, with reprints appearing from Dark Horse (classic comics) and IDW (newspaper strips), as well as a new digital initiative getting comics to the web and your iPhone. Now you can ignore Archie and the Gang across multiple platforms and publishers!

* Digital comics are everywhere. You'll soon be able to see poor-selling independent comics poorly represented on your iPhone at cut-rate prices! Welcome to the future!

iPHONE APP -- COMIXOLOGY

The Comixology iPhone App is a very nice professional looking piece of application that works well in every way except one -- reading comics. And it's almost not even their fault. It's a technically impossible hurdle to overcome in this form factor. Let me explain.

As an iPhone App, everything is well done. There's a nice splash screen when the app loads. The buttons are easy to hit and navigate. There's a nice toolbar on the bottom of the screen that reminds you of the App Store navigation, so it's something familiar and easy to use right away. Signing up for an account is handled in the app, itself, and everything is formatted properly. When it comes time to type in your email address, for example, the email keyboard is displayed. It might not seem like much, but you don't get that when typing in your email address on a webform in Mobile Safari. Having the "@" and ".com" buttons helps a whole lot when you're stuck typing in "comicbookresources" twice to verify your email address. (I could have used cut-and-paste, I know.)

Finding the free comics is easy enough. There's a small preview made up of four pages from the comic, each page taking up a screen of the iPhone. There's a decent selection of comics, for an app that doesn't have Marvel/DC support. Robert Kirkman houses "Invincible" here, and the first issue is a freebie. It's interesting to see this, given his big digital comics push at the last San Diego convention, in association with MTV. I'm guessing that never took off

A few other Image comics are present, as are lots of independent houses. A button in the upper right corner with the price is all you have to hit to download the comic. The app will download one comic at a time, automatically queueing up the rest and downloading the next one as each finishes.

I didn't buy any comics, so I can't speak towards the credit card transaction process here, but all the comics I saw for sale were 99 cents, which is a nice print point. The exception is the Kirkman library, which is $1.99 a shot, after the first issue. It's not a bad deal if you didn't already buy the monthly comic, the trade paperback, or the hardcover.

The navigation for reading comics is simple enough. Tap the right side of the screen to go to the next panel. Tap the left side to go back. Tap in the middle to bring up the menu and show which page of the comic you're on or to jump out all together.

The work has been done behind the scenes to cut the comic up into screen-sized portions for you. Each screen is a panel or two, or sometimes just a loquacious word balloon. It's not hard to read the lettering at all, though the art often suffers from being shrunk down so much. Wide panels can be made to fill the screen if you tilt the iPhone on its side. Tall panels fill the screen in portrait mode.

Comixology presents each panel as close to full-screen as possible.
Normal pinch techniques can zoom into a panel, of course, such as this one from "Return to Wonderland." That's Alice, by the way. She just slit her wrists. I kid you not.

Normal pinch techniques can zoom into a panel, of course, such as this one from "Return to Wonderland." That's Alice, by the way. She just slit her wrists. I kid you not.

Therein lies the problem: These comics were not made for the iPhone format. They were made for the print format. Panels go from portrait to landscape orientation and back far too often. You'll get tired of flipping the screen around constantly while trying to read a comic. And panels that are too long get spread across two screens and lose their storytelling power. I can't imagine how a Will Eisner story would survive this transition, for example, being a case of an artist who didn't structure his stories inside panel borders and whose work often flowed across and down a page, not so easily snipped into cookie-cutter shaped panels.

You have the option of seeing a page full-screen before navigating through the panels.
Not all panels are shaped like the iPhone's screen, though, and some unfortunate bits of a panel could be lost.

Occasionally, compromises have to be made. One panel transition I read (in "Classwar #1") actually cut off the top of the scar on the character's head, which was a story point in that panel!

There are some nice options that don't quite make up for the shortcomings of the format, but do show some thought being put into the app. You can choose to see a display of the full page first with each new page, before moving from panel to panel. You can even choose to see the full page at the end of the sequence. You can speed up or slow down panel transitions. You can have the app automatically expand the panels out to portrait or landscape format, whichever is appropriate for a given panel. And you can even choose whether to black out surrounding portions of each panel, or leave the surrounding art visible around the edges as you go.

Here's the hope for future generations: Artists will need to consider a new storytelling style. As Kirby changed comics storytelling 50 years ago, so shall this generation of comics storytellers be changed by digital comics. They need to start thinking of more consistent panel shapes and sizes. They don't need to worry about pages, but rather panels. Likewise, saving big reveals for the first panels of the left page will be a thing of the past. Giant splash pages are meaningless. Detail in the art will be lost, so don't bother filling every inch of paper space with crosshatching anymore.

At a higher, more theoretical angle: I don't want to get all Scott McCloud on you, but there's a big difference between your eye gliding across a series of panels while "seeing" movement, and your finger tapping a screen twice to display a static sequence of three panels. It's almost as if your peripheral vision knows the speed with which you should read the next panel, but being blinded to it completely upsets that internal rhythm.

You can search for downloadable comics in the menu on the left…
and browse the ones you already have with the one on the right.…

Technology can't fix those problems, only the artists can. And while Comixology's app is impressive for what it is, it serves a product that's not meant to be contained by it. Maybe future comics can be molded in this form (every panel the same shape, no exceptions), but the comics of the past will be better served by some sort of tablet device, where a page is readable on a screen meant to be handheld, a la the Kindle or the CrunchPad or the much-rumored Mac tablet. (Coming soon! In September! Or October! Or 2010 sometime!) You need a full screen display to show a page at a time to enjoy the traditional comics reading experience.

Comixology's system is good in an extreme pinch, but I'm afraid I don't have the patience to deal with it. Too much flipping the phone around, too long to read, too small to enjoy.

PIPELINE PODCASTS FOR THE WEEK OF JULY 19TH

Tuesday: The regular weekly podcast features a rant, thoughts on pre-San Diego announcements, and this Top Ten list with 11 comics in it:

  • 11. Jeff Smith Little Mouse Gets Ready HC

  • 10. MySpace Dark Horse Presents TP Vol 3

  • 9. Usagi Yojimbo TP Vol 23 Bridge Of Tears

  • 8. Mouse Guard HC Vol 2 Winter 1152

  • 7. Wonderful Wizard Of Oz #8

  • 6. Final Crisis Rogues Revenge HC

  • 5. Incredible Hulk #600

  • 4. Amazing Spider-Man #600

  • 3. Comic Con 40 Years Artists Writers Fans & Friends HC

  • 2. Flight GN Vol 6

  • 1. Richard Starks Parker The Hunter HC

Thursday: The first San Diego-related podcast covers some of the topics discussed above. And the return of "Blacksad!" Yay!

Friday: Day Two of San Diego's convention brings us Miracleman Redux.

Saturday: The weekend dawns, and I'm talking about The Eisners (spoiler: CBR Won!) and a lot more.

My photoblog, AugieShoots.com is still going daily, and we're past the halfway mark for the year. Only six more months of pictures to take!

The Various and Sundry blog is still alive and kicking!

My Twitter stream (@augiedb) is still under investigation for "strange activity."

Don't forget to check out my Google Reader Shared Items this week. It's the best of my daily feed reading, some with commentary!

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.

Really, are you still reading this? I'm cutting-and-pasting now.

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, cci2009, iphone, comixology

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