Pipeline

Tue, February 9th, 2010 at 2:28pm PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist
0

CORRECTION? INDIE MUSIC ON iTUNES

Last week's column talked a lot about how the music model for the iTunes Music Store might apply to the iBookstore for the iPad. I said in the column that Apple doesn't publish independent musician's music, only material that comes through publishers they have deals with. As it turns out, Apple does, indeed, offer to publish indie music on its own. There's a system in place for it.

On the other hand, they're very picky and choosy about who they bring in, and almost actively deter people from trying it, telling musicians to go through CDBaby or some other third party publisher to get into the iTunes store. And, truth be told, that's not a bad way to do it. Those third parties often take a small one-time fee and then a tiny cut of the final profits from the musician's sales on the iTunes Store.

So, yes, Apple does act as publisher in some ways to some tiny fraction of the music recording population, and generally only with popular up-and-comers. It's there, but it's not automatic, nor easy.

The closest parallel in comics is that Diamond might not accept your comic if you print it under your own label, but will happily distribute it if you get picked up by Image. The analogy is imperfect, though, as Image has higher standards on what they'll publish than some of these third party iTunes publishers. But it's as close as I could come.

The moral of the story is the same: Just because you've made a comic book by yourself, that doesn't mean you have guaranteed entry into the iPad, either through the iBookstore or even the App Store.

More on the iPad at the end of the column. First, a couple of comics!

OF BATS AND CATS

"Batman: The Cat and the Bat" (DC, $12.99) collects the six issue storyline by Fabian Nicieza and Kein Maguire that originally ran as "Batman Confidential" #17 - #21. Best known for its issue where Catwoman takes Batgirl through a hedonist club's naked party, the story goes back in time to show us a game of, er, Bat and Mouse between the two costumed ladies of Gotham. Nicieza's narration hammers on the character points, while Maguire's art gives us plenty of fun stuff to look at. While it's a fun and breezy read, it unfortunately falls short in a couple of spots.

The story is this: Barbara Gordon, new as Batgirl, has "borrowed" her father's notebook to learn what he knows. Along the way, Catwoman drops by and steals it from her, and leads her on a chase through Gotham. A twist or two happens, Batgirl gets into even bigger trouble, and Batman steps in to breaks things up between the two contentious enemies.

I didn't read too many reviews of this book as it came out, but I get the feeling that Batman's entrance onto the scene irked people. A feminist reading of this trade paperback would get demerits on that count. Thankfully, I'm not prone to scholarly interpretations of comics all that often, and usually only take note of political points when they're shoved down my throat. In the end, Batgirl is responsible for her own fate and wins her own fights with some of the biggest and baddest of Gotham's bad guys, though it's not without a twist or two.

The disappointing part of the book, for me, is Maguire's art. I'm guessing that, as it was in Marvel's "Defenders" mini-series, the art on this book was shot directly from Maguire's pencils. Back then, it didn't disappoint me. The art looked as clean and as vibrant as ever. Here, in this book, Maguire's art falls flat for the lack of ink. It's not that his expressive style and solid bodies are troubled. No, it's that the final line on the page often looks flat. Inkers are skilled at varying their line weight to help push layers of the art towards the front or back of the reader's mind. When shot directly from the pencils, though, Maguire's lines are all there, but the extra embellishment is gone, leaving flatter artwork. It's a shame. (On the other hand, if Maguire is inking himself, then he just needs a better inker. Isn't Joe Rubenstein available? Mark Farmer? Someone?)

The core is still there, as Maguire's trademark facial expressions and body language sell the story, but the polish is lacking. And there is one or two clunker panels. Check out this panel and ask yourself: When is Catwoman like a giraffe?

The news gets worse when you pick up this trade paperback. It feels light. You turn the pages and they feel like they might tear at any minute. They're glossy and hold the black ink well, at least, but the end product in your hand doesn't feel substantive. I finally realized what caused this when I saw the title page. "Sustainable Forestry Initiative," it reads. Yup, this trade is earth-friendly. And just like those earth-friendly plastic water bottles that explode when you squeeze slightly on them, this book suffers from it. Now, I haven't actually ripped any of the pages, myself, but that's because I was more careful with this book than others I've read recently. Those recyclable pages scare me.

The good news is, at $12.99, the book is still worth a read, even with its flaws. Nicieza is great at jumping into characters' heads and providing us with their thoughts, while Maguire's artwork is still the star of any show it appears in. It's just sad that a couple of factors detract from the final product.

THE MOUSE THAT SHOOTS LASERS

"Missile Mouse" (Scholastic "Graphix", $10.99) reminds me of some of the best parts of my childhood. If you're in my age range (I'll be 34 shortly) and loved to draw, you might remember Commander Mark. He was a regular presence on PBS in the mid-1980s, and still carries on his mission to teach children today how to draw, albeit as a bigger guy with a slightly poofier gray moustache. He drew science fictiony things -- UFOs, furry aliens with big feet, landing ports, rocky moonscapes.

This all hit me at the right age. I was a typical boy of the time, playing with G.I. Joes and Transformers, enjoying "Knight Rider" and other cheesy action shows in prime time. I loved to draw along with Commander Mark and create my own little adventures. That would eventually lead me to the point where I'd be recording "Tiny Toons" -- yes, this was the VHS era -- and pausing the tape to learn to draw Buster, Babs, Dizzy, Plucky, and friends.

"Missile Mouse," to me, represents so much of that stuff that I loved back then. Jake Parker's graphic novel features a science fiction adventure with a talking mouse strapped to a jet pack, flying between planets, getting into scraps with alien creatures, and looking good doing it. In some ways, Jake Parker is the version of me that I wanted to be 25 years ago.

But please don't think that this book is only enjoyable for some nostalgic reason. It's a solid piece of work on its own. It mixes up classic anthropomorphic storytelling with an "Indiana Jones"-like flair for pulpish adventure in a classic page-turner. Every time I told myself that I needed to stop at the next break, I'd be twenty pages down the line before realizing that there isn't a natural break point yet. Parker does a great job in keeping things moving, through action and conflict. He has to, since the book weighs in at nearly 175 pages. There's a lot going on here. While some of the "twists" are too obviously telegraphed to my eyes, I think a 10 year old boy who hasn't studied storytelling techniques yet would be pleasantly surprised by some of them.

Parker's ink line is classic cartoony, with a variable weight and an open line. His characters "feel" right. They have gravity and weight, yet they're able to move lightly and quickly when necessary. They're dressed for their parts. They're not overly detailed, nor are they so simple as to be boring. They're surrounded by authentic-feeling details: knobs on the ship, stripes on the uniforms, etc.

Parker's coloring is bright and expressive. He's not busy lighting a movie set here, or trying to convey mood through monochromatic schemes. This book is undeniably colorful, often bright and shiny. He does a great job in adding shadows to create extra depth without looking sculpted or overdone. There's a find line that too many artists cross these days.

Heck, I even like the lettering, which doesn't appear to have two different forms of each letter, but is still rough enough looking to pass for hand lettering. I did spot a typo on page 20, but I'm willing to overlook that. Oh, and that crossbar-I on page 42 is distracting. I don't care if it is part of an acronym. Sorry, I'm done now.

"Missile Mouse" is an adventurous and colorful space romp that's sure to delight the young adventurous kid in your life, spark his or her imagination, and maybe put a little smile on the face of an adult reader, as well. At $11 for a full color OGN, it's not a bad deal, at all.

iPAD: THE PROBLEM

The serious problem with comics on the iPad platform is one of openness. Apple has a well-known reputation for only allowing specific items into their App store. Will that policy continue into the iBookstore? I mean, Apple did once famously ban a book reading app that would allow people to download the "Kama Sutra." If that's a problem, then imagine the issues Apple might have with, say, "Ultimatum" #2 or "Identity Crisis" #1: Raping and Ripping-Women-Apart might not make it past their approvers.

Problem is, banning apps is a far cry from banning books, from a public relations point of view. We know little about the iBookstore so far, but I get the feeling we'll see a ratings system in place there, more than an app review policy. Let the publishers that Apple has deals with control access to the store, and be responsible and held liable for the classifications and categorizations of their materials. Marvel already has a ratings system in place for their books. DC might need to follow, to have access to the iBookstore, if that's the way things pan out.

Good thing Alan Moore has already run screaming from the two of them.

Wild and crazy speculation time: Could the iPad re-ignite the comics ratings controversies of the 80s and 90s?

Pipeline returns next week, with more spills, chills, thrills, and all-ages friendly reading material involving talking animals. There might even be a more mature readers review involving talking animals.

In my spare time: I'm podcasting, both in audio and slideshow format. I'm Twittering,

photoblogging, and blogging.. I even have an eBay auction or two up and running.

E-mail me!

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