Pipeline

Tue, December 21st, 2010 at 1:58pm PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

EMITOWN

The only way I can think to classify "EmiTown" is as "machine gun autobiography." Emi Lenox doesn't do anything that a traditional three-act story structure could hope to contain. Each page is a day, and each day stands on its own. Each day is a series of often random occurrences, stray thoughts, bits and bobs. Lenox documents them without caring about how it presents her overall story, because she can't know what the story is while she's in the middle of it.

"EmiTown," after all, is a webcomic. Each day, Lenox draws a page about her life on that particular day. There might be six panels to the page and one might be the week's bills, another a random drawing done as practice, a third could be a conversation with a friend, a fourth would be an accounting of dinner, the fifth an observation on the passing scene, and a sixth a stray bit of office humor. The next day, it'll be completely different.

Don't blink, or you'll miss something.

At first, it's a frustrating reading experience. You expect things to come back up again the next day, week, or month. You bring to the book your own experiences in reading dramatic narrative, but "EmiTown" isn't that at all. It's a high wire webcomic, with its author making things up as she goes along, as befits the very definition of her strip. Think about your life. Think about last Wednesday. I bet you don't even remember most of what happened that day. Think about yesterday. Pick six bullet points to describe the day. Maybe it's six random thoughts. Maybe it's the same mundane routine. Now imagine trying to craft a daily webcomic about it. What do you pick and choose to draw?

That's the high wire act I'm talking about.

But the more you read, the more sense it makes. Sure, some things will be forever and often frustratingly vague, but that's your problem, not the author's. You're the one being the voyeur, wanting names to be named and dirt to be slung. There's definitely something being held back in the comic, and you can feel it as you read. You have to learn to let go of that. If you can't, this comic isn't for you.

I couldn't imagine doing an autobiographical comic strip. Beyond just the obvious point that my life is not terribly interesting or thrill-packed, I'd have major hesitations about bringing other people into it. I don't mind talking about myself extensively - some might say Pipeline is a 13 year adventure down that particular road - but bringing others into the public eye and exploiting their foibles and, dare I say, privacy, strikes me as a bit gauche. Plenty of other autobiographical comic artists don't have that hang up. It makes for better reading experiences, but there is a morality issue at play there I've never been comfortable with.

Lenox's art style is part manga, part Andi Watson. You can watch it evolve as the strips fly by, often with commentary from the artist on new brushes or pens she's trying. I like the loose look of the art, drawn wide open with some minor blue shading done here and there. I like it even more than the black lines take on a rougher texture, likely from a different brush being used. And while the autobiographical strip is drawing very "cartoony," the occasional sketch thrown on the page for no good reason other than "This is what I felt like drawing today." shows a different side of Lenox. It proves she could draw in other, more rigid, structures, when necessary.

Things definitely tighten up and mature as the book goes on. There's a better sense of design to the pages, rather than a bunch of thing sloppily thrown on a page and good luck with your eye being guided in the right direction. Compare the early part of the book with what's up on the website today, and you'll see an obvious evolution.

Lenox isn't doing the strip daily at the moment - in fact, she skipped three months in the fall - but that's also given her time to draw sequences for "Sweet Tooth" #19 and an upcoming Madman comic. Lenox is a bright up-and-comer with a heck of a portfolio piece on her hands now.

"EmiTown" is out in stores this week, through Image Comics. It's a thick chunk of book, collecting a year's worth of a daily comic, one per page. For $25, you'll more than get your money's worth for these 400 pages, with bonus French flaps and second color!

CROSSGEN RETURNS - AND I TOLDJA SO?

The news finally broke last week about Marvel's "CrossGen imprint." It's composed of two titles, "Sigil" and "Ruse." The first seems to be starting over from scratch, while the second is more a continuation of the original series. Maybe. It's tough to tell from the description, or whether it really matters.

I made my predictions for what Marvel would do with CrossGen at the end of July. Let's see how well I did:

"Marvel is a multimedia company now. CrossGen represents a lot of genres that should spin off beautifully into movies, TV shows, video games, etc. Why let them sit there, untouched? Exploit them."

That "Sherlock Holmes" movie did reasonably well, now didn't it? "Ruse" would do well in Hollywood right now, I should think, particularly is "Cowboys and Aliens" takes off and the movie companies are more apt to buy scripts about favorite genres with another genre's twist to it.

"So forget about seeing "Scion" #44 from Marvel in January."

So far, so good.

"Quesada has already said they're looking at ways to spruce up the properties. To me, that means they're looking at a reboot, perhaps absent the sigil. The sigil is a bad idea, because it's such an integral part of so many titles. It bogs down licensing issues, particularly in movie form. Maybe it's not such a big problem as Marvel makes those movies itself, but the Marvel film business is a little focused on ten thousand other things at the moment."

The sigil stands and, in fact, is the star of one of the two series. Ah, well. I'll be curious to see how much it factors into "Ruse," though. It was never a great fit with that title to begin with, and the creators knew it, avoiding it as much as possible.

"So I have a theory on what this new CrossGen line will be. First, it won't be the creator-participation stuff that CrossGen attempted in its final days. Forget "The Crossovers," as lovely as Mauricet's art was, or as funny as Robert Rodi's stories could be. (And "Lady Death" has moved on already.)"

Kind of obvious, I should think, but it's bearing out so far.

"I think Marvel will use the CrossGen line as a way of breaking in new talent, perhaps from C.B. Cebulski's travels around the world, where he's finding artists who are better versed in drawing fantasy or science fiction tales, not superheroes. Wouldn't a CrossGen book be a great fit for those kinds of artists? Remember, CrossGen debuted with an Italian man on art duties, Claudio Castellini."

Check out the artist on "Ruse:" Mirco Pierfederic. An Italian artist. He's been working in American comics for the last couple of years, and is a relative rookie at Marvel, having done a few minor assignments in the last year. I think I'm more right than wrong on this one, though.

Leonard Kirk, obviously, is not a hot new European talent. He is, however, perfectly suited in style for a CrossGen book, and I'm excited to see what he can do with Sigil.

"I'd bet we'll see covers from original CrossGen artists along the way. There's your attention grabber. Maybe they'll do an eight page introduction for each title. Maybe."

Butch Guice is doing the "Ruse" covers.

"There's a chance we could see Mark Waid return to do more 'Ruse' since he does work for Marvel today and seems interested in non-superhero projects. Sill, he's got plenty to keep him busy now. I haven't seen Barb Kesel's name in the credits box anywhere in a while. Ditto Ian Feller."

Last week, Waid announced his departure from BOOM! to concentrate on freelance assignments once more. Didn't take long for "Ruse" to be announced, did it?

"I'd bet that Bill Rosemann is involved, though. Current Marvel editor for the cosmic books, he has experience working at CrossGen and has some writing chops of his own, too."

The press release doesn't indicate an editor.

"Don't look for the original issues to be reprinted. At best, that continuity will be respected in that it won't be contradicted and maybe an easter egg or two will pop up. But I'm not betting on a direction continuation. Saddling a new line with five years' worth of baggage that's six or more years old is a recipe for disaster."

I suppose it's too early to call, but we all know that if "Ruse" #1 sells 50,000 copies and holds that line for the length of its four issue miniseries, Marvel will milk the cow to death. You'll see those original issues - at least, the Waid/Guice run - in reprints lickety-split. I don't think Checker still has the license, so it should be clear sailing on that.

I hope Marvel learns more from CrossGen, though. Part of the company's success was the on-going titles made readily available in a variety of form factors - monthly issues, digital comics, trade paperbacks, and anthology trade paperbacks. Momentum and a variety of price points were key. Sounds like "The Walking Dead" model, doesn't it? But two four-issue miniseries can only be considered a good start, at best, and maintaining the trademark, at worst. I hope this is Marvel dipping its toes in the water, and that strong sales will lead to more than just sporadic minis.

New prediction: "Sigil" won't sell more than 25,000 copies, and will drop to below half that by the time the mini wraps. "Ruse" #1 will be in the low-40s, at best, on the strength of Mark Waid's name and some curiosity from those who've heard about the series, but never read it in the first place. I'll go with 36,000 copies.

For the record, I hope I'm low and wrong on both guesses. We'll have to come back to this in the spring and summer to find out.

DC HARDCOVERS FOR MARCH 2011

Whenever a publisher announces their upcoming releases, the first thing I always do is search for the hardcover books. I'm a book snob, but I'm also curious to see what material a publisher thinks deserves a higher-priced hardcover presentation.

"Brightest Day" is not a surprise, since it's a flagship title for DC right now and this is the second volume. "Batman & Robin: Batman Must Die" is a "Deluxe Edition" reprinting, which I think means it's ever-so-slightly oversized. Again, it's a Grant Morrison Batman title. Of course it's getting this treatment. "Birds of Prey: Endrun" is a bit of a surprise, but a nice show of support by DC of Gail Simone's recent relaunch of the title. It's a bit of an ugly sign, however, that the first six issues of a monthly title has to credit three artists by name, followed by "and others." Again, I ask, how many artists does it take to draw a DC comic these days?

But the happiest news of all is the release of "The Flash Omnibus Volume 1 by Geoff Johns." Anything that starts to bring back that post-Mark Waid golden era of the character is good by me. And to see Scott Kolins' art again is always a joy. I wish the book were oversized, though, just to show up Kolins' line work. Alas, it's not to be. The bulk of this book is "The Flash" #164-176, but you're also getting "Flash: Iron Heights," "The Flash: Our Worlds at War" #1, and "The Flash: Secret Files" #3.

News of a "Sugar and Spike" hardcover collection immediately sent shockwaves through Twitter and the comics blogosphere. It's a long-awaited project for many, but I don't see this thing selling at all. And at $60 for a hardcover presentation, I think the audience is severely limited. This is touted as "Volume 1." Will we ever see a "Volume 3?"

Also, please note that it's not scheduled for release until August.

August 2011.

Not even Dark Horse solicits that far in advance. This book must be being printed so deep in the heart of China that it's going to take a caravan to hand deliver it to the Los Angeles ports.

I'm skipping over a couple hardcovers here for the sake of time, but "Absolute Promethea" Volume 3 deserves a mention. That wraps up the series in this format, complete with "Tom Strong" #36, as well, since that comic provided the other view of the end of the world as seen in "Promethea" #32.

March might be an expensive month for some of you. Good luck!

QUICK THOUGHTS

  • Flipping through the recently released "Spawn Origins Collection Deluxe Edition" Volume 2 made me want to go back and pick up the first volume. If Greg Capullo's art can look so nice when blown up to "Absolute" size, I'm sure Todd McFarlane's can hold its own, assuming they had good elements to work from. (One issue of "Spawn" from another collection had soft looking scans instead of crisp original film negatives. I don't know if that carried over to the other collected editions of the series.) You get a little bit of McFarlane's work in "Spawn" #50, at the end of this slipcased hardcover, but it's not enough. Back matter includes a lot of black and white details of covers and random art bits. If you're a Spawn fan, this is the Must Have Collection for you this Christmas, assuming you already have the first volume. If not, start there.

  • "Lone Wolf and Cub" has been added to Dark Horse's scheduled digital releases for January. It makes me laugh to think that it'll be twice the size on my screen than it was in its print edition. That probably holds true on your iPad, as well.

  • I'm not a Broadway expert. I understand all the reasons things are being done with the Spider-Man musical the way they are, though. Yet I have a tough time grasping the concept of a show that's running eight times a week on its home stage on Broadway and trying to excuse itself as a "preview." If you don't want the public to see it or comment harshly on it, why let the public see it? The show is in production, as far as I'm concerned. They're selling tickets and merchandise, right? And, even better, the audiences are challenged to come see it again, because it'll be better next week, and it'll be different in a month, and in two months it'll be a whole new show.

    In other words, Broadway is learning its lessons from the comics industry: Present the same material as often as possible with minor changes and sell it to the same people over and over again.

  • The WildStorm Universe ends this week with the final "Wildcats" issue. And Joe Casey is right: the company will be best remembered for works with consistent creator teams, like "Sleeper" and "The Authority" and Casey's "Wildcats" run and James Robinson and Paul Smith's "Leave it To Chance" (best hardcover collections ever?) and, heck, even Alan Moore's "Wildcats" run with Travis Charest and Dave Johnson. (Then skip ahead to everything Moore did at ABC.)

    I look at the collected editions of Wildstorm titles in my library, and the vast majority of them are those works. After Mark Millar left "The Authority," did anyone ever care about the series again? WildStorm tried to make it work with different creators, but nothing ever stuck, no direction lasted terribly long. Grant Morrison and Jim Lee were the line's last best hope, but that went down in a ball of flames faster than DC can change writers on "Supergirl."

    Fare thee well, Wildstorm. Thanks for all the fun!

  • Mark Waid is absolutely without-a-doubt 100% correct:

    "My contention is that you really ought to be able to download [digital comics] as PDFs, hard files. That's the model I'm going for. And, basically, I won't accept anything else. I don't think you should have to rent comics from me with the hope that I'll still be around to make sure you get them."

    Amen.

Merry Christmas!

How to get in touch: Twitter @augiedb || E-mail || Pipeline Message Board

Where else I hang out: AugieShoots.com || VariousandSundry.com

TAGS:  pipeline, emitown, emi lenox

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