OWLY AND KIDS COMICS
A bigger book publisher (Simon & Schuster) got its hands on Andy Runton and "Owly" and recently published "Owly & Wormy: Friends All Aflutter!" Since a small handheld book wasn't good enough for these no-good New York City publishing types, they subverted the format and forced Runton to use color and draw for a larger format book on paper at a different ratio.
And, yes, it works. Comic shops may not want to stock it because it's not formatted to fit neatly next to every Marvel and DC trade paperback, but that's OK. This book doesn't need the Direct Market, and isn't aimed at it.
There, I said it. Hate me if you want. The book is forty pages worth of new story aimed at the Ages 3 - 7 market. In other words, it's not made for your local comic shop, though a few will likely be selling it, anyway.
The point is, Runton's storytelling is great. His silent stories give even the smallest children a chance to read the adventures of an emotional overstuffed bird and his little pudgy worm friend. His style is cute and attractive, and the stories make good points and tell interesting tales without ever getting bogged down in minute details or continuity.
In this story, Owly attempts to attract some butterflies to his garden, but can only get a pair of worms to make their home eating his plants. He befriends them, hangs out with them, and protects them until the day they need to go and live on their own. I felt incredibly stupid about three quarters of the way through the book when I realized what was going to happen in the end. Why didn't I figure it out on Page Three? I know why: because I was enjoying myself and not "working" at reading. Sometimes, we all try to be too clever and work too hard to be smarter than the characters we're reading about, or the authors behind them.
So, yes, this is essentially just another Owly tale, but one told in a larger format with color. It's perfectly charming, awfully gosh-darned cute, and completely accessible to one and all.
Or is it?
I read my two and a half year old daughter this book the other day. While she does like flipping through a "Little Lulu" book I gave her once, it's only to look at some random pictures and turn the pages as fast and as hard as possible. We've never really read a comic book straight through together, but she wanted to read one of "Daddy's books," so I took the first age-appropriate one I could find. There aren't many of those, sadly. Thankfully, I had "Owly" sitting on top of a stack in the corner.
Reading it to her, I realized that I had to do more work than usual. Instead of just reading the words on the pages of her picture books and trying to keep my voice exciting and interesting to her, I was looking at the pictures and making all the words up myself. I wondered, as I saw her eyes dart around the pages, if she understood naturally any of the concepts of sequential storytelling. She's seen some of the tricks in other books before. It shouldn't bother her that Owly shows up doing four different disjointed things in four consecutive panels. Other books show she's "read" have shown the passage of time in similar ways, usually for the four seasons, or maybe just to show the sun fall and moon rise.
Does she understand pictures in thought balloons? Does she understand a thought balloon? I'm pretty sure she has picture books where characters have thought visual things. The thought balloon would have to be taught. Maybe I did that instinctually already, because I didn't hesitate to say, "Owly thought" as I pointed to a thought balloon in the book. She's smart enough to pick that up. But equals signs and not equal signs? I'm not even sure how many seven year olds would be familiar with the slash through the equals sign and what it means. I supposed it could be hard: If a computer programmer had drawn those pages, he'd have gone with "!=" instead.
It helps that the word balloons don't use rebuses. Remember how in the classic Warner Bros. shorts, Bugs Bunny might have a thought balloon over his head with a picture of a screw next to a picture of a baseball? Or was that Daffy? In any case, those two items are meaningless on their own. They don't tell a story. You have to say their names out loud, "screw ball," to get the point. I'm pretty sure my daughter's literacy is not there quite yet. But seeing two characters thinking of themselves wearing raincoats as it starts to rain is obvious, right?
Other than that, as with any silent comic, if you pay attention to the small shifts in action between panels, you'd enjoy the book very much. Runton keeps the action confined on the page, and not cluttering that up with needless fourth party packaging.
My daughter enjoyed the book and I'm sure we'll be reading it again soon. It's just fun to look at comic books in a whole new light now, and I'm sure it'll get me thinking about the conventional wisdom in ways I never have before. It's true what they say: The best way to learn something new is to teach it.
"Owly & Wormy: Friends All Aflutter" is available today. For $15, it's a nice deal, whether you have a kid or not. What's not to love about a macrocephalic nocturnal bird, anyway?
ORIGINAL ART: THE ECONOMICS
Did you like "Avengers" #12.1? Would you like to own a page from it? You can find every page of the issues for sale today. As I write this one Sunday night, they're all available. By the time this column sees "print," I bet it'll be half gone.
If you bought every page, though, it would run you $25,450. Take a look at them in joy and wonder.
Let's look at an issue of "Captain America: Reborn" next. I'll go with issue #3, just to be random. The total sale price of those pages is nearly $32,000, and that doesn't count the value of the seven pages that have sold, whose prices are not listed. Now, that includes an $8000 price tag for the cover, and a couple double page spreads between $4000 and $5500 that haven't sold. If he needed the money, he could drop all those prices in half and sell them pretty quickly, I bet. He'd still top $20,000 -- for work he was already paid for. It's the first lesson of freelancing: Multiple revenue streams.
I bet Hitch never starts drawing comics digitally. That's a huge chunk of income to give up.
I was reading Buddy Scalera's book, "Creating Comics from Start to Finish," this week. Joe Quesada has a nice interview in it, part of which talks about a plan he was working out. He admits that he'll draw the "boring" "talking heads" pages digitally and draw the more exciting pages on paper, just because the original art market is so rich. He says he has a tough time selling those smaller pages, but that the big action pages will sell easily for a nice chunk of change. As someone whose original art collection is mostly those "boring" talking heads pages, I'm sorry to hear that. On the other hand, I can't blame him. If he works better and faster digitally, then he's making the right compromise between art and commerce.
The artist's work is not only done for the sake of reprint in a small magazine, but also to feed the patrons who appreciate the work and provide a nice secondary income bump for ht artist.
MARVEL IN JULY 2011
It's a quirk of timing that when I discuss the new solicits in this column, it's rarely about Marvel. That's only because those go up on a Tuesday after I've already finished the column. This month, let's take a look
The word "Fear" appears 70 times in the solicitations. "Fraction" appears four times. "Bendis" is in there 18 times. "Brubaker" gathers seven nods, including a new "Captain America" #1.
Everytime I see "Spider-Island," I start singing They Might Be Giants' "Fibber Island." I'm sure I'm the only one with that issue.
It's official: "X-Men by Chris Claremont and Jim Lee Omnibus" Volume 1 is in the books. It's solicited. It's happening. It's awesome. It'll collect "Uncanny X-Men" #244-269 (the famous Rogue vs. Ms. Marvel cat fight!), plus an Annual and a "Classic X-Men" story. It will run $125, but those are the mutant comics I started with. And it's not a bad place to start: Jubilee debuts, Psylocke transforms (my first "Uncanny" issue was the last issue of that storyline), Gambit debuts, etc.
Yes, I remembered the issue number of that Rogue/Ms. Marvel story. I even remember how much of an influence Art Thibert's inks had on that issue. It definitely felt like an issue where Lee did more layouts than finished pencils.
If that's not enough early 90s mutant nostalgia for you, I'd recommend "X-Men: X-Cutioner's Song" hardcover. For $50, this includes early work from Brandon Peterson, Greg Capullo and Jae Lee. Andy Kubert is in here, too. As I recall, it's very 90s-era influenced. Capullo and Peterson were practically trying out for Image books with these issues, it felt like at the time. It wasn't my favorite crossover, but it can be yours this summer.
But, wait, there's more! "Excalibur Visionaries: Alan Davis" is up to its third trade paperback, this time collecting issues #59-67. I think at this point that the best of Davis' run is already behind him on the series, but there's still great stuff in here. It's $25.
I'm in a catching-up mood in my reading lately. For that reason, "Wolverine by Jason Aaaron Omnibus" Volume 1 sounds appealing, too. There's a lot of skipping around to string together this work, but it does include "Wolverine: Weapon X" #1-16. It's $99.99.
Grant Morrison's "Fantastic Four: 1234" gets another runaround with a Premiere Edition HC collection for $20. It includes, as a bonus, a story from "Marvel Double-Shot" #2.
A second "Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis" hardcover is due out for $25, including issues #7-12.1, which means lots of art by John Romita Jr. and a capper by Bryan Hitch. I'm still holding out hope for a larger trim hardcover edition to collection all the material in volumes 1 and 2 of this series. That first volume is solicited for a $20 hardcover this month, also.
I'm still waiting for "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man" to get a nice solid one year hardcover collection, too. I'd really really, really like that one, Marvel. Please? It's the format I've collected the entire series in to date. It would be a shame if they gave up on it.
I'll keep tilting at windmills while you all go and read comics.