Pipeline: The Perils of Being a Non-Comic Book-Loving Lawyer

Tue, February 12th, 2013 at 2:58pm PST | Updated: February 12th, 2013 at 3:13pm

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist
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THE PERILS OF BEING A NON-COMIC BOOK-LOVING LAWYER

Recently, Larry Marder's deposition from the Gaiman vs. Todd McFarlane Productions lawsuit saw virtual print. It's a lot of tedious back and forth discussing things we mostly already knew.

The most entertaining parts to read, though, are when the lawyers struggle with the less formal nature of the comics industry or try to translate terms from comics industry-ese into legalese. It sounds like those early days of Image were put together in handshake deals and mutual understandings. That's great, in theory, but it inevitably leads to lawsuits. I imagine there's slightly more formal paperwork in place now.

Here, then, is my favorite part of the Larry Marder deposition, with Marder as the "A:" parts:

Q: Okay. Exhibit 26 is a memo from you to Mr. McFarlane, right?
A: Correct.
Q: And whose graffiti is on it?
A: Mine.
Q: Do you recall conversations with Mr.
MR. KAHN: For the record, Allen, it's probably not graffiti. It's probably visual art.
MR. ARNTSEN: Here we go.
MR. KAHN: That shows some respect for the creative element here.
MR. ARNTSEN: I stand corrected.

I can just picture Marder's Beanworld characters in the margins and the shocked and terrified eyes of the lawyer upon seeing them. The only defense a lawyer could come up with is "visual art." Don't you want to grab them by the lapels and scream in their faces, "HE DOODLED! HE'S A DOODLER! IT'S OK! WE ALL DO IT!"

Reading the deposition and all the technical details that pop up inside of it, though, I'm not sure whether I'm relieved that some parts of the comics industry are as relaxed about these kinds of things as they are, or frightened that they're not clearly spelled out and explained. For example, during the deposition, there's always a need to specify "Todd McFarlane" as a separate entity from "Todd McFarlane Productions." But during Marder's term as head of Image Comics, he likely never stopped to consider that. He dealt with Todd, and that was that.

The industry is littered with those kinds of cases, from character ownership (between creative partners as well as company vs. creators) to original art ownership. Convention sketches are still a murky gray area that's doomed, sadly, to explode in a lawsuit someday. I wonder just how much of this industry is run so loosely today? Has it tightened up now that Marvel and DC have insanely large legal departments above them? Or has the generally low money involved still made it more likely to avoid lawyers and go with verbal agreements?

SITTING DOWN, HAVING A BEER

Augie breaks down Garth Ennis' "Red Team" #1

Garth Ennis' new "Red Team" #1, from Dynamite, is a curious comic. Let's break it down, page by page, to see if we can detect theme in the issue:

Page 1: Guy sitting at table, talking to the reader.

Page 2: Guy's still talking, but now his face is getting bigger in the wide panels.

Page 3: Flashback, I'm guessing, from the change in coloring. Now we're in someone's backyard, as four people sit around the table talking. And drinking beers.

Page 4: Dramatic splash page of -- three people sitting at the table talking, while one is standing up. The one standing is NOT the one talking, however.

Page 5: Establishing shot of four people still sitting at that table, talking. Then a two shot of the conversation. Then a talking head. Then another two shot.

Pages 6 - 7: Still talking at the same table.

Page 8: Back to that guy from the first two pages. Still in the dark green room. Still talking to the reader.

Page 9: Back to the backyard. Four people. One table. BEER! We're ten pages into the comic now, and we've hit our first action moment: Drinking beer!

Page 10 - 13: The tables are gone, replaced by -- a desk! We're in someone's office now. There's a man behind a desk. Another man sits across from him, talking, until they're interrupted by a third man who walks in to hand in some papers before walking back out the door.

Page 14: Those four people have moved out of the backyard. They're now standing in front of a car, guns displayed on the hood. Ooh, Chekhov's Law! We might get some gunplay yet!

Page 15: Woman tied up on bed, bound and gagged. Man in ski mask, holding gun.

Pavges 16 - 17: Car-lined street. Night time. Man gets shot in the chest repeatedly and at close range! Almost action, though the actual killing happens off-panel. You know it happened because the caption box -- dialogue from the man sitting at the table on the first page -- tells you so.

Page 18: Four people talk in a car as they drive slowly away from the scene of the crime.

Page 19: Back to the guy from the first page, still looking nondescript and bored, talking to the reader.

Page 20 - 21: Back and forth, between guy in room talking to the reader and the group of four putting their guns in a bag.

Page 22: The group of four walk toward the reader, looking bored and dramatic. This isn't exactly "The Right Stuff" here.

The artist's name is Craig Cermak. Pity him.

The big twist here is that the book is a good read. It's interesting, tells a complete story, leaves you wanting more, and is well grounded. Basically, it's the story of a group of cops who willingly cross the line to murder a bad guy. If you liked "The Shield," but wish it was set in New York City, you get "Red Team" #1.

The problem is that as a comic book, it's awful. It doesn't take advantage of the comics format a single time. There's some cutting back and forth between time frames and characters, but that's nothing that isn't done in TV and movies all the time anymore. I don't know if the script was originally written as a television series pilot, but it sure feels like it. It's talking heads for 22 pages, which would be more tedious if Ennis' dialogue wasn't as strong as it is. It's not that he has interesting characters tossing clever quips back and forth, but that the drama of the situation is strong enough to carry the issue. Right now, the four main protagonists are only lightly sketched in. It feels like Ennis is planning on featuring individual characters as the series goes along, and not simply stuffing all that background material up front. I like that idea.

Cermak does as much with the material as he can, lining up widescreen shots, changing angles, moving in and out of the scene with the "camera." He does a touch of forced perspective, uses strong directional lighting, and uses natural elements to frame his panels. His raw style won't stand out that far, but he's a solid artist with good anatomy skills. He has a couple of storytelling issues along the way, like this panel:

It's a small thing, but in a panel where the major beat is one character discussing another character's clothes, it would be nice for that character not to be in the background with her back turned from the reader, in shadows, and only an arm visible. Instead, the focus is on the closeup of the beer being grabbed in the foreground. It frames the discussion at the table nicely, but it's the wrong place to use that layout trick, I fear.

I don't need all of my comics to be slam bang action thrillers, but I do like stories that are more than talking heads. Comics are a visual medium, and creators would do well to remember that. "Red Team" #1 is, as outlined above, far too stuck in the format of people sitting down at tables talking. There's a lot of information to absorb in here, and precious few moments to make your heart skip a beat. If the set-up wasn't so interesting, this would be an easy book to skip all together.

PIPELINKS

* I've talked about Disney Comics' awful system for its creators in the past here in Pipeline. This week, Don Rosa laid it all out once again in his Farewell to comics essay. It's heart-breaking and detailed. Any Duck fan of the last twenty-five years should come out of reading this essay both sad and angry. I'm mostly in the sad camp. I got past the angry stage of this system a long time ago. And as bad as it is, I feel worse for Rosa's various medical issues that have sidelined him. I knew he had eye issues, but didn't realize it had gotten that bad. I'll always be happy and excited about his works that I have sitting on the bookshelf, but I can't say that I won't think of this essay whenever I go back to read one of them now.

* "Comics will break your heart." - Jack Kirby

* Somewhat selfishly, I wish someone in American would publish "The Don Rosa Collection." Nine books to collect everything Rosa's ever done? Sounds wonderful. Looks ridiculously beautiful, though the price tag is not for the faint of heart.

* Bleeding Cool has the video introducing the world to the next "Asterix" creative team of Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad. You get a few brief snippets of the art from Conrad, though nothing substantive. I can't wait to see what they come up with. The video is subtitled in English, although it's a very rough translation.

* On the Daring Fireball blog, John Gruber takes a look into the history of *bounding asterisks* and finds when and where they first became popular. I won't spoil the punchline, but it'll seem obvious in retrospect to this audience. There's a follow-up post which helps set the practice into an older historical timeline, too.

* I haven't done an update on my Comics Purge in a long time, so let me give you an update now: I've boxed up 950 books-with-spines that I want to get rid of. Being a comics geek, I'm sorely tempted to pick another 50 books to pile on top of there just to run the total up to an even number. I was fairly aggressive in coming up to that number, though I did pull a couple of books out that I had earlier included. Overall, though, I'm happy. The collection is currently stored in 27 cardboard boxes. Tentatively, I have someone who's taking them off my hands. When all is said and done, I'll share more details.

* ComicsBeat.com has an early preview of "Benny Breakiron.", the next series from Papercutz by Peyo. After "The Smurfs", this is what he did. We just have to wait until May to get the first volume. I can't wait. I like the initial page samples, just to see how the style of The Smurfs translated into the more human-based world of this title. You can see how the characters are constructed similarly to the Smurfs in their hands and legs and facial expressions..

* I have no doubt that the departing Pope Benedict will be succeeded by -- Battle Pope. This is Robert Kirkman's world. We're just living in it.

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TAGS:  pipeline, neil gaiman, todd mcfarlane, larry marder, red team, dynamite entertainment, garth ennis, craig cermak

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