Pipeline: The New York Marathon, Cosplay and Germs

Tue, November 5th, 2013 at 12:58pm PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist
1

ANOTHER PHOTO PARADE?

This weekend, I spent a day with 45,000 people of like mind looking to survive the crowds of crazily-dressed strangers, many wearing spandex that doesn't fit as well as they might think. And I couldn't stop taking their pictures.

No, not a comic convention. I went to the New York City Marathon.

One of these two scenes took place at the Jacob Javitz Center. The other was at 75th Street and 1st Avenue. The two scenes share much in common. (No, I'm not doing a body odor joke here...

While there are runs with superhero themes, this is a general interest marathon in which some people just happen to get dressed up. I bring to you now a few pictures of the people relevant to the interests of this website.

Here is my first Batman sighting of the day, though it's only of a shirt that says "BATMAN" across the front. Dressing in all-black helps, but I'm not sold. Where are the yellow pouches?

This guy went with the Batman shield on his chest and otherwise in all black, so he gets points.

The next guy won the Running Batman contest:

Sadly, I saw him only after he passed, but it's the cape. He had the cape!

It was cool out on Sunday. When the race started, it was in the 40s, and only crept up into the low 50s when the sun got high enough in the sky to peek out between buildings. I'm sure he wasn't too hot in that get-up, though serious racers will no doubt wonder what the friction from wind under his cape did to his final time.

Batman wasn't the only one in a cape.

I've said before that I'm not in touch enough with today's pop culture to understand all the cosplay references. I'm sure this is one of those cases.

It never gets better than a man in a banana suit, does it?

Lots of Superman shield t-shirts, but this was the only guy I saw donning a lookalike costume. The name across his chest read "Marathon Man," yet he didn't look anything like Richard Dawson or Arnold Schwarzenegger.

What, this isn't an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.? Or a Man In Black? If I'm stretching, then it's time to end this bit...

THE VASTLY DIFFERENT WORLD OF COMICS IN FRANCE

I'm not sure what this catalog is, exactly. It looks like the French edition of "Previews" for the months of January through March of 2014. It crosses a variety of publishers and comics lines, with plenty of preview art and vital statistics on the books. It's a great way to browse some of the comics market in France. It only becomes disappointing when you have to flip through pages showing the DC titles -- both new and old -- being reprinted in French. I already have access to those. Give me the new stuff.

I could give you a list of the books that look interesting here, but I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader. Yes, the thing runs hundreds of pages long, but it's a pleasant trip. There are two side thoughts I had in looking through the material.

First, it's publisher support of their books in the form of store displays. Here in the North American comics scene, about as far as a publisher will go is a promise to get mass media interest in a comic or a series of variant covers with weird ordering schemes that store owners can sell for great profit.

In France, they have nearly life-size cardboard stand-up figures attached to drop bins to hold an assortment of oversized hardcover books.

If those are too much for you, there are simpler counter displays:

These are the things you can do when you have a higher price point and bigger profit margins with publishers who work hard to get your attention, no matter the cost. I don't know how widespread these displays are in France, but the very fact that they exist puts them a mile or two ahead of the North American comic market.

The latest edition of "Asterix" likely needed none of that to sell the five million copies shipped out last month, but I bet had some of it, anyway. It had an initial release in 15 countries, none of them mine. That made me sad. (Bonus link: Interview with ace "Asterix" translator, Anthea Bell.)

The other thing I noted in looking at the catalog is the strength and consistency of the cover designs. Even at a small size, you can pick up the design elements for the book covers of these two series:

Great use of negative space. Both would be clearly identified on the stands from afar, if they were facing straight out. The "Soda" covers even carry a consistent color tone to them, somewhere in the oranges and reds.

I'm not saying this is unique to the French comics market at all. We see lots of covers today in comics series that use a theme. Think of the "Walking Dead" or "Invincible" collection covers, for instance. There are very few such series in America that last 12 volumes or longer, though. It's much more obvious when seen with a long-lasting series.

Did I mention the 5,000,000 print run on "Asterix"? That's 1950s "Walt Disney's Comics & Stories" numbers right there. I don't want to read any more stories about how strong this industry is because two books topped 100,000 in a month. . .

ERNEST AND REBECCA: "MY BEST FRIEND IS A GERM"

This imported book from Papercutz tells the story of six-and-a-half year old Rebecca, a sick little kid whose best pal is an invisible green microbe. With that alone, you'd have a book that might be a big hit amongst the kiddy readers. They love gross-out humor and stories of kids playing in the snow in t-shirts to get sick. They love nose picking and fart jokes. While there's some of that in here -- although not nearly as gross as you might imagine -- the heart of the book comes from the disintegration of Rebecca's parents' marriage. What seems at first like a light and funny story of a precociously cute kid quickly becomes a bittersweet and often-heartbreaking book about a kid confused about her parent's screaming matches and overnight stays elsewhere.

The format is much like the "Dance School" book I reviewed last week. It's a series of one page gags -- with a few two-pagers thrown in -- that tell short gag stories. These add up to more than what "Dance School" went with, though. There are on-going gags (such as Rebecca's attempts at forcing her parents' reconciliation a la a bad sit-com) and quick punchlines, but that thread of a child confused by her parents brings it back to earth and can crush you at the same time you're laughing. It's part Afterschool Special and part Calvin and Hobbes, which makes for an uneasy blend of things that will keep you glued to the page.

The art from Antonello Dalena feels like what would happen if you merged art styles from Lucky Luke in with cute core manga and a touch of Disney: not quite chibi, but very cute with large expressive heads and cartoonish gestures. Beyond the initial surface impressions, what impressed me about the artwork in the book is the use of negative space. Dalena draws plenty of detailed backgrounds, some packed with cars and buildings and all the sorts of things artists hate dealing with. But, more importantly, he can drop everything out when the situation calls for it. The backgrounds will fade out to pure white or a simple color, as the characters in the foreground become the stars. These are the sequences where the art helps to carry the story so much. It's when Dalena gets the most expressive in his art, with characters dialing up their manic energy to a full 10. The backgrounds in those cases aren't necessary. Usually, you see them in the first panel to set up the scene, but after that the characters tell the story and anything else in the panel would be noise. Background junk.

Cecilia Giumento's colors fit the book perfectly. They're most often warm, with lots of purples, pinks, and oranges. The only other notable color is green, which is fitting since Ernest the Microbe is green and the two main characters like to hang out together with some frogs outside. Giumento also uses the green in night scenes, where others might go to the more conventional blue. Coloring is in the same style as the art, with something of an anime/manga look, the shadows cut with hard lines as if they're drawn onto the page instead of trying to appear like realistic gradients.

Janice Chiang's lettering tries as hard as it can, but is often constrained by the realities of a translated work like this. The font needs to shrink sometimes to fit the restrictive space of the pre-drawn word balloon. Sometimes, the font even gets squished to squeeze in. It's readable, but it is an obvious distraction in spots.

This first volume in the series is available in hardcover only for $11.99. It's slightly oversized from the rest of the Papercutz lineup at roughly 8 x 10 inches. With the third volume, Papercutz shrunk the book down to roughly 6.2 x 9 inches. While I always bemoan books getting smaller, I have a feeling that won't lessen the entertainment of the book. The audience for this book -- mostly the younger readers -- will enjoy it, nonetheless.

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