Saturday, May 26, 2012

Chronic Referrals!

Other Nick asked us to post links to the podcasts we recommended on the series finale - so here they are!

Mike recommends:

The Nerdist Podcast
 What began as Chris Hardwick and a couple of pals interviewing nerd-centric celebrities has turned into an empire of podcasts covering a wide array of weird crap.  Ryan particularly enjoys the Writer's Panel show.  Enjoy your burrito!  (This will make sense if you listen to the Nerdist show.  Sort of.)

The Table Top Youtube Channel
Wil Wheaton and various celebrities play table top board games on Felicia Day's "Geek & Sundry" channel

Ryan Recommends:

Where Monsters Dwell
The most unique and comprehensive comics podcast experience on planet earth!  Mike, Remy, and Red Shirt Ryan combine host charisma, creative interviews, and live interaction.  Where else can you get all your comics news, talk to the hosts, then ask your favorite creator a question on live radio?  Answer:  nowhere. 

Two Headed Nerd
Joe Patrick and Matt Baum are writing and performing the snappiest comics podcast on the market.  They try to keep the run time to around 30 minutes, so you're not going to kill your workshift, but my does it pop.  The most densely packed, hilarious little morsel you'll listen to all week. 

Wait, What? 
Graeme McMillan writes for every comics news site you visit, and several you don't.  Jeff Lester is essentially Eeyore, if Eeyore waxed more philosophical, read comics, and laughed mirthlessly every five minutes or so.  Together they've created the most thoughtful and thought-provoking comics podcast on the rack, covering a wide range of topics (including waffles) in staggering depth.  A Savage Critic production.

The Hench-Cast
Chronic fan Mike W and his friends John, Jeff, and Jason record their role-playing hijinx for your amusement.  The show has already bought this crew a ticket in to the Urban Dictionary, ("boating" entry # 2) and they get more hits than Chronic Insomnia....clearly they're doing something right!

Close The Door
PJ and Kyle have essentially created Chronic Insomnia: The Next Generation, blending a bawdy cold-open with comics news, reviews, and inappropriate levels of personal disclosure.  Sound familiar?  Thought so.  They're young in the game, but they've both got chops, and charisma to burn.  The future is CTD!

Bon Apetite, you degenerates!

Ryan Lee

Thursday, May 24, 2012

An Emotionally Compromised Ending To Chronic Insomnia!

I just uploaded the final issue of Chronic Insomnia.  The studio is dark.  The mics are off and the chairs are cooling from the heat of our fine asses.  It's a sad moment in my life.  Five years of podcasting and it comes down to tonight.  It's been ten days since the big reveal and I know it seems that I've been distant but it's been emotional for me.  I was unequipped emotionally to respond to the love that came forth after Ryan's blog entry last week.  I was amazed, overwhelmed and shocked at the impact our little show has had on all of you.  I am humbled and emotionally torn asunder.  

The last five years of doing the show have been some of the most creative years of my life.  Ryan and I have been recording into microphones for many years off and on, but this was something different.  This was creative on a consistent basis.  We also laughed A LOT!  Week in and week out we boiled our brains in semen and spit electrolytes to the airwaves.  I was doing a show with my best friend once a week, are you kidding me, it was the time of my life.  I know that Ryan knows this in the back of his mind but I want to thank him for all the years of laughter and creativity.  It's been a wild ride and there is no one I would have rather done this with.  We strapped on the hiking boots of comics podcasting and walked up the path together.  For good or bad, mostly great, we were ourselves and we laughed together.  For me that was the best part of the show.  The show was Ryan and I, and we put ourselves out there and a very small group of you loved us for that.  I can't express how much that humbles me.  To be part of something this big in my life for so long was an honor and a privilege.  

I am damn proud of Chronic Insomnia.  I thought our show sounded, audio wise, as good or better than anything out there.  Ryan and I laced the show with bits, drops, fake commercials and original songs and I don't know of another show with our unpredictability.  I will take credit for a little of that.  I was the insane one.  The one that came from left field with the craziest shit.  Ryan is the one that made it work.  However crazy my idea was, he would smile and help me figure out how to make it understandable to humans.  Since we had humans listening to the show, that was probably a good thing.  I applaud him for putting up with my crap over the last five years, and more importantly the last 30 years.  It's been since 1983, that first recording with all the "Crossbows and Catapult" pieces flying everywhere, since we started this audio madness and I hope at least in some way it never ends.  

I'm not saying that Ryan isn't crazy, he's fucking nuts at times, but he's crazy in a normal way.  Ryan is a sophisticated lover and a silver track suit wearing, kate beckinsale banging', magenta hair lovin' grey templed ass-man.  That's Ryan Lee in a sentence and he's also my best friend.  

You all need to know that Chronic Insomnia was mostly Ryan.  He did all the research and most of the work.  Definitely most of the writing.  I just don't have the chops like he does.  He's wicked smart and he really carried me along throughout the years.  I'm not saying I didn't do anything, but what I did could be trained into any monkey with a mouse pad and an itchy finger.  What Ryan did was infuse our absurd show with intelligence and sophistication.  He legitimized us.  I wanted to do more fart and dick jokes but Ryan could sense the limit of vulgarity we needed and held me fast to it.   I am glad he did, otherwise we'd have failed miserably.  

In the end Chronic Insomnia is something I will cherish until I die, as I cherish all of you reading this.  Chronic Insomnia you have been a friend and confidant and I hate to let you go, but I think it's time we pack up our microphones and ride off into the sunset. (who am I kidding, I'm going to walk off into the graffiti filled city that God forgot).  Ryan's got some Caffeine Free Diet Pepsi waiting for me and I don't want to be late.  I think we're going to watch "Fletch" for the 50th time and perhaps talk longingly about our five year run.  Ryan, we've got enough "inside jokes" between the two of us to keep us in stitches for a while.   I'm looking forward to more laughter together in whatever we do.  

Don't fret my friends, you might see us again sometime, the sun hasn't gone down on us completely, we're still kicking around in the dust.  If you listen closely to the wind you can still hear us laughing….  

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Never Mind the Bollocks.....Here's the End of Chronic Insomnia!

 Things fall apart, the center cannot hold...and after nearly five years of elegance and sophistication, the Chronic Insomnia comic book podcast is no more.

"Good riddance", say some, and to that I say "Shut up, world at large!"  But others, a very tiny sliver of really passionate people that anticipate that (semi) weekly dose of Chronic vulgarity, people that I love dearly...they will want to know:


Truth is, it's the people that want us to stay the most that make it impossible for me to stay.  Truth is, and this is scientifically demonstrable, the quality and consistency of the show are not there, and the commitment is lacking.

I won't do this half assed, because I have too much pride in my work and too much respect for my listeners.  I won't do this half assed because Remy, and Jesse, and Dave Rancor, and Miracle Keith, and Nick, and Glenn, and Other Nick deserve better.  Somewhere out there Elizabeth Scott is waiting to instruct half-assers to get into the toilet.  And you know what?  She should.

Last week's recording got fumbled again, and it was just general life stuff.  But it happens a lot lately, way too much lately, and it never used to.  Our worlds used to revolve around the show.... and it became clear to me that the show has run its course, and that half-assed is all that's left in the tank.  Not good enough.  Not by half.

So I'm done, and Quincy agrees with me, and that's OK.  It's a strange and wonderful little legacy, this show of ours.  I don't think the world will miss us much.  We left a smaller cultural footprint than the Baja Men, and that's fairly horrifying.

On the other hand, I remember Quincy and I with elevated heart rates and girlishly raised voices squealing about how episode # 36 or whatever achieved A WHOLE 12 DOWNLOADS, and HOLY CHRIST, that meant somebody out there was listening that WE DIDN'T KNOW!  As I type this, our latest effort has 382 downloads, many of them from other countries, and many more that listen and don't download.  It aint exactly Adam Carolla numbers, but when we started this nonsense in 2007, neither Quincy nor I ever envisioned 382 people giving a shit about what we were doing.

 Regrets?  I suppose.  A part of me would have liked to continue, to get better, get bigger, and someday be recognized as one of the "leather helmet" pioneers of comics podcasting.  Was that ever possible for us?  I don't know.  I notoriously used to wonder whether we were the Sex Pistols of Podcasting, or whether we could be The Beatles.

I think in the end we were the Sex Beatles, often compelling as we drenched honesty, energy, and balls in a syrup of childish, rebellious shit.  Never quite great, but the spectacle was usually worth it, and I think the pearl beneath the excrement was tantalizing.  We did some good fuckin', us Sex Beatles.  (and some really bad fuckin', too)

I think in the end we did provide a unique, viable product.  The format was essentially what Remy refers to as a "two monkey's on a davenport" vehicle, and that's nothing to be proud of.  But love me or hate me, I had a point of few, and I shot straight with no editing and no bullshit.  When you listened to Chronic Insomnia, you got some comics info, fine.  Some of it was even useful, if I'm not too biased to make a declaration.

Apart from that, and better than that, we invited you into our lives and hearts and thoughts, and even my unintentional celibacy, and the status of my physical plumbing.  It wasn't just:

"Here's comics!"

Anybody can do that.  For Chronic Insomnia, it was:

"Here's me, ALL of me, and here's how we feel about life."  I don't see another comics podcast doing that.  Maybe that's a good thing?  I don't know.  Me, I'll miss it.

I'll miss lots of things.  Doing this show's blog brought me into brief but memorable contact with Ethan Van Sciver, Dan Slott, Chris Samnee.  For fuck's sake, I made up some nonsense about marrying the Fantastic Four and Jonathan Hickman "gave away the bride" to me live on Canadian radio!!!!  Are you shitting me???

My review of Morning Glories # 1 made it to a CBR article, my review of Crossed Family Values # 3 made it to a feature article on Bleeding Cool, and when Irish Mike McLarty was pinch hitting for Rich, Bleeding Cool even had a feature on Market Spotlight.  I'll never forget any of those things.

I never would have had the chance to interview Anthony Del Col, Meagan Marie, or Comic Tube Vikki without the show.  And I never would have met the folks at Where Monsters Dwell.  LOVE the folks at Where Monsters Dwell, now more than ever.  The show has done a lot for me, personally.

And now it's done.  Quincy has talked about doing a series finale episode to say goodbye, and I think that's a good idea.  This week I'm headed up to the cabin when we would normally record, (see how life keeps getting in the way?) but that really ought to happen soon.

And after that?  Hmmmm, never say never I suppose.  I'm not retired from thinking, and I'm certainly not done with comics.  We may hear from each other again some day, in some capacity.

But for now, we're limping to our deaths like a couple of loser fucks.  Somewhere Johnny Rotten is smiling.

- Ryan Lee
Always the Manatee, Steve McQueen, or Louden Swain of Podcasting

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Chronic Guest Review: Dotter Of Her Father's Eyes!

And now, may I present the Honorable Miracle Keith, who will be reviewing a very froofy text whilst engaging in as little actual froofery as possible.....

Review of Dotter Of Her Father’s Eyes
By Bryan & Mary Talbot

Published by Dark Horse

     There’s been a nearly endless amount of academic papers, biographies and even entire college courses devoted to author James Joyce; heck, my wife took a course covering just one book (Ulysees) and though she got a lot of enjoyment out of it, the book is so densely packed with ideas/allusions/cultural idioms that nobody can fully understand it but Joyce himself, and he’s kinda dead.  In this review, I’m not going to pretend like I’m some expert on Joyce (far from it).  I’m just going to bring you my reaction with the understanding that I’m a woefully uneducated, underachieving fan of the graphic novel art form.
  The book delivers the parallel stories of Mary Atherton/Lucia Joyce, both daughters of highly regarded but difficult men.  Joyce is raised in the shadow of her father’s literary fame during the roaring 1920s/30s in Europe, while Atherton is raised in middle class Britain of the ‘50s/’60s.  The book opens with Mar’s seemingly innocuous discovery of an old passport photo, setting up the framing sequence and beginning the tales of two iives in flashback.  In Mary’s case, her father was renowned Joycean scholar James Atherton, an Englishman who rules over his daughter’s life with an iron hand.  A perfectionist who dictates his daughter’s every academic step, his brief displays of affection are entirely conditional; her very existence seems to annoy and anger him.  The Joyce family is modestly wealthy but itinerant.  Lucia falls in love with dancing as a little girl, but James Joyce is an easily distracted, somewhat indifferent father and his wife Nora is an emotionally abusive mother, who vocally dislikes her daughter’s greatest dreams of becoming a professional dancer/dance instructor.
  The artwork changes as the story jumps from Mary’s life to Lucia’s – the former is done in Talbot’s beautiful, modestly detailed style;  lightly colored, elegant drawings that add a deeper layer of tragedy to the more violent scenes of child abuse.  Lucia’s life is illustrated in deep blue-washed ink and watercolor; an appropriate contrast between the biographical/autobiographical stories (and by the time Lucia’s story concludes, the color blue seems most appropriate -those who know about Lucia’s fate can attest).
     If I have one complaint about this book, it’s fairly small: the dialogue spoken by the Joyce family is sometimes over-expository.  Obviously, there’s a great deal of historical record about what Joyce did and his novels are still in print; however, the way his daughter spoke is not documented, so the writer (Mary) is left to make up her dialogue with a “best guess”, which unfortunately contains a lot of gems like:

Lucia:  Margaret Morris is on at the Comedie!  Oh, Babbo, let’s go and see her!
James Joyce:  Oh, you mean William Morris’s granddaughter?  Didn’t she marry a Scotsman?  That Fauvist fellow I used to know, Fergusson.
Lucia:  How should I know?  She’s an expressive dancer – she’s famous!

Yikes.  There’s no easy way to get around that dilemma, and it ends up being this book’s only flaw.  The scenes with Mary and her father are excellent, brief scenes of tension and sometimes terror, as she negotiates her life under the control of her asshole father.

 Talbot is a highly underrated illustrator in the comics industry, though he has worked on high profile titles like Sandman and Fables.  I would personally recommend his graphic novel The Tale of One Bad Rat (also published by Dark Horse), with the caution that its plot does involve child sexual abuse (no graphic depcitions, but still…).

All in all, this is a recommended work for those who need a break from the tights n’ capes variety of story.  An excellent reminder of the power of the comic book medium and an emotionally charged examination of what it means to live with both an artist of great insight into the human condition (but woefully little compassion for the real people in his life) and an academic who writes critically lauded analysis of said artist’s works (also unable to love unconditionally).

- Miracle Keith

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Jouney Into Journey Into Mystery!

I wanted to spend a few moments diving into Journey Into Mystery, because it deserves it.  It deserves it, and it doesn't get but a sliver of the recognition due.  There are bad books, and meh books, and good books, and great books, and then there are a very select handful of "special" books.  These are books that not only demonstrate quality, but also exude a sense of inspired singularity...a sense while reading it that "this author is doing their best work right here."  Take that scribe off the book and it isn't the same animal.  Take that scribe and put them on another set of characters and it might be good...but not this.  Journey Into Mystery, or "JIM" as Kieron Gillen is fond of calling it, is one of those books. 

Here's how it works.

Take the latest installment, Journey Into Mystery # 635.  In some ways it might seem like a bad place to do a primer on the series being that it's the third chapter of the four part "Terrorism Myth" arc.  It's also got that ugly "Shattered Heroes" banner on it, which lets you know that it's representing itself as post Fear Itself nonsense, and instantly wants to make you sad.

Forget all of that.  You should never be afraid of picking up Journey Into Mystery at any point, for a couple of reasons.  First of all, Gillen will catch you up before you start.  In this case, he has "Cadaver Thor" relate recent events while breaking the fourth wall and also loudly announcing the anachronistic "wink nudge" humor that permeates the rest of the series as well.

This kind of thing isn't unprecedented.  Peter David often throws some extra panache into his intros as well.  The point is that it shows craft and caring.  Before you've hit page one of the narrative you have the basic necessary facts packed into your brain kit, and you've got the irreverent tone of the thing to prime you for what's to follow.  You probably already laughed once, too.  "Cadaver Thor is dead, too, and he's all about positivity."  It's completely absurd, and wonderful. 

This is the product of somebody that gave a shit about what he was doing.  Recap page?  Could be a throw-away pain in the ass.  Gillen uses it as an opportunity to encapsulate the JIM experience into a delicious little fun size morsel. 

The plot does follow in the wake of Fear Itself in meaningful ways, so no cheat there.  In fact, I would say that JIM # 635 does what it does more meaningfully than the main event is allowed to be.  The crux of the action is about Nightmare gestating little lethal fear bubbles in people's brains, looking to harvest them into a crown of power.  It's silly in the ways that superhero comics are almost obliged to be.

But where Fear Itself is all about the NSF check that says "Everything Changes Here - BBBBOOOOOMM!" and then forgets that it happened to itself, JIM takes on the real drama that frankly ought to unfold in the event that preceded it.

I'm talking specifically about the little Victim Vignettes of the fear bubble patients, locked in their own personal comas, all born from happenings in Fear Itself, all overlooked and made trivial by Fear Itself.

Before I go on, let me just say that I'm not specifically taking shots at Matt Fraction with that assessment.  If the event books took the time to actually delve into these things properly, they'd run 1,000 issues and we'd never be done with them.  Truthfully, the event book's purpose isn't to tell stories - it's there to move copies.  Event books are designed to have big splashy pages and characters behaving oddly because the point isn't to make sense, but to create mindless buzz and feign elevated importance.

So you get a scenario where the world is supposedly on the brink of madness, and half of France gets turned into statues, and it simply gets waved away in Fear Itself # 7.4653, and a month later nobody knows, cares, or remembers what happened, because goddamnit, something's coming from space and the Avengers and X-Men definitely need to fight about it in a manner that will be cleared up neatly in Avengers Vs. X-Men: Spider-Man's lament: Healing Heroes # 4.86594. 

Or you could read Journey Into Mystery and get a peek about how that might actually play out in a way that feels satisfying, and at a pace that doesn't make you want to pluck your own eyes out to make it stop.  You could read Journey Into Mystery and get a peek at Leslie, Lucas, Luiz, Deborah, and Molly, and say to yourself "Holy Crap, living in a world where Fear Itself occurred would be quite a trip, and maybe there's more to this universe than just ciphers moving the plot along."  Because in Kieron Gillen's book, there are things like vulnerable human beings that lose, and consequences.  Can you even imagine?

Journey Into Mystery fills those gaping potholes that the thundering moron books leave in their wake.  It does so with humor and grace, and it does it every month.

I'll never get over the anachronistic tightrope that Gillen jumps on every month, either.  "You know, Leah, when you get past the urge to retch, these energy drinks are delightfully addictive."  JIM contains all the stilted and elevated Asgardian trappings as previous Thor books, and then it tosses them into Angry Birds America.  Somehow it works.  Somehow it makes me laugh, every time.

And while the tone is irreverent and playful, it would be inaccurate to call JIM fluff.  One of the great triumphs of the book is that Gillen

  • Loki is a villain, or at best a tragic hero
  • Loki is a liar and a trickster
  • Loki is a genius on the path to global level mastermind

Gillen's Loki is as ethically complicated as James Robinson's Shade, and that's as high praise as I know to give.  Young Loki has magic, and allies, and power, but mostly he uses his tongue and his scheming abilities to leverage his situation.  Without giving the entirety of the plot away, he averts disaster in this issue (at least temporarily) by halting his ineffectual heroic efforts and recalibrating mid-stream to give the tyrant what he wants!  You simply don't see this in Marvel books.  Gillen is off the reservation and doing something different.

Nobody seems to notice or care, mind you.  The latest numbers show Journey Into Mystery coming in at # 91 with a barely sustainable 22,000+ copies sold.  This is the part that always confuses me.  I guess I just don't understand why Secret Six wasn't a top 10 comic, and I don't understand why we can't sell 50-100 copies of this at every retailer.  Do people not like good stories at certain shops?  In the age of Twitterbook, do they not know that JIM is elite?

Apparently, they don't.   So I'm telling you.  Spread the word.  Get on Paul Revere's horse and bark to the masses that there is a tiny mystical dog named Thori in this book that grumbles death threats to any poor bastard that stops to converse with it.  Tell them that it's still possible to read a Marvel book that understands scope and stakes without sacrificing all manner of reason and sanity.  Tell them that Journey Into Mystery is the best comic they're not reading, because it's true.

- Ryan

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Market Spotlight!

Some stuff I've tripped over lately....

Orc Stain
ISBN:  160706295X
SRP:     $17.99
Amazon Min:  $75+

James Stokoe is a special talent, and Orc Stain is a special book.  It's really hard to pin down exactly what this book is "about", but mostly its an examination of orc culture as created by Stokoe from mostly whole cloth.  Obviously there are influences, from Tolkein to....I don't know, Jack Burton from Big Trouble in Little China?  But mostly this is James Stokoe running wild with a very potent imagination.  Orcs don't have names, and spend a good portion of their day collecting orc penises, seeing as how that's the prevailing currency.  That kind of imagination.

More importantly, Orc Stain contains some of the most singularly stunning images in the medium.  I don't know anything about art, and I can see that.  If you did know something about art, Orc Stain might melt your face off.  You could profitably spend an afternoon just picking out all the little details. It's crazy.

I guess what I'm getting at is that I can really see this pulling in some long term interest and developing a legitimate cult following.  Stokoe might go back to press at any moment, but I don't really see that happening immediately.  I don't know if the book actually trades at the $75 mark, but it is exceptionally difficult to find, and I can see a segment of the population that simply HAS to have this book.  It's a winner.  Easy decision to buy whatever you find, even at full retail.

52 Volume 4
ISBN:  140121486X
SRP:  $19.99
Amazon Min:  $20/$50

This was kind of a surprise for me.  I considered it a weird thing to dry up, but then again, it's about 6 years old now, and does anybody really want to go back to this stuff now that it's largely old news?

Apparently somebody wants this stuff, because it's trading at pretty lofty levels, and it's pretty tough to find.  I looked for it at four comic shops this week and couldn't scare up a copy.  Matter of fact, of the four volumes I found zero copies of the first volume, one copy of the second, three of the third volume, and no copies of volume four.  If you look on Amazon right now, even volume one is about set to dry up.  The whole series is primed to blow.

It's an interesting phenomenon on price, though, and I'm seeing this more and more.  Back in the day, trades retailed for $10-$15, and I would wait for the books to hit $30 and worst I was 2:1.  That's not the case any more.  I'm still selling most of my books in that $25-$40 sweet spot....but the newer books are now retailing at $18-$30.  And now you've got a situation where the best you're looking at is 2:1, where before that was the bare minimum.  Bigger risks for smaller returns....yechh.

Of course there are other ways to get books than to pay full retail.  I do it every day.  But the game....she's getting tougher.  C'est la vie.

Gotham City Sirens Vol 1:  Union
ISBN:  1401225713
SRP:    $17.99
Amazon Min:   $44/$27  (no, that's not a can get a new copy for less than a used one currently)

This just in, folks - Harley Quinn is the real deal.  Harley Quinn is DCs version of Deadpool in terms of hardcore obsessive interest, only she's better.  She's better because she isn't nearly as overexposed, and because she does better with the ladies than she does with the men. 

Ms. Quinn is a member of the Sirens, of course, and I can't prove this scientifically, but that's why this is popping.  The HC version of Union made it to the audio podcast Market Spotlight ages ago, and is still doing quite well.  Better now then when I first recommended it, actually.

Now the softcover trade is climbing toward profitability as well.  If you can snap up a copy at less than retail, it's already profitable.  And yeah, eventually I expect DC will go back to press and ruin this party.  But before that, I expect this book to continue to climb.  Cuz Harley Quinn is the real deal.

Suicide Squad # 6
SRP:  $2.99

Hey, remember that Harley Quinn chick?  Suicide Squad # 6 begins the New 52 retelling of her origin story, and it was severely under-ordered.  A second print is coming down the pipe, but collectors are going to want the first print, and I really like the short term on this comic, and sorta like the long term.  If Wizard was still doing their thing, this would have made the Top 10 hot books, that's for sure.

It's not trading at crazy levels yet, ($6-$10) and may never do so.  But if you've got copies available at your LCS, I would grab a couple and wait for the fireworks. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Chronic Reviews!

Oh, MAN do I love Saucer Country!

Let's do a series of rapid-fire reviews, shall we?  If I start running long, somebody do swat me.

Today was "Saga Day" in my head and in a lot of other comic fans' heads.  And for good reason.  Like Ron Burgundy, he's kind of a big deal in a niche market that could really use some big deals.  (Is it scary that I still think that way just six months after the New 52 launch?  I think it is, but I'm not going to revert back into Chicken Little mode just yet)  Matter of fact, I should just skip to it...

Saga # 1
Image comics
Bryan K Vauhan/Fiona Staples
44 pages for $2.99

Firstly, welcome back to Mr. Vaughan, you were greatly missed and we're glad to have you.  Thank you also for PACKING this book with content and selling it for $2.99, because bargains are hard to find in this industry presently.  This book is without question great value.

I was worried about the horn head/wing back/racism bit coming off preachy and tiresome.  It's not.  I was not worried about Vaughan scoring hits with the narrative.  And now I am.

Something is....not quite right with the blend.  Alana is bawdy and gets the Chronic stamp of approval.  She's fun.  As we meet her, she's equating her ongoing childbirth with taking a massive dump.  I should be in love, yes?

Marko is a little more centered, and likeable, and the "couple" aspect of the book is more of a focal point then in any comic I can think of.  I kinda like that, actually.  Vaughan implies a world with depth, and it's loaded with unexpected little charicatures, and I'm wondering if that's where it's losing me.

I'm thinking of the robots especially and the little alligator guy....taking in Saga is a little like mixing chocolate milk and Jameson.  That's a little unfair, because that concoction would be hideously terrible.  Saga is not hideously terrible.

It didn't land for me, though.  The mix is a little off.  Honestly, if this were a different writer, I'm not sure I'd give it much time.  Because it's BKV, I think he's got six issues minimum.  Is that wrong?

PS:  The book is currently sold out at Lone Star, which is insane.  It's already trading for $10+ on Ebay, which is equally insane.  All good things, incidentally.  Go, Saga!  We need a buzz book.  I just happen to think it should be Saucer Country more than this one.

Green Lantern # 7
DC Comics
Geoff Johns/Dough Mahnke
20 pages for $2.99

Every time I think I might be done with this book, I get all Godfather 3'd and it pulls me back in.  Or maybe I'm getting Brokebacked, and I just can't quit it.

Point being, Johns always seems able to spur a little life in the ol' girl with his characters, and putting his characters in forward motion.  On the one hand, yes, it does seem a little silly that Sinestro is back 12 seconds later for more Odd Couple hijinx.  On the other hand, I adore the Old Couple hijinx.

Do I really care about The Guardians new plan and the reverberations of great feigned import on the history of The Corps?  Certainly not.  But I liked watching Carol throw that ring on and hit the fray, I think the Indigo folks are a curious catalyst and curious about how/why they were chosen, and there will be plenty of ripe scenarios coming down the pipe for these characters to strut their Johnsian stuff around in.

I like it.  So sue me.

Batgirl # 7
DC Comics
Gail Simone/Ardian Syaf
20 pages for $2.99

I bought this because I was curious about the solicitation, which inferred that there might be some fleshing out on the whole "Barbara gets shot in the Killing Joke" thing.  I can't pretend to know how this issue will work for you if you care about that sort of thing.

I can tell you that it's in there - they didn't dodge, shirk, or wuss out.  I found myself caring not so much about all that, and began pining in earnest for Secret Six, a book that I desperately miss, because there was a little of it in Batgirl in the form of Grotesque, the Big Bad.

Obviously Gail can't do Secret Six in Batgirl.  She's within sattelite range of a major lunchbox property, so there's naturally a governer attached to the motor.  And Barbara Gordon is not damned, so it can't be The Six.  But there's just a taste of it in most everything Gail writes, and I can't decide if that taste hurts more than it pleases.

I think if I was down on books and looking to add, I could see myself reading Batgirl.  I tend to have the exact opposite problem, however.

Crossed: Badlands # 1
Avatar Comics
Garth Ennis/Jacen Burrows
22 pages for $3.99

I have adored this series, but approach Badlands with some wariness.  You can only "push the envelope" so far before your story ends up about pushing envelopes in the most predictable and boring manner possible.  Also not a fan of double shipping, and that's the plan for Crossed: Badlands.  You're getting two per month, and if you want to keep up?  That'll be $8, please.

The original crew gets the first arc before Ennis hands off the writing reins to Hellblazer legend Jamie Delano with # 4, and I'm semi-pleased to report that this is the most reserved/refined issue of the series to date.  There is an infant tossing incident in the middle thrown in for obligatory reasons, but I honestly think it's in there just to pacify the mindless portion of the mob.  I don't think his heart is in the shock shit any more, and frankly, that's a good thing.

No, this is a subtler Crossed, with a better set of characters than the original arc, truth be told.  Harry is a trip, you want my opinion.  I was almost hoping this fell flat, because it would make my decision to cut a double-shipper very easy.  No such luck.  I like this story, and I'm on for the rest of the Ennis stuff at the bare minimum.

The Strange Talent of Luther Strode # 6
Image Comics
Justin Jordan/Trad Moore
25 pages + some pinups for $2.99

What a revelation this series has been, and I think it paid off handsomely.  Oh, I can hear the critics spouting nonsense in the background about how Jordan took the "lazy" road with Pete, and that there was too much fighting in the resolution, and that the fighting was too gory and sensationalistic, and that the ending was too cliched.

Fuck all that rot.  The juice is in the execution, and everything about Luther Strode has been pitch perfect from "go" to the end.  The story as presented answers enough questions to be satisfying, but didn't over-explain in the third act and kill future arcs.  This is the kind of pacing, dialogue, structure, and craft I would expect from talented veterans in their primes.    Where did these guys come from?

The final issue is a kinetic emotional bomb, and I will be intentionally seeking out work from both Jordan and Moore in the future.  Rabid dogs will not keep me from the next Strode series.

Thief of Thieves # 2
Image Comics
Robert Kirkman/Nick Spencer/Shawn Martinbrough
20 pages for $2.99

This was of course created by Robert Kirkman as kind of a television "writer room" collaborative experiment, and it plays as what I expect would be a fantastic television series and a nearly fantastic comic.

The problem, of course, is that Nick Spencer is already geared toward directing pages full of three panels worth of facial expressions and splash pages of characters looking very earnestly at old photos.  You push him toward a television script?  You get nothing but.

To be fair, in the hands of Shawn Martinbrough is looks so good it hurts at times.  Some of those panels, particularly some of the Audrey panels,they look less detailed and a little uneven.  But when Martinbrough is on....look out, brother.  That is some wicked good shit.

As per usual, Spencer is absolutely terrific at creating moments and absolutely dreadful at creating comic book value.  You'll be done with this thing inside of three minutes, even if you do linger on the Martinbrough goodness.  I recommend you do.  

Saucer Country # 1
DC/Vertigo Comics
Paul Cornell/Ryan Kelly

 Oh, MAN, do I love this issue.  I like layers, and mysteries, and deep worlds, and established themes, and Saucer Country is serving them all up, my friend.  I like unreliable narrators, too.  They abound in this book.

I hesitate to say overmuch and ruin anything for the uninitiated.  Here's the gist - Arizona governor Arcadia Alvarado is thinking about running for president.  She's got ex-husband trouble, and she's got alien trouble.  Is she even fit for office?  Could be she's a total nutjob.  But if she's right, can the nation, hell, the planet survive without her?  If she is right, is she actually fighting the extraterrestrials, or are they controlling her?  Who the hell knows?  It's BRILLIANT!

Super strong hook, and I was surprisingly taken with Arcadia and her supporting cast.  The implied depth is off the charts, and I think Paul Cornell is good for it.  It works as a creepy sci-fi drama, it works as a character study, and I think it might be one of the few comics that can tie into the zeitgeist of its political day without distracting from the narrative flow or sacrificing its replay value.

I've been this excited by first issues before only to be woefully disappointed later,  (see:  Scarlet, Bendis) but I was exceptionally impressed with Saucer Country.  PS:  Ryan Kelly's work is phenomenal.  Just phenomenal.  I'm in love!

This was supposed to be Image's big day to pound us in the face with Saga.  I think I'm going to remember this as the day that Saucer Country hit, instead.

-  Ryan

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Slaughter Lake!

That's me on the cover!  (the jerk with the innertube, not the facemask)

Slaughter Lake by the diabolical talents of Josh Rodgers is now available in print from Indy Planet!  It's the story of psychotic killer Mason Bowers and his murderous romp through the horny campgrounds of Laughter Lake.

If you enjoyed the Friday the 13th films, this is a love letter you can get on board with.  And it features characters based upon The Chronic Crew and the folks at Where Monsters Dwell as well.  If you've ever wanted to see any of us get what's's your chance!

Hey, who is that in the background?  It's Quincy, doing what he does best

 I had been following Slaughter Lake online, but I have to say that holding the print book in my hands brought a whole new perspective.  Josh has come quite a ways in terms of craft and storytelling ability with his pencils, and If you ever saw his Haunt entry in that contest McFarlane held a while back, you don't need me to tell you that.  He's good and getting better.

But having the book and setting it next to the other comics in my collection, that apples-to-apples comparison made it clear to me that Josh is ready for prime time.  He's doing pro work, and everything about this one-shot from Mushface Comics  screams quality - from the finish on the cover, to the coloring, to the paper.

Slaughter Lake is available for $3.99 plus shipping from Indy Planet.  Worth the price of admission just to see Monster Mike and Remy get dismembered, don't you think?  Or is it Quincy sitting on the jailhouse can?  I'll let you decide  what's more rewarding.

Crossover Done Right!

I do a lot of bitching about Event Fatigue and Crossoveritis, which is a real thing.  I'm afflicted with acute cases of both, and I think it's worth complaining about.

Of course the only thing better than complaining is highlighting a positive, a signpost to point at and say "this is how things ought to be done".  Mark Waid's run on Daredevil is a how-to clinic on how superhero comics ought to be done - with an infatuation for the character and the genre.

Hack Slash # 13 hit the racks just the other day, and I was pleasantly shocked to find none other then Victor Morrow making a guest appearance!

Happy day, for lots of reasons.  Off the top of my head, I think the element that created the most novelty was the surprise - this was not in the solicitation, and I didn't hear anything about it from Seeley, Seifert, or Ketner in the usual spots.  That isn't to say that something wasn't announced, but I travel in the usual circles for these kinds of press releases and didn't bump into anything.  It was....a surprise, and in 2012, that's saying something.

More importantly, it makes a lot of sense.  If plopped into the same world, The Witch Doctor would absolutely be interested in Slashers as a treatable disease.  And yes, he would equally be interested in Vlad and Cassie, either as mutations or, I don't know, lymphic adaptations in the cosmological scheme.  Yup, the smart ass doctor should fit in quite nicely with the plot and the tone of the series.  Wonderful.  Absolutely wonderful.

Infinitely more enjoyable than Avengers Vs. X-Men, which won't see a dime of my money.  I have less than zero interest in that book.  After 1,000 NSF checks, who could possibly believe that this one won't bounce?  All you're getting with AvX is a giant expensive commercial for the next "Big Thing" that won't pay off.

Or you can read Hack Slash, which engages in clever, funny world-building on a monthly basis, with two leads that you can't help but fall in love with.  And when that book crosses over with something, it makes sense and enhances the experience, and does not require an ugly banner at the top of the book or an extra 37 disappointing tie-ins to purchase.

Hack Slash # 13....that's how you do a crossover.  Also, be reading Witch Doctor, too.  It's ridiculously good.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Market Spotlight: Hunting Trip!

Big score or an interesting flop?

I thought I'd just share a "day in the life" of a comic book hunter/gatherer, just for the anthropological value, I suppose.  This is what I did today as a book scout and a collector and an investor, and a bit about why I did these things.

Lately I've been branching my research and buying outside of my usual TPB avenues, for a couple of reasons.  One, it's more entertaining.  It's not that I get bored with making money, that's pretty fantastic.  But ultimately this little game of mine begins and ends as a mental diversion, a game of "me against market" to determine who is more clever.  If you constantly run the same searches, look for the same material, hit the same places, it becomes rote and dull.

I'm also branching outside my niche because I still hold out hope that if I can get good enough and cast my net a little wider, I might be able to make a living selling books only.  That is absolutely a goal worth pursuing.  So I've been investigating other little corners that also pique my interest like role playing materials, genre paperbacks outside of comics like Warhammer and Magic: The Gathering, and I've really spiked a renewed interest in the floppies, particularly bronze age floppies.

Not sure why I haven't spent more time trying to game that, I guess because it felt as though too many were in that game, and I didn't feel I was blazing enough of my own trail?  Perhaps it's because the floppies tend to demand speculation, whereas the TPG game I was playing felt like a "sure thing".

Having done the TPB thing for about five years now and recollecting the number of times I made purchases "guaranteed" to make money that I took a bath on, it occurs to me that all investing is speculation unless your buyer is lined up.  All of it.  What I do with the trades is less inherently risky, because it's reacting to data in front of me instead of predicting tomorrow's data, but the risk is there.  The floppy speculation game is betting that what you believe today will happen tomorrow.  The trade game (as I've been playing it) is largely betting that what you see today will still work tomorrow.  Seeing is better than believing, but both bets are susceptible to error.  And as a side note, if you're making your TPB bet solely on what the current Amazon min is and not analyzing closed sales, (and I've done this about a billion times) that is also more about belief than data, and therefore pure speculation.

The TPB game has felt intrinsically safer, and I surely wouldn't complain about it.  I've made some bad purchases, but I've never had a bad month.  But I'm starting to rethink the notion that floppy speculation is by nature toxic, ultimately a losing game.  My current notion is that if one spends the same kind of time doing the work, one can build a winning formula that will inevitably include some hits, hits that will be outweighed by sheer volume of successes.

This does not mean that I go out and purchase 30 copies of Prophet # 21 because it's the flavor of the week.  What it means is that if you look at both the guide prices and actual money trading hands, it's difficult to lose purchasing vintage key books in grade.  Here's how simple this gets - find something people are interested in now with a cover price of 25 cents or less, buy it in NM or better for whatever the going rate is, and next year it will trade for more.  And five years from now it will trade for double or triple, or more.  Not just guide triple, trade triple. There are precious few exceptions to this phenomenon, with more positive exceptions than negative ones, (ask Green Lantern # 76 how it's done in the past five years)  and this while the entire American economy circles the toilet ever downward.  The easiest thing in the world to do is flip an old comic book in high grade.  (High grade does make a significant difference - lower grade material is discounted heavily and much more difficult to move)  You don't have to search out a buyer, they are scrambling about and frothing trying to get to you.

Long story longer, I've started to dabble in buying bronze age stuff in higher grade, often with CGC slabs.  My favorite game now is to put together runs of stuff I enjoyed when I was young, I call them "premium blends" in my head.  I started with Doctor Strange, the 1972 iteration that opened with the gorgeous Frank Brunner art, and I completed it last month.  I have all 80 issues in NM (9.2) or better condition, and I decided I wanted the first issue slabbed, since it's key and I don't want any arguments over key issues if and when I decide to sell the run.

It's a good game that takes time, or at least it takes time if you want to keep your costs down.  Now that Dr. Strange is done, I've moved on to The Defenders, and I've got about 60% of it complete.  It's tough to find this stuff in grade, and really tough to get it without going broke.  It takes an artist with patience, and I am that artist.  Other "premium blends" I mean to create at some point include; Master of Kung Fu, the Frank Miller Daredevil collection, and West Coast Avengers.  That last one's a little weird, and not exactly vintage, but I have fond memories of that series, and it sounds like fun.  Also, it's not exactly not vintage, either.  WCA is about 25 years old now, believe it or not.  And yes, it was born in the modern age of bags and boards, but if you think there's a ton of these book out there in strict NM....try and find some.  This is assuming that any of your local shops are bothering with back issues at all.  You would be shocked at how difficult it really is to find copper and even modern material at investment grade.  These things are not made of titanium, many of them are in 9.0 or less by the time the Diamond box arrives at the shop, much less after a pack of mouth breathers have roughed them up their first day on the rack.

Anywho.  I went to a couple of shops today scouting out material, and specifically I was looking for two items:

A)  Fatale # 1

Most everyone under-ordered this, it immediately went to a second print, and then those sold out in about five seconds as well.  This is the same duo that have been serving up Criminal, and what's a little strange to me is that Criminal seems to do little or nothing in the secondary market.

Fatale is essentially Criminal with a little Lovecraft thrown in for supernatural seasoning, maybe that's exactly the ingredient needed to secure a hit.  Prices on this have been highly erratic, and there's a wrinkle with the "B" cover, too.  Fatale # 1 shipped with a slightly more scarce "Beast" cover.  The second print featured the femme fatale, so that Cthulhian bastard becomes even more scarce relatively.  I've observed the pair of first prints trade as high as $50, which seems a bit absurd, and it's come down some from those lofty heights.

This one might have some legs, though.  The quality is going to be there, and Criminal's history seems to indicate that Fatale should avoid those dreaded shipping delays that crush so many other would-be dynasties.  I couldn't find any first prints, though.  The Source had a handful of second prints.  Not interested.

B)  Adventure Time # 1

Adventure Time is a more risky proposition, but I like it better.  Apparently, this has its origins in animation, and anybody that gets within ten feet of these comics instantly falls in love.  I've seen other "all ages" stuff get buzzy only to disappoint, though.  A few years ago Gargoyles hit with a significant splash, and even more recently Dark Wing Duck had the punditsphere clucking.  Where are those books now?  Are they even in production at this point?  The point is, I have reason to doubt the secondary market legitimacy of a licensed cartoon property.

I'm still interested for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, the talk I'm hearing just feels different.  Not very scientific, but when people talk about Adventure Time, it isn't with the kind of backhanded complisult that says "suprisingly good for a kids book".  People talk about Adventure Time with the kind of unreserved enthusiasm that hits are made of.

It's also the # 2 re-ordered item for the month, regardless of publisher.  That's pretty crazy, and pretty significant.  It's a Boom! book driving more extra interest than AvX, which tells me all I need to know.  Re-order activity on a book like that means that shops are not only selling out, but more importantly, people are asking for it.

I couldn't find any copies on my afternoon trip, so when I got home I called every shop within driving distance - nobody had one in stock.  This is a seriously under-ordered little comic.  First prints are selling for more than cover, but they haven't gone truly crazy just yet.  It feels like it's coming, though.

I found a seller on eBay dealing copies for $7.99 plus shipping and bought three copies.  Post shipping, I paid $10/book.  This is without question the most risk I took today, but I didn't go broke, I had fun, and I think the ceiling on this is an "Angry Birds" type level of hipness.  I'm sending the best copy I get to CGC for grading, that's how sick I am about the possibilities.  It smells like a freight train to me, but on the flip side, if it was buzz dead inside of four months, I wouldn't be shocked. Sometimes there's just a little juice in trying to get in front of something, you know?

I couldn't find what I was looking for, but this is what I did find:

Chew # 11-15  ($2.75/per)

Chew is quietly behaving like Walking Dead's little brother, all the way down to the television option.  Image Book, previously unknown creators, tiny little print runs creating tidal waves of buzz, a first issue that skyrockets and a first trade paperback that tops the charts.

Another similarity is that these issues are just not easy to lay hands on.  I don't know if you've looked at the prices on Walking Dead back issues, but they have officially hit the ridiculous stage.  Like its big brother, Chew issues are also largely not available for any price.  They're just....gone.  It's seriously about impossible to buy issues of Chew from issues 5-15, in any condition.  So when I do happen to find copies at near cover price, I bring them home with me.

I found these for cover price, paid closer to $2.75/ per after my discount.  Issues 13 and 15 are not in strict NM, but that's fine.  What could you get for Walking Dead 13 and 15 in VF?  Probably about $50, and maybe a lot more.  I'm not suggesting that's the near future for these Chew books...but he is the little brother.  I'm in for cover price all day long.

Worlds Unknown # 6  ($7.50)

Oh man, this is the greatest thing ever!  I actually don't remember when Killdozer made it to television, but I wish I did.  This is the most absurd piece of nonsense ever created!  The goddamn Killdozer is talking to people!

I bought this priceless bronze age beauty for $7.50 (after discount) in NM (9.2) condition.  Book value in 9.2 is $20, and it's not unusual to find some really nice bargains on these non-key 70s items.  Unless the shop owner goes through their entire stock regularly, eventually these books end up looking like bargains.  I could not be happier with my Killdozer.  Absolutely ridiculous.

Hellboy Sourcebook and Roleplaying Game  ($15)

I took a stroll through the role playing games at The Source, looking for little gems and opportunities to expand my game.  One of the things that instantly attracts my eye at this stage of my development is anything I haven't seen before, like this book.

It was published by Steve Jackson Games in 2002, and there was no price listed on the book, which I thought was damn odd.  I hit it with my phone, and Amazon min was $38.  I took the book up to the counter and asked how much it was, and after some deliberation, it was decided they would charge me $15.99, which suited me just fine.

It's a nice little piece that probably makes for some interesting reading.  It also reminds me a little of the old Watchmen sourcebooks and modules that Mayfair produced a while back.  I like it so much that I don't have it up for sale right now, this one might just be mine.

Blacksad Vol 3 HC  ($9.64)

After hitting The Source, I stopped at the Barnes & Noble store in the Har Mar mall, because it has that annex in the middle of it that operates like a Half Price books.  They have half a bookshelf filled with trades, and this one instantly caught my eye.

It's a beautiful looking hardcover, and in the original French.  It's oversized and a bit of a pain in the ass to fit on your average bookshelf or ship.  But I've certainly never seen one of these before, and it just had the stink of rarity about it.

I hit it with the phone, and the Amazon min was something around $80, but that was for an ex-library copy.  The other two listings were somewhere in the $6,000 range, which is of course, pointless and stupid.  Why do people do that?  You're never going to sell it for that, are you trying to pull chicks with your astronomical Amazon listing?  Whatever.

Truth is, I don't know what to think about this book.  I ran an eBay search, and there is no history there for what I've got.  Which is a potentially good sign in and of itself.  I put it up for sale for $200, and that might be a huge mistake in either direction.

On the one hand, I paid $9.64 for the book, so a $200 flip doesn't seem like a bad idea.  On the other hand, if you somehow found a nice copy of Action Comics # 1 at an estate sale for $1, and you didn't know what the hell you had, you might feel good about selling it for $100.  But really, you didn't make $99, you lost millions of dollars.

This is the problem with french language books you've never seen before.  I might be under-selling this by a gajillion dollars, or it might be a junk book that I've completely over-charged on.  All I know is, it's got a noir detective that looks like a cat in it, and he totally bangs this other naked cat chick.  So basically, I win.

-  Ryan

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Few Thoughts Regarding The Curious Case Of Gary Friedrich!

The big news this week is Marvel winning the suit Gary Friedrich brought against it, and especially the $17,000 Marvel is demanding in lieu of a counter suit.  Mr. Friedrich is now prohibited from selling his customary unauthorized prints, and in a particularly odd result, Friedrich is no longer allowed to claim himself creator of Ghost Rider.  He is still allowed to charge for his autograph on items, provided they are properly licensed.  Thank God for class and good taste on that result.

Anybody familiar with myself or the Chronic Insomnia podcast knows that I have long been an ardent and enthusiast Marvel basher.  In fact, I dare anybody to find an entity more critical of Marvel.  It's going to take you awhile, I'd advise against the effort.  When they earn it, I load up and give them both barrels.  With glee.

In truth, I'm not in support of that $17,000 pimp smack against Friedrich, who clearly can't pay it.  They know this, of course.  The court documents claim that figure represents the unwarranted profits Friedrich secured violating Marvel's copyright.  The reality is that the figure represents a message to any creator past or present looking to challenge Marvel's ownership of their intellectual property catalog:

Mess with a nickel of the Big Dog's money....expect to get bit.

That's the message, and it's a bully's message, and I despise bullies and tyrants.  I want to be clear about that.

When I read the blogosphere's reaction to the Friedrich debacle, though, I hear a lot of talk about boycotting, and a lot of reductive logic about how the Big Bad Corporation is once again beating up on the Little Guy.  Marvel's culpable on several fronts, but before we throw throw them into the Lake of Fire, I think it's valuable to keep a few thoughts in mind.

Thought # 1:  Gary Friedrich says he created the Ghost Rider, but nobody else remembers it quite that way.

Roy Thomas, (editor of Ghost Rider for both the western revamp and the flaming motorcycle version) says that Friedrich pitched the idea originally as a Daredevil villain, and that penciller Mike Ploog and he designed the visuals.

Ploog says he doesn't remember who exactly came up with the flaming skull part, but he does describe a very collaborative effort, pulling design cues from the old original western character, and adding the stripes down the black costume to keep track of the body.  He certainly never gives the impression that Gary Friedrich handed them a completely formed template.

That's important, because even inside of comics, a strongly visual medium, Ghost Rider's appeal is very much a visual appeal.  No way to verify this without a time machine, but if Johnny Blaze is just a guy who makes a Faustian bargain and looks like an unshaven Kurt Russel knock-off, that character doesn't really fly.  That character pops because there's a demon-looking guy with no flesh on his face, and fire shooting out of his skull.  Mike Ploog's contributions, even if they did come from Friedrich's description, are (in my opinion) more important to the success of the character.  Again, assuming that those design cues did come from Friedrich at all.

That's Friedrich's story, and he's the only one that recalls it as such.  While it's clear that Friedrich has a significant role in Ghost Rider's birth, it feels a bit false and presumptuous to claim full ownership.  

"It was my idea.  It was always my idea from the first time we talked about it, it turned out to be a guy with a flaming skull and rode a motorcycle.  Ploog seems to think the flaming skull was his idea.  But, to tell you the truth, it was my idea."
                               - 5/2001 issue of Comic Book Artist

That claim seems spurious to me partially because.....

Thought # 2:  Ghost Rider is a revamp of a revamped western character, not a Friedrich original

Ghost Rider was not a new concept in 1971 when Marvel Spotlight # 5 hit the stands.  It wasn't even a new concept when Friedrich and Roy Thomas first put out a Ghost Rider western character in 1968.  That character was directly ripped from a property that Ray Krank and Dick Ayers came up with ages ago.

When I say "ripped", I don't mean to imply that Thomas and Friedrich did anything unseemly.  The original Ghost Rider's copyright had lapsed, it was open for exploitation.  But it wasn't Friedrich's idea.  It was a microscopic tweaking of and then a modernization of a weird, justice-seeking, horse riding character that came before him.  The horses were now in the engine of the motorcycle, is all.

Now, I'm not suggesting that Friedrich did nothing - making the horse mechanical is a significant twist.  Marvel and Friedrich had the legal rights to do the western Ghost Rider and to develop the concept further.  Nothing criminal about that.

But all I keep hearing about in Pundit Town regarding the Friedrich ruling is "It's not just a matter of what's legal, but what's right and fair"!  OK, but that being the case, where is the outrage for Krank and Ayers and the true origins of the property?  Why isn't Friedrich advocating for their rights and acknowledging their contributions?  Why isn't anybody worried about their remunerations?

Thought # 3:  Like it or not, work-made-for-hire was (and still is) the standard

When Freidrich and Ploog created the Ghost Rider, work-made-for-hire was the standard.  We may not like that idea in 2012, and frankly, nobody (other than the publishers) liked it in 1971.  Guys like Neal Adams and Steve Gerber took a fair amount of heat and trouble for vocally not liking it back in the day.  But it wasn't like it was a big secret.

If you weren't aware of this unsightly little detail, your paycheck spelled it out for you in great detail, right by the endorsement line.

"By acceptance and endorsement of this check, payee acknowledges, a) full payment for payee's employment by Magazine Management Co., Inc. and/or Marvel Comics Group, b) that all payee's work has been within the scope of that employment, and c) that all payee's works are and shall be considered as works-made-for-hire, the property of Magazine Management Co., Inc. and/or Marvel Comics Group."

Just in case you didn't get the memo, they put the memo on your paycheck, where you'd be sure to find it.  "Hey, you don't own these characters, we do."  Again, this may not be pleasing to our 2012 taste buds.  It probably shouldn't be.

But the idea that Gary Friedrich didn't know that he was signing away his Ghost Rider rights?  Not possible.  And that's not what he was arguing, actually.  He was arguing that Marvel never filed a proper copyright back in 1971.  Back then, you had to file paperwork to secure a copyright.  A court found that Marvel did. 

Gary Friedrich was not bamboozled by Marvel.  They offered a shitty deal, and Friedrich decided a shitty deal was better than starving and took the page rate.  That doesn't make Marvel a hero.  But the idea that this was slipped under creator's noses in the fine print?  Preposterous.  For better or worse, work for hire was the established standard.

Yes, Ryan, but back then there weren't multi-million dollar toy deals, and blockbuster movies, and grand licensing opportunities - shouldn't we return to the idea of just compensation now that the scope of the game has changed?

The answer is - probably.  Gary Friedrich did not know in 1971 that he was signing away movie money, or he may have made a different decision.  Maybe.  I think Marvel could find a better way to deal with this Brave New World apart from trying to take Friedrich's last few dollars, and I'll get to that before I'm done, promise.

Yup, the game has changed.  But I object to the constant refrain I keep hearing that goes:

"Marvel made millions of Ghost Rider dollars off the back of this poor man and gives nothing in return!"

Not true.

Thought # 4:   What does Ghost Rider look like today without Marvel?

It's easy and intuitive to look at the Ghost Rider movie, smell the millions of dollars in play and then say - "Without Gary Friedrich, none of that is possible."

In truth, it takes a lot to make that possible, and Friedrich was simply a tiny but important cog at the beginning.  Ask yourself what happens to Gary Friedrich's Ghost Rider without Marvel Comics:

  • Does it even get published or distributed?
  • Without the context of the shared Marvel Universe, does anybody read it?
  • Is it popular without the mighty marketing muscle of merry ol' Marvel?  (after Stan Lee)
  • Do we have a publishing history worth making a film without Marvel?

Without Marvel, Ghost Rider is a non-entity.  This was not some floundering fly-by-night operation waiting for Gary Friedrich to save with his incredible motorcycle guy.  Ghost Rider is what it is today largely because Marvel was big enough to combine a collection of inspired creations and market them into a cohesive machine.

Gary Friedrich was undoubtedly a part of that.  I think there's plenty of wiggle room for Marvel to give more to Friedrich than just his old page rate.  But the millions of dollars?  Friedrich didn't hand that to Marvel.  Marvel spun that out of a few threads of Friedrich and Ploog gold.

And frankly, a lot more people than that.  My attraction to the Ghost Rider, however much there is, is mostly due to a double splash page panel that Todd McFarlane drew in Spider-Man # 7.  I bet for a lot of people, the seed of attraction was planted in that ghastly but oh so sexy glow in the dark cover for Ghost Rider # 15.  And that was Danny Ketch, not Johnny Blaze.

This idea that Marvel made a gajillion dollars off Ghost Rider and so Gary Friedrich and Friedrich only should get paid?  I just don't buy it.  I can't prove it scientifically, but I think Mark Texeira has as much to do with the character's strength  as Friedrich.

Thought # 5: Boycotting is Bullshit

The common solution I hear to resolve all this is boycotting.  They're going to boycott the Ghost Rider film, or they're going to boycott Marvel...or at the very least, they're going to say that's what they'll do in the harshest post possible on their local chat board.  I think all that is irrational rubbish.

It’s fine to assert your principles and it's your money, you can do what you want with it.  I get wanting to make a statement that Marvel will hear. The problem with boycotting is that if you hold consistent with it, I think you’re forced to not only give up the Ghost Rider movie and all of  comics...but anything else you purchase.  It’s the 1 Corinthians 5:10 effect – if you stay so pure that you never come in contact with an asshole, you will have to leave the world to do so.

Every company has done various and sundry shitty things to their employees and their customers.  It’s how the world works.  If you want to boycott those entities that trod upon the innocent, you better start growing your own food and killing animals for their pelts, because no corporation has skated a clean program yet.  I wish you the best of luck with your purity project, and I sincerely hope you don't go digging too deeply.  You'll be burning your house down by the end of the day, because everything in it was the unfortunate fruit of some diabolical prick torturing some other innocent bastard.  

And if you think about, you're not just a victim, either.

Thought # 5:  You're a lot more like Marvel than you think

Did Marvel pay Gary Friedrich less than it could have for the Ghost Rider property?  Surely.  This is how the world operates.  It's how you operate.

All day, every day you make value decisions.   Not every decision is a value decision, but mostly you’re looking to get maximum payoff for your dollar.  So if that milk shake is $4, and it’s only worth about $2 to you, the odds are good you order something else.  But if that feels like a $30 shirt, and it’s on clearance for $13.60, do you voluntarily hand the store that extra $16.40, or do you take the value and run, content inside at what a wonderful frugal person you are?  I’m betting you paid $13.60, because that was the contract. It's called "Consumer Surplus" in the economy game.

Marvel paid Gary Friedrich his page rate and nothing more because that was the contract.  If you have a problem with that, you should probably start paying your actual valuation for the goods and services you buy.  If you wish to remain pure, that is.  Otherwise, you’re just going to have to live with the fact that you have more in common with Marvel than you might find comfortable.

Listen, Marvel still sucks.  Gary Friedrich was not a threat to Marvel selling prints and t-shirts.  The guy is unemployed, reportedly not in the best of health, and a complete sweetheart according to anybody who comes in contact with him.  Going after Gary Friedrich for $17,000 is the wrong thing to do, period.
Rather than punishing the people that helped make them great, I think it would be advisable for Marvel to negotiate with these creators and offer them reasonable compensation.  Not because it's legal, but because it right, and ultimately I believe, better for their future long term.

There are precedents for giving back to creators.  Deals have been struck for Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, the Siegels, etc.  It shouldn't be unthinkable for Marvel to go to Gary Friedrich and Mike Ploog and say:

"Hey, what do you say to either a one-time lump settlement of six figures or a point on all future profits on collections and multi-media considerations?"

This would not break Marvel.  What it would do is send the message to creators that they now have an incentive to create again.  Is it any wonder why comics suffer from stagnation?  Why would anybody create anything new for Marvel or DC, when they know full well that they will never share in the gains of a new hit?  Offer a piece of the action, and offer it on the profits, so that there is nothing to be lost.  If the creators are only getting a chunk of the black, it will be in their best interest to produce work that makes money.  Everybody wins. 
Marvel will never do this, of course.  Too short-sighted to begin with, and now that they're under the Mouse umbrella?  Forget it.  There has never been a more hypocritical attack demon regarding copyright than the Disney corporation.  

Here's the thing, after all of that philosophical back-and-forth.  Marvel is wrong to play the bully, and I donated to the Gary Friedrich fund that Steve Niles set up.  Steve Niles is a stand-up cat (when he isn't stealing your girlfriend) and I trust him to handle the money accordingly.  I encourage anybody with a heart to do the same.  Don't let Neal Adams hog all the charity, let's all get involved!
Yes, let's help Gary Friedrich.  But it's more complicated than "Gary Friedrich good, Marvel bad", and I don't think anything gets solved with a boycott.  But can we give Marvel another black eye on the blogs?  Yeah, I think we can and should do that.  And I think I just did.

- Ryan