Category Archives: Comics

On Frank Cho

When you’re running a comic shop that is trying to be mindful about the product being brought in and the creators being promoted, there will be times when your ideals will be tested. This week is one of those times.

A few days ago, Frank Cho announced that he would be prematurely terminating his gig as an artist on the Wonder Woman variant covers currently being offered by DC Comics. Originally scheduled to produce 24 covers (covering the first full year of the title’s run on a twice-monthly schedule), Cho’s covers will end at issue 6. The creator has cited interference from editorial and series writer Greg Rucka as being a large reason why, claiming undue censorship.

On the surface of it, this is a very simple situation: DC hired someone on a work-for-hire basis and provided that artist with guidelines that the artist found to be unpalatable. That artist quit. End of story, right? Well, it gets sticky when said artist comes out swinging and claiming censorship. Is it censorship for DC to require guidelines for how their characters are depicted to artists on their payroll? No, that’s brand management. More to the point: is it censorship if you quit, rather than being fired? Again, I would say “no”, that’s more of a principled stand than anything else.

There’s nothing wrong with taking a principled stand. There is something wrong with mischaracterizing the situation. Cho was not hired under the provision that he could draw whatever he wanted, however he wanted. Even if he were given quite a bit of artistic freedom, DC definitely has the right to demand changes to a product before said product reaches the stands. That’s a large part of why the editorial and business structure of their company exists.

Now, Frank Cho has come out and said he was promised complete artistic freedom with his covers – only to discover that Rucka had been granted a large amount of sway over the editorial direction of the series. If this is the case (and who knows, it could very well be, but I doubt DC or Rucka will be willing to come forward with details regarding contract negotiations) then you can definitely see where Cho is coming from. Had the roles been reversed, knowing Rucka, a similar stance would have been taken, and Rucka would have walked off the book. The issue here isn’t with a principled stand – it’s with the accusations attached to this particular stand. Rucka has walked out of both Marvel and DC for his own principled reasons in the past, and if you listen to any interview he’s given about these decisions, he always concedes the fact that he signed a work-for-hire contract, and that at the end of the day, his goals didn’t match the company’s, and so he left. No finger pointing, just stark realities: sometimes the stars just don’t line up.

So. How does this all apply to Variant Edition? Well, we’re known for making principled stands of our own. We are attempting to cultivate a positive culture in our store and as part of that we attempt to be very mindful about the products we’re bringing in, and the creators we promote. When we’ve come across stories about creators who have ideas counter to building an inclusive culture (I’m looking at you, Dave Sim), we often don’t shelve their works – or, at the very least, we don’t hand sell their products to customers. Now that doesn’t mean we won’t sell their books – we are not the gatekeepers of your preferred aesthetic, and we will always provide people with the means of access to products that they want, as required and requested. It just means that we will generally be putting our efforts into promoting the works of those who tend to be additive to an inclusive environment, rather than reductive. In this case it means… well, it doesn’t mean much. Our subscription orders and shelf copy sales of this new Wonder Woman title are remarkably healthy, and quite honestly, were built from Rucka’s reputation as a writer (as well as the reputations of Liam Sharp and Nicola Scott, the two main artists on the series). Frank Cho’s existence as the variant artist has been additive to the book’s sales, but at the end of the day, he’s not why most of our customers were getting the book. Will we lose some sales as a result of this? Almost definitely – but I can’t help but side with Rucka in this situation – if he is indeed a part of the situation at all.

Editorially, having Frank Cho provide these covers was an artistic and aesthetic choice that does not really match the drive and the contents of the series itself. In the situation as presented, if DC had to make the decision of keeping Cho, or Rucka, their choice had to benefit the company’s long term goals for the book and the character. In siding with Rucka, that choice is clear. In the short term, it might hurt sales (although it looks like the extremely talented Jenny Frison has been brought on for future variants, so maybe not?) but in the long term, it promotes the overall health and cohesiveness of the storyline as the character is being reestablished. The decision by DC to stick to their guns, resulting in Cho walking off, is a sound one, given that both creators were supposedly promised a certain level of control.

I respect DC’s decision to back Rucka, if that is indeed what happened here. I also respect Cho’s principled stand of walking away from a situation that didn’t suit his goals. That’s all this situation should be, and that’s essentially our stance on it going forward.

As always, we encourage everyone who comes into the store and makes regular purchases with us to share their opinions on the matter and vote with their words, and their money. If our opinions of the situation (or any situation) differ, that’s more than okay, so long as the conversation is frank, honest, and not insulting. It’s another cornerstone of the store: we treat others with the respect they offer towards us, and others. If confronted with a message of intolerance, we generally push back against it, meeting exclusionary remarks with our right to exclude those ideas from our store. We’ve found that it’s made for a great environment, one that we hope to foster and grow for a long time to come.

Thank you for your time.

Recommendation: Blackbird

Blackbird GN

BLACKBIRD GN (Conundrum Press)
By Pierre Maurel

Synopsis: When self-publishing becomes outlawed, a comics zine group attempts to be heard when the entire world is closing in on them.

01. Semantics to kick things off: what follows is a recommendation and not a review. There’s no critique involved here, only emotion. Honestly, I think there would be a lot less drama within the comics industry right now if folks didn’t blanket term opinion pieces with the word “review”. This has nothing to do with the book I’ll be talking with you about shortly.

Or well… almost nothing.

02. Right now I live many of my days with a weight in my gut. A bit of it is a longing for when things were a bit simpler. Most of it is the knowledge that things were never “better” so much as I was sheltered from a lot of the bad, or just didn’t care.

While I was reading Blackbird, I felt as though I was reading a manifestation of what lives in my gut. The story itself if pretty straight forward. A small group of creators puts together a comic zine called “Blackbird” and distributes it around town. Over the course of the story, a law is passed banning self-publication in all forms but advertisement, so that certain assurances can be made about content. Understandably, this doesn’t go well.

03. Over the course of the story, the zine creators are alternatively courageous and fearful. They have something they want to say, in a format that speaks to them, and they are being told that they can no longer do so without bigger consequences. The act of creation has become a risk, and speaking up, even worse. But they don’t stop. They never stop.

When I feel around for the weight that lives in my stomach, I linger on the things that placed it there – my own courage and fear. My own push for creativity and voice and the forces against it. I feel… I feel my privilege, and the fact that – much like one of the characters in the story – I am readily afforded a voice and a platform. I feel the weight of all who don’t, and I see that in a lot of ways, this story is about them. All the means to produce, with a world telling you that your voice isn’t worth as much as the person next to you who just happens to be a cis-het white male.

04. I don’t want to deal with the weight that I feel. But then again, nobody really does. Am I the person to really sit here and say that the world isn’t fair, and that things need to change? Am I the person to read Blackbird and say to you “this world of artistic and aesthetic oppression speaks to me”? Probably not. But regardless, this is a book that I found something recognizable in – something that I want to push desperately against. I can only imagine how it would read for others.

05. As it turns out, the contents of this graphic novel were originally serialized by Pierre Maurel in the zine format. There’s definitely quite a few layers of meta-commentary that could be pealed back within the contents and the difference between the original means of production and this finished product. We should all be so lucky to build with our hands, and have our voiced be heard.

Deconstructing the Clubhouse

++ THE RETAILER’S VIEW
Here’s a thing I absolutely forgot to tell everyone: my latest retailer column for Comics Beat is up, and features a guest co-author – my lovely wife, Danica LeBlanc.

The article itself is slightly modified from a talk that we gave at an event quite a few week’s back. We called it Deconstructing the Clubhouse, and talked about how exclusionary walls were built around the comic book industry and how important it is to be mindful towards breaking those walls down. I’m really proud of what we put together, and I hope that you enjoy it to.

You can read it here.

Howard the Duck #1

++ COMICS RECOMMENDATION
HOWARD THE DUCK #1 // Out on Wednesday. We live in a world where there isn’t just a Howard the Duck ongoing book, but it is one of the funniest, most heartfelt books on the stands. While this issue picks up on the some of the threads and relationships formed in the previous volume of the title, the story functions beautifully on its own, taking you on a fun adventure while it builds in bits of mystery and tension. Then, there’s the Gwenpool back up story that… that really defies explanation. Just accept that the character exists (for reasons?) and strap in, because it’s a fun ride.

++ AFTERMATH
Yesterday I talked a bit about a some recent problems within comics journalism. Well, Heidi MacDonald has a great wrap up of the weekend’s events that goes a long way towards saying what really needs to be said.

++ STAY TUNED
Tomorrow is new comic book day, so I’m spending the night getting Yegs & Bacon ready, as well as reading some more number ones before the doors open at Variant Edition tomorrow. I can’t stress how important it is for a retailer to have a solid grasp on the stock that they carry. It’s infinitely more easy to connect products to people when you know the flavour of the contents.

Until next time…

Ethically Questionable

In which there will be much bellowing about the things that are happening.

++ EPHEMERA
I’m shamelessly pulling the style sheet of Warren Ellis’ great Orbital Operations newsletter for updates, because as always, Ellis knows how best to send out communications from dark hovels where no one can actually see or touch him.

Ellis’ life is a life goal – the ability to do projects and growl at humanity from hovels while generally being beloved. I am not doing the man justice in this description, but digging into the man would be a considerable post in and of itself.

burning-bridge

++ COMICS
This weekend had me thinking a lot about comics journalism and my place in the grist mill. As it stands, I do work for Comics Beat, and gladly so. It doesn’t pay, but that’s pretty much what I signed up for: a platform and the ability to retain the rights to all work produced, which suits my current purposes. For many people, that would not be ideal of feasible, and so the delicate dance of being a journalist in this industry, and finding sources of revenue begins. The biggest problem? Most of the money you’ll see comes either directly, or indirectly from publishers of comics. You can see where this might get a bit sticky ethically?

I feel a little sick about this phrasing, but ethics in comics journalism came up again this weekend when Hannah Means Shannon was announced as a new editor at Dark Horse Comics. Means Shannon used to be the editor-in-chief at a comics “journalism” site that I’m not naming here, lest the head honcho appear like a shitty vanity searching horror goblin, and through that outlet, may have participated in some slightly shady reporting. The Outhouse (the charmingly named site taking point on a lot of the back and forth) has a solid timeline of events listed at the end of this article, complete with a look at some leaked correspondence  that was released by the same party I refuse to name.

A lot of the side-discussion of this issue has many in the industry rolling their eyes as they talk in circles about the ways that comics journalism bathes in this kind of ethically questionable substance as though its occurrence makes it okay. I’m not exactly sure where I fall on this spectrum, but I do know that I’m bothered by the whole thing. I mean, is it really okay for comic companies to hold access and exclusives over various sites in exchange for puff? The site views and ad revenue will say yes, but my heart will always say no. Where does one draw the lines in this industry between love, integrity and money? At the end of the day, that’s something each of us has to come to terms with on our own. Honestly, I doubt the industry will ever change, but at the very least, the people inside of it can, and hopefully find what works best for them, whatever that means to any given person.

For my part, I’m considering a few different reactions to this. One of them might be a writing project. We’ll see if the time produces itself.

Seen & Heard in Edmonton

++ PODCASTS
This weekend, both Danica and I were featured on Karen Unland’s wonderful Seen and Heard in Edmonton podcast. The audio was recorded at the very first Edmonton Podcast Meet-Up that was held at Variant Edition, and despite having quite a few podcasts under our belts, we were still really nervous. You can almost definitely hear that in the audio. But hey, if you want to hear us talk about content creation and what that might mean for a business or community, definitely check it out.

++ SOMETHING DIFFERENT
The wonderful and effervescent Devin R. Bruce has another instalment of his regular This Column Has Seven Days column up at Variant Edition’s Something Different blog – this time talking about two different forms of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice, amoung other things. 7 Days is always one of the pop culture highlights of my week as Devin routinely introduces me to amazing new things. I highly recommend you check it out.

++ STAY TUNED 

  • My plan to create 50,000 words worth of content will continue to run through the first… third? Of November before collapsing completely, so keep an eye out for that.
  • On Wednesday, I hope to be starting something quite exciting that will become even bigger in the new year. Hopefully. I’m going to need a lot of help to pull this off, but that’s kind of baked into the design. So let’s see if I can’t start that up sooner rather than later. More to come.

Week One

As of this writing, Danica and I still don’t have the internet at home, which is… strange. I never realized just how connected I had become to things until I was forced to disconnect and to be honest with you, I kind of like it. For whatever reason, I seem to lack the willpower to stay on task when a roadblock pops up, and my brain says take a break and deal with this problem after checking Twitter. The problem being, Twitter usually sends me off running on a million different other things, and when I get back to what I was supposed to be writing, the old problem remains unchanged. Which is fun. So I dunno. I’ll be happy when the internet happens because it’s a little hard getting things posted when you can’t… you know… get the access to post things, but at the same time, it’s giving me a nice clear space to get things done.

What I need is something that’ll keep me on task, more or less. Something that blocks the internet from my computer for certain amounts of time maybe. There’s probably something out there like that. It’s probably just a google away, but uh… yeah. No internet.

Anyway. Today marks the end of the first week of this season of content. I’m really proud of everything that I’ve worked on so far. What’s more, people seem to really be responding to the stuff that’s getting out there, so we must be doing something right. And hey, with any luck, a lot of this will help the shop bump up to being voted the best in Edmonton by next year.

I suppose a guy can dream.

MEANWHILE…

Yesterday I started one of the more ambitious projects for the Something Different blog: Brandon vs. The Clone Saga. It’s almost exactly what it sounds like – a piece by piece look at the sprawling (and notorious) Spider-Man epic. I’m starting with the original Clone Saga from the 90s, and going straight through to the end of the Ben Reilly era of Spider-Man. If all of that sounds like nonsense to you, don’t worry – I’ll make it all make sense. Or at least as much as I can. 90s superhero comics are one hell of a drug.

STAY TUNED…

And that’s a wrap on the first week of the season – but the next few days should be pretty active. The Edmonton Expo  starts today, and I’ll be moderating three panels on three different days – and potentially doing a small tour of duty around the con floor. (Though probably not on Saturday. I’m… not great with crowds.)

Then on Monday, Variant Edition is presenting an Indigenous Representation in Pop Culture panel, which should be really great. And then there’s next weekend’s Community Geek Swap and 24 Hour Comics Day, and all the regular content you’ve come to know and love. Because hey, why not. We’ll see how the content survives through all of that. At the very least, there should be some decent recaps in store.

That does it for me until Monday. We’ll talk then!

The Wednesday Crowd

When this goes up, it’s Wednesday, and I’ll be in the middle of new comic book day at the store. I always love new comic book day, because it gives me the chance to see some of my favourite people once a week, nearly every week.

In our spare time, Danica and I have been listening to this podcast about a comic store in the states that closed down after decades of serving a community. The stories they tell in this podcast are somewhat harrowing and perfectly describe society’s platonic ideal of an unfriendly, unkempt shop. When we listen, we’re generally flabbergasted at things like how there are sections of the store that are completely inaccessible (the dusty manga section) or the plethora of verbally abusive signs that roam free in the aisles – but despite this, I’ve come to recognize something that’s universal in terms of running a comic store, and that’s the strange sense of family that develops between yourself, and the customers.

If you’re running things well, a lot of your customers pop up frequently, many of them appearing each and every week to pick up a new batch of comics. These people quickly become part of your life. More often than not, I see many of our customers more often than people I would consider to be very close friends. I certainly see them more than I do any member of my family (other than my wife and the cats). These are people who, no matter what age you met them at, grow with you through the years. They find companionship. The break up. They buy houses, change jobs, get kids, or dogs, or cats, or hedgehogs. They tell you stories about their life, or… well, or they don’t, but you still see them each and every week, and you still smile at each other and recognize your mutual appreciation for each other and comics and the culture that you share in together.

It’s a great feeling, having this strange sense of place and family, and Wednesday is always the peak of that. New comic book day. As always, if you’re in the area, I’d love to see you at the store – even just to say hi. Especially, just to say hi. As wonderful as the shop can be, it’s also a black hole of time and energy, and it’s seeing everyone walking through those doors that make it all worth while.

MEANWHILE…

It’s been quite the week already, hasn’t it? I promised content, didn’t I? Again, we’ll see if this carries on through to the end of the intended thirteen weeks, but whatever.

Yesterday was kind of huge. In the Variant Edition Regularity (which you can subscribe to here) we announced the store’s next two Gender Is Not A Genre events. The first, is a generational panel of women from different backgrounds talking about their experiences with pop culture and genre in a male dominated society. We’re holding that one on October 10th at 7pm, and will be announcing the participants over the next few days. The second, is a Skype interview and signing with the one and only Kelly Sue DeConnick that will be taking place on November 15th at 4pm.We’ll be providing details about how you can get books signed by Kelly Sue when we have all the shipping details locked down.

In addition to that, Danica wrote up a fantastic organizational post over at the Something Different blog as we all prepare to declutter in advance of our first big Community Geek Swap on October 3rd.

And finally, this coming Monday is the big Indigenous Representation in Pop Culture Panel with Richard Van Camp, Patti Laboucane-Benson, Kelly Mellings and James Leask, and in preparation for that, we running content all week at the Something Different blog, hopefully offering some insight into some of the issues that will be discussed. First up, is a whole batch of articles by panelist James Leask.

STAY TUNED…

Today, there should be a new episode of Yegs & Bacon going up that we’ll link to in tomorrow’s round-up – possibly alongside a fresh episode of Podcast! The Comics! And tomorrow, a new Doctor Whooch arrives, and we’ll be talking about the first episode of Series 9, and our livers scream in agony.

Also? More big news that I can’t even hint at, but we’ll be screaming it all around the internet in just a few hours. Just you wait.

Brandon @ The Edmonton Expo

A lot of people have been asking about whether or not Variant Edition will be at this year’s Edmonton Expo – and the answer to that is… no. And sort of.

While the store does not have a booth at the show this year, I will be at the show all three days, walking the floor a little, and acting as moderator for a few of the panels. Here’s where you’ll be able to find me (and some amazing guests):

OG-Xmen

Panel: Spotlight on Marcus To
Date & Time: Friday 3:45pm
Room: 109
Description: Now in Toronto but originally from Red Deer, Marcus is known for his work on Batwing, Red Robin, Huntress and Soulfire. Come meet another Albertan success story and share in his experiences!

STK655750

Panel: Spotlight on Ivan Brandon
Date & Time: Saturday 1:00pm
Room: 108
Description: Known for his work on titles such as DC’s Final Crisis Aftermath: Escape and Kobra and Marvel’s Secret Invasion and Men of War. He is also the co-creator of Image’s Viking, Drifter,  and the creator and producer of the Eisner-nominated anthology series 24Seven.

tmnt

Panel: Portfolio Review with Robert Atkins
Date & Time: Sunday 1330
Room: 107
Description: Ever wonder what to include in your portfolio when applying for professional comic work? Join Robert Atkins, a penciler, inker, and colourist within the comic industry, for a Portfolio Review panel that will discuss what to include and why.

All of these are going to be a lot of fun, and I can’t wait to talk with these great creators and about their works, and the process of making comics.

The Retailer’s View // DC Youoops

Last week over at Comics Beat, I wrote about DC’s recent DC You initiative, and how their current marketing structure failed the books that were coming out. Then DC went and announced the cancellation of a significant chunk of their line with their December solicitaitions. So that was fun.

Here’s a bit from my retail article:

Now that the company is attempting to push outwards from its formerly narrow viewpoint, it is essential that they learn how to market accordingly. Having lost a good source of implied retail vocabulary in Bob Wayne, they are attempting to do without any style or verve. What retailers need to see – especially in terms of their line outside of their mainstay superheroes like Batman and Wonder Woman (and hell, sometimes even Wonder Woman) – is a projection of confidence from the company, whether that’s implied by the incentive structure, or by the language they use to solicit the books, and a perceived interest from their readership, which can be done by mobilizing social media buzz and doing sustained pushes during final order cut-off weeks. Some companies are particularly good at providing previews of their upcoming books during the FOC period, alongside promotion from the creative team and editorial. DC doesn’t quite have a handle on that, as evidenced by the haphazard way they scheduled the 8 page previews of all of their DC You titles in May. Very few of those (if any) lined up with the book’s actual final order cut off date, so retailers weren’t hearing whispers of excitement right before they adjusted their numbers. What’s more to the point, all of these previews were consistently released in a chunk, instead of staggered out over a several hours and days – which would have provided the company with sustained and building noise across a longer period of time, instead of a jumble of noise created all at once.

What’s really interesting about all of this is the fact that it sets up a very interesting January for the company. With a bunch of DC You mini-series wrapping in November, and quite a few books dropping off the schedule in December, the decks are clearing – and not matter what happens in January, it will essentially be a statement on where the company will head next. There’s definitely an article in that line of thought, so more on that in the next few days…

Morning

Spending some time before the drive to work doing something other than endlessly scrolling through social media feeds. I’m afraid I’ve become a bit of an addict, and that’s one of the prime reasons why my productivity is far lower than I would like. I could blame it all on work, but I should be accounting for my downtime as well.

Cloudy out today, which should be good for a bit of reflection. I’m staring at a stack of unread comics, and man, some week sits just the most daunting thing. I love the medium, and I always will, but my capacity for intake seems to be narrowing. I still check out as much as I can each week, but I find hate volume is getting to be a bit much – and with comic companies continuing to ramp up production on volume, that doesn’t look like it will end any time soon. Over the next week, I’ll be adding more subscription titles to the Variant Edition website. Last month there were roughly 80 new selections. This month looks like more of the same.

What I really want to do is take a day or two off just to decompress and read some comics on my own terms. I want to read this week’s issue of Island and write that article about its format that has been stewing in my brain for a full month now. I want to catch up with Copra and see what madness Michel Fiffe is dropping on everyone now. So much to do and… Let’s face it, lots of time to get it all done in. I just need to buckle down and stop mindlessly floating through tweets.

More to come.

Briefly // Secret Wars: Secret Love #1

Submet is now my home for capsulized thoughts on the comics and the comics industry – because you really shouldn’t post things like this on your comic shop’s blog. A warning: these are random and typed in a flurry between working, eating, and passing out. So. Yay.

Secret Wars Secret Love

Marvel has put out a lot of anthology content during it’s big Secret Wars event – and while usually this format leaves me cold, they have been using the format and the event to push through amazing stories from amazing creators that many people wouldn’t have read otherwise.

The issue starts off with a decidedly indie vibe with Copra creator Michel Fiffe providing words and art for a Daredevil story – and while Marvel has been pushing the boundaries in terms of their house art style, this probably wouldn’t have made it into an ongoing without a minor riot from the more traditional core audience. This story is paired up with some other brilliant selections such as a Kamala Khan/Robbie Reyes story that ends in a surprising and awesome way, and a Misty Knight and Iron Fist yarn from Princeless creator Jeremy Whitley (with the very talented Gurihiru on art). The series ends with a very cute Ant-Man story from Katie Cook, but not before Marguerite Bennett and Kris Anka deliver the unbeatable Squirrel Girl Wins A Date With Thor.

It’s a beautiful, strange mix that I think a lot of people out there will enjoy. It’s about a hair away from what I think will be the future of the printed serialized comic… but more on that another day.