Four Talking Boxes 2167

I was a Marvel Comics kid. From the mid 1970s until the early 1980s I was all about the Marvel super heroes. In the early 1980s when George Perez started drawing the New Teen Titans I finally had a DC comic book that I liked too. But in the end I liked indie comics better. Pacific Comics, First Comics, Eclipse Comics, and lots of other small press comics. Even as a kid I liked Marvel’s weirdest, offbeat stuff best: Omega the Unknown, The Guardians of the Galaxy, The Defenders, Adam Warlock, and whatever other oddities they had made by talented people. That’s my taste. The creative out-there stuff.

By the time the mid-1980s rolled around I was in college and had pretty much gone all indie comics. I stopped buying all my long standing Marvel comics, Spider-Man, Hulk, X-Men, Avengers, and Defenders. I had hundred issue runs of those series that extended back to my childhood but I wasn’t interested in them anymore. I still bought plenty of comics but they were all indie books. Captain America was the last Marvel or DC comic that I kept buying. I bought that one well into the 1990s before the “Heroes Reborn” storyline made me give it up.

I may not have bought Marvel or DC comics regularly anymore but over the years I would check in with them and read some of their comics. I wasn’t a huge fan of the late 1980s-early 1990s Lee/Liefeld/McFarlane stuff but I checked some of it out. I also remember liking some late 1990s Avengers comics. When there was a creator I liked on a book I would give it a look. Or if I got nostalgic for a character, mostly Spider-Man or the Hulk, I would check that out too.

I did this all the way up until the early 2010s. That was period in which I was buying mostly collected editions. If I wanted to check out what was going on in the Marvel Universe I’d buy a collected volume of something. I read “Planet Hulk”, “Spider-Man: Brand New Day”, and “Spider-Man: Spider Island” that way. I thought they were all okay. But then I stopped. Over time I did get nostalgic and wanted to check things out but I didn’t. I haven’t bought any Marvel or DC comics in years. What happened? That’s the question I asked myself.

The answer I came up with is really a conjunction of three things. Especially as it relates to my childhood favorite Marvel Comics. The first part of the answer for me is that all the characters I grew up with are no longer themselves. They’ve all split into many versions of the same character. There are at least six different versions of Spider-Man, four different Hulks, five Wolverines, and a whole League of Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic of the Fantastic Four). No longer are any of the Marvel super heroes special. Each is just a face in the crowd. The last time I got nostalgic to read some Hulk I couldn’t even find a comic that starred the Hulk I wanted. I wasn’t nostalgic for a knock-off version of the Hulk so I just gave up on it.

I think different versions of popular characters is a natural extension of a company growing and becoming more corporate. In other words it’s hard to stop. By “More corporate” I mean that more mangers and money people are hired. People whose job it is to make money off of Marvel’s intellectual property. And they do their job.

One thing you have to understand about making comics is that no one knows what will sell. With experience you can make some guesses but no one really knows. All the creative people I’ve known in comics, from editors to letterers, have always tried to make the best comics that they can. But they’re not the ones who make the decisions on what comics get made. The money people do that job.

So imagine you’re a money person at Marvel Comics. It’s your job to make as much money as possible for Marvel. Spider-Man and the Avengers are your best selling comics. So what comics do you want to make? More Spider-Man and Avengers comics of course. You may not ultimately know what comics will sell and which won’t but you do know that Spider-Man will sell better than Quasar. So you green-light Spider-Man projects and red-light Quasar ones.

As I said before the creative people are trying their best to make good comics but their creativity exists in this context. If you’re creator and you’re pitching a project you know your chances are better with Spider-Man than with Quasar. And if you’re creating a new character basing that character on an already popular character increases your chances of approval. So inventing Spider-Girl is better for you than inventing Quarry-Girl.

Creating yet another Spider-Man knock-off annoys me because it makes the character less special in my eyes. It makes me less interested in Spider-Man when he’s one of a thousand Spider-Characters. And that’s not even an exaggeration. There was a Spider-Verse comic that had endless alternate world versions of Spider-Man. Ughhhh…

That leads us to the second thing on my list. Creative choices get more conservative. “More corporate” also means more people have to approve a project. When Stan Lee was running Marvel in the 1960s, as far as I’ve ever read, he only answered to the owner Martin Goodwin. So if he wanted to get a project done he had to convince one guy. If you’re a creator at Marvel these days how many people do you have to convince to go forward with a project? I’m not even sure but I bet it’s three or four. At least.

Successful creators in this context will learn what will get approved and what won’t. They’ll tailor their stuff towards that approval process. The stuff that gets through this process easiest is the stuff just like other successful stuff. Hence we get six Spideys, six Hulks, six Wolverines, and so on. Every popular hero these days has a superhero “Family.” Creative choices get narrower. Instead of new and creative projects we get more of the same. We get variations on a theme. We get Batman and the Joker in a dozen different time periods and a dozen different alternate realities. That is the exact type of stuff I’m not interested in.

The third thing on my list is a simple one. The number on the comic book. The issue number that was on a comic was my last tenuous link to the comics I read in my youth. I collected The Amazing Spider-Man from about issues 165 until 265. So if I saw issue 467 at least it had a context for me. But over the years Marvel and DC have relaunched and renumbered all their comics. The number on the front means nothing to me anymore. That last connection is gone. So now if I want to check out the latest issues of The Amazing Spider-Man it doesn’t really exist for me. Instead it’s the latest edition of some other Spider-Man series. They don’t even bother to use volume numbers anymore.

Of course the worst thing for Marvel and DC is that I don’t even care. I can’t even be bothered to nostalgia read anymore. But lucky for me there are plenty of other good comics out there that I can buy. And I do.

I’m back from the comic shop this week and I got six new comics.

  • Empowered and Sistah Spooky’s High School Hell – 4 (of 6)
  • The Highest House – 3
  • Lazarus – 27
  • Mage: The Hero Denied – 8
  • Usagi Yojimbo – 167
  • Encounter – 2
  • Check them all out here:

    I’ve drawn a bunch of ink cards over the last few days. They are baseball card size (2.5×3.5 inch cards) drawings that I make spontaneously with ink and a brush. I made twenty four of them over three days and over the last three years I’ve made over three hundred ink cards. The odd thing is that I really don’t know what to do with them. They don’t have a place in my process as the small ink drawings in my ink book do or a place in my “Drifting and Dreaming” comic strip as my regular art cards do.

    I draw my ink cards in two different ways. One way is with my busted brush technique. That’s when I use a brush that is old and doesn’t come to a point anymore. The brush spreads out and has four or five points on it. That makes it hard to control but that’s the point of using it: to work in ink with a brush that’s hard to control is to give up the idea of making a perfect drawing. Of course I try to control the outcome of the drawing the best I can but it’s not like using a pencil and an eraser. I have to make the best of what marks I make. It’s a good way to loosen up my drawing and discover new ways to make images.

    The second way is with a regular pointed brush. When I do this I tend to hold the brush straight up and down. That’s how Chinese calligraphy is done and if you ever have seen video of Eastern brush masters it’s amazing to see. I’m not quite that good. I usually hold the brush more horizontal and pull it across the page. That’s the European way. That’s how I make thick to thin lines but that’s not what I’m looking for with these ink cards.

    It’s funny but I often have a tougher time making these cards when I use a good brush. With the busted brush I accept that things can be out of control and try hard to adapt to that. With the good brush I have to stop and think what kind of mark I want to make. That’s what I have to get over. That stopping makes me hesitate and I don’t want that. Usually the drawing that fail are the ones I do with the good brush. I make a few marks, try to make a decision, end up painting myself into a corner. Oh well, they’re small and I can start over.

    One of the things about drawing this way, in a spontaneous style, is that you have to make a lot of drawings in order to get some good ones. Since the goal is not “To make a good drawing” but is “To make a drawing of a new image that I may no be able to consciously think of” good drawings don’t always happen. Out of the twenty four drawings I made, I’d say, that four of them are real winners. It’s not that the other twenty are terrible but they only succeed in part. It takes the ability to deal with frustration to draw this way.

    It also always takes longer than I think it will to make a bunch of these drawings. Any individual drawing might only take ten minutes to draw but as a whole I can only get a few of them an hour done. That’s because things don’t always go my way and I often have to slow myself down and concentrate. It actually might be more like finding a place between concentration and distraction. It takes a mindlessness that’s hard to achieve. I have to concentrate on clearing my mind so I can try to draw with few preconceived notions and pull images out of the back of my mind.

    Though I end up with many different types of images on these cards I can break them down into a few different categories. The first is tiny little full figures. I can do these with either the good brush or the busted brush. I draw a person or persons from head to toe and they’re usually an inch or two high. I also like to draw an environment around the figures. I’m torn as to which brush is better for this technique. I try to keep the figures loose and sketchy. Sometimes that’s easier with the busted brush but not always.

    The second type is the waist up figure. This makes the face a little bit bigger and is all about the head and arms gesture. Though I’ve made plenty of them with the good brush I think I prefer the busted brush for these. It’s a little more gestural and that’s what I need. I sometimes tighten up with the good brush and end up drawing like I was working in my ink book . That’s not what I want. With the busted brush I can keep things looser.

    The third type of drawing is the head and shoulders type. This one can be broken down into sections too. First is the monster heads. This is pure busted brush. I make my five by seven and ten by fifteen inch monster drawings with the busted brush so it naturally follows that I make these small drawings with it too. Lots of scratchy marks and crosshatching with the spread out bristles. The busted brush is good at scary drawing.

    Finally there is the non-scary head and shoulders type. They might still be a little weird and scary but they’re not monster faces. The good brush works for this type. The busted brush can work too but I tend to want to make monsters when that one is in my hand. It requires restraint to make a regular face with the busted brush so why not just grab the good one? So that’s what I end up doing.

    After I do the drawings I scan them into the computer in case I want to do something with them later. I still haven’t managed to turn one into a bigger drawing but maybe someday I’ll figure it out. Until then I’ll keep posting them on my Instagram and Twitter. What else am I going to do there?

    I’m back from the comic shop this week and I got three new comics.

  • The Beauty – 21
  • Deadly Class – 33
  • Eternal Empire – 8
  • Thanos Infinity Gauntlet: True Believers Edition
  • Check them all out here:

    Spring has arrived even if it did come with some snow this April. So now I’ll take some time to look back at some of the TV shows I’ve watched this winter. There seem to be a lot of them (thirty one!) but that’s because almost everything has a six to twelve episode season. That means every show is the equivalent of two or three old shows that had full 24 episode seasons. I usually watch about two hours a TV a day. From 9 PM until I go to bead at around 11 PM.

    Mindhunter – A ten episode Netflix show in its first season. It’s a historical piece set in the late 1970s about the first FBI agents to systematically interview serial killers in order to figure out how their minds work to help them catch other serial killers. It’s not quite a police procedural. It’s more like a show about the police figuring out their procedure. It’s good. I haven’t finished it yet.

    Love – A half hour Netflix comedy that I just discovered in its third, and last, ten episode season. It stars Gillian Jacobs from the show “Community” which is why it caught my eye. It’s a romantic comedy about the process of our two main characters falling in love. It tends to be a bit raunchy too so if that’s not your thing then you might not like it. It’s been my workout show this winter. I either ride the stationary bike or do my dumb bell exercises to it. Haven’t quite finished this one either.

    Santa Clarita Diet – Another ten episode Netflix show that I discovered just before its second season launched. It’s a comedy starring Tim Olyphant and Drew Barrymore as a married couple but then Barrymore gets turned into a zombie. Not a mindless zombie but she does have to eat people ignorer to survive. Hijinks ensue. I just started season two.

    Agents of SHIELD – It’s season five of this show already? Hard to believe. I may not be a fan of the Marvel movies but I’ve enjoyed this show. It’s changed it’s basic premise a few times and this season they even got thrown into a dystopian future for a while. I find it fun

    Runaways – Another Marvel show. I’s about a bunch of teenagers who find out their parents are super-villains. I read the comic this is based on back in the early 2000s and this is a loose adaptation. They didn’t even run away all season. It was okay but really more of a teen show.

    The Gifted – A third Marvel TV show. It’s based, sort of, on the X-Men. Once again it was just okay in my book. This was as much a family drama as a super hero show. It reminded me of an 80s family show with super powers. Eight is Enough with mutants.

    A.P. Bio – A new show starring Glenn Howerton from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” who is forced into a new job as a high school teacher. Much like his Sunny character his character here is not likable. So far it’s okay but not spectacular.

    Alone Together – A ten episode comedy about a twenty-something man and a twenty-something woman who are platonic friends just trying to get through life except they are losers and things don’t go their way. It’s kind of a weird gentle comedy. Chris Delia shows up in some episodes and he’s the funniest thing on the show. It has potential but it’s not there yet.

    The Mick – Another “Sunny” alumni, Kaitlin Olson, stars in the second season comedy about a streetwise woman who has to take care of her blue-blood niece and nephews. It’s a raunchy comedy that twists the “Family comedy” concept around and looks at it through a distorted looking glass. Funny stuff.

    LA to Vegas – A first season comedy about the people who take the weekend flight from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and the crew that serves them. ‘Y’know, “Cheers” on a plane. So far it’s okay.

    The Simpsons – I still watch this show every week. The “Banacek” episode was my favorite.

    The Last Man on Earth – The fourth season for this end of the world comedy. Zany humor that still works for me.

    Timeless – Brought back for a second season this time travel adventure show is kinda fun. It’s not afraid to change the past and therefor the show’s present which is rare for a time travel show. I dig it.

    Brooklyn Nine-Nine – Season five of this Andy Samberg comedy that was, at first, compared to “Barney Miller.” It’s still quick-witted and fun. The cast and writing are crisp and can all move fast. I like it.

    iZombie – This is another TV show based on a comic book. One from Vertigo/DC Comics. It’s in its fourth season and doesn’t follow the comic very closely. At first it was a police procedural and now that’s mixed up with living in a post-zombie city. I think this one might be growing a little bit stale. We’ll see.

    Scorpion – A goofy show about a team of geniuses who take on really hard tasks and solve crime. I’m not telling you it’s a great show but it’s amusing. Yeah, I surf the web a bit when this one in on.

    The Blacklist – Season five for this FBI special task force procedural. I guess it fits into the “Quirky Detective” genre that I like so much with the quirky detective being a criminal who is helping the FBI. I wasn’t into season one of this show but starting in season two I’ve been enjoying it.

    Man with a Plan – A middle-of-the-road sit-com starring Matt LeBlanc. I like him in it (I’m a “Friends” fan) plus Kevin Nealon is good too. Nothing special but likable and pretty well crafted.

    Superior Donuts – I wish this one was funnier. It’s on the bottom of the pile for me but I like the cast. It’s not the wittiest of shows but it has its moments. I do some web surfing during this one too.

    Lethal Weapon – A fun action police show in its second season. This one surprised me since I had no expectations for it. The two leads, Daymon Wayans and Clayne Crawford, are good in it. It has a nice action movie vibe to it.

    The Brave – A first season show about an elite team of soldiers who are sent to hot spots around the globate perform missions. I’d call this one an exciting action show.

    Seal Team – Another first season show about an elite team of soldiers who are sent to hot spots around the globate perform missions. I’d even get the plots of this and “The Brave” mixed up from week to week. But I also enjoy this one.

    Superstore – A third season sit-com about a bunch of people who work in a big box store. This show has always surprised me. It takes the mundane and makes it a bit witty. It’s two lead characters are fast talking and have good timing. All in all it’s a pretty solid sitcom.

    The Good Place – It was Kristen Bell and Ted Danson who originally got me interested in this show. After two twelve episode seasons it’s still a funny show. It takes place in the afterlife but is it heaven or is it hell? And does Kristen Bell even belong there? The show plays with these premises in funny and creative ways. Good stuff.

    The Big Bang Theory – Same as it ever was. You either like it or you don’t. I enjoy it. But I’ve always done a little bit of web surfing during this show.

    Supernatural – It’s season thirteen for this show and I’m still watching and enjoying it. What more can I say?

    Portlandia – This is the eighth and final ten episode season for this skit-based comedy about the crazy characters who live in Portland Washington. Sometimes it’s laugh out loud funny but most of the time it’s amusing. A fun bit of goofiness.

    Crazy Ex-Girlfriend – A zany hour long musical comedy. Not a show I ever expected to like but the lead in it, Rachel Bloom, is so good that it won me over. That and its crazy sense of humor.

    Comic Book Men – The show that most of my comic book friends have no interest in. But I like it. It may not be the wittiest show ever but I find it to be a bit of gentle fun.

    The Middle – The last season of this long running comedy. It’s as good as ever.

    Modern Family – Another long running comedy but this one is continuing for at least another season. They keep it fresh and I still like it.