Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Jazz Singer

Last night I saw The Jazz Singer for the first time. That's right, the first talkie, at least for the general public and feature length. An interesting movie. Not sure where I'd gotten the impression that they did the "follow the bouncing ball" thing in it. (They don't.) There is blackface, though.

The movie was shown as part of a class but open to general viewing. The professor started off warning about the pacing of silent films since this is still largely in the mode of a silent film except for the singing interludes. I've only seen a few silent films, but somehow I'd never noticed bad pacing in them. It just never bothered me to have to stop and read half the dialog while the other half remained only mimed. Yes, even the 5th time through that movie about how Juliet Gordon Lowe started the Girl Scouts. (It's fun backwards, too.)

The Jazz Singer is more than just the first talkie. It is primarily about the life of a man, the son of immigrants, torn between the traditions he is brought up in and expected to continue and the opportunities that abound in the new world. With a father who refuses to understand the boy's hopes and dreams and a mother who gives what little support she can, the semi-autobiographical film tells a tale of conflicting emotions and responsibilities of old and new worlds that lead to the climax.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

To allow downloads or not to allow downloads?

The whole downloading issue is a tricky question. CBS and Viacom were the same company two years ago, now they come down on somewhat different sides of the issue. CBS wants to use YouTube to gain exposure for its programs, Viacom wants to sue YouTube for the exposure the users insist on giving its programs. Which one is right? It probably depends on where you are standing at the moment and how far into the future you look. My first thought about the whole Viacom suing Google thing is actually that it's scary that between an entertainment giant and a search engine, the first is the underdog.

Anyway, one man asks downloaders to please buy his comic instead. Now I've seen a few of those downloader types since I've been known to hang out in a manga scanlation channel on IRC. There are a lot of different kinds of downloaders. The music business thinks of every downloader as lost revenue but the rest who can look at it more completely notice that there's a give and take.

I see people who download comics because they are very expensive for them. Some of these are people who actually can afford their habit, they just can't quite get their head around what their own priorities are and may actually represent lost revenue. Some of them have a genuine case about the worth of a product and what they actually pay for it. At least one has to face that the peso just isn't that strong against the dollar and shipping just isn't cheap so the real cost of a comic is more like four times what it says on the cover. Apparently there's a whole world out there.

I see people who download because they compulsively collect. They have gigs and gigs of stuff they'll never read but it was there and they grabbed it. This is not lost revenue. But they do read some of it and have been known to buy it when they like it. This is revenue gained.

I see people who want to try it out first. They heard of something new and are interested but want to know more. Some would have brought it to try, but I doubt this is a significant number. Mostly, to get something into these hands it has to be free. And mostly they won't be interested enough to buy it, but sometimes they are. This is more revenue gained.

I see people who think it's their right to be able to download everything under the sun. They like to insult people allowing downloads if they know the provider has something they want but won't give it to them. They don't see a difference between what can be purchased around the corner and what can be purchased from overseas and can't even be read in that form. (Both are illegal to download.) They get kick/banned when they express their "rights". They may or may not be lost revenue.

Mostly I see the guy who downloads because it's in English rather than "scribbles". Just the nature of the beast.

I have been known to download a few things. Even stuff originally in English. It has generally lead to me buying stuff. Ultimately the fact that I buy any comics at all can be traced back to a subbed copy of Tenchi's Universe episode 5 on Usenet. Later viewings of a few dubbed episodes show it was lucky it was subbed because Tenchi is just annoying dubbed. This episode finally got me to look at anime, which was mostly downloaded. Now I buy anime. The anime lead to manga. The manga got licensed, so I went to the shop to buy it too. I went ahead and looked at the Batman on the way past to the manga, an action helped on by seeing (and being quite impressed by) the animated series (watched for the price of seeing ads) and the first movie from the early 1990s. I finally read my sister's Sandman volumes and noticed maybe there's more than Batman on those shelves. There's a fair bit of gained revenue there.

Meanwhile poor Tenchi's Universe, the catalyst, has gotten no love. I've never bought any of it. I actually haven't even seen more than a few episodes.

Most downloads don't lead to anything, especially not as much as that one particular download. But a few do. I have all of Pretear which was originally downloaded. There was some disappointment that the editing by the fans was higher quality than that by the company making money from it. I never actually read my downloaded Monster, the result of reading and loving 20th Century Boys (downloaded), because I found out soon after it was licensed and would be out in October. Which turned out to be February over a year later, but I waited all the same. The list goes on.

Sometimes I've watched the anime but purchased the manga. I don't think it's ever gone the other way. Sometimes the artist or writer will catch my attention more than the actual piece I am reading, so I go searching for (and buy) other things that that artist or writer has done. In these cases someone benefited, but not the people on the exact thing that was downloaded.

There probably is no right answer.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Award winning

No, not me. I'm still talking to a vacuum although one or two footsteps have been left to say otherwise. One of those footsteps mentioned I was poo-pooing an award winning series. An Eisner Award winner, in fact, which does seem to be considered the most prestigious one around for comics. Okay, he actually mentioned Hall-of-Fame, but I'm about to go on about awards.

I don't actually put much stock in being "award winning" in that I don't look at it as much higher than just being nominated for the award. The usual lip service is, "It's an honor just to be nominated!" Well, here's why that may actually be true.

Those few times I've taken the time to look at the pool of nominations (and this event has not happened a statistically significant number of times), I have found that about half of them were genuinely interesting to me. The rest I could take or leave. A few I'd even prefer to leave. When the actual award comes around, as often as not it comes from the part of the pool I don't care so much about.

Let's face it, if you're giving an award to a comic (book, movie, pinwheel) and you're looking at a pool of six of which three are fairly evenly matched and universally appealing, those three will get a large number of votes that are split fairly evenly over them. If one of the others is very appealing to some small group, it may well have more votes and win the award.

Winning isn't everything but getting the nomination shows it may be worth looking at. However, tastes differ and it may be worth putting down after looking at it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Batman and The Spirit

I recently found myself in the position to read the recent "floppy" where Batman meets The Spirit. As one ignorant of so much of comics, I can only assume by the tone of this that usually these two live in totally different worlds making their meeting very unusual. So, of course, it's a gimmick. It's out to launch the new series of The Spirit with maybe a little help from newly introduced Batman fans, and there really are a lot of Batman fans. Also Loeb fans since a lot of the Batman fans who read nothing else have read the books by Tim Sale and Jeph Loeb.

So as one of the intended audience, I've got to say it's a sensible thing to try to introduce Batman fans to The Spirit. We like Batman because he's only human, but also because he's the Detective. He's thinking about the clues and anticipating. We may like him dark, but we're still not ready for the total antihero and we like the strict moral code as well. He's just sweeping the streets, someone else has to be judge and jury.

As such, The Spirit is also our kind of hero. We see he's out of a detecting tradition as well. He's only human, indeed more of an everyman than the eccentric billionaire. An all around good guy. The issue really makes a lot of effort to point out the parallels between the two heroes. It should be enough to get a few of my fellow only Batman fans to look at more, if we ever get to looking past the books of collected issues to the actual issues, although The Spirit doesn't really get any characterization in this one and the Batman we know, of course, has a lot of character.

It does end on the wrong foot for me, but I think most people aren't maniac anti-superman weirdos like I am. Not even among the only Batman crowd.

Meanwhile Darwyn Cooke's art... the man knows how to draw. I want to see more of that man's work. The man really knows how to draw. Most people probably already knew that since he's been showing off that talent for years.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Wanted for publishing with intent to be scarce.

Every once in a while I wonder what it would take to own a copy of Project: Telstar, an award winning anthology from AdHouse Books (and including some work by Joel Priddy). Right now it looks like $90 can get you this $17 book, but if that falls through there's a couple more at $400. This just leads me to wonder why AdHouse does these with the intent of only publishing a few. I wonder who it is supposed to benefit. This book isn't expensive at the cover price with nearly 200 pages and fancy inks.

Following Project: Telstar, there has been Project: Superior (sold out) and Project: Romantic (available, for now). So who does it benefit that these are scarce? Near as I can tell, it doesn't benefit the artists who did the work or the publisher who took the chance. As the price of the books goes up, they're getting nothing from it. Only collectors are making money and that just doesn't seem like the people who should be benefiting. But then I buy a book to sit on the couch with it and read it, not to keep it in a special bag for five years when the publisher has decided not to print more and sell it off for as high as some poor buyer might go.

Perhaps it was to drive the collectible status of the later ones? Each comes in a limited edition hardcover version as well (like the paperbacks aren't limited) and the numbers on those have been going up. Only 100 for Telstar, 200 for Superior, 500 for Romantic were printed. And those of us who are too late wanting the robot one are just out of luck.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

300 is out

The Beat would seem to be trying to convince me (not personally, just as part of the audience) to go see 300 for the beefcake. I'm not going to go see 300 just for beefcake. Of which there is a lot. Wow, look at all those leather loin cloth clad fellows just rippling with muscles... Where was I?

Oh, yes. I'm not going to go see a movie just to see beefcake.

Dead at #25

The LA Times had a very nice guest editorial about Captain America on Friday that I want to share. It's a very cool summary of the history of the character and how the history of the country (back when it was the news) has shaped this character.

Is Marvel really saying that the USA has died? Are they right? Maybe, but there's probably still time for us to redeem ourselves and remember that war is not, in fact, peace and far reaching breaches of civil liberties are not the actions of freedom lovers. But read the editorial, it's much better.

LA Times funny pages

The LA Times has, um, enhanced the Kid's Reading Room by cutting it from the Monday-Friday pages and making it Sunday only. But Sunday is expanded! It's enhanced!

Of course, this page used to be the third page with comics, ones that kids (and a few adults) can relate to. Now I didn't have a Kid's Reading Room when I was little, but it did have six of the comics that kids tend to cut their teeth on and it did have something more for when they felt ready to read something longer. The jokes were dreadful, of course. All the same ones that we told on the playground, but they were sent in by kids who had just learned of this glorious new pun and wanted to share it. Sometimes it is fun to remember when the joke wasn't quite so familiar.

Now, in reducing this once fabled comics section just a little bit more, a couple comics had to go. One choice wasn't well made so one has already returned, but the rest would seem to be gone and they weren't really the bottom of the barrel for the most part. Missing: Heathcliff, Mr. Boffo, Mallard Fillmore, Candorville, and the empty space resulting from not shrinking Doonesbury. Returned: La Cucaracha. I'll allow the empty space, but Candorville?

I do have to praise the removal of Mallard Fillmore, though. No longer will I be subjected to, "This bit of conventional wisdom you suspect is true has been shown to be true! (* USA Today article! [A rag of note!]) Now don't you feel stupid, liberal scum?" I'm not sure that I'm the one who should feel stupid for repeatedly trying to challenge liberal world views and failing. But the rest of them it is sad to see go. I often wondered what conservatives (well, Republicans, more like) had done to deserve being represented by this one. At least there was (and still is) the great Prickly City to redeem it a little. Both came on in an effort to balance of the comics page, so even this removal can be questioned.

The comics page should be returned to its former glory when one could spread it out on the table and see nothing but comics and still have more comics to read! It's still a long way to the NY Times' idea of a comics page. Slippery slope and all that. It's getting hard to be a print newspaper.

Friday, March 09, 2007

An Evil Kitty Dream

Where does he find these things? Over on YACB, the list of new books includes one called An Evil Kitty Dream by "Veronica". Being an evil kitty (a tautology, to be sure), I want to know more about it but all Google tells me is that it's a new library acquisition according to YACB.

He's also got hold of Shades of Gray Comics and Stories: Black & White Life by Jimmy Gownley. Which could be good. Many people are willing to say it is and some of them I agree with some of the time. It's a slice of life of teens growing up. So it could be good, or I could have grown too old and cynical which can become a problem when reading slice of (young) life. Not to say that I don't have a lot of room to grow even more old and cynical.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

taste warning

Word of warning about my picks: the company that lives by my taste barely gets by, at best. Apparently my taste is often eccentric. But I'll make picks anyway.

Jing, King of Bandits is still one of the best books Tokyopop has ever picked up. Not that they can be bothered to publish the last one of the second series. See? My tastes are odd.

Free Comic Book Day picks

Did I mention Free Comic Book Day was on May 5th? Okay then.

Well, their site also has summaries and artwork of the various comics. So I gotta look through it and figure out what I think I want to pick up.

Gold level sponsors:

Well, there's Bongo. Can one go wrong with Matt Groening? Perhaps, but I do own a couple Life in Hell collections.

Umbrella Academy/Zero Killer/Pantheon City: Interesting cover art. Sure, it's free.

Other than that, Disney stuff leaves me thinking "blah". I picked up the transformers a couple years back, boring. Tokyopop has always known how to make even stuff I already like sound uninteresting. Maybe the Legion of Super-heros in the 31st Century #1 can trump my dislike for these groups with my like for all things time travel. Besides, not all groups are bad.

Silver level sponsors:

There's no AdHouse offering, so no Priddy this year. I can continue to kick myself for not picking up that book three years ago with the stick figures on it, though.

Although the promise of "FCBD-only" stuff in Pirates vs. Ninjas doesn't sound the least bit attractive, Ape Entertainment's promise of "six new, all-original short stories" does. Why? Self containment. But that doesn't get you hooked on buying the next book like the first is trying to get you to do. If one or two of them is half as good as Priddy (and has a book out!) that won't mater, though. Arcana Studio's offering is also somewhat interesting, but somehow I start to wonder if there's a lot of women drawn for ogling older teen boys with the way they talk about it.

Something about Hunter's Moon/Salvador makes me want to pick it up in spite of the copy on it.

Family Guy/ Hack/Slash? Sure, maybe.

Lynda Berry Extravaganza... I used to read these in the Independent each week in high school and I remember quite liking some of them and kind of liking most. For a few years of college, I didn't flip through the Independent at all so didn't get her thing (or Life in Hell). Then I looked at it again and didn't like it at all.

Unseen Peanuts also leads to mixed feelings. I remember reading this comic first of the ones in the paper. I was five at the time and I also remember slowly learning letters at something like one a week so I'm not sure how I would have read it, but the memory does get hazy that long back. But since then I moved on from Peanuts. Not because it was so important to an English teacher I had in 5th and 6th grade (and couldn't stand) that he'd have a regular "radio show" for class that included reading out the day's Peanuts, although that couldn't have helped, I had already moved on even then. There was Outland to read.

First Second is offering The Train was Bang On Time and I've been hearing so much about how they're such a great publisher that I'm willing to try it out. Even though it's a preview of something bigger and not self contained.

The blurb for Comics Festival! is dropping some names that should be looked at if you haven't and I haven't yet.

Whiteout has been getting a lot of hype but none of it has triggered any of my interest yet.

Amelia Rules, Owly, and Buzzboy have all been around before and I've seen them and they were "blah". Which doesn't keep people from raving about the first two.

Now, Virgin Comics is a rather unique publisher, so their sampler might be quite interesting. And everyone loves Alex Ross cover art, even if he is a self admitted Superman fan.

I would definitely leave off the "how to draw" things. And there's what looks like a dreadful vampire thing. Viper Comics might have something interesting, but I'm not feeling it. Something called Wahoo Morris lists off some good company they'd like to keep, but who knows if they do. And there's various samplers of a page or two from a seemingly endless number of creators that one thinks could be interesting but never are. And still more things... too many.

Free Comic Book Day

Free Comic Book Day is coming on May 5th again this year.

I have been known to wonder if Diamond picked up the tab on the shipping of the "free" comics. They are getting something out of it too if it leads to more comic sales overall so they ought to share in the burden. Now, thanks to, I know a bit more about the workings of the day than ever before though not the answer to this question. One comment states that they do pick up the tab, another states that Diamond literature advises "vendors are to charge print cost plus 3 cents (Diamond’s distro fee)", which would imply that they don't. And more.

Okay, I had always just figured the retailer was also getting the books for free except for the question of shipping. It's naive, I know. Think about it a little and it makes sense that the retailer pays something for the comics too. Everyone is getting advertising to move a product. The publishers show off what they think will hook the readers on their stuff, Diamond gets money whatever is shipped, and retailers get to attract people into the store. It's only fair that everyone put a little into the pot since everyone gets something out of it. But the above implies that Diamond doesn't put any in and the publishers only pay for the product that doesn't get into stores. The retailer is given the bulk of the bill.

Well, supply and demand will still rule, even among the free comics. Books priced at $0.50 just won't get the same exposure as those at $0.20. Not unless the retailer sees value in that book bringing customers to the store later. There's a lot of talk about how much product the publisher moves being of interest in selecting a book. I suppose it's more true in comics that people will follow a specific publisher, but that's a downright iffy business in selecting a book. After AdHouse's offering last year it's "Joel Priddy" I'm looking for, not AdHouse although they all come from that company. From chats with the guy in the shop, others are too. Too bad there's not a lot of Priddy out there. Meanwhile, he does try to figure out what might also interest. (Too bad Priddy is so unique.)

This process of prompting a customer to come into the store and really look around can help out the store more than the publisher, so I guess the system isn't all bad. Also, the publisher can price it lower if they see fit and take on more of the burden of their own advertising if they wish to. According to some comments, the smart publisher is doing just that.

I do have yet another question, though. It seems that gold sponsors are ones the retailers are required to buy. (How many qualifies as buying?) While silver level sponsors are all optional. Yet both are priced the same way to the retailer. What are the gold lever sponsors doing to be given the special consideration?

Saturday, March 03, 2007

examining outside ourselves: Cargo

Not available from your local Amazon, this may be quite an interesting book. Cargo: Comic Journalism From Israel & Germany takes six artists, three each from Germany and Israel, and asks them to write about their impressions of being in the other country. Apparently the concept was to be complicated by historical tensions between the two countries, but this didn't come out much in the actual works. Instead there are different glimpses into these two areas of the world as seen by unconventional eyes. That sort of thing is usually quite interesting for the person whose own familiar surroundings are viewed by an outsider but can often be almost as interesting to the third party who will see various parallels and differences between their own culture and those presented on the page.

The book was published simultaneously in English and German. Here in the US it was solicited through Diamond about this time last year so although Amazon doesn't have it (they don't put up with that sort of thing?) your local comic shop will or can get it. A review of the book is here.