This isn’t brand new, but worth reading if you’re into comics, web comics, and what either or both might become: Warren Ellis muses on an emerging aspect ratio for webcomics—one perhaps reminiscent of those weird old newspaper adventure strips.
I was in a diner the other day and picked up a printed newspaper. To be precise, I picked up the comics section. The thought that occurred to me was: Now this, here, is a fully dead format. But what fun, while it lived! The comics page! Shouldn’t there be some new-school version of this? Some webcomic aggregator that pulls a bunch of the best together and lays them out in a great big liquid wall to fit phones and tablets and big broad monitors alike? And pays a bit back to each creator?
It’s fun and strange to remember that drawing a syndicated newspaper comic strip used to be—no kidding—a path to riches. I mean, if you got your drawings in front of the right people at Universal Press Syndicate, and they liked it, and the salespeople pitched your strip and a bunch of papers picked it up… you had it made! I mean sure, you then had to draw a comic every day for the rest of your life. But even so. I drew a few editorial cartoons for MSU’s student paper, and I will admit to dreaming the dream of daily comics, and of syndication. I thought, very briefly, that there might be no life better than the life of, say, the guy who made Get Fuzzy.
Anyway: Why isn’t this a thing? Is it in fact a thing and I just haven’t seen it yet?
- Here is a mosaic of every issue of The Avengers ever, assembled by Jer Thorp. (You must click through to the full-size view. You must.)
- Here is timeline of the first appearance of every Avenger. It’s like you see the Big Bang, and then the cosmos cools…
- Here’s a timeline of appearance of gods in individual issues throughout the years. This is fascinating! Like, the late 70s were really bad for Thor. And 2003–2008 were bad for gods in general… I wonder why? Did they just fall totally out of fashion?
- It goes on! Jer’s got a whole gallery of this stuff.
What a fun, revelatory, and (of course) timely visualization.
Update: Here’s Jer’s post about the project.
There’s no way I can’t give that a try.
(It’s not a Batman series though. Sorry if my headline got you excited; I couldn’t resist.)
Connected to a previous post: What if the rest of the Justice League posed like Wonder Woman? (Don’t miss the comments.)
Don’t worry, Snarkmarket isn’t going to become a comic-book blog. But this FAQ from DC, sent out to comic book stores, is super weird. This is what happens when you mix corporate PR (absurdity level: high) with comic-book continuity (absurdity level: absurd)…
Does The New 52 undo events or continuity that I’ve been reading?
Some yes, some no. But many of the great stories remain. For example – Batgirl. The Killing Joke still happened and she was Oracle. Now she will go through physical rehabilitation and become a more seasoned and nuanced character because she had these incredible and diverse experiences.
“Incredible and diverse experiences”??!!
But okay snark aside, the nuts-and-bolts business stuff later in the FAQ is actually kinda interesting.
P.S. “Incredible and diverse experiences”??
Comic books politics aside—this made me laugh, and laugh, and laugh.
As you already know by now from Robin and Tim’s posts, DC comics is relaunching the continuity of its primary universe. While I’ll admit that my first reaction as a current collector of a handful of DC titles (Batman, Detective, Red Robin, Batgirl, Batwoman if it ever comes out, and anything with The Question—I’m new here, I have to establish my bona fides), is to geek out over all the details.
Barbara Gordon will be Batgirl again (and even better , written by Gail Simone)! Tim Drake loses his own title, but gets a new costume! Superman won’t be wearing red underwear over his tights anymore! Wonder Woman is keeping the pants! Other details, I’m sure!
And before I try to make a bigger argument, let’s all focus on the fact that the details are all that really matter here. This isn’t the first time that DC has rebooted its continuity. 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths was arguably DC’s first attempt to bring all of its titles together into a common, consistent universe. Zero Hour followed in 1994, and Infinite Crisis in 2005.
There have been other big crossover storylines like Armageddon: 2001, Identity Crisis, Final Crisis, and Blackest Night, but while these storylines have had greater or smaller impacts of the status quo, they didn’t, for the most part, erase most or all of established storyline history.
In this light what’s really notable is that A.) we’re ahead of schedule (the next reboot shouldn’t be until 2014 or 2015), and B.) all title numbers are being reset to #1.
Which is, of course, a marketing ploy. Industry wisdom is that #1s sell better. If DC’s marketing department had their wish, every issue would be #1, every month. A world of one-shots! Every issue a collector’s item!
Continuity is a storytelling technology. It’s a way of organizing information, conveying character over extended periods of time, giving depth to plot, and communicating history in a way that doesn’t demand retelling with each iteration.
It’s an enormously useful tool, with rewards for both writer and reader, but it also has limitations. It highlights any asymmetry in knowledge between writer and reader. If the story you’re reading demands familiarity with a previous story you missed, you can feel lost. If the writer contradicts a previous story, you can feel that something is wrong. In a medium, like superhero comics, where the suspension of disbelief is critical, a discontinuity can be fatal.
Or not. As the DC Universe in particular illustrates, continuity is nothing if not elastic. Between 1938 and 1985, it wasn’t even seen as particularly necessary. Each corner of the DC Universe largely concerned itself with its own particular space, and, in practice if not editorial principle, that’s largely true today as well. In fact, I’d argue that every new story recreates its own continuity. That is, this big thing that we’re spending all our time worrying about, hyping, ruing the lost of, it doesn’t really exist. Every writer constantly has to decide what to use, what to ignore, and what to re-invent. There’s even a word for changing continuity on the fly— retcon, for “retroactive continuity,” which is now both a noun and a verb.
Robin makes an excellent point that continuity, this depth of character and wealth of story, is the one major attraction that the big comic companies still hold for creators — and that if you have a lottery-ticket idea, the character and story that will be the next Batman, or Harry Potter, or Twilight, then you’d be a fool to sell it to Marvel or DC like Bob Kane, Jerry Siegel, and Joe Shuster did back in the 1930s. It would probably be more accurate to view Marvel and DC as they currently exist not as comic book companies, but intellectual property holding corporations that happen to print a handful of comic books, as just one way in which they manage and profit from their IP. I guarantee you that at the top levels, it’s how they view themselves. They have to.
But at the same time, it’s not really an either-or position. Jim Lee, one of the founding forces behind Image Comics — who may not have created creator-owned comics, but gave the proposition market power like few entities before — is also one of the driving forces behind the DC relaunch, which will introduce a number of his former Image franchises such as Grifter and Stormwatch into DC continuity.
This, of course, isn’t the first time that DC has integrated other universes into its own. Captain Marvel was originally a property competing with (and more popular) than Superman, until DC sued, shut down publication, and eventually acquired the character. Alan Moore’s groundbreaking Watchmen comic originally grew out of DC’s acquisition of Charleton Comics’ characters, but since Moore’s storyline made many of the characters, um, unusable, DC made him create new ones. (Captain Atom became Dr. Manhattan, The Question became Rorschach, etc.)
By rebooting its continuity, DC is, in effect, updating its operating system. We’ll know in a few months whether it’s Linux or Vista.
But rather than thinking of continuity as some sort of sacred history of tradition, let’s remember that it’s a technology. And like any technology, it might be most interesting once we start thinking about how it can be hacked.
The canonical example of a continuity hack may be Watchmen — but I’d also throw in Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, and Steven T. Seagle’s It’s a Bird. All of these stories play with continuity, not in order to retcon, reboot, or reinforce it, but to use that root access for their own idiosyncratic purposes. And it’s these interventions, not the big events, that ultimately bring the stories back to their foundations and move the whole industry forward.
I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M DOING THIS
I’m going to jump in the middle of Robin and Gavin’s exchange on the DC Comics reboot, even though I explicitly told both of them that I didn’t want to read about it and had nothing to say about any of it, because some things Robin just wrote sparked some ideas that I want to follow here.
Today, you don’t go work at Marvel and DC because of what they are; you go because of what they have. It’s almost like a natural resource. Superman and Batman are potent substances. They have this incredible innate energy, this incredible mythic density, built up over decades. They really are like petroleum—a bright eon of individual organic contributions all compressed into this powerful stuff that we can now burn for light, for entertainment, for money…
How do you weigh the opportunity to work on an old titan like Superman against the opportunity to create something wholly new, and to potentially profit from that creation? Is it only sentimental or emotional value that draws an artist to the former—or is there more?…
Maybe what we’re talking about here is the difference between being an entrepreneur and being a custodian. We tend to think of artists as entrepreneurs, right?—inventors, trailblazers, risk-takers. To make meaningful art is often simply to try something new.
Now before I start, I want to stipulate a few things. First, I want to take seriously Robin’s two primary arguments in his post:
- “I want to talk not about Superman’s universe, but our own—because I think this strategy says something interesting about creative economics today.” Let’s call this the explicit argument.
- Comic books themselves, as content, not just the strategies of their publishers and artists, have something to say about this. Let’s call this the implicit argument.
And I want to add a third point, that I’ll call the unconscious argument. It’s something I don’t think Robin necessarily intended, but which is entailed in the way he formulates the problem:
Everywhere in Robin’s post where he writes “artists,” you can substitute “journalists”—and probably many other nodes in creative economies, broadly construed.
This is the first of two posts pegged to DC Comics’ upcoming restart of all its series with issue #1. The second will come from longtime Snarkmarket pal Gavin Craig. Update: We tricked Tim into writing about Green Lantern!
So it’s been tweeted and blogged about: this fall, DC Comics is going to restart every single one of its series (Superman, Batman, the Justice League, and on and on) with a new issue #1. Costumes have been redesigned; storylines have been streamlined.
It is a move that’s similar to—though much more sweeping than—Marvel’s Ultimate strategy. In both cases, there’s a recognition that the accumulated story-cruft of the past fifty years (or even the past five) isn’t really interesting to anyone any more. The weight of continuity and consistency crushes you in the end—so let’s just drop it. Let’s start fresh. Let’s get back to the primes of the story.
But I want to talk not about Superman’s universe, but our own—because I think this strategy says something interesting about creative economics today, and I think it raises some interesting questions about what it means to be an artist.
But first, the 90s.
As a follow-up to my earlier compilation, “The Two Mayors,” here is the stunning conclusion to the story of @MayorEmanuel. He won the election and as predicted by Mayor Daley, vanished into a time vortex in order to save the multiverse.
I’ve also been boning up on my @MayorEmanuel backstory, and man, it is totally batshit in the best possible way. There are layers and layers to this thing that I couldn’t even guess at, and a few I’m probably still missing. In short, the anonymous author(s) of the thread have been building towards this science-fiction/comic-book resolution of the story for a while now, first planting the seeds months ago, then grinding them up like fine celery salt.
You can read a quick-and-dirty PDF of all of @MayorEmanuel’s tweets here, assembled by @najuu (h/t Carla Casilli). I’m not Storifying the whole thing, because 1) Twitter’s archives have a hard time going back that far in the Storify interface and 2) even if they did, I’m not stupid. But I would like to do my small part to gather the limbs of Osiris just here at the end. Enjoy.