Fri, 9 December 2011
Howard V. Chaykin.
Comic book writer/artist. Illustrator. TV writer/producer. And eternal digressionist. OK, I made that last one up, but it aptly applies. He’s quite the talker.
I’ve been a fan of Chaykin’s ever since I was a teenager. I met him in person briefly at a comic book convention here in Atlanta back in the 1980s. He was there with his then-wife, and it was during the apex of American Flagg! fever. I didn’t really talk to him. I just sort of stood back and watched him interact with fans. He was gregarious, very professional, and very direct. The exact impression of him I had gotten from his print interviews.
Before that con, I had just started following his work after having read several of his graphic novels: The Stars My Destination, Empire, The Swords of Heaven, The Flowers of Hell. All of them were full color, mixed media, and very sophisticated stuff. Some of the first works of their kind here in America.
I proceeded to pick up loads of his comics later on (though I wasn’t a Star Wars guy, per se). I did, however, become a complete fiend for Flagg!, The Shadow, Blackhawk, and so on.
Going back to Howard’s interviews for a minute — as a kid — I'm pretty sure I read them all. At that particular time in my youth, I found him to be a fascinating figure in comics. And not just because of the material he was working on. As a person, he seemed to be well read, had an acerbic wit, and was opinionated as all get out (I related strongly to that last one).
Plus, from where I sat, Chaykin came off like an adult. Once he stepped up as writer and artist on his stuff, it became glaringly apparent that he wasn't guided by a 14 year-old's idea of heroism and benevolence. His work was layered with themes like politics, sex, betrayal, and guilt. And usually at the center of it all, was a protagonist with questionable motives and feet of clay (just like in real life). This was completely diametric to my pals and I who, back then, well — we were still very much into punching and saving the day!
The other thing about his interviews that intrigued me were these little tidbits he would drop. Things about himself, his background and his profession that he never really expounded upon much until recently. Chaykin has always been a good soldier when it comes to promoting projects (an aspect of his professionalism that I’m sure his publishers adore). Yet I’m quite certain his comments in print have gotten him as much buzz as the work he creates.
And that’s why we chose to call this interview Revealed. The goal wasn’t to be sensational or provocative — in fact, not at all. We genuinely love Howard’s stuff, but were curious if the perception that many fans may have of him is at all accurate or justified. And frankly, he surprised us.
After nearly four decades in the business, you won't find a smarter writer or more graphic designer of the comic page than Howard Chaykin. However, the meat of our discussion with him today reveals more about his background, the person he is, and more importantly, the professional that he is. I, myself, find those things almost as interesting as the stories he tells. And I hope you do too.
Wed, 23 November 2011
Hey, when it's good, it's good. You gotta give it up. And that's exactly what I had to do with Cartoon Network's Batman: The Brave and The Bold.
When I first heard that there was gonna be a new, new Batman animated TV show, I was like, "First of all, it's gonna have huge shoes to fill coming behind the incredible Batman: The Animated Series and The New Batman Adventures. And second, the tone is gonna be that campy, over-the-top Dick Sprang vibe? That's gonna suck."
Of course, I was dead wrong. And I told James Tucker, the producer of Batman: The Brave and The Bold, as much in my interview with him. Thing is, he said the potential Silver Age campiness was partially why he agreed to help develop the project in the first place.
Apparently, the 1950's era DC comic book of the same name was one of James' very first comics. It was geek providence that he got offered the chance to bring some of that flavor to animated life. When Sam Register approached him with the idea a few years ago, James says he liked the fact that this cartoon incarnation of Batman would be very different from Batman: The Animated Series.
I knew Tucker's name and face from the behind-the-scenes extras on my other Warner Bros. animated DVDs. Superman, Justice League, Batman Beyond — he worked on all of them— either in the art department, or as he did on BTBaTB, as a producer.
And he mentions in our talk that he learned much of the craft of producing under the wing of animator extraordinaire, Bruce Timm. Timm, along with Alan Burnett, Glen Murakami, Paul Dini, and Michael Jelenic, are just a few of the talented collaborators that James has worked with since he got his start at Warner Bros. Animation.
Batman: The Brave and The Bold debuted back in November of 2008, and the series just ended with its triumphant final episode on August 1, 2011. It was a delightful show that captured all the adventure and whimsy of those old Silver Age comics without ever slavishly paying homage to them. Tucker and crew cleverly pulled classic elements together, and then pushed them through a modern day filter — thus, making their show very much its own thing. Well done, folks!
**It's just me asking the questions on this one, but I had a ball. Hope you dig it.
Mon, 14 November 2011
Hello, 'Nation. Swain and Adrian here. The two of us have a saying that we use around these parts. It goes like this — lay off the hyperbole! Say it from the gut and with meaning, or don't say it at all. And don't get us wrong. Hyperbole has its place in this world. But you just don't wanna reside there, ya know?
That said, here goes. Harvey Kurtzman. Mort Drucker. Don Martin. Sergio Aragones. Jack Davis. These men are considered cartooning gods. And if you're of a certain age, you know that all of them wrote and drew pictures for MAD magazine. MAD was co-founded in 1952 by William Gaines and the aforementioned Mr. Kurtzman as a humor anthology, and continues to be published to this day.
The work that these gentlemen did for MAD (some of them for almost five decades) was beyond remarkable. It redefined what cartooning was to become for later generations with its outrageous parodies and lampooning of pop culture.
So, with that kind of preamble, is it hyperbole to say that we see Kyle Baker in a similar light? Not completely. If you look at the breadth of his work on a practical level, Kyle is clearly working in their same tradition of "cartoonist". He writes, draws, colors, letters, and does the design work for most of his projects. He's an auteur.
Baker as a writer is a humorist/satirist at heart — again, just like his MAD predecessors. His gags are always clever, caustic, and clear. They can range from family-friendly slices of life to sharp observations of the sexes. And his dialoguing is some of the most natural that you'll find in comics.
Without question, the humor and attitude in Baker's stuff reflects the city from which he hails: New York. New York has been the backdrop for many of his stories, most especially, the one that made us die-hard fans — Why I Hate Saturn.
First published in 1990 by Piranha Press, Saturn is a smart, funny, and by most accounts, accurate representation of urban single life in the late '80s/early '90s. It's an early example of a non-comic book publisher, in this case, Doubleday, seeing a comic book story as a viable publishing option.
Putting Saturn in perspective — right smack dab in the middle of mutant fever and "gimmick" covers — comes this long form graphic novel about a neurotic writer, her platonic friendship with a bar-hopping guy pal, and sibling rivalry. All with little-to-no action. And it is hilarious! We highly recommend this book if you haven't read it.
Why I Hate Saturn, sadly, has never been a huge hit. And it's perhaps indicative of Kyle's status in the comics industry — critically lauded by dedicated fans and peers for his inventiveness, craftsmanship, and humor, yet mainstream readers at large have never responded in droves (or dollars) to his projects.
However, should the uninitiated wise up and seek out works by Kyle, there are plenty that we think deserve your attention: The Cowboy Wally Show, The Shadow with writer Andy Helfer, Dick Tracy, You Are Here, Plastic Man, Nat Turner, I Die at Midnight, his Hawkman tale in Wednesday Comics, and all of his self-published collections like Cartoonist and The Bakers.
After his Wednesday Comics gig ended, Kyle got a call from Marvel to work on Deadpool: MAX. That's pretty much where he's been comics-wise for the last two years. We both admit that his MAX stuff is not our favorite stuff by him (by any stretch), but it's still great to see him on something regular.
And again, we don't mean to be sacrilegious in comparing Baker to the giants listed above. Kurtzman and company are all esteemed quite highly by fans and critics alike, and deservedly so. However, what they all share in common is the distinction of being creators of timeless quality and perpetual verve. A Kyle Baker book will absolutely never fail to entertain. And that's the TRUTH (pun intended).
There's much more to Kyle than we're laying out here — trust. We're just trying not to give too much away in this blog post. The two of us have been champing at the bit to give Baker some shine on these mics, so this one was a long time coming.
Hope you enjoy the exchange. We damn sure did.
- SWAiN & ADRiAN
**Our thanks to Eric Nolen-Weathington of TwoMorrows Publishing for doing a terrific interview with Kyle as part of their Modern Masters series. That issue (along with Comics Journal # 219) was an invaluable resource to us in our prep for this episode.
Mon, 31 October 2011
Pixie, kobold, elf, and sprite,
Okay, now that's hot!
With Halloween creeping up on us (no pun), we thought it was high time we did an episode celebrating the scary. And why not go the route of scary comic book characters, yeah? Comics going back to the 1950s have always featured "tales of terror", and that tradition continues on to this day.
The '70s being what they were for horror films seemed like a good place to start. Movies like The Omen, Jaws, The Exorcist, Carrie, Amityville Horror, Willard, Audrey Rose and others, set that period apart as "the" decade of horror. So, many of the characters/heroes we dug up for this roundtable (no pun) were birthed around that same time.
Our theme is Monsters as Heroes. Creepy, weird, and just plain awful-looking folks who, at their core, are heroic. They wanna do the right thing — often times they do do the right thing — but damn if they don't frighten the sh*t out of people! And their actions can sometimes end with grave results (no pun).
We hit all the main ones you can think of, and threw a few surprises in there, too. The images we've showcased with this blog post will offer a few clues as to who made the final cut (no pun).
It's a FEAR FRAUGHT FRANTIC EPISODE!!!
Thu, 27 October 2011
A poor play on Charles Darwin's Natural Selection, but hey — it sounded better than all the other stuff we came up with (ha).
The impetus of this episode was the mystery as to why some of our favorite comic artists aren't doing more work. Why aren't they more visible in the marketplace from month to month? Well, we attempt to answer that question on this one.
Surviving (and succeeding) in the world of comics is probably just as challenging as it is in any other industry. Not unlike other fields, I'm sure it comes down to a few simple rules — show up, create and foster good relationships, do great work, and finish the job — on time.
The rules above are universal in most trades, but from where we sit, they're not always universally applied within comics.
For example, if you're popular in comics, all can be forgiven pretty quickly if you miss a deadline. Editors and fans have certainly been known to turn their heads when "superstars" are late.
What if you're good at your job, but can't strike a solid rapport with those that will hire you? You can end up out of sight and out of mind.
Here's another one. What if you're an older artist with a style that's seen as "old school"? It can probably be a struggle to get assignments. Ageism exists everywhere (sadly).
And last, what about the possibilities of embracing an all-digital workflow to meet the demand by companies for quicker turnarounds of production? The needs of the business beckon.
Opinions and theories abound on this one, 'Nation. And with the comic book industry evolving in nearly every other facet in terms of production, now more than ever is a good time to discuss the challenges of maintaining a fruitful comics career in the 21st Century.
- SWAiN & ADRiAN
Thu, 20 October 2011
The return of the B-side — short, but very sweet.
We here at the 'Bar were fans of illustrator and fine artist, Sterling Hundley, long before he appeared on these esteemed microphones back in 2009. He was one of the guys we knew we wanted to talk to. And he was quite the astute guest. Knowledge by the pound was dropped that day.
So, guess what? His new art book, Blue Collar/White Collar, will be available everywhere on November 15th from Adhouse Books. We got our grubby mitts on an advanced review copy — and it is wonderful! A gorgeous collection of images that thoroughly covers his illustration career as well as some of his recent fine art pieces. And presented with some very special touches to reflect the artist's taste and sensibilities. Very well done.
Dwight and I cannot recommend this tome enough. Blue Collar/White Collar is worthy of your time and your dollars. To paraphrase Dwight on the episode, "It's a much needed addition to any art lover's collection".
**It's just dos amigos on this one. Adrian was away on assignment in New Genesis.
Sat, 8 October 2011
The comic shop. The LCS. The funny book store.
That last one was what my grandmother and aunts used to call my favorite hangout spot when I was growing up in Chicago. I hated it. Superheroes weren't funny to me. Dudes got socked in the eye! People got killed (Gwen Stacy, Bucky, Captain Marvel)!
Anyway, I'm over it now. And I still got love for my brick and mortar stores. So, welcome to Comic Shop Confidential.
Dwight, Adrian and myself recently sat down for a celebration of the venerable brick and mortars. Specifically our collective experiences here in the Atlanta area over the last three decades. And even though we reference names and places that you all don't know, chances are the experiences are universal. We all come from the same place, right?
We hope you enjoy listening in and don't get too bored. While the battle between digital vs. print rages on, it was nice to pay simple tribute to the guys and gals who've been holding it down for the last 25 years. Salute!
**This episode is dedicated to Graham Crackers Comics — our official sponsor and the largest chain of comic shops IN THE COUNTRY.
Fri, 16 September 2011
Finally, a fangirl has crashed the clubhouse! I’m Erika Peterman, co-founder of Girls-Gone-Geek.com, and the woman behind the high-pitched voice you’ll hear on this lively episode.
Long before I officially met Dwight, Swain and Adrian, a mutual friend suggested I check out the Sidebar podcast. At the time, I was sampling a truckload of comics-related podcasts for education as much as entertainment, and frankly, only a handful held my interest. But when I heard these guys, I was not only impressed by their depth of knowledge but also struck by how much fun they were having. I instantly felt like I knew them, and I was kinda mad that I wasn’t in the room. It was a bit like eavesdropping on the cool kids’ conversation in the cafeteria and desperately wanting to join in.
So when they invited me to be part of the “Run for Your Life” installment during Dragon*Con, I was thrilled — and a little nervous. I mean,these three really know what they're talking about, and I didn't want to come off like a seventh-grader among Ph.D. candidates. However, recording this episode turned out to be one of the highlights of my weekend. It was just as much fun as I'd imagined when I discovered Sidebar a year ago.
Our task was to discuss a series whose run we enjoyed from beginning to end. My pick was Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly's New York Four/NewYork Five miniseries, an absorbing story about a group of young women in their freshman year at NYU. Wood's writing and Kelly's art are so perfect for each other, which makes for a deeply satisfying read. When people ask me for suggestions of good comics, this is always near the top of the list.
The others chose books I never would have considered but am now eager to read. I only knew Micronauts as old-school action figures, but Dwight totally sold it as a complex, exciting series that still holds up. Who knew that a toy could inspire a comic that touches on heavy-duty topics like genetic engineering? Next, Swain put the spotlight on Dave McKean's Cages, a graphic novel with hauntingly beautiful illustrations. The book's themes of creativity and inspiration are very close to home. Finally, Adrian convinced me that I need to get up on some Jack Kirby, immediately. That's a real gap in my education, and Adrian's passionate commentary on Kirby's classic New Gods epic was mighty compelling — as was the eye-popping art.
I hope you enjoy listening to this installment as much as I enjoyed being part of it. And many thanks to my brothers in geek for inviting me to share the Sidebar microphones!
Mon, 12 September 2011
American Flagg, The Rocketeer, Jon Sable Freelance. Those were just a few of the titles I cut my teeth on as a young comics reader. Amongst many others, they were indicative of the new wave of American comic books in the early 1980s. There was a palpable excitement in the air as scores of great books hit the shelves.
New things were also going down behind the scenes. Royalties and incentives were finally being paid for the first time ever. Independent publishers began wooing seasoned creators away from the Big Two with opportunities to tell the types of stories they'd always wanted to tell. And one of those creators was Mike Grell.
I actually found Mike (or maybe he found me) in the mid '70s on The Warlord at DC Comics. Warlord was a Verne-esque tale about a modern-day Air Force pilot "lost in a lost world". I was also quite fond of Mike's work on Legion of Super-Heroes from a few years earlier. Super-powered teens in the 30th century? What was not to like?!
Later, I was floored to find out those Legion stories had been written by a then-teenage Jim Shooter (he started writing them when he was twelve). To paraphrase Mike from today's panel audio, Legion of Super-Heroes was a book aimed at young readers that was being written by (at the time) a very young reader.
After Warlord and Legion, I pretty much checked out everything the guy did — the aforementioned Jon Sable, Starslayer, Green Arrow - The Longbow Hunters and even some of his rare Marvel work.
Moving forward, our hometown convention, Dragon*Con, brought Mike to Atlanta this year as a special guest. I had the pleasure of moderating a panel with him. Grell was funny and in great spirits, and the crowd was full of enthusiastic fans.
All of the above was covered in the sit-down, but we also got an ear full on the writer-artist's background, how he broke into the business, and the scoop on his latest project, The Pilgrim (with writer, Mark Ryan). Good times.
Thanks to Mike for his candor and humor, thanks to the crowd for being all kinds of awesome, and thanks to the promoters of Dragon*Con for having me as a moderator.
Mon, 22 August 2011
I wish I could say this roundtable was full of nothing but insightful comments and informed opinions. It isn't. Oh, some of that stuff is in there. You just have to listen for it in between the gushing and awe. When Drew Struzan's art is the topic of conversation, gushing and awe abound.
One of our first, and I mean very first interviews on this here podcast, was with Drew (Episode 16, September 2007). It was magical. Dwight and I, to this day, are floored that he made time for us. He was and still is — "The Man". We were just two art nerds in the basement talking on the phone. Still, he did do it and we will always be forever grateful to him for that.
If you don't know Drew's work, you suck (you really do, trust me on this one). He's a master illustrator of over 40 years, primarily having worked in movie posters. He's retired now, but without a doubt, his bibliography will smite you: Blade Runner, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, Police Academy, The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, Cannonball Run, Masters of the Universe, The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption, Harry Potter... The list is glorious and it is legion.
Back in 2005, an artbook of Struzan's work came out called Oeuvre and I scooped it up right before we spoke to him. Great book, beautifully put together. Sadly though, it never made the splash in the mainstream that was intended. Dreamwave, Oeuvre's publisher, went bankrupt before the book ever made it into stores.
Well, a new version of this collection will be available as of October 4, 2011. This time from Titan Books, the company that brought us 2010's brilliant The Art of Drew Struzan. Titan and Drew have "re-mastered" Oeuvre (if you will) and it features a new cover design, 50 new pages, and text written by Drew himself and his wife, Dylan.
With both books being released in such close proximity, we got super excited and decided to chat about them. Sort of. We only had the older version of Oeuvre, so some supposition takes place in our conversation. Still, Drew and his art were celebrated mightily and we had an awesome time doing so. We hope you enjoy it.
And please — whatever you do — get yourself copies of these two books. No art lover's shelf should be without them. That would be a crime.