Points of Impact – February 2012 – Week 5

It’s Wednesday again! That means another load of fresh comics to devour! Unfortunately, if you think there were slim pickings last week, my list was even shorter this week. In fact, I have just enough comics to talk about three of them. Do you think that means I’ll have less to say this time? Noooooo!

Let’s get started!

I loved…

The prison cafeteria scene in Nate Cosby and Ben McCool’s PIGS #6 – I know what you’re going to say: once again, I’m about to praise writers for actually NOT writing. Indeed, in the whole three pages that this scene takes, there are no more than eight speech balloons for a grand total of only 31 words.

However, it’s easily one of the most characterization and mood-heavy scenes I’ve seen in a while. It’s all done by the actions of background characters and switching camera angles. Here’s the setup: a crime boss (name unknown – correct me if I’m wrong) is sitting in the cafeteria when his bodyguard, “Fred”, comes in. Now keep in mind Fred is covered head to toe in swastika tattoos and has just cut off a man’s foot with what looks like a dozen plastic knives – one AFTER the other.

Page 10 (7 panels)

Panel 1

Wide elevated shot of the cafeteria showing PRISONERS having lunch.

NO COPY

Panel 2

Wide shot of a single table with PRISONERS eating and taking every seat except one in front of the BOSS. From the right side, we can see FRED’s hands entering the panel, holding his lunch tray.

NO COPY

Panel 3

Medium shot of the BOSS seated and eating.

NO COPY

Panel 4

Inverted shot: FRED is sitting down with his tray in front of the BOSS.

NO COPY

Panel 5

Long shot from the opposite end of the table showing the PRISONERS picking up their trays and getting up. The BOSS and FRED are seated calmly at the end of the table in the background.

NO COPY

Panel 6

Same shot but now most of the prisoners have gone; the last two are getting up and leaving. The BOSS and FRED haven’t moved.

NO COPY

Panel 7

Same shot but the BOSS and FRED are now alone at the table.

NO COPY

Page 12 (6 panels)

Panel 1

Wide shot showing the BOSS’ head, cocked to the side, on the left side of the panel, with PRISONERS seated and eating in the background.

NO COPY

Panel 2

Wide shot showing FRED’s head, cocked to the side, on the right side of the panel, with nothing in the background.

NO COPY

Panel 3

Close-up of the BOSS’ glasses  reflecting the pudding in FRED’s tray, the same image repeated in both lenses.

NO COPY

Panel 4

Close-up of the pudding in FRED’s tray.

NO COPY

Panel 5

Tight overshot of FRED’s hand and arm, pushing the tray towards the BOSS.

NO COPY

Panel 6

Worm’s eye view from just beside the pudding looking up to the BOSS holding a spoonful of pudding near his mouth.

BOSS: THANK YOU, FRED.

This could easily have taken the form of a long exchange between the two criminals with some exposition and witty repartee. However, Cosby and McCool chose instead to focus on the essential: the relationship between the two men and the way they come into contact with others around them. And for that, not many words were needed but wisely omitted.

By the way, I have to mention the way letterer Rus Wooton has chosen to treat Fred’s speech bubbles: all shaky, no caps at all and not a single punctuation mark. It’s the kind of voice you don’t want coming from under your bed but you just know it would sound like this if you ever heard it.

I liked…

Andrea’s speech to Rick in Robert Kirkman’s THE WALKING DEAD #94 – In this latest issue, Rick’s group is finally shifting gears and have decided to try their luck at finding this other community that their prisoner “Jesus” is seemingly scouting for. As Ricks gives his final orders before departing, he has an exchange with Andrea that ends on this panel:

Now part of me immediately shot up with “Andrea’s dying next!” After all, we’ve been long overdue on Kirkman’s credo of “No one is safe.” Andrea’s one of the last few remaining members of the “old guard”. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Kirkman ramp things up on his way to his 100th issue by cutting short the existence of one of his most remarkable and enduring creations.

After all, declaring so frankly how you constantly cheat death is one of the surest ways in comics to reserve a seat on Charon’s yacht. But is this hubris at its best (worst?), an inspiring character mission statement or a rare tongue-in-cheek lampshade-hanging?

Can it be all three at once?

Only time will tell but I’m ready to wager a nice crisp Queen’s portrait that this little speech should come back to haunt us in one way or another in the following months. It’s not the best sample of foreshadowing, but it’s certainly one of the most entertaining.

I was disappointed by…

The fact that this was the final issue of Kurtis J. Wiebe’s GREEN WAKE – Yes, I’m already breaking my own rules and using this section to praise a comic instead of chiding it.

I was very saddened about a month ago when I learned that GREEN WAKE was getting cancelled after issue10 for lack of sales. To be perfectly honest, I was angry. It angered me to see something so thoughtful disappear while other publications could go on thanks to the simple rote purchasing habits of the blindly faithful.

Mostly, I was angry at the average and maybe hypothetical comic reader. The one that buys every comic with Wolverine on the cover. The one who has to own every spinoff and tie-in to an “event” that never ends. The one that only looks for premises he’s seen on TV first. The one who won’t take chances. The one who’s still stuck in his teenage power fantasies. The one who won’t hesitate shelling out four bucks for yet another polybagged mainstream title but bitches about not having any budget for creator-owned indie books with literally a dozen pages of backup material for the same price. The one who has memorized every Teen Titan roster in publication history but finds it too tedious to learn the names of unknown characters in a new mystery mini.

The main problem I think is that the average comic reader is not educated enough for the medium. I’m not talking about school education. I don’t care if you’ve got an MBA or if you flunked out of kindergarten. No, the problem is that he’s not educated enough about his options when buying comics. It’s not that there’s nothing that indie comics can offer to this reader, it’s just that getting him to learn about the alternatives means meeting him halfway – halfway of the ocean parting these two worlds. But I’m not getting into whose fault is that…

In the end, it’s all a business and publishing companies are there to make money. And so the wheel of the comic market keeps on turning and other ideas break the surface at the water’s edge.

That’s why I’m not as angry today as I was a month ago, not with the slew of new books coming for Mr. Wiebe. PETER PANZERFAUST is already off to a very respectable start, GRIM LEAPER has a premise that’s a sure-fire hit and DEBRIS, just recently announced at IMAGE EXPO, has him reunited once more with his GREEN WAKE accomplice, Riley Rossmo. So things are not completely bleak. Some projects die peacefully while others see the light of day. I just hope Wiebe’s growing exposition with these titles, his blog and his podcast are enough to better his chances at keeping afloat the sales figures wave.

I see GREEN WAKE’s early cancellation as a warning that if we don’t nurture burgeoning talent and originality on the comic market, we’re just condemning ourselves to more of the same old stories, retold, rehashed and regurgitated in redesigned costumes. That’s the real death of comics we need to be wary of, not by lack of sales, but by lack of creativity.

I think Kermit had the best words for closing: “It’s not easy being green.”

The Chosen Few

Times are hard, work is hell and money doesn’t come easy. When it comes to choosing which comics make the cut week after week, I have to be very sure that my limited resources are well spent. After all, I’m going to need that money soon enough to hire a creative team!

That’s why maintaining a healthy and cost-efficient pull list sometimes seem like more work than actually writing my own comics. Like any other expense in my budget, I have to balance my WANTS and my NEEDS. I know it might sound ridiculous to use the word NEEDS when talking about the purchasing of entertainment items, but I have my reasons.

Essentially, since I hope one day to make a career out of comics, I feel like I need to consider my comic collection like a reference library. Hence, I pick my books according to what I feel I can learn from them. Oh sure, I have my guilty pleasure (I’m looking at you, SUICIDE SQUAD!) and other quirky preferences and allergies, but I treat my comic reading largely as a learning experience. If a title offers me little substance for my buck, off the list it goes.

Up to now, this has been an intuitive process. Once I’ve tried a book, I know whether or not I’ll keep on buying it in the future. However, I thought it would make for an interesting little experiment to try and actually quantify my evaluation of titles. Doing this might help me understand what I like in a comic – and how I would like the comics I write to be. It might also open up new possibilities for trying out comics which I never dreamed of sampling, because I never realized before how close to my tastes they really are. Feel free to sound off in the comments if you think of any!

Now how does this work? As soon as the first previews hit the Web, prospective titles accumulate or lose points based on the criteria listed below. If the final score is positive (that is more than zero), that title will be bought and considered for becoming part of my pull list.

Good points

  • Writer in my top 5: +15Either Scott Snyder, Warren Ellis, Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka or Nick Spencer
  • Good writer: +5 – An established writer reputed to consistently put out good work: Brian Wood, Gail Simone, Mike Mignola, Grant Morrison, and so on
  • Hot newcomer writer: +10 – A writer new to the business but who surprised with his first few offerings: Brandon Seifert (WITCH DOCTOR), Nathan Edmondson (WHO IS JAKE ELIS?, THE ACTIVITY), Kurtis J. Wiebe (GREEN WAKE) and so on
  • Favorite character: +5 – Batman, Batwoman or Hellboy (but not B.P.R.D.)
  • Original premise: +5 – “Original” as in “stands out among the crowd”
  • Historical setting: +5
  • Literary adaptation: +5 – If it’s an adaptation of a literary work set in a historical setting, only count 5 points once.
  • ComixTribe or IC Geeks book: +10Because I usually personally know at least one of the creators
  • Artist in my top 3: +10Either J.H. Williams III, Amanda Conner or Ben Templesmith (I don’t really care about any other artist enough for it to influence my purchases.)
  • Zombie book: +5Yeah, yeah, I know…
  • Creator-owned title: +5
  • Not a super hero book: +5 – Deconstructions of super heroes like POWERS or WATCHMEN don’t count as super hero books.

Bad points

  • Decades-old DC property: -10
  • Green Lantern or Legion of Super Heroes: -20
  • Decades-old Marvel property: -15
  • X-Men or Fantastic Four: -20
  • Any of the Image properties dating back from the 90s: -15
  • Anything that LOOKS like it’s an Image property dating back from the 90s: -20
  • Movie, TV show or video game tie-in: -10
  • Artist in the writer’s seat: -5Unless it’s Will Eisner, Terry Moore or Joe Mulvey.
  • Rob Liefeld as artist: -20Apparently one of the sweetest guys in the business, but… well… it’s a matter of taste really. Sorry, Rob!
  • Any kind of “event”: -10
  • Gratuitous excessive gore: -10
  • Tries to be CROSSED: -15
  • Is CROSSED: -20 – Sorry, Garth, I love ya but I just can’t stomach that comic. I promise I’ll buy THE BOYS  in trades some day!
  • Gratuitous excessive swearing: -5
  • Gratuitous excessive cheesecake: -5
  • Simultaneous gratuitous cheesecake and gore: -20
  • Sounds like Frank Miller’s THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS: -10
  • Sounds like Frank Miller’s THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS but IS by Frank Miller: -5 – One exception to this rule: it IS Frank Miller’s THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS.

However, even if a title passes muster, it might still get cut if it proves itself unable to entertain after a thorough reading. That’s when the post-reading criteria come into play:

  • Witty dialogue: +5
  • Clever plot: +5
  • Too wordy: -5
  • Not wordy enough: -10
  • SyFy Channel-worthy dialogue: -10
  • Confusing plot: -5
  • Predictable plot: -10
  • Issue in which nothing really happens AKA boring plot: -10 - The writing might be good, but never make me buy a comic in which the plot has simply no forward momentum. If I want to spend some time with people standing around being witty, I’ll go on Twitter.
  • Cheap death or gimmick: -10 – “Don’t miss this milestone issue in which Spidey changes his costume!”
  • Reversing of cheap death or gimmick: -20 – “Watch out, world! The old Spidey is back!”

Now let’s try to apply these to some of the books on my pull list and see if our methodology holds:

BATMAN

Writer in my top 5: +15 (Scott Snyder)
Favorite character: +5 (Batman)
Decades-old DC property: -10
Witty dialogue: +5
Clever plot: +5
Final score: 20 – It’s Snyder and it’s Batman. That’s like mixing peanut butter with choco– no, more like mixing Reeses and sex. Yeah, that’s the ticket…

BATWOMAN (the first five issues)

Favorite character: +5 (Batwoman)
Artist in my top 3: +10 (J.H. Williams III)
Artist in the writer’s seat: -5
Witty dialogue: +5
Clever plot: +5
Final score: 20 – Another good score. If would have scored even higher if this was the Detective Comics era when Greg Rucka was writing Batwoman (30 in fact).

BATWOMAN (since issue #6)

Favorite character: +5 (Batwoman)
Artist in the writer’s seat: -5
Witty dialogue: +5
Confusing plot: -5
Final score: 0 – Pull yourself together, guys! This title has suffered a big blow when J.H. Williams III gave Amy Reeder the drawing duties, not so much because Reeder isn’t doing a good job (she’s doing a great job!), but because they slacked off in the writing department. I’m rooting for you, Amy!

THE ACTIVITY

Hot newcomer writer: +10 (Nathan Edmondson)
Original premise: +5 (the plot follows the actions of a covert ops clean-up crew)
Creator-owned title: +5
Not a super hero book: +5
Witty dialogue: +5
Clever plot: +5
Final score: 35 – A very good score for a very good book from a promising newcomer on the scene.

GREEN WAKE

Hot newcomer writer: +10 (Kurtis J. Wiebe)
Original premise: +5 (If I go into this we’ll never be done with this post – just… just trust me, OK?)
Creator-owned title: +5
Not a super hero book: +5
Witty dialogue: +5
Clever plot: +5
Final score: 35 – Same score as THE ACTIVITY and it’s not surprising since it’s the exaxct same reasons that make me buy this title.

THE PUNISHER

Writer in my top 5: +15 (Greg Rucka)
Decades-old Marvel property: -15
Witty dialogue: +5
Clever plot: +5
Final score: 10 – Despite a very big flaw against it (it’s one of Marvel’s cash cows), THE PUNISHER is saved by the presence of a very strong writer who knows his craft. Take Rucka out of the equation however and we’re down in the negative.

That adds up pretty well. From a purely quantitative viewpoint, our methodology justifies the purchase of these titles. It even warns us about the possibility of dropping a book (BATWOMAN).

Speaking of which, does it work the other way around too? Does it justify why I’ve already dropped some titles? Let’s see…

ACTION COMICS

Good writer: +5 (Grant Morrison)
Decades-old DC property: -10
Confusing plot: -5
Final score: -10 – I’ll admit that, for me, this title was coasting on the Grant Morrison brand name even before he introduced the robots and all that. I did like Batman Incorporated however, but to be completely honest, that plot was even more confusing! Oh Batman! Why do you always make things so much better?

BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT

Favorite character: +5 (Batman)
Decades-old DC property: -10
Artist in the writer’s seat: -5
Sounds like Frank Miller’s THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS: -10
Too wordy: -5
Predictable plot: -10
Final score: -35 – A beautiful book unfortunately sunk by abysmal writing. This is one I REALLY wanted to like.

MORIARTY

Original premise: +5
Literary adaptation: +5
Creator-owned title: +5
Not a super hero book: +5
Too wordy: -5
Confusing plot: -5
Issue in which nothing really hapens: -10
Final score: 0 – This book had a premise tailor-made to please (Professor Moriarty comes out of retirement to solve mysteries!) but as issues went by, I had to come to the sad realization that the execution wasn’t up to the expectations prompted by the idea. It was a close cut, but I sadly had to let it go.

NEONOMICON

Good writer: +5 (Alan Moore)
Literary adaptation: +5
Creator-owned title: +5
Not a super hero book: +5
Simultaneous gratuitous cheesecake and gore: -20
Too wordy: -5
Final score: -5 – The pool scene. That would have been a very good moment to IMPLY something had happened. Oh God, the pool scene…

KICK-ASS 2

Good writer: +5 (Mark Millar)
Creator-owned title: +5
Gratuitous excessive swearing: -5
Gratuitous excessive gore: -10
Final score: -5 – There’s a really good idea in there, buried under all that calculated edginess.

So it works for those too! Am I cocky enough to try and predict the future? There is after all a new title coming out this week that I’ll be picking up…

PETER PANZERFAUST

Hot newcomer writer: +10 (Kurtis J. Wiebe)
Original premise: +5
Literary adaptation: +5
Creator-owned title: +5
Not a super hero book: +5
Final score: 30 – And it’s not even out yet! If we factor in some posible post-reading criteria, Mr. Wiebe could very well have another winner in my book!

Well that was fun and all, but what about you? Do you have any criteria on which you base your comic purchases? How many points would they be worth if you were to go through with the same neurotic exercise I just did?