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TGIF

All right, let’s get ready for the weekend with a new review by Rob Clough of The Collected John G. Miller. I have to admit, I don’t think I’d ever heard of Miller before, but Rob’s piece really makes me want to check him out.

Elsewhere: In an editorial that reflects an obvious love and knowledge of comics history unusual for a newspaper columnist, Samira Ahmed at the Guardian argues that as Albert Uderzo retires, Asterix should be allowed to do so as well.

The excellent book designer Peter Mendelsund interviews Chip Kidd about his working space, for the “From the Desk of…” series.

Gahan Wilson deserves a statue. I haven’t yet read this interview with him, but I plan to do so as soon as I get a chance today.

Kate Beaton fans have a lot to read and listen to today.

Tom Spurgeon has a solid-as-usual review of the recent Alex Toth anthology Setting the Standard. My mother isn’t really a big comics reader. I mean, she reads the funny pages in the paper, but that’s basically it. I don’t know what it means, but the last time she came to visit, she picked up this Toth book from the coffee table and tore through it in a couple days. (She was also a big fan of Benjamin Marra’s Incredibly Fantastic Adventures of Maureen Dowd.) Go figure.

Flavorwire has a good interview with Daniel Clowes regarding The Death-Ray.


26 Responses to TGIF

  1. R. Fiore says:

    In an editorial published in my mind, they should have ended Asterix after Rene Goscinny died.

  2. Kim Thompson says:

    One of the most convincing arguments for the greatness of Goscinny is the steep decline of Asterix after his death. (To be fair, it had been declining before his death as well.) It went from a sad Goscinny pastiche to excruciating whimsy. I’ve doggedly bought each album as it came out for reasons not far removed from those that motivate dead-end DC or Marvel fans, but I don’t believe I’ve ever re-read an Uderzo-solo Asterix. It’s much more entertaining to re-read ASTERIX IN BRITAIN for the 30th time.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if a “legacy” version of Asterix with a new writer and artist didn’t turn out better than the Uderzo ones, but it’ll still be a travesty. There are always R€A$ON$ to do these things, I guess. I live in dread of the day when the Hergé heirs succumb, as they inevitably will, to this impulse.

  3. patrick ford says:

    From one perspective it would be better if every character died when it’s creator moved on. A famous character can easily develop into one it’s creator would like to see “dead” or at least would like to leave behind.; Oz, Holmes, and Tarzan come to mind. On the other hand there are a few instances where someone has taken an existing character to new heights. Two examples would he John Stanley’s Little Lulu, and Carl Barks’ Donald Duck, but the greatness of Stanley and Barks has nothing to do with Lulu and Donald, it’s a given that if they had created their own characters the quality of their work would have been just as great Stanley and Barks elevated Lulu and Donald, not the other way around.

    The fascination with characters has never registered with me, they aren’t anything more than Halloween costumes hanging in a wardrobe waiting for an “actor” to inhabit them.

  4. Doug Skinner says:

    Haven’t the Hergé heirs already kowtowed? Didn’t Johan De Moor do a Quick and Flupke book a couple of years after Hergé’s death? So far, Tintin has been spared, but I suppose the upcoming movie will change that…

  5. Kim Thompson says:

    Yes, but I was thinking only of Tintin. It’s not as if I’d consider it a sacrilege if someone did a new JO, ZETTE ET JOCKO book either (and as I recall, LA VALLEE DES COBRAS was, aside from the opening pages, virtually an untouched-by-Hergé studio-hands product).

    I don’t know, the cynical part of me says it’ll happen eventually, but TINTIN is such a monument that it’s hard to imagine their having the nerve. (Maybe they can do a little-kids version, like they just did with GASTON LAGAFFE.) TEENTEEN!

    I used to have a principled objection against money-grubbing revivals or continuations, but then I really dig most of the new BLAKE AND MORTIMERs, and sone of the one-shot SPIROU “All-Star” books are pretty neat. (And let’s not forget that Franquin’s SPIROU was itself a legacy — he was the third artist on the feature.)

  6. R. Fiore says:

    But then again, I never thought the Goscinny-written Lucky Luke was nearly as good as Asterix. The funny thing is that when the team was intact I would have thought that Uderzo’s contribution was at least 75% of what I liked about it, but man, take away that 25% and you’re left with zero. As another reader once told me, “the brain is gone.”

    It seems pretty axiomatic to me that anyone talented enough to carry on the work of a first class artist ought to be able to create something of his own, and it’s just a matter of wasting talent for easy money. I think Blake and Mortimer is something that could be continued successfully because relatively little of the appeal is due to the characters Blake and Mortimer. It’s much more of a template.

  7. patrick ford says:

    Certainly if the new Tintin film is a big success there would be a higher possibility a new comics version would be revived.

    I’m somewhat of the opinion that original work is near bullet proof to even atrocious later versions.

    Consider the Frank Miller “Spirit ” film which was almost universally condemned, and from what I gather had nothing in common with the tone and feel of the Eisner original. While Miller’s film probably did next to nothing to promote the original, I seriously doubt it did any substantial harm. The vast majority of people have never heard of the Spirit. Even if they were turned off by the Miller film it’s unlikely the film discouraged them from checking into the original, because without the film they never would have heard of the Spirit. Even a bad film would probably serve to promote at least some interest in the original. What I mean is a person who would say, “Wow that Spirit movie really sucked, what ever it was based on I’m sure I don’t care,” would very likely never have heard of the Spirit at all without the film to promote it.

    Now a really good, or better yet a really popular film, based on a comics series would serve to promote the original to a greater degree.

  8. Michael Grabowski says:

    Did Superman The Movie goose sales of Superman comics in 1978? My guess is no, at least not more than temporarily. How about Batman in the 60′s? I don’t suppose there’s any way to tell short of researching the circulation statements in the letters pages from the years before and after, but I’m doubtful any movie or TV show has led more people to discover the comics on a more permanent basis.

  9. patrick ford says:

    The effect is fleeting. Personally I’d prefer all characters died out. Thimble Theater was once hugely popular, I’m content to have the reprints available for the few thousand people who want them, and have no interest in Popeye aside from the Segar original. When I see an interview and hear a writer or artist say something like, “I love Batman, and want to add to the fabric of his legacy,” I can’t understand the motivation at all. “Batman is popular, and I can use the money.” seems like a more legitimate (if unfortunate) motivation to me.

    Batman:

    1965-453,745

    1966-898,470

    1967-805,700

    1968- 533,450

  10. DiamondDulius says:

    According to Infantino, the 60s Batman show helped sales tremendously… Batman was in danger of cancellation in ’64, and they did somewhat of an overhaul on the character, which helped a little… but the show was supposed to have made Batman “hot” again… don’t think the Superman movie helped at all…

  11. patrick ford says:

    The much touted success of Marvel in the Silver Age is largely a fabrication in terms of actual sales.

    Compare The Lee/Romita Marvel’s best selling title in the 60′s to Batman.

    Spider-Man 1966 1967 1968

    Total PAID circulation (avg): 340,155 361,663 373,303

    Batman 1966 1967 1968

    Total PAID circulation (avg): 898,470 805,70o 533,450

    What Marvel did do in the 60′s was show sales of individual titles trending higher every year until 1969 when they expanded the line after being purchased by Perfect Film and Chemical Inc..

    Other companies including DC were showing falling sales trends all through the decade. As late as 1969 though things like Action, Superman, Lois Lane, and Jimmy Olsen were all still selling more copies than Spider-Man.

    If the often mentioned “sales logic” is used then Lois Lane was a better comic book than the Lee/Romita Spider-Man, and the Lee/Romita Spider-Man was a better comic book than anything created by Ditko or Kirby at Marvel.

  12. Kim Thompson says:

    Who on earth here is using “sales logic” to argue… uh, to argue what, for that matter? Using the TV-show-boosted Batman to represent DC Comics is kind of rigging your argument, too.

    Is it just me or is this — “The much touted success of Marvel in the Silver Age is largely a fabrication in terms of actual sales… What Marvel did do in the 60′s was show sales of individual titles trending higher every year “– somewhat self-contradictory? I think selling more and more comics every year is a “success,” but then, what do I know, I’m just a publisher.

    I do agree that bad movie adaptations don’t hurt an existing work, although it’s possible a bad movie adaptation could warp an ongoing creation, as I’m sure Batman fans would argue about the effect of the TV show. (I can’t think of an example of any kind of “auteur” work being distorted by media adaptations, though.)

  13. steven samuels says:

    Considering the deep rut the Superman Comics (and DC) were in at the time, the movie most certainly had no effect. The Superman comics had little creative change literally for decades and almost always unreadable. Of course, they’re probably unreadable now, but at least they do change up the creative teams from time to time these days.

    I have to say though, it seems the Iron Man movie has singlehandedly made that character a household name. Not that it in any way makes up for more than forty years of mostly dodgy comics.

    In a better world, all creative works would go public domain within twenty years of their creation. But that should go without saying.

  14. ScottGrammel says:

    Kim, since they’ve started coming out in English the last few years, I’ve wanted to ask you: should I give the original Blake and Mortimer books a try? In particular, there’s an Egyptian-themed two-parter I’ve been circling on Amazon for a while now.

  15. patrick ford says:

    Kim, The sales logic (quality = commercial success) is commonly invoked by people, though not specifically on this thread. Obviously past proven success in sales is seen as good reason to continue a strip, or seek to adapt it in other media. This more or less is thinking the original characters have a life of their own, independent of the voice of the creator. In other words: People like Tintin, not Herge.
    Mike asked about the Batman TV show and if it boosted sales. It did very substantially (almost doubled) for two years and then the sales fell back to around 500.000 which is what it had been selling before the two year boost (453,745).
    Marvel trending higher in the 60′s was a success, my point is their best selling book still wasn’t in the top ten industry wide best selling titles until 1968, and was still being outsold by Lois Lane, Archie, Superman, Archie, etc at the end of the 60′s.
    Note that in the 1966 figures Spider-Man (Marvel’s top seller) is being outsold by Archie, and The Metal Men.
    http://www.comichron.com/yearlycomicssales/1960s/1966.html
    http://www.comichron.com/yearlycomicssales/1960s/1967.html
    http://www.comichron.com/yearlycomicssales/1960s/1968.html
    The 1969 figures show Marvel cracking the top ten.
    http://www.comichron.com/yearlycomicssales/1960s/1969.html
    Sales/popularity and the reason for them are a hard thing to figure. Back in the 80′s the Mutant Turtles caught on and became a huge success, expanding into other media, but who would argue it was a better comic book than other B&W comic books of that era like Jim, Love and Rockets.
    And of course it’s sales and an assumed built-in popularity which explains why old characters are kept alive, rather then new ones brought along.
    I would say Segar’s Popeye (Thimble Theater) has been thoroughly warped by other media. What continuing a strip, or versions in film and other media do is keep the characters alive in the mind of the public. The effect on the original is very minor, and people who would avoid the original because they are put off by a bad film are very likely people who would never have been aware of the original without the film.
    Comic Strips are a good study. Right now you have Thimble Theater and Little Orphan Annie being reprinted. Both were very popular in their original incarnation, and were even bigger hits in other media, yet today I assume the reprints sell about as well as Gasoline Alley which was a success in it’s day, but was not really exploited in other media. Annie, and Popeye, like Tarzan and Roy Rogers, might well fade from the public eye as well known characters and join the ranks of Walt and Skeezix, Andy Gump, and Pat Ryan as characters who were once known by millions in their original form, who are almost completely forgotten.

  16. Kim Thompson says:

    In response to Scott Grammell, yes, BLAKE AND MORTIMER, absolutely! The PYRAMIDS books are pretty hardcore in terms of being long, slow-moving, and wordy — of the Jacobs books they’re the Jacobsiest. They’re masterpieces but I think to an American reader maybe “difficult” masterpieces. I’d personally recommend THE YELLOW “M,” which is a bit snappier, for first-time readers (also a smaller investment). The new non-Jacobs ones are surprisingly good (I think some of them are better than Jacobs’s last books, THE AFFAIR OF THE NECKLACE and the [untranslated] two-parter set in Japan), especially the Juillard-drawn ones.

    I’m actually scheduled to write a full-on appreciation/reader’s guide on B&M for tcj.com soon, but the quick rundown is “M,” the PYRAMIDS books, and S.O.S. METEORS, probably in that order. THE TIME TRAP hasn’t been translated by Cinebook yet (it’s available for lots of money in the old Catalan edition), which is too bad, because it’s one of my favorites and probably Jacobs at his graphic peak.

    I don’t know that I disagree with much if anything that Patrick Ford wrote, and yes, POPEYE (and to a greater degree LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE) have clearly been warped in terms of the general public’s perceptions of the character and the work. (Of course, so have Fletch and STARSHIP TROOPERS. As a Gregory Mcdonald fan, I’m STILL “Chevy Chase, what the fuck?”) In terms of comics, there are quite a few series where popular success survives the death or abandonment of the original creator, and a handful where critical success does as well. I guess I’m against it on principle except for in those cases where I like the results, which is a selfish, unprincipled stance. Of course the second greatest European cartoonist in the history of the world made his glory with a hand-me-down (SPIROU), as did the greatest American comic-book cartoonist in the history of the word (DONALD DUCK). But of course both contributed enormously to the mythology of what was not a very finished character in the first place, as opposed to taking over an established masterpiece. Maybe BLAKE AND MORTIMER is just the proverbial exception that proves the rule.

  17. R. Fiore says:

    Sales are not the only measure of success; another is the impact you were having on the culture in general. Not to pull rank, but Kim and I were both alive when this was happening, and there was little doubt which company was dominating the zeitgeist. (Of course, in the zeitgeist of the 60s it was a much bigger thing to be the upcoming insurgent than it was to be the establishment, even if the establishment was doing better in balance sheet terms.) Another measure is who would begin to follow the lead of who, and it would definitely evolve into DC trying to be more like Marvel. The macro trend was that reading comic books was going out of style as a childhood activity, and one of the perceived solutions to reversing this trend was “becoming more relevant,” and the perception was that Marvel was better at this.

  18. R. Fiore says:

    Nevertheless, as a p.s., the data Patrick brings up is an interesting and worthwhile corrective to certain impressions the zeitgeist might have given us.

  19. patrick ford says:

    True Marvel was coming on like gang-busters while the lead horses were fading, and DC and everyone else could see that, but on the whole the 60′s were a bad decade for comics. Comics books were a non-entity among kids in the places where I grew up, if anything they were an object of scorn even among 3rd graders. By the end of the Silver Age comic books were being forced off newsstands, and if it hadn’t been for the direct market, they may not have survived. Marvel’s own sales actually peaked (discounting the 80′s-early 90′s collectible mania) in 1968 before Marvel was able to expand it’s line after it was freed from the constraints it operated under while being distributed by Independent News which was owned by DC and Warner executive Jack Liebowitz. Under Perfect Film’s ownership Marvel returned to the “Goodman Method” (flood the newsstand) the sales of Marvel’s best selling titles went down, year by year until a point in the late 70′s when it has been said Jim Galton was on the point of shutting down comic book publishing, and DC executives were thinking along the same lines.

  20. patrick ford says:

    One thing I love about the Barks Donald is it can’t be translated to film. The reason is the film Donald, who came first is identified with a novelty voice which is difficult to listen to for more than very short bursts. There is simply no way you could have the film Donald voice carry a feature film. The Barks Donald can talk to his hearts content, and it’s no problem because his dialogue is written on the page.

    So if you’ve ever wondered, “If Disney wants to make good cartoon features why don’t they just do direct adaptations from Barks classics,” the reason might be Donald’s film squawk.

  21. Alexandre Buchet says:

    Well, for the ‘Duck Tales’ animated series they almost totally sidelined Donald, replacing him with Launchpad McQuack.

    Great voicework on that series. I loved Scrooge’s Scottish and Majica DeSpell’s Slavic accents.

  22. R. Fiore says:

    I’ve never watched Duck Tales, but I never liked the idea of a Scottish-accented Scrooge McDuck. In my mind I always heard him as American, and I don’t recall any effort to put Scottish dialect in the word balloons, except perhaps in the very beginning.

    Mike Barrier once made the interesting suggestion that they adapt the Barks stories to live action, changing the characters to human beings.

  23. danieljmata says:

    I’ve read a few Blake & Mortimer (M and the Pyramids books), and they read wonderfully if you just skip over the narration boxes. As a young turk, yee gads, those things. Still, the books are nice to own if just for the art work.

  24. patrick ford says:

    Never saw Duck Tales either, in that I’ve really got no interest in Disney Duck suits.

    They could be live action or animated, anything but Ducks, it wouldn’t matter, they’re better stories just as plots than anything I’ve seen from Pixar, Disney, Dream Works, and all the rest of the stuff I take my kids to see. And they could keep most of the dialogue with only minor changes.

    Unlike 90% of the writers in mainstream comics history Barks was an exceptional writer. The typical comic book writer is a hack who can’t make it on words alone. Jim Woodring gave the perfect description in his TCJ interview when he talked about the bitter pathetic comic book writers who were also writing for Ruby-Spears.

    A bunch of fakes who kept talking about the great novel they were going to write one day.

  25. Alexandre Buchet says:

    Hold on, Patrick — Woodring doesn’t mention any comics writers at Ruby-Spears at all, although certainly some worked there (such as Steve Gerber, in my view an excellent writer.)

    Duck Tales were mostly adapted from the Barks stories, and featured superior TV animation from Disney’s Paris studios; you should give’em a whirl.

  26. patrick ford says:

    Woodring is talking in general about the whole group of writers at Ruby-Spears several of whom were comic book writers. Gerber’s name never came up in the interview that I recall.

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