Wednesday, November 25, 2009

2009 Manga Gift Giving Guide - Seinen edition

This year marked the start of the New York Times' Graphic Books bestseller lists, including best selling trade paperbacks, hardcovers and manga. Now the blogging community rolled its collective eyes a little at the term "Graphic Books" – why not use graphic novels or sequential art if you have to get all literary? The weekly updates include some surprise titles and some not-so surprising ones. Every week the manga readers wait to see if "Naruto" or "Vampire Knight" have dropped off the top spot. But for all its play, manga is rarely even referenced in the introductions. And now manga isn't even included in the gift giving guide. With all the notable books coming out this year from "A Drifting Life" to "Disappearance Diary", they couldn't find something arty to suggest?

So rather than grumble about the unfairness of it all, the manga bloggers came up with a solution – our own manga gift giving guides. I grabbed most of my favorites off my shelves, some recent and some older, keeping in mind that some series are longer than others.

Unlike the other bloggers, I hadn't really intended to make this a list from a particular category. I read what I'm interested in, not necessarily who it was marketed or intended for. So imagine my surprise when I compiled my list and realized all nine manga series I'd picked were all seinen books.

Ed Chavez of Vertical Books pointed out something in a recent interview on Comics Reporter: "The word seinen itself means adult and does not make reference to gender." Hence it's really not a surprise that there's crossover with other genres, especially the female oriented ones. "Emma"'s official subtitle is "A Victorian Romance" and yet it's published in a seinen magazine. "Voices of a Distant Star" is a science fiction series featuring a plucky young female character and has some romantic elements. But again it's seinen.

The real joy I've found with manga is the wide variety covered by the medium. Literally, you can find any story you want in manga. Are you in the mood for a samurai story? Got that. Mecha powered space aliens? Absolutely. Hapless girl falling in love with the right and wrong guy at the same time? By the bushels. You can also learn to play Go, visit Victorian England or simply take a walk around the block. Manga is not all action and adventure for boys and romance for girls. It's much more diverse than that.

So onward to my choices in no particular order:

1. Pluto – Naoki Urasawa's Pluto is at the top of my list for the sheer fact that it surprised me. People kept recommending it, so I gave it a try, half expecting it to be "not my thing". Instead, the mystery lover in me was fascinated with the investigations, while the science fiction fan was intrigued by a world of robots. But what really surprised me was the emotion, especially for the robot characters. Why are the greatest robots being destroyed? What does it really mean to be human? Bonus gift giving suggestion, package the first volume of Pluto with the third volume of the Astro Boy manga which covers the same "Greatest Robot" arc. Your recipient might enjoy seeing the comparisons and differences between the two titles.

2. Oishinbo – Do you have a foodie on your gift list? Are they always dragging you off for sake and sushi? Are they fascinated by the intricacies of Japanese culture? Oishinbo has something for everyone. The story pits father and son in a battle of wills over their respective menus. It's a classic clash of youth vs experience with surprising results. The detailed artwork shows Japanese delicacies of varying degrees of difficulty. The "a la carte" volumes are broken down into specialties so one will be on vegetables or another on rice. You get a whole volume on wine and spirits, so you'll understand the types of sake or what wines work with what dishes. You'll usually get two recipes included in each volume with color pages and instructions. And did I mention the footnotes?

3. Children of the Sea – Are you fascinated by the mysteries of the sea? Do you love the aquarium? This is part nature story and part magical realism, filled with beautiful artwork of fish and wildlife. When Ruka meets Umi and Sora, two unusual boys raised at sea, she's shown a very different world that lives underneath the water. "Children of the Sea" is a relatively new title from Viz through their online magazine Ikki. The first volume was just released in July and the second one due just before Christmas. Chapters are also still available online on

4. Emma – Emma is a Victorian romance featuring a maid Emma who falls in love with a wealthy young man William. The odds are completely against them. Emma and William are from different classes and yet they're determined to be together. Kaoru Mori is so meticulous and detailed with her artwork. Victorian England really comes alive. She also writes some of the funniest omake pages I've read, answering questions on why she included certain topics or images. The last three volumes feature side-stories set in the same universe. The fun is going back and seeing where those characters first appeared. The last volume #10 will be out in time for Christmas sadly. Then there will be no more Emma. *mournful sighs* For those Kaoru Mori fans, CMX has also published her Shirley manga, which is a collection of short stories about another young maid.

5. The Walking Man – Jiro Taniguchi is my most recent manga discovery. Ponent Mon publishes utterly gorgeous editions of his works in thick paper. His artwork renders crisp and clear. They're treated as works of art, rather than disposable entertainment. Hence they may be a little pricier than the average manga volume, but so worth it. "Walking Man" is a slice of life story about stopping to appreciate the beauty in life. A man walks around his neighborhood, sometimes accompanied by his dog, and we see his delight in birdwatching or climbing a tree. It's light on plot, but big on atmosphere and mood. Slight male nudity for a swimming/bathing scene, but otherwise nothing too offensive.

6. A Distant Neighborhood – What if you could go back in time and relive your life when you were younger? Would you change things? Should you try to? Ponent Mon published Jiro Taniguchi's two volume "A Distant Neighborhood" with exactly that premise. Hiroshi Nakahara is thrown back to when he is 14 years old with his adult memories intact. He knows what's coming, he knows what happens to his friends, and he knows his father will be abandoning his family soon. What does he do with this knowledge? While "Distant Neighborhood" is nominally science fiction in that it includes time travel, really it's about a quiet story about a man trying to understand his family and their choices.

7. Planetes - Whenever science fiction shows humans going to space, it's always these grand adventures with space ships and aliens, guns blazing. So imagine a hard science fiction series where the main characters are trash collectors. Space debris retrieval and disposal people if we must be specific, but basically they collect the flotsam and jetsam of space travel, the oddments that have been left behind in our rush for the stars. "Planetes" has both a big picture and a smaller one. The big one shows space exploration in all its glory, the good and the bad, the costs and consequences. There are multiple references and homages to earlier periods of space exploration from. The smaller one shows the people who actually live and work in space and what it's like. This is the type of hard science fiction I like – technical but with a heart. Planetes is available five volumes from Tokyopop with the last "phase" split over two parts.

8. Voices of a Distant Star – Makato Shinkai's short anime film "Voices of a Distant Star" is one of my favorites, so I was excited when Kodansha announced it was doing a manga adaptation in Afternoon, illustrated by Mizu Sahara. Tokyopop released the single English volume soon after. "Voices" isn't your stereotypical science fiction story though. Mikako goes off to join the US Space Army as a pilot in a war against an alien race, while her friend Noboru stays behind. They maintain the friendship through a long distance series of emails and text messages across interstellar space. The manga expands on the anime's storyline, even adding additional characters.

9. 2001 Nights – Before "Planetes" captured life in space so spectacularly, there was "2001 Nights" written and drawn by Hoshino Yokinobu. "2001 Nights" is made up of a series of loosely connected short stories, a fusion of "Arabian Nights" and "2001: A Space Odyssey". I loved it for the same reason as "Planetes" afterwards. Whenever we saw space travel, I always saw either grand space operas with aliens from other worlds or we'd already made it to the stars. "Planetes" and "2001 Nights" focused on getting to the stars and how we lived there in a more realistic way. Viz originally published "2001 Nights" in 10 squarebound issues, before collecting them into the three trade paperbacks. Amazon still lists all three volumes in stock, so they're still available.

10. Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics – Okay, this one isn't a seinen book. In fact, it's an older non-fiction book written by Frederick L. Schodt that served as my gateway into the world of manga. It provides a good basic introduction to the history and development of manga. The book is filled with artwork, covers and more of various titles, some familiar and some not. The book also includes translated story samples for four series, including the shojo classic, Rose of Versailles. His Dreamland Japan covers the more recent developments in the genre. If you're interested in more Tezuma & Astro Boy, he's recently written the Astro Boy Essays.

Shopping note: "Voices" and "Planetes" are both officially out of print from Tokyopop, but you might still be able to find copies somewhere, either new or used.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Review: Stuff of Legend #1

While World War II rages on, a smaller war in Brooklyn escalates when a boy is kidnapped by the dark forces of the Boogeyman. Unwilling to give up on their young master, the child's faithful toys decide to mount a rescue operation into the Dark. Outmatched and outgunned, they're still determined to see the quest through, no matter the dangers or the cost.

Th3rd World Studios published "The Stuff of Legend" initially as a Free Comic Book Day offering to serve as a preview for their upcoming title. Even though the local store didn't get the FCBD issue, the online preview did its job. "Stuff of Legend" promptly was added to the pull list with the usual nervous reservations about unknown titles and new publishers. Other people agreed since the first issue sold out, prompting a second printing, with the second issue due to be released in October.

The first thing that catches the eye about "The Stuff of Legend" are the dimensions of the book, shorter and wider than the usual comic book format, making it stand out amongst most piles of comics. The dimensions almost look like a children's picture book. The Free Comic Book Day issue was normal sized, beautifully arranged with little portraits of the characters in the white space, allowing the art to breathe better. Both versions work, but in different ways. Charles Paul Wilson III's art is absolutely gorgeous and the colors really work in establishing the mood. They could have gone all "Wizard of Oz" and had the colors bright and shiny in one part and gloomy in another, but grateful they didn't that direction. The sepia tones really give added shadows and depth to the scenes.

The writing keeps the action going, moving easily from the real world scenes to the fantastical. All the characters have their own distinct personalities from stalwart Max to the determined Colonel to the lethally effective Jester and even poor Percy. The two female characters Harmony and the Indian Princess are not simpering wallflowers either. They're just as brave and determined as their male-gendered toys. True, the Colonel and the Jester are rather over protective of the two of them, but that's treated as more chivalrous than condescending. You even feel a little sorry for the other toys left behind while the braver toys go off. The villain is unbelievably creepy. You can easily picture this Boogeyman lurking under your bed or hiding in the dark corner of your closet. You can hear him whispering in the dark. He knows how to get under people's skin and how to use that to his advantage. He preys on fear, after all. Even toys have fears, very particular ones, of being broken, mishandled, or worse, forgotten and unloved. They're strangely very human fears.

Everyone always calls "Stuff of Legend" a darker version of "Toy Story". The Comic Couch podcast #56 even reflected on the differences between the toys in each. Some of it can be explained by the era. "Stuff of Legend" takes place in WWII when toys are still handmade and careworn. They're the classic archetypal toys. They're given personalities in the stories, yes, but we can look at them and think of our own toy collections when we were children. Who doesn't have an old favorite teddy bear or a little toy soldier or a pretty ballerina? Some of the toys are even hand-me-downs to the younger brother. The ones in "Toy Story" are more commercial and popular, filled with in-jokes everyone can appreciate. All the same it's hard to picture Woody and Buzz Lightyear in the dark world of "Stuff of Legend". They're just too bright and cheerful. The toys of "Stuff of Legend" almost have a gloomy fatalism about them. You can hear it when the other toys talk about the closet and the Dark. You can hear it when Percy is already starting to plan how to divvy up the missing boy's things.

Being from an older generation, though, "Toy Story" didn't immediately spring to mind, rather the adventures of a redheaded rag-dolly and her rascally brother and a camel with wrinkled knees. That afternoon classic, "Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure", also showed the toys in the playroom coming to life when their owner was safely out of the room. (That seems to be a Rule in these stories. As children, we are allowed to play act with our favorite toys but they're not allowed to talk back or interact with us.) When the French doll Babette is kidnapped, Raggedy Ann & Andy go off on their great adventure to find her before the owner notices she's missing. The movie was light-hearted and fluffy and everything "Stuff of Legend" is categorically not. But while Raggedy Ann and Andy's adventures were fantastic and weird, there was never a doubt that they would come out on the other side. With "Stuff of Legend", things are not so certain.

"Stuff of Legend" is a beautiful book. It's really clear how much care and effort went into all aspects of this book from the art and story through to the final presentation. It's nice to take a chance on an unknown title and be rewarded for it for a change. Hopefully there will be many more adventures into the Dark.


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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Small Press Expo

So Saturday I spent part of the day at the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland.

I had all the best of intentions getting over there really early. Metro had other ideas. Everyone was on the Orange Line heading into town for the National Book Festival. Then I went in the opposite direction I needed on the Red Line. That was just the way my day was going.

The North Bethesda Marriott & Convention Center was very easy to find from the Metro. I actually followed a crew with their set of boxes and anime messenger bags. I suspected I was in the right place. Registration line was nearly non-existent an hour after they opened, the pluses of going to a smaller con.

One thing I was determined to do when I arrived was to find the Fanfare/Ponent Mon table. For those outside the manga reading sphere, they're a smaller publisher that prints "quieter" and arty manga in gorgeous editions. They've published a lot of Jiro Taniguchi, including "Walking Man", "A Distant Neighborhood", "Summit of the Gods" and "Quest for the Missing Girl". They've also published Hideo Azuma's autobiographical "Disappearance Diary". Having found said table, I had to decide what I wanted, a rather tough and daunting decision. I went with "Walking Man" and the two volumes of "Distant Neighborhood". Alas I couldn't afford the entire selection, as tempting as it was.

After my first tour through the exhibitor hall, I also managed to lose my badge/lanyard. I'm still not sure if it fell off in the dealers' room and what exactly. Thankfully the registration people took pity on me. It wasn't like it was a horribly expensive con, but still was a mite embarrassing.

I only attended one panel while I was there, the "Comic Strips: Online and in Print" panel, which featured R. Stevens, Kate Beaton, Erika Moen and Julia Wertz. They talked about the challenges of creating webcomics and then publishing them in print formats, any adjustments they made and how the audiences are different. They also addressed technological issues with RGB/CMYK conversions. They addressed the more basic issues of merchandising and "why publish it in hard format at all?" Moen & Stevens provided the most useful information in the panel, both technical and just outright enthusiasm. Moen published hers as a book because she loved books, not necessarily because her audience demanded it. She had compiled a collection over a three year period, so while she left most of her line art intact, she had gone in and corrected the colors and Photoshop errors. When discussing pirating issues, Stevens admitted one way he got around it was merchandising pixel socks, certainly a unique item in the Exhibitor Hall. And they were cute socks, I have to say. Kate Beaton was utterly mobbed at her table.

By going around the con with other people, I stopped at tables I wouldn't ordinarily notice. The "Let's Be Friends Again" guys had some hysterically funny (and very politically incorrect at times) cartoons. I might not have looked at Dresden Codak if a friend wasn't such a fan. I'd heard about Owly for Free Comic Book Day, but nothing prepared me for the cute little baby hats or Owly sketches. Super Spy's Matt Kindt sat at Top Shelf's table doing commissions in water colors, putting the finishing touches on a gorgeous Marvelman/Miracleman commission.

On my last tour of the exhibitors hall, I acquired the noirish "You Have Killed Me" by Jaime Rich & Joelle Jones from the Oni table and the Finder trade "King of Cats" from Carla "Speed" McNeil. I'd last seen her in 2005 when my writers group helped sponsor a graphic novel event at the local Barnes & Noble. That crowd would have been perfectly comfortable at SPX.

That comfort level is something I'm not sure I could ever manage. I'll be flat out honest. I am a mainstream comic book girl. I like my superheroes and my four color goodness. Small Press Expo catered to a very different crowd and a very different mindset. That said I was surprised how friendly and outgoing everyone was. I didn't feel odd or unusual as a girl.

What I appreciated was their enthusiasm for their work and the sheer variety out there. I liked seeing all the different formats from Dresden Codak's massive posters to the little "Sundays" books. Being so used to things in floppies or trades, it was nice to see comics imagined in other ways. On the whole, I enjoyed the experience and perhaps next year I'll try to spend more time there.

I do think you need to go to SPX willing to open your mind and take a few chances. See what strikes your fancy, whether art style or format or colors. There was something for nearly everyone.

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Thursday, September 03, 2009

"Whatever happened to the old happy-go-lucky Sharon?"

"Whatever happened to the old happy-go-lucky Sharon?"

"Her last boyfriend was killed in the Philadelphia bombing."


"And she was never that happy-go-lucky. But she did used to smile more often."

-- Captain America #13

I have never been much for the main Marvel universe. For someone who loves big massive super hero groups, the Avengers always left me in the dark. So I was really surprised when I fell in love with Ed Brubaker's Captain America run. Maybe I shouldn't be. I've loved his work since Gotham Central and Catwoman. His moody noir/adventure thriller approach really sold me on the character. I loved Steve Epting's gorgeous artwork since his Crossgen days on the pirate book El Cazador.

But it was really the characters that won me over -- all of the characters -- from Steve, Sharon, Sam, Natasha, Nick and especially Bucky. Older Bucky anyway. I still have issues with the younger brat sidekick version, but the older Winter Soldier/Captain America is a fascinating character I hope we continue to see more of.

The reading has been slow going. I don't have the continuity reference points for the Marvel universe the way I do with DC, so throwing names and places and things at me makes me grab my laptop and do random Google searches. Brubaker explains things mostly, but I still feel like a stranger in a foreign land where no one has bothered to tell me what language I'm reading.

And while I've loved it, it's not without its hiccups for me, the biggest coming during the "Death of Captain America" long arc from #25-42. The hiccups surprisingly involved the treatment of Steve Rogers' on-and-off again girlfriend and SHIELD watcher Sharon Carter aka Agent 13. I say surprisingly because Brubaker usually writes very good female characters, so this caught me off-guard. I make no bones about the fact I love Sharon. She's a kickass lady and shown as very competent at her job. She's not overawed by Steve or his iconic status.

Until Steve dies. Until Brubaker runs her through the proverbial emotional roller coaster. Until she acts like some confused "woe is me" damsel in distress. Now yes, she was kidnapped and threatened during the earlier twenty-five issues, but I never had the sense Agent 13 couldn't take care of herself. Dr. Faustus messed with her head big time and she's still shocked by Steve's death, so I can understand why she's not quite herself, but I still miss my "happy go lucky Sharon".

Part of it was how her name was used. Or when it was used at all. She wasn't Agent 13 or even Sharon, she was "Steve's girl" or "Rogers' Woman". Like the only way she mattered or counted was through her relationship with Steve. Those types of phrases got repeated often enough that it started to piss me off a little. Finally that seems to break when Natasha reminds sweet baby James in #36 that Sharon Carter has a name.

And then there's the stupid pregnancy/miscarriage storyline. Admitting my biases upfront, no, I don't have kids, nor have I ever been pregnant, nor any real desire to be. All the same I have some really emotional and irrational responses to pregnancy related issues. Go figure.

I'd almost hit a point where I was over it. They'd allowed Sharon a chance to heal somewhat in #49 and accept what happen and move on. With Steve's possible return, I wonder if they'll even deal with that issue or not. I'm not sure if I want them to. It could be a nice patented excuse for Steve & Sharon to break up yet again or who knows? It'd be unrealistic for him to come back and have everything be shiny and new with a perfect happy ending. It may work in Disney but not in Marvel – not often enough and not usually in Brubaker's writing.

Yesterday afternoon, at my usual post-dental Books-a-Million visit (hey, you have your traditions, I have mine!), I came across an issue of Marvel Spotlight: Captain America with a big juicy interview with Ed Brubaker. Ooh, something new to read. And there are lovely bits about Bucky and the difference between Steve & Bucky and how Natasha popped up in the story. The "Death of Captain America" was only supposed to go for six months, except the story kept expanding and expanding. Whoops.

But there was a question about the Sharon and pregnancy:

Spotlight: We pointed out last time you're pretty mean to Sharon Carter! On top of all you did to her in the first 25 issues, you gave her a miscarriage. Has she suffered enough yet?

Brubaker: (Laughter) The important thing for me wasn't the baby itself or that she and Steve were gonna have a baby together, it was that there was this little piece of Steve that broke her out of her mental conditioning. It was the instinct to try and save her pregnancy that allowed her to take back her mind. Basically it was like Steve saved her from beyond the grave, the child that they made together saved her. She was willing to die and let the baby die with her to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Red Skull. That was, I thought, a really heroic story for her, really hardcore obviously and I guess very mean to the character. But she's my favorite character in the book, practically. It's not fun to be mean to her, but putting a character you love into an awful situation is what gets you compelling fiction. But I knew from the moment she was looking at the pregnancy test that the baby was never getting born...

Brubaker also goes on to discuss how the babies have usually destroyed shows/movies. And that's probably true. I won't argue that point. But the question remains why go there in the first place, other than additional angst.

I hate pregnancies as plot points. I've watched way too many daytime soap operas where if there's some one night stand, there's always a pregnancy scare or complication. It's a cute plot twist, but that's nine months that you either have go through with the idea or have something tragic and horrible happened. If you go in knowing damn well that child won't survive, then why should I care? Because she's been put through nearly every emotional wringer you can throw at her? Isn't it bad enough that her mind has been tampered with? And for the only point of that child was to be what eventually breaks Sharon out of that mind control – that's frankly problematic.

Brubaker spent a decent number of issues setting up this new relationship for Sharon and Steve. Whether completely on her own (or through Faustus' promptings), she really cared about Steve. She believed in Steve, even defended him on occasion. Argued with him, sure, but still believed in him. Whether his feelings were as strong, that's what we'll find out when/if he returns. Still the idea that Sharon needs this extra piece of Steve to help free her mind and lash out at her captors for what they did bothers me. Love is a very powerful thing. Wouldn't it be great and heroic if Sharon showed just how much she really loved Steve? Not their unborn child or his memory, but for him? Is that really so hard to believe? You have Steve overwhelmed by his memories every other issue, why shouldn't Sharon be any different? Personally I would have loved to see Dr. Faustus' plans blow up in his face. But that would be too corny, right, that you can't fight the power of love?

(I do find it strangely ironic that both Steve and Bucky were responsible for each other's current love life. Steve came back together with Sharon in Pilsburg on Bucky's trail in #16. And Steve's death caused Natasha to play courier for Stark in #27, bringing her back into Bucky's life. It's a nice piece of symmetry.)

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Women make comics -- the actual t-shirt!

A couple of months ago, I blogged about the "Women make comics" t-shirt design hunt. I've been somewhat remiss in posting the successful follow-up.

Deb Aoki,'s tireless resident manga blogger has created the final design now available on CafePress in a dizzying array of shirts, stickers and mugs. The design celebrates superhero/manga/indies.

All proceeds go to support the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Cartoon Art Museum and Friends of Lulu.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Girls Read Comics t-shirt project

One of the niftier aspects of Twitter is the ease you can bat around ideas on there. Someone suggests something and another pipes up with an even better idea or comes up with a way to make it happen. One of those nifty things happened last night.

In the last couple of the weeks, there have been several articles and one contest tied to San Diego Comic Con, all belittling or demeaning female participation at this cons. The LA Times would have you think women only go to Comic Con to look at the hot male celebrities. The District 9 contest at first didn't even include women until a lot of people, including Johanna Draper Carlson pointed it out. They've since changed their rules. And that paragon of dating advice Penthouse magazine(NSFW link) is implying that comic cons are all about sex and hookups. So women are just there for the guys, no matter how you look at it.

No one mentions the numbers of women who read, write, draw, edit and critique comics every day. No one mentions all the talented women who love comics for comics. These women could argue you under the table with issue numbers on their favorite characters and why they're misunderstood and unloved and appreciated. They love superheroes, they devour manga and they'll discover the quirky indie books you always wanted to try. And y'know, it gets really frustrating and tiring being told that's just the way things are and maybe you just smile and you'll just enjoy yourself more. And they wonder why people perceive the comics industry the way they do.

In that ugly maelstrom, Deb Aoki of, suggested on twitter that we needed some sort of protest t-shirt, some visible way of showing the industry that we exist and we're not going away anytime soon. That sparked a great round of suggestions for slogan ideas. Some are pithier than others. One nifty idea was a three-panel using "Girls Read Comics"/"Girls Buy Comics"/"Girls Write Comics"/"Girls Draw Comics" as the word balloons.

So how can you help? Deb is looking for female artists to contribute artwork -- one panel of art depicting a female character in American superhero, Indie or Manga style, with an empty word balloon. The word balloons would include the "Girls Read Comics" style slogans, with variants with "women" as an alternative. T-shirts would be sold online at Zazzle with the proceeds going towards your choice of comics-oriented charity, including MOCCA, Heroes Initiative and Friends of Lulu. Also potentially buttons, bumper stickers, and banners for bloggers.

Submissions: Women artists please contact Deb at debaoki at hotmail Published artists are especially welcome. Please sign your work. Artwork needs to be in before June 29th since Comic-Con is fast fast approaching.

If you can't draw, then do what I'm doing. Blog about this idea, forward it around, especially if you know female artists who might be interested in helping. The more people get behind this idea the better.

For more information, Erica Friedman of Okazu, has also posted about the project on her blog.

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

A change will do you good

I've expounded at length on Twitter and elsewhere about my woes with my comics pull list. I won't go into all the gory details, but suffice it to say, I wasn't a happy customer. But the options in the DC metro area are surprisingly limited. Some places require a minimum number of books before you can have a pull list; at that point I wasn't certain I was buying enough to manage that minimum.

So I started checking the options online. Having books shipped directly to my door sounded like a win-win combination to me, even if my credit card is having severe doubts.

I went with Discount Comic Book Service. I had heard good things about their service from other customers and I had a good experience with their sister site Instocktrades. The process was mostly painless. I filled out their massive Excel spreadsheet, uploaded it, and voila! My order appears up on the screen – as long as you marked the right space, you should get the right issue, no questions on whether it's the right title or if it's spelled correctly.

Now it's not without human error. I filled out my lovely spreadsheet for my first month only to discover after the fact I'd left off a title. No problem, I emailed their customer service and it was promptly added to my shipment. For future shipments, I have been much more careful to double and triple check things "Did I miss anything?" Of course I always do forget something.

Those Excel spreadsheets are extremely deadly. They contain everything off the Previews catalog, including all the variants, trades/hardcovers, manga, merchandise – you name it. They're also very nicely discounted, so you can afford that extra trade sometimes. I really had to reign myself in a few times in the follow-up months, which have gotten progressively more expensive. Even with discounts, you have to know your limits. Do I really need that Absolute? Can I live without that mini series? Oh, that's finally out in trade, should I get it? It's a vicious circle.

Customers have a couple of shipping options – weekly, biweekly or monthly. I went monthly, so my books go out after the last book ships. That means I see my comics after everyone, but I'm fairly used to that idea. You can also see which books shipped and which didn't on your account, which is reassuring.

My first batch arrived a few weeks ago. Only two books didn't ship because of delays. Both were expected, so I'm not too worried. They also included a batch of Free Comic Book Day titles in my shipment, so I could read the Wolverine, Avengers, and Shonen Jump offerings.

The following months will tell the tale of tape to see whether the change is worth it, but so far, so good. At least I can look forward to getting comics again... even if they're not on Wednesday.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Goodbye Shojo Beat, Hello Ikki

The demise of Viz’s Shojo Beat magazine fills me with great sadness. I’ve been a loyal Shojo Beat reader since the very start. I have every issue, including the initial preview issue. I never subscribed, though, not because I couldn’t afford it, but because I heard so many horror stories from SB subscribers having problems with their subscriptions. For me, it was just easier to pick up the new issue at the newsstand.

Even from the start, the magazine surprised me. I expected to fall for Nana with its rock n roll aesthetic. After all it was intended for “older” girls. But instead I fell hard for Crimson Hero and its scrappy heroine Nobara. I loved reading about the volleyball tournaments and watching the matches unfold. There was something refreshing about how Mitsuba Takanashi showed raw female athleticism. Ironically the romantic subplot bored me to tears.

Then the changes started coming. Series were rotated in and out with alarming alacrity. Shojo Beat became more of a preview ground for upcoming trade releases than continuing serials, so it was hard to get too attached to a series you liked. The theory was you’d buy the trades, which was good for sales of the trade line, but not so helpful for a magazine struggling to find and keep an audience. I always wondered what would happen if Viz decided to take Crimson Hero out of the lineup. I never had to make that decision. Crimson Hero was the only one of the initial series to stay in the magazine throughout SB’s run.

There were external changes too. The magazine switched to colored pages similar to ones seen in the Japanese manga phonebooks. With densely inked artwork, that sometimes provided a challenge to reading the magazine, but maybe that was older eyes. The content became more and more girl-friendly, focusing heavier on fashion and makeup and crafts. They even acquired a cover model, affectionately known as the Beat Girl, drawn by different artists.

Not all fans were too happy with these changes. From my small sampling of the lj community for the magazine, some fans disliked the shift away from what mattered – the manga. That was why they read the magazine. Part of me wonders if Viz, in trying to find new ways to appeal to this new readership, got a little lost along the way.

Not that Viz wasted any time mourning Shojo Beat. They’ve already opened their newest venture online: Ikki magazine online. In Japan, Ikki is a seinen magazine, geared towards young men aged in late teens to college and beyond. The American version will feature similar content as its Japanese counterpart, if cherry-picked by the Viz editors to find the best series for American audiences.

I’m of two minds about the whole thing. For some reason, I do read quite a lot of seinen. David Welsh summed up some of my theories of why in his plea to Kodansha in his “Unflipped” column. The seinen I’ve read seems to cut across the gender/age barriers and focus on providing an interesting and sometimes provocative story. Even my favorite Victorian romance “Emma” is actually seinen. So was the adaptation of “Voices of a Distant Star”.

That said it still leaves shojo fans feeling extremely left out of the fun. The Shojo Beat line will continue to appear as trades only. Why not shift some of the shojo content online if Viz is so willing to dip into that pond? Shojo Beat was already an established brand and they had the website already set up. If nothing else, they could have made their website more community-oriented to draw in those young girls already chatting online.

Shojo isn’t as marketable as Shonen. That’s what they keep telling us. Shonen has all the big guns -- the anime, the video games, the trading cards, the action figures, etc. Let’s face it, little boys love their toys. Circulation figures certainly back some of that. Shonen Jump has a circulation of 200,000 and Shojo Beat around 38,000. From a financial perspective, it’s unfortunately easy to see why SB had to go.

But I’ve got to play devil’s advocate and wonder how hard they tried. Shojo spawns its fare of anime series and soundtracks and drama cds. It also has its share of miscellaneous merchandise – the pencil boards and keychains and cellphone charms. The closest Viz has to shojo juggernaut is the after-mentioned Nana, but it is all and all, a rock and roll romance. Tokyopop has Fruits Basket which is getting a couple of fun Macy’s events. Which begs an interesting question: is shojo merchandising limited because it’s intended for girls or because of the stories themselves?

I know I'm not a typical fan. Sometimes I felt like an old lady reading over the cool kids' shoulders, just to see what all the fuss is about. Sometimes I felt like a younger me reading YM/Sassy looking at the fashion and makeup ideas. And sometimes I enjoyed having some mindless entertainment I could read every month.

I just feel for those teen girls who did follow the magazine and wish I didn’t feel like Viz had given up on them.

Prove me wrong, Viz.

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Saturday, May 02, 2009

Free Comic Book Day

For sports fans, the first weekend in May usually means the Kentucky Derby.

Ask a comics fan and it’s Free Comic Book Day. This event was set up as a way to lure potential new customers or entice old ones back into the comic shops. Comic book publishers create special editions or samplers of their books for the participating stores to carry that day. The Gold level sponsors are usually the heavy hitters, while the Silver level includes the lesser known stuff.

The books are all intended to be "family-friendly". There's usually a good lineup of kids title that appeal to all ages. Two years ago I saw the cutest thing at my local comic store. A little girl came in with her parents to ask for a free comic book. No one said "Oh, you're a girl, you shouldn't be reading those." They just pointed to the all ages selection and let her look. They pored over the table for something she'd like, along with one for someone else, possibly a brother or sister. At one point, she picked a black and white title and her father commented how there weren't any colors in that one. She said matter of factly she could always color it herself. Although the comics collectors might wince at that prospect, I smiled at a budding colorist in the works... we can always dream, right?

FCBD provides a great opportunity for those independent publishers to be exposed to new people that might not find their series otherwise. I’ll use two big examples: Owly and Love and Capes. Owly is an adorable kids comics about an owl and his friends. Love and Capes is a superhero romantic comedy. I would never have heard of either of these books without Free Comic Book Day.

As a comics fan, I’ll admit it – it’s really easy to get complacent. We all have our favorite characters. We all like to stick to what we know, rather than try out new things. So it’s kinda fun to have a chance to stray from the beaten path. Instead of picking up that usual title, you can try something else. If you don’t like it, there’s no harm. If you love it, hopefully there’s more to find.

So how did I spend my first weekend in May?

Well, I went over to the Big Planet in Vienna for my FCBD festivities. They had most of the better known titles available. In retrospect, I should have practiced what I preached and tried something new. But I stayed with the tried and true by getting the Blackest Night #0 and the DC Kids Mega Sampler. I also downloaded three of TwoMorrows Publishing magazines (Alter Ego, Rough Stuff and Write Now) in pdf format. (A friend scored me a copy of the Love and Capes FCBD issue, which absolutely made my day.)

I also bought a few other things. My haul included: Agents of Atlas #2, Mysterius the Unfathomable #3 & 4, Queen & Country definitive edition v4, an Appleseed trade and two volumes of the Pluto manga. This was more than I expected to buy truthfully, but I’m very happy with my purchases all the same.

Later I saw the X-men Origins: Wolverine with a couple of friends. So it was definitely a day to celebrate comic books.

And not a mint julep in sight.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Why I Twitter

A couple of manga bloggers have recently posted on why they Twitter. I didn't join Twitter to set the comics world ablaze. In fact, I joined for the goofiest of fangirl reasons.

I joined Twitter because of a house.

Her name is SARAH, the Self Actuated Residential Automated Habitat, if you must. She was posting fun and sometimes cryptic little updates about upcoming episodes of Eureka. She’d reply to your questions. She was even interviewed on Twitter.

I had heard about Twitter before that of course. You couldn’t be in Stargate: Atlantis fandom without hearing about David Hewlett’s posts.

I resisted the urge to join immediately. Twitter sounded like a lark, more geared for people who sent text messages to each other than someone used to Livejournal and blogging. Who can communicate in 140 characters or less? Who would enjoy having real conversations that way?

But I was obsessed with Eureka and SARAH was so friendly and welcoming.

So what David Hewlett couldn’t do, a smart house accomplished. There’s some irony working there.


I admit it – I didn’t expect to like using Twitter.

Initially I was content to just read along. I didn’t feel comfortable replying to people out of the blue yet. I posted occasionally, but nothing earth-shattering. I think my first Twitter was some random comment on gymnastics leotards in the summer Olympics.

Gradually I added friends from other places. And I started to talk. And talk.

I Twittered the November election returns curled up with my laptop.
That was when I saw the value of Twitter. It’s been described as the world’s largest rolling cocktail party. You can literally add your pithy two cents into any conversation. You can argue with some fan halfway across the world and get a reaffirming “Me too” from someone else. You can get a response from a favorite celebrity. Replies and retweets are still odd. I’m always blown away that people want to hear what I have to say, much less forward it to someone else.

When I started having the same sort of rolling discussions about comics and manga, I finally got it. Whether chattering about comic book news or important elections, the conversations and interactions are the real heart and joy of Twitter. I enjoy interacting with other comics fans and hearing what they’re reading and enjoying. I sit back and take in all the manga discussion. I’m still more of a reader than a critic, but I envy the bloggers and reviewers.

To a degree, my experiences on Twitter made me realize I did have something to say as a blogger. Up until then I thought I couldn’t add anything new. I’m not so sure about that now.

Nearly five thousand updates later, I think I’ve figured out this Twitter thing. You wouldn’t think it would take that long to figure out how to talk, would you?

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Psychic Girls and Superdimensional Fortresses

Up until now my blog posts have focused on American comic books and animation, but there was something else I discovered back then – Japanese manga and anime.

Like others, I rushed home to watch the continuing story of the Super Dimensional Fortress Macross. I even collected all the Comico issues of the Macross Saga and the novels and the art book and even the original LP soundtrack. (I wasn’t nearly as fond of the other parts of the Robotech series.)

I was dimly aware that there was an original Japanese version, but I was too young to know about anime clubs or fansubs. The closest I came to the anime clubs was the George Mason Anime Festival. For the whole day, they would take over a big room at the university and play anime all day. I saw all kinds of odd programs at those festivals, like Black Magic M-66, Dirty Pair and Bubblegum Crisis.

A little after my initial interest in Robotech, manga came into my life by way of Eclipse Comics. As a test of the market, they released three manga series -- Area 88, Legend of Kamui and my favorite Mai the Psychic Girl. I can hear the purists groaning and sighing already, because these were not the standard little squarebound paperbacks we’re used to seeing today. These three titles were released bi-weekly in standard comic book format, their contents “flipped”, so American readers didn’t have to learn a whole new way to read. These days most stuff is unflipped in Japanese format so you get those cute “You’re reading the wrong way” pages stuck at the front/back of every manga.

I do think it’s a little ironic that the first manga I picked was basically a girl superhero title. (I also note with amusement that Mercedes Lackey’s “Arrows of the Queen” was released a scant few months earlier, so maybe it’s not so surprising I picked up Mai.)

Mai was a very reluctant heroine though. Gifted with telekinetic abilities, she was drawn into a great conspiracy when she comes to the attention of the Wisdom Alliance. They want to control the world, using other gifted children. Mai spends a good chunk of the series fighting off other psychic attackers, including a very prepossessed German girl named Turm Garten. She was lovely and blonde and Western and utterly evil, reminding me a little of Heroes’ Elle. She had none of Mai’s compunctions about using her talents. I recall hating her when I was younger, but she was a fascinating character. I do wonder if I’d think differently of her now.

The series was anything but sanitized. There was plenty of violence and destruction. But perhaps because it was in black and white, or maybe I was too young to really get it, it didn’t bother me so much. I do have an easier time with comic book violence, compared to the movie equivalent, too. While they didn’t tame down the violence, they did take out a shower scene in the first or second issue of the series, mostly innocent in of itself, but the heroine was a teenage girl, so I suspect there was some concern. I also remember they had a hard time creating standard comic book covers. Only a certain number of color Mai art pieces existed for them to use, so they wound up refitting some of the artwork from the series. It made the covers very stylish and easy to spot in the stores.

Aside from Robotech, Mai the Psychic Girl was one of the earliest complete stories I remember reading. I was used to the American model with the endless adventures of superhero characters. The idea that a comic book could have a set conclusion and there was no more was rather novel.

Other manga series soon followed, including Nausicaa and Appleseed. I even wrote a high school English paper on Japanese manga & anime using Frederick Schodt’s “Manga! Manga!” as source material. I missed the whole “magical girl” phenomenon with Sailor Moon and Card Captor Sakura that came a little later. And nothing really prepared me for the explosion of manga and anime choices that came later. Before I’d have to scrounge around in odd places to find anything anime/manga oriented. Now I could walk into the average book/music/dvd store and find a dizzying array to choose from.

But nothing quite captured the magic of those original months back when a teenage girl could dream of having special powers.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

My Scott & Jean: Or Leave My Hawks Alone!

Alert Nerd has a blogging discussion on everyone's "Scott & Jean." To wit:

"That is my geek sacred cow, the one topic I cannot discuss rationally because it makes me too insane/angry/scary-eyed."

Trying to narrow it down is hard. There are comic book-related topics that send me into a rage or fill me with irritation. But there is only one that I simply can’t hear logic on.

Mine is simple: I loathe the Hawkman/Hawkgirl/Green Lantern/Vixen quadrangle in the last season of "Justice League Unlimited". No matter how you explain it to me, I will not agree the storyline made sense.

I actually tried to voice my annoyance with the storyline and was shouted down with “Shayera was a spy, she betrayed the League, so she deserved whatever she got.” Wow, so the love interest wasn’t allowed an opinion. She wasn’t allowed to have feelings, because of what she’d done a season and a half ago? Despite all the good she did, she’s damned by her previous actions. How wonderfully open-minded you are.

But... but... you love the Justice League animated universe. The series single-handedly dragged you back into the DC Universe. How can you say that?

Let me back up a little. I came into the “Justice League” animated series late in the game, after some of my friends were all squeeful over the series. The first episodes of "Justice League" I watched was the "Starcrossed" three-parter. So I knew the Hawkgirl/Green Lantern was pretty well doomed from the start. That doesn’t make what they did later any better in my eyes.

For me, the DC animated universe was off in its own safe little alternate universe. That allowed for the new interpretations of the familiar characters.

I was even okay with Hawkgirl being without Hawkman in this universe. Shayera Hol was strong and independent woman who took no quarter from anyone. She wasn’t just some sidekick or dilettante. She wasn’t someone’s partner or Girl Friday. She might have worn the familiar Thanagarian Hawk uniform, but Shayera was categorically her own woman. That opened her up to romances with other people, including John Stewart.

The DC animated writers started tweaking with that idea when they introduced Shayera’s promised one Hro Talak in “Starcrossed”. Hro Talak was an anagram of Katar Hol, the Silver Age canon husband of Thanagarian Hawkgirl. The team had wanted to use the original Hawkman, but apparently DC Comics didn't quite like the idea of him as a villain, so they changed him just enough. (They had done the same thing in “Legends” when DC nixed using the JSA.) The writers mentioned Truman's "Hawkworld" as an inspiration, which gave us the uglier grittier Thanagar. In that series, Katar wasn't the nice respected and married (*glares at Mavis*) cop. Someone suggested that this was the Katar who had stayed home on Thanagar, becoming the hardened warrior in an Elseworlds type of change.

So Shayera flew off in “Starcrossed”, leaving poor John woe and all alone. His new girlfriend was Vixen, portrayed by the glorious Gina Torres. That relationship wasn’t supposed to last long, but the writers made Vixen a little too likable and plus they loved the actress. I liked her, too. I honestly thought she was the most level-headed of the quad. She could have acted as the jealous girlfriend, but she was more playful than anything.

But the writers found themselves in a hole. How do they get John back to Hawkgirl without making him into a massive jerk? They equally nixed the idea of Vixen dumping GL as too easy. This was then worsened by the addition of the Warhawk character from the future DCU we saw in both “Batman Beyond” and "Once & Future Thing". Why the writers couldn't brush it aside as a possible future, rather than the future I don't know. Or at least they could have left a question mark about who the father was. Then they might have been okay.

Instead enter the DCU version of Carter Hall aka Hawkman. In the writers' talk for "Ancient History", Dini and company explained how this came about. Initially they'd wanted to do a classic JLA lineup with Barry Allen and Hal Jordan, etc. Carter was the only thing that survived from that idea. They actually liked the reincarnated part of his background everyone sighs and grumbles over. No one seems to like that story except me. They cited Geoff Johns' recent Hawkman run for inspiration of melding the Egyptian and the Thanagarian backgrounds. I think that actually comes from the JSA "Return of Hawkman" sequence. Despite what they said, this Carter does come off stalkerish and presumptive. He assumes once she's heard the story she'll just fall into his arms. In retrospect, that was not all that unlike Carter & Kendra's early interactions, when he came on a little too strong, so maybe that explains my irritation with this incarnation. Carter the warrior and strategist is not there, just a deluded archaeologist who believes that Egypt was settled by aliens. Should we introduce him to Dr. Daniel Jackson?

Inserting Green Lantern into the Hawks’ Ancient already complicated Egyptian backstory just felt wrong. The original was a love story, not a triangle, and Hath-Set suddenly became a caricature version of Jafar, rather than eternal evil. In the writer's talk, they talked about the fake-out with the Shadow Thief's real identity, which was a nifty piece of storytelling, because of the voices. But the real reason I'd assume the Shadow Thief was Hath-Set was because I knew the classic Hawkman background of Hath-Set stalking the lovers through time. Not that this applies in this universe, because they weren't the intended lovers you were worried about. You didn’t care about Carter and Shayera in the flashback; you only saw John and Shayera. Shayera's former half is no longer the devoted partner and wife, she's the cheating harlot. But it's okay because she was meant to be with Green Lantern all along... *head desks*

Throughout these episodes, Green Lantern talked about having mixed emotions because he's with Vixen and clearly has feelings for her, but the future shows he wound up back with Hawkgirl. Batman asks the pointed question. "Why are you still with Vixen then?" What about Hawkgirl herself? Is her only future as brood mare? Carter's still hanging around and still has feelings for her. Nowhere is she given a similar quandary. You tell her in the future you have a son together but then "I'm still staying with Vixen". What other alternative do you give Hawkgirl than to search Bats to ask about her son? Writers, you don't want John to come off a jerk, but in the end, he kinda does anyway.

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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Times, they are a-changin'

When I started reading comic books, I loved the letter columns. Those back pages were my little link to the outside world. I didn’t have any friends who collected comics, so I only knew which characters I liked or disliked, which parts of stories I loved or loathed. Letter columns showed me that other people felt the same way. Or they completely disagreed with me. I also saw behind the curtain at the creative process a little, hearing from the writers or editor. They’d explain how a particular storyline was approached or clarify some confusing point in a previous issue.

The letter columns took on a certain life of their own. I learned to recognize regulars in the letter columns, like the late cranky TM Maple. I couldn’t think of Legion of Super Heroes without thinking of the Legion Outpost, where the readers elected the Legion leader, much to our dismay sometimes. How else do you explain Polar Boy? The Legion Baxter series also includes my first and only letter, published during the “Who is Sensor Girl” mystery. I said clones would never be considered “real” people, a good six or seven years before Connor Kent blasted into the DC universe. The threeboot Legion even had fun with the letter column idea with Legionnaires answering fan questions.

I also discovered that I was a canon geek. I loved when older stories were referenced or discussed, because they gave me something new to hunt down, old characters to appreciate. Roy Thomas was the king of the annotations and footnotes in both All Star Squadron and Infinity Inc.

Besides the letter columns, there were other columns printed in the comics, the precursors of the current DC Nation, usually written by well-meaning editors and the occasional guest writer. These would give the week’s releases, so I’d know when things were out.

And then there was the Comic Buyer’s Guide. I subscribed to CBG for nearly five years, including my college years. That was an eye-opener. I saw page after page of all those news, conventions, ads, comic strips, and yes even letters. This was where I was introduced to the non-DC titles. This was where I started hearing the rumblings about Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen. There were comics in black and white! There were mysteries (Maze Agency), there was science fiction (MICRA), and there were even lawyers (Wolff & Byrd). Horrors! (Alas no law firm I’ve ever worked for has been nearly as enjoyable or wacky as the Counselors of the Macabre. But I am no Mavis either.)

The other night I was thinking how much fan interaction has changed. If you wanted to talk to other fans, there were apparently fanzines and APAs out there, but I was never involved in that side of comic fandom. These days there are more message boards you can shake a stick at, some better than others. You can argue for days on whether your favorite hero can beat up the other guy’s favorite. Or gripe about the art or the writing or the characters. If you wanted to tell the publisher how much you enjoyed a series, you could send in a letter column and hope your letter was interesting enough to be included. These days some books have letter columns, but mostly you vote with your dollar. If you wanted to talk to your favorite artist or writer, you had to either hope they made it to a convention near you (see my lone encounter with Adam Hughes) or send fan mail through the publisher. These days they may have a website or blog or message board or even a Twitter account. You can toss off a squeeful 140 word note about loving the current issue and usually get a quick response in return.

It isn’t all sunshine and daisies. The Internet never sleeps and the comic book news sites have picked up the pace on the news cycle. Fans are bombarded by news of new projects, cranking up the hype more and more. That is feeding into the convention circuit where it seems odd or unusual if DC/Marvel/etc doesn’t have some big announcement to share. And when some great announcement does come out, it’s met with a jaded skepticism. I’ve joked often I need a “cautiously optimistic” mood on livejournal for every time I posted some comics news I was hopeful about.

Why am I telling you all this? I am not trying to depress you. That wasn’t my intention. I am not about to go all “You poor things, why in my day, we had to walk five miles barefoot in the snow to buy our comics...” I managed quite fine with what I had and I’ll probably manage fine with I have now. I do miss letter columns dearly, but talking to other fans and the creators directly is even better. I even miss seeing comics at the local drug store, but poking my head into comics shop on Wednesday is equally fun. Times have indeed changed. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Issue #0: Secret Origins

So you’re wondering about me? How does a nice girl like me get into comic books?

Blame the cartoons. It’s usually the easiest explanation. The Super Friends cartoons took over my Saturday morning in the mid-late 1970s, so it was only natural I might discover comic books. Because I loved Wonder Woman (and I still do), I naturally gravitated to the books she appeared in: Super Friends, Justice League of America and Wonder Woman. (There might have been a lot of Richie Rich comics, too. I was very young. Don't judge me.)

My first Wonder Woman issue was #236 from the first series. The tv series’ impact was shown by shifting the stories back to the WWII era. Within a blink of a year or two, she’d be back in present day in NASA or wherever. I went through several incarnations of Diana through a short period, so I’m always amazed I wasn’t more confused.

Then I came across New Teen Titans #33 at the newsstand and I was completely hooked. For the first time, I wanted all the issues, not just whatever showed up on the spinner racks. My very indulgent mother discovered comic book shops, namely the old Geppi’s Comics at Crystal City. There were whole stores with comics and things called back issues! And there were little day conventions at some local hotel where I’d dig through the boxes to find some treasure trove.

I read a lot of comics in those pre-Crisis days, mostly team titles. New Teen Titans introduced me to Batman & the Outsiders. My love of WWII and the JLA/JSA team-ups yielded All Star Squadron and Infinity Inc. I loved the Earth-2 heroes, especially the Huntress. She was a long-running backup feature in the Wonder Woman book, so she was a favorite of mine. Somehow I latched onto Legion of Super Heroes just as they added five new members. That involved more collecting and more lists. I was surprisingly organized in those non-Internet/non-Wikipedia days.

Maybe because of my mother’s presence or my age, I never had the bad experiences other girls had. I never had the leering looks or the comments. They'd ask what I was looking for, I'd answer or I'd pull out my trusty list, and they'd be perfectly happy to take the money. Maybe I was just lucky.

Then the Crisis on Infinite Earths hit. By the end of I’d lost three of my personal heroines: Supergirl, Huntress and Wonder Woman. The JSA went into Ragnarok limbo, the Legion had a pocket universe and half the stories I adored as a girl no longer counted or mattered. Oh, I know, my favorites have come back in various forms. I adore the current Wonder Woman especially. But it’s not quite the same.

Post-post-Crisis I went through what would be called my indie phase when I was buying Ghost, Buffy and other non-superhero comics, mostly Dark Horse. I tried Sandman, but I preferred Wesley Dodds to the Dreaming. That’s comics heresy I know, but I’ll live with it.

And then I stopped reading comics for the longest of time. I was aware of the big stories in the news, but I mostly didn’t read them. I missed a whole generation of stories. I still don’t know or understand all the Young Justice-era characters. I did dabble in the X-men comics, after the movies, but I didn’t have the same urge with my old stomping grounds.

A funny thing happened to this comics fangirl. Wait for it, yes, they made a cartoon. People kept encouraging me to watch the Justice League cartoon. So I did.

Being online was the other impetus. I was hearing friends chatter about my old friends, I was reading scans of old issues I’d never seen and suddenly I wanted to go back to the DCU just to see. You know, like a visit to the old neighborhood... a quick look see and then go back home to safety. Except I decided to stay... again.

I do venture out into other neighborhoods these days. I love the older more obscure Golden Age heroes, mystery men & women. I read some manga, but I still love my superheroes and my escapism. I still think of myself primarily as a DC fangirl -- a thoroughly retconned fangirl with a penchant for the old and the obscure, but there you go. That’s me.

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