Walking a Mile In Someone Else's Hulking Purple Pants...

Replacing Ed Norton and recasting The Hulk for the Avengers movie?

Bad choice, Marvel. Bad choice, not only because the wiry, stringy, brilliant Ed Norton was perfect for the role, but because ED NORTON WAS PERFECT FOR THE ROLE.

I guess we'll have to wait a couple of weeks to see who replaces him before passing any final judgments. Still, I would have liked to see Ed playing the big green guy again.

How In The Name Of Blog Did We Miss This...

Another exciting announcement that is totally and purely about us... and Batman!

Clare's excellent article about the mini-series "Batman: The Long Halloween" which she presented at the Bard Comics Symposium this year has also been accepted for publication in the first newsletter from The Nollij Korner!

The issue became available for downloaded ten days ago at The Nollij Korner's site here!

You just click on the words "June 2010" to open it right in your browser or right-click on it and save it to your computer or mobile device to read it.

Check it out!

~ @JonGorga

Friday Double Feature Comics Show: Superspy Edition

Welcome to the first of a new feature here at The Long And Shortbox Of It- The Friday Double Feature! As a tribute to one of the greatest methods of consuming the grittiest, grimiest, pulpiest fiction ever conceived, we're going to bring to you- every Friday!- two reviews of comics that we, for whatever reason, see as heirs to that legacy. As a result, you're more likely to see Criminal here than Avengers, but anything that smells of pulp has a shot of making it into the column. These reviews won't always be exclusive to stuff that came out the previous new comic book day (although I'm certainly going to try to write about as many new comics as possible), but this week we had a killer first issue two-fer: Steve Rogers: Super Soldier #1 and Casanova #1.

It's fitting that we're starting out with Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction, since the two of them are responsible for what I think is the greatest superhero pulp in recent memory- the much missed (around these parts, anyway) Immortal Iron Fist. These comics, though they share the same sort of narrative aesthetic, belong to a much different genre than that kung-fu masterpiece*. Indeed, Casanova and Super-Soldier both feature characters equally as concerned with focus and tradition, but in a much different sort of way. What we have here are two spy comics- and they're both brilliant.

Let's start with the superhero formerly known as Captain America: ever since his return in the pages of Reborn, what Steve Rogers' precise role was to be in the Marvel universe has been a little unclear. We knew he was the country's top cop. Or maybe Secretary of Superheroes- whatever his official title is, it's clear he's running the show these days. What hasn't been clear is what role he's going to play in the places where he does appear- what kind of figure is Steve going to cut out in the field? Although I'm sure that Brian Bendis would love to write a comic called Steve Rogers: Secretary of State, Ed Brubaker had a much more interesting idea: turn the original Super Soldier into 007. This new role has come through with varying degrees of success in his Secret Avengers title (and, for the record, I think Brubaker may have gone too big too fast on that one, but we'll see what happens), but is clear as day in Super Soldier.

In fact, it's the structure of the book that makes this work, because Brubaker isn't trying to be too fancy with anything inside. While it's true that the issue's narrative is a pretty traditional one, I think that's the key to understanding exactly how Steve sees himself these days- and how we're supposed to see him. Way back when, we never would have caught this man out of uniform (that's part of what makes Captain America so powerful) but here he looks right at home shmoozing around a cocktail party in a tuxedo, to the point where it's not so hard to see Daniel Craig playing this version of Steve in a movie, ordering a drink that's shaken, not stirred.

Dale Eaglesham's art here has exactly the right feel, too: while there are some moments when it feels a little too stiff, most of the action sequences are incredibly fluid and he makes the spy scenes feel just right. It's hard to explain, but Eaglesham's Steve Rogers is dashing, suave and, most importantly, subtle. It was a hard trick to pull off, I'm sure, but the penciller does a killer job here.

Speaking of killer jobs, let's talk about the coloring on Casanova #1. Some of us were more fond of the idea than others when the news broke that Matt Fraction's inter-temporal super spy Casanova Quinn (originally published by Image in a two color, sixteen page format) was going to reappear in full color and, for the record, I like the original slim two-colored versions too (to the point where I'm on something of a mad quest to track down issue #4 so I can complete my collection and read the damn thing all the way through). With that said, though, this new coloring job is killer. I wish I had a scanner so I could show you why, but when you hit the page of Cass falling through the space time continuum, believe me you'll know exactly what I mean.

I'm not sure what I can add about the comic itself that hasn't already been said (it is basically a reprint, after all), but I can tell you that the new material in the back (drawn by Fabio Moon) is brilliant as well as being enlightening and confusing- it sheds some light on stuff we already knew, while making everything just a little bit more confusing too. Whatever it is that's going on (and this is true for both comics- Super Soldier had some really killer twists too) I can't wait for more and that, more than anything else, is the mark of a good, pulpy piece of serial fiction.


*Incidentally, this demonstrates precisely what I mean when I say "pulp"- sure it's true that all comics are descended from the pulps, but the Avengers or the X-Men are, on their own, too shiny to be considered true inheritors of the pulp tradition. At the same time, I'm not going to shut out comics simply because they feature superheroes, or because they don't belong to a more specific kind of genre. This week we're talking about spies. Next week, maybe crime comics. Or westerns. Or war comics. We'll just have to see what I find.

Can Do, Can Draw, Can Teach

"To Teach: The Journey in Comics" from Teachers College Press
"Of course teachers should use comics across the curriculum, just as they might use film or poetry or painting. I can’t imagine teaching the Middle East without Sacco, the holocaust without Spiegelman, gender without Bechdel." ~ William Ayers, author of "To Teach"
All comics creators, whether they are visual artists, writers, editors, or comicsmiths have the ability to share through their sequential art. By 'share' I mean that they can communicate thoughts, feelings, ideas, and even specific memories to the reader. It's fitting that this teacher/author you may have never hard of before should cite Joe Sacco, Art Spiegelman, and Alison Bechdel as they have all created honest portrayals of their lives in comics memoirs, a somewhat rarer genre of comics, to which Bill Ayers and Ryan Alexander-Tanner have now added their graphic novel "To Teach: The Journey in Comics". For perhaps the first time, a memoir has been adapted from prose (with considerable input from the original author) into the medium of comics.

"The Classic Teaching Memoir... Now also in Comics" is a bit of a strange promotional line, but this is something of a strange project. In 1993, William Ayers wrote a memoir titled "To Teach: The Journey of a Teacher", it was published by Teachers College Press and found such wide success that it eventually received second and third editions and now a sequential art adaptation (TCP has a website here, including a promo video for "To Teach" with both Bill and Ryan). Bill Ayers is not only an author, a brilliant educator, and an education reform activist, he was a founding member of the Weather Underground, making him a former domestic terrorist for peace. Contradictory positions, so it would seem. The artist, Ryan Alexander-Tanner won a Xeric Grant Award to self-publish his comic "Television" #1 in 2oo7 and "specializes in... teaching kids how to make [comics], and teaching grown-ups how to teach [comics]!" (Ryan's website OhYesVeryNice.com is full of great stuff.)

Teachers College Press put these two like-minded creators back in touch with one another (they had met casually years earlier) and Alexander-Tanner moved in with Ayers and his family for half a year to make this project a reality. They produced the comic through what sounds like a tortuous process: Ayers would condense chapters of his famous memoir down to a few pages, which Alexander-Tanner would read and then sketch images and design sequences that captured the essence of Ayers' original thoughts, requiring more condensing, which then required more cartooning... Ayers has said this in interviews and at an numerous events: "It took a while for me to really get the fact that we were writing an entirely new book, not an illustrated version of something I had already written, and not a floppy gateway drug into the “real” To Teach." Each of the creators Ayers mentions in the quote I started this review with are comicsmiths [my word for creators who take on all steps in the creation of a comic] and therefore have the greatest opportunity to communicate their memories directly to other people just like autobiographers, documentary filmmakers, and singer/songwriters can, but Ayers and Alexander-Tanner have pushed their psyches to adapt a textual work into a graphical/textual work together.

Of "To Teach: The Journey in Comics", all I really need to say for the purposes of review is this: the ideas are important, the writing is sharp, the cartooning is great, and the storytelling fluid. The tension between text and graphic communication in the adaptation process has made for a gap-bridging work.

For these reasons, the number of people I know along the entire spectrum from casual acquaintance to decade-long friend, from comics literati to comics illiterate, and from neophytes to retirees who would get a great deal out of reading this comic is astounding. ANYONE can read this comic.

-Rachel Altvater is a college student whose self-declared ideal career path is "educator and revolutionary". She also likes a good comic every now and again. Ayers' ideas about teaching are revolutionary, not to mention important. Not a bad match.

-Aaron Lebow struggles on a daily basis with abstracts like 'quality of life', 'psychological effects of environment', and 'following your passion' that are dealt with in this comic. He is also, like me, fascinated with different mediums of communication and adaptation methods between them. Reading "To Teach" might help him understand more about himself as a living, thinking human being.

-Rebeka Felicity is a former classmate of mine who just spent the first of two years in a teaching program that will pay for her college education. Unfortunately, her experience has been less than stellar. She has found hostility among her students and a lack of resources in the school in general. She is an avid comics reader and a fellow comicsmith who has already made a comic representing her experiences; a practice this comic both encourages as a tool for recording and evaluating the student's activities and literally does, as it is a comic about Ayers' experiences as a teacher.

-Cory Lally is one-half of a 'caricature entertainment partnership' that goes by the name of The California Boys. He and his friend Jared can whip up a cartoony image in a matter of minutes, and often do so on the streets of Manhattan for free to spread the word about what they offer! Cory and Jared have begun working on a comic together using the 'exquisite corpse' technique. Alexander-Tanner's style is, like Cory's, cartooning: simplified features of reality to create the illusion of animate life. Cory might be surprised, and I hope inspired, to see what someone else is communicating to an audience with the power of the economy of line inherent in cartooning.

-Tim Lewis just started a graduate program in teaching. Guess what one of the assigned readings is? Selections from "To Teach: The Journey of a Teacher" by Bill Ayers. Guess what his new job is? Research assistant for a book on Superman. He's going to be hungry for more and as a busy grad student who enjoys non-fiction comics (I happen to have been present when he bought "Stagger Lee") there is no question that the best thing he could do for himself is to buy himself a copy of Ayers' and Alexander-Tanner's graphic novel.

-David Wise is a retired high school educator and caring beekeeper who is well-read and curious about comics. David has known me for my entire life. Ayers writes that a teacher must be sensitive to differences brought about by environment just like a beekeeper must alter techniques for bees of a different climate. I am sure he would be fascinated to discover the thought of Ayers and enjoy the unique experience of a discussion about his venerable profession in sequential art.

-Not to mention my fellow writers on this blog, Clare (who is considering pursuing a teaching degree after obtaining her undergraduate degree) and Josh (who is well on his way already to becoming a comics scholar)!

"To Teach: The Journey in Comics" is a unique combination: a collaboration adaptation how-to memoir comic. I've said this before, but it's rarely been as true. EVERYBODY should read this comic.

(A copy of this graphic novel for review was obtained at no cost from Teacher's College Press at BookEXPO America.)

~ @JonGorga

P.S. ~ Both quotes from this review are from an interview with William Ayers conducted by our friends at GraphicNovelReporter.com! You can read it here.

There Can Only Be One...

For the most part, I'm going to let our resident Spider-Fan handle this one, but I wanted to put in my own two cents about the following quote from Spider-Editor Stephen Wacker (via Robot 6, who pulled it out of a longer interview with Wacker from last week):
"For the couple of months coming out of "One Moment in Time," we're going to be bringing a lot of threads of Peter's life that we've been developing since we started working on the book into one big story, 'Origin of the Species.' It sort of gives Pete a moment to assess all the stuff that's happened to him for the last 100 or so issues. Beyond that, we've already started talking about the fact that it might be time for a new, or at least better, Spider-Man. I feel like we've done as much as we can do in terms of Peter Parker's time as Spider-Man."
The only thing I've got to add is the following: haven't we been down this road before? And how did that turn out?

Holy Comic Strips, Cap!

I love Captain America.

Long time readers know this to be true, but it bears repeating- there's no character in comics I like as much as I like Captain America, Steve or Bucky. Imagine my joy, then, in finding out that there was not one new Captain America comic this week, but indeed two! And that second one, far from being a poorly written one-shot or needless mini-series was something... well, a little different.

Karl Kesel's Captain America: The 1940's Newspaper Strip#1 is certainly fun (it's a collection of a faux in-period daily strips that Kesel did for Marvel Digital Comics unlimited) and it's pretty funny, too. Kesel's artwork is expressive and cartoon-y and, even if his writing sometimes falls flat, his characterization is pretty good. All the characters sound and feel appropriately cheesy and there were just enough interesting twists and turns to keep me engaged.

Mostly, I'm interested in two things, here- can this concept (which is serviceable, if not precisely mind blowing) sustain itself without getting obnoxious, first of all, and, secondly, how can comics fans use this book to their advantage?

That's sort of an odd question, I know, but consider this- Peanuts and Captain America are, essentially, the same medium- they're in different formats and run in different mediums, for sure, but they work on the same principles, much like the difference between a novel and a prose serial. Tell someone you like COMICS, though, and I imagine they're more likely to think of the latter rather than the former, as if the two are completely different. I don't know why this is, although I certainly have my suspicions, but books like this are important (even if they're just fun comics, rather than good comics) because they have the opportunity to bridge that gap and, in so doing, close the difference between a comics fan's understanding of the medium and everybody else's.

That Kesel is using the "strip" here is fascinating and, although sometimes it works better than others, I hope to see more like it, or even an anthology of strips like this that comes out once a month, just for something a little different. There's a lot of potential for fun comics here, and there's no need for something like this to be high art: it's great just the way it is.

Jeph Loeb Has New Job as Marvel's Head of Television

"Executive Vice-President, Head of Marvel Television" to be exact!


This is a subtle ramification of Disney's purchasing of Marvel last year. In this video, Loeb talks about "hour-long dramatic television series" (presumably he means live-action series) soon to be in development with "ABC and ABC Family", both Disney owned channels if you didn't know. It's exciting because although there has been a 'Marvel Animation' or a 'Marvel Studios', there has never been an over-all TELEVISION division at Marvel. That is why there have been so few Marvel properties in live-action television adaptations, and why they have generally been very cheesy when done. It is also why there has never been a push toward television advertising for Marvel's comics.

"The Amazing Spider-Man" 1977 live-action series:

is a prime example of Marvel on TV gone bad.

The 70s "Incredible Hulk" live-action series is the exception to this... although it's not exactly perfect either.

What will this mean moving forward? Well, I imagine that if nothing else it means we will have one centralized force working to get Marvel's characters back on television and hopefully in high quality narrative productions, but possibly limited to channels owned by Disney.

Regardless of the quality of the comics he has been producing of late, Jeph Loeb is a damn smart man who has had a varied career in varied media for decades: film, television, and comics. This isn't Marvel putting a comics writer with no experience in moving image media in charge of their Television division. This is a shrewd move on the part of Marvel/Disney and I'm sure we'll see some nice productions come out of it but...

I hope this leads to some avenues for direct comics advertising on channels owned by Disney. Because this blog is about comics, Disney bought Marvel and Marvel is in the business of making comics goddamnit. I know, 'Again he's harping on this?' but I really do believe that good adaptations may lead people back to the comics and bad ones may steer them away from the medium, but advertising for the comics themselves can only be good for the industry. No matter how bad an advertisement for a specific pizza brand is, it gets you thinking about pizza. This is even more important for comics in the US because we are in a country where thousands or even millions of people don't even know that comics HAVEN'T died out yet.

If this new "Marvel Television" diverts even more capital away from the sequential art division and isn't also going to incorporate some advertising for the comics or at least some planned financial kickback into the comics, I'm going to be pissed. The potential here, as always, is great. Whether Marvel remembers to keep the focus on their roots remains to be seen.

~ @JonGorga