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Bang On

So, yes, this is a column I wrote back in 2001 for Comic Book Galaxy.  I doubt it's anywhere else now, so I've done my best to make the entries presentable and put them up here.  There are all of eight -- they started weekly and then became, you know, less weekly, and anyway, here they are.  (Note: I've removed pretty much all links and images, since they wouldn't work.)  

Bang Off! (November 6, 2001)

posted Feb 12, 2011, 3:34 PM by Russ Smith   [ updated Feb 12, 2011, 3:36 PM ]

No reason to stall:  This is the last Bang On! column.

And it's not even going to be a very good one, because it's mostly going to be telling you about why it's the last one, and what I'm doing next, and what was right and what was wrong.  But maybe that's fitting, because that's the kind of stuff I've maybe been telling you so far, too.

Okay, let me try again.

When I first thought up Bang On!, it was going to be a companion to the Big Bang, an editorial column, a pointer to things that complemented the reviews and a way to tell you about the reviewers.  I started out posing questions, interviewing the locals, and so forth.

Then, and this is the key, I stepped down as an editor.

So the column stopped having a purpose, and left to my own devices for direction, I had trouble figuring out what to do, although I'm still pretty proud of the recent list of five comics you should be reading, and I won't mind a bit if you go back and reread it, particularly if you go out and buy those comics.  It'll make me feel like I accomplished something here, you'll get comics you will like, and people who deserve it will get paid. Everyone wins.

I also had the chance to get Alan David Doane to open up about what's on his mind, and I think if you take a look at what he told me, you may get an insight as to what's boiling beneath the surface at CBG even now.  And I'm not just guessing; he's said as much.  So there again, it's not that nothing got said.

Anyway, I'm not disciplined enough to do the aimless column every week, and besides, I approve of a movement to a tighter, sleeker Comic Book Galaxy, aimed like a missile at your forebrain.  So I'm taking my shotgun and heading back to my own site, which needs a makeover anyway, so I'm not posting a pointer just yet.  Once I'm done, Note to Self will come back to life there, and you can get your fill of my random opinions.

So much for that.  What about this place?

I have every intention of staying on here as a web monkey.  I enjoy it and there's a lot of good to be done -- I've barely scratched the surface of my ideas to scare Alan with, and he loves it, wicked boy that he is.  So I'm not leaving that behind.  My comic buying situation is settling down and I think I see some Big Bang reviewing in my future, if there's still a space for me there when the dust all settles.  I've also got a review or two in the fire (to mangle a metaphor), so there's some possibilities there, too.  I've got a bite from a retailer who jumped out of the comic industry when he got an MBA, did the management thing in a large non-comic retail chain, then came back to inject the real world into a comics shop.  I think he'll have something to say, and I look forward to tell you what it is he said.

And a column?  Yeah, don't mind if I do.  Keep your eye out for my forthcoming new column about the online comics phenomenon.  I read 'em, I've created 'em, and you don't want to know how long I've been doing stuff online.  I don't have a name for it yet, but never mind that; it'll be fun. We'll talk about what's out there, what could be out there, and what there is to support people who'd like to put stuff out there.  I'm not going to blow smoke up your nethers about who's saving the universe for comics or what magic technology will make money grow on trees, but there are things that you and I may not have seen, enough to keep me busy finding them and pointing them out.

One last thing to share before I put this one to bed and move on with new things.  An exhortation:  Don't buy something because you've always bought it.  Don't read something because everyone reads it.  Don't avoid something because it might be different.  There's too much good work and too little time to be wasting the latter on things that aren't the former.  A complete collection is a burden on your heart, wallet and living space if it's a complete collection of crap.

See you in the future.

-- R. Francis Smith

Five Comics You Should Be Reading (September 26, 2001)

posted Feb 12, 2011, 3:18 PM by Russ Smith   [ updated Feb 12, 2011, 3:31 PM ]

A little water trickled past the bridge while I was writing this column, so let me say a few things before I start on the topic I've been swearing I'd talk about.  I'm no longer editing the Big Bang reviews, for the sanity of all involved.  The good news (aside from the aforementioned empty beds in the asylum) is that I should have some time to do some reviews and other fun stuff around here, plus, there's this column, which will continue to be my own personal idea breeding grounds.

Well, I think it's good news.

Anyway, here we go.

Nobody has asked why this column is named Bang On!  Wise, but ineffectual, since I'm going to tell you anyway.  It's a combination of two relevant perspectives: first, the arrogant belief that often what I say is dead right, or bang on, and second, the sneaking suspicion that I write these things by just banging on the keyboard and hoping for the best.


This week, it's the arrogant one.  I could write reviews and submit them (to myself, which is always a perk), but no.  Instead of telling you about issues, I'm going to tell you about titles -- titles which, statistics do suggest, you very likely aren't buying.  But you SHOULD be.

Understand, now, that I am not a paragon of indy cool.  I am a mainstream person.  I often have mainstream tastes, at least in the nerd corner of the universe.  I love Spider-Man from the 60s and 70s, X-Men from the 80s, and much of the work from the Moores and Gaimans and Ellises of the 90s. If you look at my few reviews here in Big Bang (they're all in the July archive now), you'll see that four are Marvel and DC.  (One isn't.)
My point is this:  if I can read the following -- and I do -- you can, too. Your head won't explode.  Your wife won't leave you.  The district attorney will leave you alone.  And you'll be better for it, because these are good.

Without further adieu:

Queen and Country, Oni Press

It doesn't get more timely than this; Queen and Country #4 is about to come out as I write this.  Then, too, I bet if you apply yourself you can find this series, and you should, for (at least) one good reason:

Greg Rucka: Is he prolific?  Is he masterful at mystery?  Is he a breath of fresh air to an incestuous industry?  Yes, yes, yes, and you know all this, or you should.  From Detective Comics to Whiteout to the upcoming Felon, Rucka's touch of the professional crime writer leaves traces of gold all over comicdom.  Here, in Queen & Country, mystery's crazed cousin, the espionage genre, takes the spotlight, and Rucka's novelist eye to detail brings it to exciting life.

I assume this work is what Tom Clancy is like for people who aren't bored to death by Tom Clancy.  Unfortunately, I'm in that last category; Rucka, on the other hand, has a flair for the thriller, allowing me to enjoy even the politics of the spy biz much as I might, say, a movie based on a Tom Clancy novel.  (I don't pretend to be consistent.)  While suspense is almost twisted into a "I need to reread this first" haze of forgetfulness by the bi-monthly schedule, Rucka seems aware of this and does a fine job of keeping the pacing evenly wrapped around the nine-week gaps in the reading.

Some have given guff about the simplistic, almost cartoony art of Queen & Country.  This is indicative of the comic fetish of supposed photorealistic art that crops up from time to time, particularly when "serious topic matter" is involved.  This is done in ignorance, apparently, of the tradition that "realistic" art is almost invariably associated with capes, tights, and that sort of thing, whereas Maus is done with funny animals, and then there's R. Crumb... well, you get the idea.  Rolston's characters are very human, easily distinguishable, and totally absorbing in ways that supposedly realistic "dynamic" posed figures could never be.  (Notice: not one comic I will mention in this column is done by a Kirby or Adams or Lee or whatever.  With all due respect, we've seen that.)

Is this comic perfect?  No.  Its release schedule is frustrating for its genre, and occasionally the pacing seems jumpy.  Nonetheless, it is a heartening venture into territory rarely explored by comics, accomplished by a professional and compatible team of creators.

Amelia Rules!, Renaissance Press

I miss Charles Schulz.  The comic industry, whether it thinks so or not, misses Schulz deeply.  Above my desk, I have an editorial cartoon featuring Snoopy, mounted atop his doghouse, wearing his goggles and scarf, flying to meet a Charlie-Brown-sweatered Schultz outside the pearly gates.  Not only is it simply touching, but it also reminds me of what a power this man had to touch the cultural soul and become such a part of iconography that hardly a person in America would not understand this single panel, and I wager most of us would get a smile out of it.

None of which seems obviously on-topic, because Amelia Rules! is by Jimmy Gownley, not Charles Schulz.  Still, I'm not going to be the first person to draw the connection that I'm clearly about to make, so I'd best just get to it:  Gownley's comic just could be the Peanuts of the 21st century.

Mind you, Amelia and her friends and family are not much like Schulz's creations, which often appeared stuck in the 50's of their origination. Amelia's mother is divorced.  And actually gets to appear in-panel.  And speak.  Still, perhaps the modern child is more aware of the adult word than 50 years ago, or more importantly, perhaps we allow ourselves to believe that when we might not have in days past.  Amelia's introspective ponderings have a depth and honesty that only a child could achieve, free of the pretenses one would expect from her elders.

And that, perhaps, is the charm of this book.  Like Peanuts, the honest lens of the child's mind is directed not only at the amusing pursuits of fellow children, but through that into the realities of modern society.  We laugh at how the young characters interact not because it is strange to us in our maturity, but because it is so familiar, and it is a happy thing to see it for ridiculous in a context that doesn't worry us with its impact.  In other words, in the days of Peanuts, when Lucy pulled the ball out from Charlie Brown's way, it was funny.  When nation-states did it to each other, it wasn't.

No look at children is honest and believable without it being a look, in general, at human behavior.  So far as I've seen, Amelia Rules!, like Peanuts in its day, succeeds.

The Return of Alison Dare, Oni Press

Leaping from one book about children into another, I might find myself hard-pressed to avoid repeating myself.  Alison Dare, however, is no Peanuts, not of the previous century nor this one.  Instead, it is a peculiar melange of familiar environments for the old comics reader.

First, it obviously appeals to us along the lines of the golden and silver ages of comics.  Alison's father is the Blue Scarab, her mother is a famous archaeologist, and at no time do I find myself not expecting someone, somewhere, to shout "Shazam!"  To a point, I love the old comic style; good guys are good, bad guys are seriously bad, and a quick uppercut usually saves the day.  On its own, however, this sort of nostalgia can quickly grow hollow.  Fortunately, this is only one element that Alison Dare brings to the table.

Second, we have the obvious appeal to the young reader.  Alison and her friends' adventures are charming, cute, thrilling, and in their entirety more enticing than those of her parents, which is as it should be -- Alison is the star of this comic.  Her boarding-school chums are the essential young-adventure foils, the brainy Dot and the gee-whiz physical Wendy, who pause only briefly from time to time to inject serious thoughts of real life into otherwise breathtaking hijinks.

Third, however, we have ourselves, and this is the most seductive -- and somewhat subversive -- element in the mix.  Alison's friends follow her parents, not just as interested parties, but as comic fans, thrilling to their exploits as told by Alison, and we are allowed to share in their experience.  When they, in turn, creep along on Alison's adventures, the children we once were creep with them, finally able to experience the comic adventures as we wished to in our youth.  It is not only possible but almost unavoidable to experience this comic as people we once were but thought buried, and it is at once an unnerving and exciting experience.

Perhaps this sounds over the top, but it is the only explanation I have for the experience of reading one issue about a frankly ridiculous storyline on face value.  Being Oni, however, you need not take my word for it.  Short Alison Dare adventures are available on their web site.

True Story, Swear to God, Clib's Boy

This is a special inclusion for a number of reasons.  For one thing, I haven't read an issue of the actual comic yet.  Until its surprise early shipment (or so I am told), I didn't expect it for another month.  For another thing, of course, it is difficult to be objective, the True Story short strips being a regular feature here at the Galaxy.  Nevertheless, I have every reason to believe this is a comic you should be buying.

In part, I can take my belief from the aforementioned short strips.  It is difficult, mind you, to succeed in this format, and what's more, doing so is no indication of performance in the longer sense, unless your comic is going to be a collection of similarly short strips.  Having said that, I learn many things from these strips about Tom Beland's approach.  First, his art is simple and clear, which, as you know by this point in the article, I consider a good thing.  His topics, however, are anything but simple.  Autobiographical in nature, Tom tells us about his life, and life is always complex.  Resisting the urge to pretend things are otherwise, he instead invites the reader to share in his charming befuddledness, like a Dave Barry or a P. J. O'Rourke.  (Doubtless comparisons which will in turn charm Mr. Beland.  Heh.)

(A side note, if I may.  The first time I saw his art, I thought, "You know, this looks like Keith Knight of the K Chronicles."  Naturally, soon after I encountered a strip in which Tom shares an anecdote involving his cartoonist buddy Keith, who looks awfully familiar.  I about had a fanboy seizure.  Anyway.)

While all of this is why I am telling you this comic will be good, it may not sell you on it being great.  Fortunately, I'm not done yet.  Here's what sold me, and maybe it will do the job:  As of this writing, Mr. Beland's latest strip takes on the topic of the still-recent (and moreso at the time of his work) destruction of the World Trade Center.  It is honest and direct, and as such is painful in its rawness.  Tom shares with us his personal thoughts, worries, and fears, and how he chose to deal with the way that the world changed on September 11, 2001.  I could tell you, but I won't; the answer brought me literally to tears and I would hate myself for taking the experience from you.  Go to the Galaxy's home page, select True Story, and see it for yourself.

Nothing I could say after you read that particular strip (#16, I think) could make a difference in comparison.  Read all the strips, then check out this preview of the new comic book, Magic.

Hopeless Savages, Oni Press

It seems almost fawning of me to dip into the Oni well a third time, but here I am, and I didn't even expect it.  I didn't notice Hopeless Savages in Previews, much less order it or expect to ever read it.  It was merely a few simple coincidences; as editor at the time, I happened to read a couple of positive reviews in the Big Bang, and then I was in a friend's new store and wanted to buy something and there it was, as they say.  Not being a fan of Andi Watson, who did only the cover, I shrugged, but why not?  The reviews said it was cool.  What's a few bucks spent to a friend's profit?


Okay, work with me here.  We have a couple of now-aging punk musicians who have brought up a family of punkers (except for the inevitable rebel against the family, who goes to the city and gets a job -- nice touch), and how they relate to the rest of the world, particularly in times of crisis.  After some consideration, I realized where I'd seen this concept before.

That's right.  The Addams Family.

Oh, come on, think about it for a moment.  (I could've said the Munsters, except we're talking subversive, here, and the Munsters doesn't qualify in my book.)  Hopeless Savages turns societal expectations upside down and then, from this perspective, shows us how society itself can be and is the one that's topsy-turvy in many ways.  We get a good laugh out of the face-value conflicts of stereotypes, sure, but on a deeper level we are treated to a clever analysis of social custom from the perspective of, you might say, a group of outsiders.

And let's be honest, the reason this, the Addams Family, the X-Men, the Klingons, and heaven knows what else works is that we identify with the outsiders.  Don't we?  Thousands upon thousands of teenagers clamored for Mister Spock in 1968 because he, like they, knew what it was like to be alienated.  What is, in fact, the heart of punk?  The aggressive acceptance of an alienated state translated into action and music -- and, here, into a comic book story.  We love the Hopeless Savages because they feel far more like us than the generic joes they meet.

Once again, Oni provides some prequel strips for your entertainment on their web site.  Have a look.

If you aren't buying these comics, go get them.  As you can see, I don't believe you'll be sorry.  And keep checking out the Big Bang reviews; you just might find some more gems to put alongside these.

Before I go for this week, a correction from last time: Jamie S. Rich of Oni Press informs me that he's not organizing the auction I discussed as such; James Lucas Jones and Joe Nozemack have been instrumental in putting it together, and Shannon Denton of komikwerks.com collapsed his auction into this one (including many items).  And, as mention, GrayHaven has their auction going, as well.  Jamie refers us to http://www.onipress.com/comicshelp.  Thanks, Jamie!

-- R. Francis Smith

The Fun Guilt Clinic (October 16, 2001)

posted Feb 12, 2011, 3:14 PM by Russ Smith   [ updated Feb 12, 2011, 3:18 PM ]

I guess I'm just fun-impaired.

No, stick with me.  I don't have problems finding things to do that I enjoy. Quite the opposite -- I want to do everything, and I can never find time for it all (much less the energy, which becomes more of a factor every year). So it's not about being bored (although I guess I am, sometimes) or not knowing what to do.

I think it's about knowing why to do it.  If this sounds weird, and it does, even to me, let me take you on a trip through my psyche that might explain it.  Trust me, I'll work comics in eventually.

I'm the kid of a Depression-era Dust Bowl baby, as it were, and I know some of my ways of thinking probably connect to things I picked up from him. I always clean my plate (often to my detriment), I feel guilty whenever I spend money (but I do it anyway), and, I've noticed of late, I expect everything I do to be for a reason.  All input must have associated output. Nobody gets a free lunch when I'm in the kitchen.

Okay, I exaggerate.  And a sensible person might look at the things I do -- writing this column among them -- and point out how much of it doesn't really get me anything.  And to that person I say, "You're right.  And it just eats me up some days."

Wow, that even sounds lame to me.  And I'm not claiming it isn't.  I'm not even claiming it's conscious or voluntary or anything.  I'm just saying that I catch myself, say, working on a story, and I wonder "what's the point?" Sure, I have the same fantasies as every other writer that when I finish my first novel an agent will love it and they'll make a publisher love it and readers will love it and the President will talk about it and everyone will buy it and make me rich.  But that was Tom Clancy, and I'm not all that sure the current President reads a lot of novels, if you know what I'm saying.

The fact is that the unfinished first chapter in front of me is really for intangible purposes.  To grow as a writer -- which goes against the grain, because after all, I'd rather think I was just born with mad writing skills -- and because I enjoy it (and I do, really).  For fun.  Same reason I worked on an ill-fated comic strip and same reason, I guess, that I'm with the Galaxy.

Why is it so hard to do something that's a lot of work because it's also fun? More importantly, why is it difficult to take sufficient pleasure in the fun and not sweat the rest?  I don't expect anyone to pay me when I play Diablo II (although, hey, wouldn't that be cool?)  Then again, I think one of the reasons I only play games in occasionally fits and bursts is this problem.

Basically, I think I have fun guilt.

And I bet, from what I've read lately, that I'm no longer alone, if I ever was.  In the past month, the line to the Fun Guilt Clinic has gotten pretty long.  Tragedy sends us all in search of deep purpose to our actions and contribution to society in our every moment.  And maybe that's not entirely a bad thing, because contribution to society is a fine and noble thing. But I'm not sure feeling guilty for doing something enjoyable benefits society, and I know it kills our spirits.  Trust me; I live here.

It seems to me that the comic industry -- I promised I'd get to this -- has bouts of fun guilt, too.  Part of this comes from being "funny books," I suppose; a historic association with fluff makes the industry (if it has a gestalt consciousness, anyway) resentful and determined to prove it can be serious.  And it can, it can...I could give you a list of examples and you could give me one back.  No need.

But let's face it; the fun should be there, and there's no need to feel guilty about it.  DC thinks that it's no longer good to have fun with the over-the-top explosions of the Authority, and they're wrong.  Some readers now think that it's just wrong to bother with something so trivial as comics, and they're wrong, too.  This is not about aesthetic, mind you, this is about a fundamental element of life, not to mention a core ethic of American culture, at least.

Don't believe me?  What comes after life and liberty in the list of unalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence?  What is it we're so worried about losing, if not these?  Life, absolutely.  Liberty, one should think.  Why should we be willing to back down on the pursuit of happiness?

If I have a message here, it's this:  It's okay, healthy, good, proper to have fun.  Body, mind and soul need it, maybe now more than ever.  (But probably not; humanity's been around a while and seem some nasty things, so fun's been vital from the start, I guess.)  I say this for your benefit, for the industry's benefit, and most of all, for my own benefit.

Let's make a pact, shall we?  I'll learn to do things for the heck of it, and the rest of you can relax about the things you used to enjoy -- and still do, if you think about it -- and we'll convince the industry, with our letters, our columns, and our dollars, to keep the fun coming.

No more fun guilt.

-- R. Francis Smith

500 Words Is All You Get This Week (September 19, 2001)

posted Feb 12, 2011, 3:09 PM by Russ Smith   [ updated Feb 12, 2011, 3:13 PM ]

I'm a day late, aren't I?

No.  I'm actually a week and a day late, and we know why, all of us, and nobody came looking for Bang On! on September 11th.  I don't blame you.

You all know what last week was like, and you've discussed it, and you've heard various angles, and you've thought about it, and I don't want to cover old ground for you.  I do want to let you know what it's meant to the Big Bang, and where we go from here.

For the first couple of days, nobody could imagine talking about what we do here, or thinking about it, or approaching it.  Eventually the subject was broached about some sort of recognition.  Many people didn't buy comics. (If you're wondering for some reason, I did.  Tragedy does not make it proper for me to keep money I've effectively promised my retailer -- by having a pull list -- out of his hands.  But that's me.)

As for reviews, well.  Early on, Kevin Mathews -- who, bless his heart, is our Singaporean way-far-away reviewer -- asked me if I wanted any.  I said yeah, life will have to pick up eventually and people will need something to lighten the load.  By Friday night, Paul Weissburg had decided the same thing, and started sending stuff to me.  Everyone else... hey, I don't blame them, and I said so.

You may have noticed that nothing I have described has been posted.  That's true.  I was gone for the weekend (a much-needed vacation, all things considered), my connectivity was lousy Monday, and I've been sick since. And frankly, we're still getting back in gear, and I expect you're with us, there.

But we've got some reviews.  And they're good, and they're slick, and they'll be up soon -- probably with others that'll come in later this week -- and you can have a look, think about comics, and take a little vacation yourself. It's okay, you know?

And if it's not enough to be entertained, you and comics can pursue greater needs together.  Jamie Rich (Oni Press) is organizing a charity auction next month.  Grayhavenmagazine.com is doing a non-pro goods auction.  When you're ordering stuff with PayPal, give to the Red Cross while you're at it.  If you shoot through our store to Amazon.com to buy some of the books we're hyping at you, you can give money there, too.

No matter what you feel about what comes next for the country, you have to know that people need our help.

Now, what comes next for the Big Bang?

We've been talking about new looks, new formatting, new reviewers, you name it.  If you've got a thought, tell us on the forum, and/or drop me a line.  Life lumbers along again, and we're still serious about what we do, in a fun sort of way.

Comics cannot fix what has happened, much less comics journalism.  We can only continue to dream our dreams together.

No reviews or question for the forum this week.  Make with the clicky-click again next week and hopefully I'll have that column on things you should be buying but aren't ready.

-- R. Francis Smith

Doane Stop Believing -- A Very Special Episode (September 4, 2001)

posted Feb 12, 2011, 2:30 PM by Russ Smith   [ updated Feb 12, 2011, 2:48 PM ]

If, for some reason, you haven't read any of the site today, this week, or indeed, any time in the recent past, you might be unaware of the first anniversary of Comic Book Galaxy going online.  Well, it is.  Right now.

Anyway, I thought we'd do something special for this week, and since I'd already tried just keeping my mouth shut last week, it had to be something different.  Something loud.  Something jarring.

So you know Alan David Doane had to be involved.

Alan, the Editor in Chief of CBG, has a reputation for speaking his mind with the kind of self-certainty and uninhibited talk that comes from being a powerful demagogue, a lone prophet, a dangerous psychotic, or a little from every column.  Supposing that I'm not the only one who wonders which sometimes, I tried to get into his head for the anniversary column.  Here's what he had to say.

Russ: ComicBookGalaxy.com: Why?

Alan: I'm not sure what you mean. Why did I create the site, or why that particular name? So, I'll answer both.

I began writing about comics online in 1999, after being inspired generally by the two decades of great work by Gary Groth and his colleagues at The Comics Journal, and more recently by Randy Lander's week-in and week-out reviews that at the time he was posting to Usenet, which is now a forgotten wasteland for about 150 or so hardcore nitpickers and hate-filled lunatics. But, at the time, Usenet was pretty much the online comics community.

Anyway, after a few months, I was contacted by Jason Brice at Silver Bullet Comics, and eventually became Reviews Editor there, developing a review team and really working with Jason to make the site the best we could.

Eventually, as these things happen, we had a disagreement over the direction of the site, and my role in its business side, and I began to think about what my own site might look like and be called.

It sounds silly, [expletive], it is silly; I had an image pop into my head of a comics longbox against a field of stars, and pretty much everything the Galaxy has become since then was there, holographically embedded in that initial vision.

When I left SBC, I laid out my plans to some of the reviewers I had brought on board, and told them I was leaving, and if they wanted to come with me to the new site, they were welcome to. I never twisted anyone's arm, and I was really flattered when just about everyone I mentioned it to happily joined the new site.

Since it started, I've really tried to encourage the Galaxy to be a group effort. The fact of the matter is, in an endeavour like this, one person has to be ultimately responsible for a lot of things, like maintaining the domain and, I guess, hiring and firing, but for the most part, we're pretty much communists here. Everyone gets a say, and usually a vote, too.

You mentioned The Comics Journal and your appreciation of Gary Groth is legendary.  Elaborate on it?

At the risk of being ostracized, marginalized and outright damned by his critics, Groth has never once backed down from what he sees as the truth. He weathers the [expletive]storm and comes out clean every time.  That, and his long-ass interviews offer a verbal history of the medium unlike any other. I can't say enough to praise Fantagraphics for talking the talk and walking the walk with visionary work from the best cartoonists who ever lived. Anyone who dismisses Fantagraphics as a publisher or The Comics Journal as THE crucial journal of record for the comics medium over the past two decades is a [expletive] fool who probably has a lifetime subscription to Wizard.

Okay, let's go there, too.  What's wrong with "journalism" like Wizard?

Wizard is not journalism in any sense. Vacuous hucksterism disguised as "reportage," combined with dubious marketing schemes like their relationship with CGC. It's extremely suspect, in my opinion, and altogether laughable. Wizard is produced by cynical hacks for gullible fools. Gullible fools too stupid to realize every bit of information in the magazine is available online for free months in advance, and usually with more accuracy.

You've been in radio a long time.  How'd you get started?

I have been interested in radio since I was a very small child, probably 6 or 7. At night when I was growing up, I used to listen to the all-night talk shows beaming in from across the country, and even around the world with shortwave. I was utterly fascinated by the power of radio, and as I've gotten older, that really has developed into a love of and fascination with the ways in which humans communicate with each other. That's why I love comics; there's no purer, direct link from creator to audience member than comics when they're at their best.

I took broadcasting in college, and started working professionally in radio in the summer of 1986. I wanted to be a disk jockey early on, and in fact did that for about ten years, but always in there, there was news. Part time, weekends, when someone was sick, I was always getting drafted into doing news, and eventually, it became my main career. Right now I am the morning news anchor/producer at a station in Albany, New York, and I try to work in as many comics-related news stories as I can on a regular basis.

About that link from creator to audience member.  Is that true in the work-for-hire arrangement we're all too familiar with?  Is it possible?

It can happen, but when it's in the superhero genre its impact is greatly diluted. Walt Simonson's Thor and Frank Miller's Daredevil were unique, visionary comics, but -- but. Just, almost always, with work-for-hire...there's a but.

Remembering your favorite signature line (and indeed, the name of your review column), how did you annoy Ed Douglas so badly?

Ed and I are pals, now. It was rocky there for a bit, but he just called me the other night and we chatted for half an hour. The fact is, I piss people off. It used to bother me, but you can't stick yourself out in public like this for more than a week without annoying someone, and I've been doing it three years now. Bring it on.

It's probably apparent to most that you're a magnet for some amazing free-for-alls.  Tell us a good story about a negative reaction to something you've said.

Well, the Galaxy has had some amazing controversy explode from time to time over the past year, but these things tend to fade away in a few days, and then it's quiet again for a while. The interesting thing is, oftentimes people react negatively to something they THINK I said, rather than something I actually said.

The fact is, I am a writer, and I believe strongly in the power of a well-turned phrase. There's not much I write that I don't rework and think over and consider the consequences of before it goes public. When I wrote that the site is dedicated to "Passion, truth and diversity," I meant it, but I guess people thought I was kidding.

Something else I said on the main page on our first day was "There are over a dozen contributors to this site. While I am the editor-in-chief, and I love them as if they were my own, I cannot watch them all at all times, and I can't promise they won't break your stuff if you don't keep an eye on them yourself. I will not invest in those plastic things to make the table edges soft and squishy. There will be bruises before we are through." And Christ knows, there have been.

There are consequences to the controversies that have happened that I regret. I regret that Johanna Draper Carlson and Tom Brevoort are no longer with us, for example. But I don't regret for a second standing firm when the [expletive]storm is at full gale. I apologize when it's needed, but the truth is not something that requires an apology.

What's on your mind when you use the phrase "passion, truth, and diversity"?

That the people I entrust to share bandwidth believe the same thing I do. Our primary responsibility -- maybe our only responsibility -- is to tell the truth.  Within the context of a review, that means having an opinion and expressing it. If you have something worth saying, say it with passion. If you're not passionate, why are you wasting my time? Why are you wasting YOURS? As for diversity -- I'm perfectly content to let other comics sites review every issue of Cable, or Witchblade, or fill-in-your-own favourite mediocre waste of trees. I encourage my writers to seek out what's new, what's different. It's not always obvious, because the "Big Three" SEEM dominant by sheer volume alone.

But I'll tell you what, between 50 books from a mainstream publisher and five from a company dedicated to quality like Top Shelf or Fantagraphics, the ratio of quality-to-crap is going to be higher with the smaller publisher. I wish that weren't so, but when you hinge your bottom line on bucks and not quality, the good stuff is almost accidental. "Oops! We did a good title!" Then, of course, if it's something like X-Man or Deadenders, despite the fact that they can wallow in the acclaim and subsidize it with [expletive] X-Men Sketchbooks and overpriced hardcovers, they just cancel it and kiss off the great talent they had in the palm of their hand.

Where do you see CBG on its second anniversary?

More, more, more. We've done nothing this past year but refine the concept, add new talent, and get even more passionate than we were at the beginning. I'd like to see us really concentrate on worthy indy and alternative books in Year Two. Marvel, DC and Image are great fun for those who are really dedicated to their product, and I love a lot of what they do, like Powers, Orion, the ABC line. But at the end of the day, the real worthwhile material comes from surprising places, and I'd like to see us investigate that a bit more in the next 12 months.

You couldn't enter the CBG contest, so what's your favorite comic of all time?

I'll be damned if I'll let you limit me to one; as a kid, I adored Avengers #161, and have written about it at length. It still holds up as a great mainstream sooperhero comic. As an adult, I could re-read Warren Ellis's Stormwatch and Authority runs forever and be very happy. He did some great, fresh, exciting things with an otherwise pretty bankrupt genre there, and as he says about Authority, for 12 issues, he and Laura and Bryan and Paul WERE the [expletive] Beatles.

But speaking as a grownup looking for enduring work, if I could only take one comic with me to that desert island, it would have to be James Kochalka's Sketchbook Diaries. The man is just brilliant. Funny, cute, touching, deep, occasionally goddamned cosmic, and yet it's never smarmy or pompous or annoying. I think he's the perfect cartoonist.

Any aspirations to creating comics?

Lord, no. It's possible I will be involved with a project with one of my favourite creators in the next few months, but it will be using my journalist muscles, not my "I wish I could write or draw comics," muscles.

Are comics doomed?

I don't see them doing anything to NOT be doomed, at least the mainstream. Companies like Top Shelf and Fantagraphics astound and impress me with the variety of their packaging and the quality of their content.  If they can continue to grow into new marketplaces, that's the place where you'll see comics thrive.  Sooperhero comics may always have an ever-shrinking audience, but look at them -- they deserve it, for the most part. The good stuff like Orion, X-Man or even something like Deadenders gets so little support from the publishers that they're doomed to die eventually, and most of them already have. I don't know how Walt's hung on so long with Orion, but God bless him for it, he's creating one of the top 5 or 6 superhero comics ever, and nobody's reading it, and DC, it seems to me, does nothing to support it. Go figure.

You've got two young children.  Do you feel the comic industry has anything for them?

Yes. Overpriced Scooby Doo and Batman Adventures comics. Comics for kids should be a better value if they expect adults with jobs to spend money on them.  They should also be available in places where kids go, like video stores and supermarkets and malls. If the companies aren't selling enough comics to kids, it's only because they don't want to or are too stupid to find a way out of the limited tunnel they've dug for themselves.

I know what you mean.  I'm not sure yet how old my daughter will have to get before I let her in a direct sales store alone. (As you know, I'm not sure I want to be in a direct sales store alone, sometimes.) Is the answer to overhaul the direct market or to try to break free of it?

The answer is to find a way to get your product to a new audience. Kids are naturally drawn to comics. If they see them, they will read them. I see it every day. The companies ignore this obvious fact and continue to despair that Powerpuff Girls doesn't sell half a million copies when its primary sales outlet is a store whose average customer is a 33 year old man, and one without children for that matter.

Get the comics to kids. How do you do that? Sell the comics where kids are. Don't know how to do that? Then give the [expletive] up and sell used cars.

I remember Warren Ellis saying that his daughter nearly rips his arm off to get to his comp copy of Powerpuff Girls.

Which he gets for free in his comp package every month. Another sale not made. Next question.

Anyway.  Any thoughts on the trend of direct sales outlets being combined with gaming stores and the like?

Yes, fabulous! Scare off female and mature adult male customers even more with your 19 sided dice and grotesque pewter unicorn and gargoyle figurines. Jesus, God, we're all [expletive] doomed.

Give us a last look at your madness before we wrap this up.  Say whatever. Go wild.

If anyone is still reading this, thanks for your interest in the site, and for your dedication to what we're trying to do. If we do something you like, let us know. If we do something you hate, PLEASE let us know. We're not doing this to get rich. We LOSE money every month. If you're reading these words, my friend, we're doing this for you, and for ourselves, and for the comics we love. Thanks for coming along, and feel free to jump in and take part whenever you want!

Thanks to Alan for coming and playing along, even after I said those things about him.  Join us again next week when I'll tell you all what you should be reading.

Reviews This Week: Avengers: the Ultron Imperative, Banner #1, Mighty Eyeball #6, Monkeysuit v3, Uncle Slam and Fire Dog, Origin #1, Orion #17, Stormwatch: Final Orbit, Top Ten #12, Hellblazer #165, and Private Beach #3, courtesy of Coyle, Doane, Mathews and Weissburg.

Forum Topic:  Like I said, are comics doomed?  What can be done to avoid it?

-- R. Francis Smith

Flying Cars and Robot Servants (August 21, 2001)

posted Feb 12, 2011, 2:21 PM by Russ Smith   [ updated Feb 12, 2011, 2:29 PM ]

I've been thinking about this, and slowly gathering these thoughts, since the new year.  I'd better say it now, before I miss the year's end.

So I'm in my home office, from which I work every day via a persistent wireless connection of some 3400 or so times the speed of my first modem, working on a computer with over 16000 times as much memory, and so on and so forth, listening to classic Santana tunes pouring out of it at quality my LP player never had, talking to friends all over the country, and, indeed, world, doing my job from home wearing nothing but a pair of shorts -- not even glasses, because a laser was used to fix my eyesight after 27 years of corrective lenses.

It's 2001, isn't it?  Too right it is.

Oh, sure, I've heard the griping.  Where are the flying cars?  Why can't I camp on the moon?  How come we still have the same hideous conflicts in the world?

I have a lot of sympathy, I really do, in particular for that last one.  My point is not that utopia has arrived at last -- sorry, H.G. -- but that familiarity breeds not only contempt, but total lack of recognition.  It doesn't look like the future, because we had to walk here on our own, and we got to see all the in-between places.  If my 1981 pre-teen self had hopped the bus 20 years ahead, though, he'd have gone right out of his skull.

This is the future, baby.  The phones have no wires and fit in your hand, and you don't have to stay within 20 feet of your living room.  Or in your home state.  We've got copiers in the spare bedroom.  We can send documents to people we have no reason to expect would want them.  I did my taxes online, and got a big wad of money wired into my bank account.  My wallet grew, and so did the butt that guards it, because I didn't have to get up.

Many new cars practically purify the air that goes through their engines (although this may say more about the air than the cars), and they use a quarter the fuel of my first car (and look substantially less stupid). Breast cancer is still awful, but not necessarily fatal by a long shot. Space shuttle missions are practically routine and few people indeed make a point to watch every launch now.  A flick of the mouse, and you're looking in someone's dorm room.  Okay, so not all progress is forwards.  But it's freaky, man.

I'll say it again, in case you aren't following me: Welcome to 2001.  Do not pretend this is the 20th century.  It is not.  Things Have Changed.

Except us.

Okay, dig it.  The nature of people does not seem to change.  I am hip to this fact.  I love studying history because of the people (just like I love writing because of the characters).  They do things that are, well, so familiar.  In a weird way it's comforting.  In other ways, it's not, because maybe it suggests that people aren't going to change, either.  This may make science fiction easier to write characters for, but it does not bode well for the elimination (in this life, anyway) of famine, war, hatred and other stupidity.

Anthropologists tell us that there is no such thing as a primitive culture. It follows that there is no such thing as an advanced culture, either.  There is just us.

When you try to understand the industry, then, or the market, you have to understand that point.  Computer coloring is neat.  Heck, the whole board to scanner (or, hey, just digital pad) to printer process is cool. Emailing in a story from Rio is cool, if I'd ever been to Rio or had any real hope of getting to my files from there, I guess.  Those digital things that haunt Scott McCloud's every thought are nifty, whether they exist or not.

But none of it changes the basics.  If a committee formed of marketroids, random editors, and the owner's nephew walk on a story, it will show, no matter what machines you run it through.  (Check out the Life of Reilly column if you're unconvinced.  Some of Glenn's war stories there are the stuff of my nightmares.)  And the nature of the telling of tales hasn't changed, won't change, can't change, either.  When a storyteller has nothing to say, the story will bear witness.

But when you do have a story to tell...

If you do...

No power on earth should stand in the way of you telling your story.  And the tools are in front of you to do it.  To an extent, this has been true for a long time.  Write it, draw it, photocopy it, and you're in business. But now... you don't need to photocopy it.  You don't need to mail it. You just need to do it.

It's 2001.  Welcome to the future. Tell us your dreams, and we will hear you.  That's what comics have been about all along, and we have inherited a world absolutely drooling to let you do your thing.  Give us your story.  Nothing stops you.

And that's a wilder idea than any flying car.

Okay, at least that's off my chest.  I'd love to give you an insightful talk with someone in this spot, but I didn't have a chance to do it and I'm out of time, so you get nothin' but me, and I'm running a little short this week.  On the other hand, I come bringing gifts:

Store:  First we became an amazon.com affiliate, and now we bring it home with the new Galactic Bookstore.  We're still getting the text filled in, but as you can already tell we're going to suggest what to buy, why to buy it, who says you should buy it, and give you a good link with which to buy it.  Nothing could be easier.  Yours truly suggested several entries in there (for which he's working on the mini-reviews right now, honest) marking the peak of several genres.  We're not kidding around, here.  You want to own this stuff.

Contest: You're like a crazy person if you don't check out our First Anniversary Essay Contest Giveaway, man!  There's loot from Barry Windsor-Smith, Michael Avon Oeming, Tony Isabella, Brian Michael Bendis, Tom Beland, Eric Shanower, and who knows who else?  Well, you will, once you go look at the contest, and follow the instructions there.  Do it.  After August 30, you're too late.

Reviews This Week: Anomaly #3, Mighty Eyeball #6, Atlas #1, Hopeless Savages #1, New X-Men 2001 Annual, Captain Marvel #22, The Monarchy #6, Mystic #15, The Otherworld War, Just Imagine...Wonder Woman, Shadow Reavers #1, Generations 2 #1, Tom Strong #14, Dork #9, Amazing Spider-Man #34, Flash: Iron Heights, Batman: Gotham Knights #20, Operation Bollock #1, and a special review of the movie Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.  All of the above courtesy of Capetillo, Gerard, Hilliard, Jizdeortega, Mathews, Nunley, Tecson, Weissburg, and the Princess.

Forum Topic: What's the best innovation of the last thirty years?

-- R. Francis Smith

Brotherhood of Evil Editors (August 14, 2001)

posted Feb 12, 2011, 2:13 PM by Russ Smith   [ updated Feb 12, 2011, 2:20 PM ]

Russ: In honor of the reorganization of Comic Book Galaxy, and in particular the reorganization of editing responsibilities that has brought you, well, me, this week Big Bang co-editors Chris Allen and yours truly engage in some dark pondering, ominous gossiping, and outright slandering on the topic of what reviewing is all about.

Chris: Slandering, pandering, and Randy Landering, and maybe some gerrymandering. But first, I'll thank Russ for taking me up on my less-than-subtle self-invitation to glom onto his column.

Russ: It entertains me to get us going with something I saw on Jon Stewart's Daily Show this week.  The host of Fear Factor said that critics are losers who just couldn't cut it in their field (as writers, actors, or whatever) -- that they're "dodgeball victims," which I thought was a scream. It's easy for that to be true, too, and I think perhaps particularly in comics, where the difference between a successful writer and an unsuccessful one can be whether he or she found an artist.  This business is notoriously hard for writers to dive into alone, although admittedly not impossible (but probably distasteful).

Chris: I was always really good at not getting hit in dodgeball, and could often guess when someone behind me was about to throw at my head. But anyway, speaking of dodging, the Fear Factor guy you mention above is using the most ridiculous, timeworn dodge used by writers both good and bad for decades, maybe even centuries. Fact is, criticism is a valid, necessary form of writing. Where would we be if everyone just created and never commented on it? Never analyzed and dissected in print? To reduce all critics to whiny, untalented geeks like he describes does a great disservice to the field, and is likely disingenuous. I assume there were some good reviews of Fear Factor--I didn't mind the show myself--so does this guy tell those writers they're losers, too? Doubtful. And of course, while it's rare, there have been critics, such as James Agee, who've had success in creative writing endeavors, too, such as screenwriting. I won't go into Roger Ebert's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls script...

All that being said, there ARE some, perhaps many, critics just like that described, but the generalization is still unfair.

Russ: Right.  Remember, we use only the best FDA-certified grade A reviewers, so you know they're fresh.  (Some of them can be very fresh.) Seriously, sniping at creators is not our job.  We can do it, and we can enjoy it as much as the next person, but that's an individual thing.  When a reviewer takes a personal-issue bias in, that's a problem.  Whether or not Todd McFarlane was a jerk to me at a con once (it's up to you to decide if this is the case) is immaterial when I'm reviewing his work.  On the flipside, I may think Steve Rude is of the utmost sterling nature (and in fact I don't mind saying I do), but that doesn't get him a pass if he does something lame.

Chris: The thing a reviewer (and we hope, the readers) need to understand is that a savage review of one particular comic doesn't mean the reviewer doesn't like other things the guy's written or drawn, or that the reviewer has any particular personal feelings at all about the creator. It's simply weak writing to constantly qualify every review with, "While I liked Jones' work on Competent Girl, I just can't get behind his work here on The Scatologist." Well, that example's actually okay, if you leave it at that. But the reviewer seems timid and vacillating when he or she goes on longer than that about the many fine qualities of the creator not on display in the book in question.

Russ: This is one of the tricks of editing -- knowing how to tell a ground axe from a real review. Frankly, catching typos is sissy stuff. A program can do it for the most part. (And they do.) For that matter, I could write a filter to bounce review mail that doesn't make our wordcount minimum. The work is in making sure that the 'Galaxy principles are held, and there's no black and white rulebook for doing it.

Chris:  The goal of being an editor should never be to put one's own personal stamp on a review, or to make sure every review is in our writing style and reflective of our own opinions. That would be terribly arrogant, and I'm sure our talented reviewers wouldn't stand for it. No, when we talk about "Galaxy principles," I think it comes down to some basic, and some quite specific, standards of professionalism. The specific stuff we won't bore you with, having to do with the standardized format you see in the Big Bang in regards to credits; the word count; making a plot summary ideally only a sentence or two, etc. The basic principles of a review, as I see them, are to review the specific book's qualities of writing and art, perhaps using some comparison or contrast with previous issues or other work by the creator(s), and never getting personal or going off into inappropriate tangent. An example of an appropriate tangent was in a recent review of X-Force, where Kevin Mathews not only reviewed the issue, but also wrote of how his opinion of the issue was affected by what he felt was a disastrous decision on Marvel's part to use the X-Force name to sell a concept quite different from any other mutant title. I initially had a problem with this tangent, but came to realize it was relevant. An example of a "bad tangent" was something I cut from a review of Spawn: The Dark Ages, where the writer closed the review with advice to writer Steve Niles that he should try to distance himself from Todd McFarlane in order to avoid the backlash against Todd. I guess that could work in a column, but not in a review.

Russ: And it talks to the wrong person.  I'm sure many, if not most, creators are interested in how their work is reviewed, and read reviews. That's good. If good (not necessarily positive, but well-thought) reviews help them, so much the better.  I feel, though, that the real "customer" is the reader or potential reader, and advice to Steve Niles or anyone else does the reader no good.  I also doubt that Mr. Niles is sitting around waiting for a reviewer to give him tips on his business dealings, but that's neither here nor there, I guess.

The question at hand, when I write reviews, is "should the reader buy this?" If my answer is "yes," I explain why.  If my answer is "no," I explain why not.  And (arguably the most reasonable possibility) if the answer is "it depends," I explain how.  Now, this is not a fool-proof formula. If I say "You shouldn't buy this because the inker's a bum," that's not reasonable.  (At best, it fits under "it depends."  But we don't ask or desire our reviewers to review the personalities of the creators.) But it gets you on the right road.  Like Chris says, the trick then is to stick to the merits -- or lack of merits -- of the work itself, and you'll arrive at something useful for the reader.

Chris: And it's of utmost importance to be entertaining in the review, not to just assume that your scientific formula of why this month's Nightwing was better than last month's (three more punches thrown!) is of interest to a reader. Grab them with a witty summary at the start. Zip into a confident and intriguing thesis sentence. Keep it lively.

Myself, I find I gravitate towards reviews that let more of the personality of the reviewer shine through. After all, won't a reader naturally give your opinion a little more weight if he finds you interesting or likeable, or somehow different than the dozens of review robots he can read elsewhere? (Bzz-clik! Comic-in-question-is...terrific...but-marred-by...murky coloring...zzz-beep-clik-clik). I read a hefty book a couple years back, 1001 Nights at the Movies (I think that was it) by Pauline Kael, a celebrated film critic of the 70s and 80s. While I hadn't seen half the movies reviewed in the book, I read every review, because they were wonderfully written. At heart, the Big Bang, and reviews at other sites, are a sort of service. As you say, we're telling you, as quasi-experts (ha!), what's worth reading or not. A couple weeks pass, and the expiration date on most reviews has passed. But even if it's a futile gesture, I do think it's worthwhile trying to make each review a little better than just a service. It should be a good read.

Russ: Before we wrap up, I want to use some space to say that the comic industry can be an exciting place if you let it.  You hear diversity bandied about a lot, but a lot of the people doing so then throw rocks at those who aren't like them for not being diverse in the way they want to me.  What makes the industry exciting is the real potential for everyone to play, and in a time where everyone cringes at "the shrinking industry," there's plenty of room for everyone's game.  Harvey Pekar has been quoted saying, "Comics are just words and pictures.  You can do anything with words and pictures."

Chris: It's a beautiful medium in that way, in that the barriers to getting one's ideas out to someone else are very low. You can self-publish a cheap minicomic, or publish online for a few bucks worth of bandwidth. The biggest internal problem (as opposed to the external problem of not being able to get new readers) is the snobbery of the various subcultures of fandom. I have a friend who's produced an issue of a wonderful sort of "funny animal" book, structured like a sitcom. He's frowned on by others in this "underground" sort of self-publishing community, simply because his work is tightly plotted humor rather than abstract or self-indulgent. Well, that's his side of it, anyway! I know one of our hopes for the Galaxy, and the Big Bang in particular, is to better represent some of the smaller publishers--some of this diversity of which you speak. It's not a crusade, and I think it would be unfair to force reviewers to read things they don't want to, but I do think that readers will see an increasingly broader scope to what we cover. It's good for the industry (in its small way), and it will hopefully just make for a better Bang for the buck.

Jeez, I really took over, didn't I? Russ, feel free to write next week's Breakdowns and I'll just be in the corner, sitting on my thumb.

Russ:  Good cue to wrap it up.  Thanks to Chris for coming out to play for this week (it's entirely my fault how long it took to get this done) and best wishes on his futile attempt to get me to do his work on Breakdowns. As for the rest of you, hope you got a kick out of it.  Come back again and I'll bring you new pain.

Reviews This Week: Incal #1-2, Last Shot: First Draw #1, Last Shot #1, Nightwing #60, Defenders #8, The Tick Color #1-3, An Accidental Death, Lady Death/Medieval Witchblade #1, Shi GI Preview, Desperate Times #3, Daredevil #21, Detective Comics #761, X-treme X-Men #4, Operation Bollock #1, Transmetropolitan #48, Boneyard #3, Ultimate X-Men #8, Amazing Spider-Man #34, all brought to you by Hilliard, Jizdeortega, Lawler, Mathews, Meadow, Terl, Weissburg, and the Princess.  Check 'em out.

Forum Topic: What's the real purpose of reviews?  Are Chris and I crazy?

- R. Francis Smith

Editing, Marc Mason, and Other Crimes (August 6, 2001)

posted Feb 12, 2011, 1:53 PM by Russ Smith   [ updated Feb 12, 2011, 2:05 PM ]

Hi. My name is R. Francis Smith. The "R" doesn't stand for anything secret. All else of interest will become clear over time.

I've been watching a lot of anime recently; after months, perhaps years, of friends trying to convince me, I have finally come around to the belief that subtitled is the one true way.  Comparing so-called "fansubbed" shows -- that is, shows in Japanese where fans have laboriously added English subtitles, instead of some commercial repackager -- with commercially dubbed productions demonstrates what liberties the latter will take with the original vision.  The "fansubs," as incredibly broken as their work can sometimes be, go to great pains to preserve the original intent.

Which brings me around to the two things I want to touch on: comics and editing.

It has been said over and over that one of the great things about comics, if not actually the greatest, is the way that a work can go from the mind(s) of the creator(s) to the reader's mind with a minimal amount of interference -- modulation to pictures and words, demodulation back to ideas, and in between some editing, some printing process, and so forth. And comics are notorious for being minimalist about editing, no matter how many annoying incidents we can all name; there's no comparison with the editorial practices of, say, the American visual media.  This is a good and right reason to love comics.

This road, too, leads to the topic of editing.  No surprise, really, since the reason I'm starting this column is because I'm in the process of transitioning to some sort of contributing editor role here at Comic Book Galaxy.  Eventually, someone's going to be crazy enough to let me take great whacks at the reviews that come in to Big Bang, instead of the minor divots I've been leaving, and I've found it useful to give the nature of editing some thought before such a dark day dawns.

You, the reader of this column, are either one of the stable of reviewers, and doubtless are pleased to be compared to a horse by that phrasing, or you aren't.  Obviously.  If you are, you may well be cringing at what kind of boot I'm going to wear and where I'm going to plant it.  Fear not.  We'll get along famously.  You'll see.  It'll only hurt at first, honest.

If you're not a reviewer, then what?  You're hoping I'll quit being cute and give you an idea where we're going, probably, or at least, it pleases me to pretend that's the case.  Here's what we've been discussing:
  • Quality over quantity.  Depth over breadth.
  • Consolidation of reviews under the Big Bang umbrella.
  • New attention to trade paperbacks and original graphic novels.
  • Better exposure for the reviewers who are ready to shine.
  • Thorazine for Alan David Doane.  (Look, I need a personal goal, here.)
Some of this will be accomplished through this column, as you will see in a moment.  Some of this will be accomplished through the aforementioned boot and the alluded-to body parts.  Some of this has been decided by fiat and is just going to be the way of things.  (And I'll probably be out of luck on the thorazine.)  The real issue, though, is whether our ideas are pleasing to us (yes) or whether they best serve you, as well.  And you can tell us that, because we have a forum, we do, where you can sound off.  And I'll be asking you to do just that every time I write one of these.

But first, let's talk about Marc Mason.

Unless this is your very first time on this site, if not in the sunlight, you should be aware that Marc is a Big Bang reviewer of no mean talent, in addition to being the mind behind our spiffy DVD column, "Aisle Seat."  He's got a background laden with professional journalism credit, including movie reviews.  All this you know if you've read his short bio.  I tried to get Marc to tell us a few things you don't already know.

RFS: What evil lurks in the heart of Marc Mason?

Marc: Some days, the complete misanthropy I feel threatens to overwhelm me, and I desire to conquer the known world. However, I fear if I fail, I will be stuck as a cat for the next 100 years.

I've been over your mini-bio and I see that you've been doing pro journalism, at least off and on, for fifteen years.  That explains a lot. Do you mind telling us about that first gig, for the "sports tabloid in Indiana?"

Sure. The sports editor of the largest paper in the county quit and started "Hamilton County Sports Weekly", which came out in tabloid format. A couple of months in, a my friend Scott and I started co-writing a column called "The Rambling Guys". When the paper folded, the editor went back to his old job and took me along as a straight out reporter. I was 16.

Do you still do any pro journalism?

Not so much. I was producing part of a corporate newsletter for a while and doing stuff in that area, but I haven't been actively seeking any assignments.

With your pro creds, why give it away? What do you get out of it?

The Galaxy is cool. There are so many great people working on it that it makes you work hard to make sure you live up to the example they set. You don't want to be the weakest link. I also like the passion that the site has. Many sites don't have the strong point of view that the Galaxy does, and I think that is the calling card we are trying to leave. Others are great, they do nice work, but they don't have a POV to speak of. That's worth being a part of.

You've been a pro movie reviewer, so "Aisle Seat" is no big leap.  What's your take on making your work here relevant to the Comic Book Galaxy reader?

First, cover movies that I think people who log on to the Galaxy [would like]. Second, make sure I don't sound like every other movie critic in America. My voice has to be distinctive, above all else, otherwise, why should people waste their time on me?

If you found your dream artist, what kind of comics would you produce?

I actually have a 25 issue series sitting around [...] I just need an artist. If I found someone who did something along the lines of Terry Moore, it would rock. My story is kind of a romantic comedy/superhero drama. When Harry Met Sally crossed with Captain America. That sounds like [expletive], but trust me. It works on paper.

Anything you want the world to know, blurt it out.

Thanks to all out there who support the Galaxy, especially those who spend time reading my stuff. Remember that reading comics is a great way to enjoy a story, not a way to spend your life. Keep a wonderful life away from the longbox, and everybody will be okay. There is nothing so serious about comics that you need a website to protest it.

Many thanks to Marc for playing along.  Tune in next column when I do something else.

Reviews This Week:  Deadman: Dead Again #1, Planetary #15, Wild Stars #1, Young Justice #36, Fantastic Four #46, Ultimate Spider-Man #12, Daredevil: Yellow #3, JLA #56, Fray #3, Batgirl #19, Exiles #3, and the first Ultimate X-Men TPB, courtesy of Hilliard, Jizdeortega, Lawler, Mathews, Nunley, Tecson, and the Princess.  Read 'em and weep.

Forum Topic: What's not getting review coverage in Big Bang that should be, or what is that shouldn't, and why or why not?

- R. Francis Smith

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