mike sterling's progressive ruin

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Progressive Ruin Questionnaire-Fest 2009, Part Five: The Dream Child. 

Okay, I thought I could do it today, but I'll wrap it up for good tomorrow...here are more answers to your questions:

  • Monte has a few things to say:

    "Back in the 70's there was a big debate about nudity in comics. Now with Marvel's Max and DC's Vertigo lines the debate is no more. Do you think this has helped or hurt comics?"

    I wouldn't say the debate is no more, to be honest...there are still plenty of people out there (as I'm sure the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund could tell you) who think any non kid-appropriate material in comics is wrong and should be done away with. Believe me, all the "MATURE READERS ONLY" warnings in the world aren't going to stop someone with enough motivation from convincing the general public that the evil publishers and their partners-in-crime, the retailers, were selling copies of Preacher to Little Billy.

    As far as within the fan community itself...I remember when there was a lot of debate in the fan press over sex and violence and what have you in the '70s and very early '80s, and it was usually over things like "whoa, that Wolverine character, what with the claws and all...he's too violent!" and "hey, this comic heavily implies that Nick Fury banged the gong slowly with that one gal...I'm offended!" And looking back at it now all I can think is "wow, they had no idea what was coming."

    "And second they are sometimes called funnybooks(Hate that name) but it is real hard to find comics that are funny."

    There are still funny comics out there. You just have to look around. I mean, Secret Invasion was hysterical.

    Oh, okay, that was a cheap shot. But I know what you're getting at...it's not like the good ol' days, when there were plenty of gag books sitting side by side with the guys-in-capes books. Marvel and DC really don't do 'em too much any more (aside from DC's Cartoon Network and Scooby Doo...oh, and Ambush Bug), so look to the indie titles. Try pal Nat's Licensable Bear™. Or Amelia Rules (warning: sound). Or Dr. Radium by Scott Saavedra. Or Ralph Snart. Or many others I'm sure my kind readers will suggest in the comments section.

    "Third what are the ground rules for you of quitting a certain comic. Looking back in my collection I see a pattern of me buying a comic hoping it return to it's former greatness. aka Daredevil in the 70's and 80's. At what point does the fat lady sing?"

    Basically it's just "I'm not enjoying it any more." Or "the creative team that was the reason I was reading this in the first place is leaving, so that's as good a place as any for me to quit, too."

    There are books I have stuck around and read in the hopes it'd get better (I've often said I could have safely skipped the middle 60 issues of the second Firestorm series, for example), but nowadays most people can ill-afford such luxuries.

    "Finally are comics a dying art form?
    I mean when I go into the comic store the only kids I see are employees. Most of the customers are 35 and over males. When we go will the younger generation keep comics alive?"

    I still see plenty of kids buying comics at our shop. The store just has to be inviting for...well, not just the kids, but the parents who have to take them there. Mom ain't gonna bring Little Billy (there he is again!) to a store that looks like a disused basement and smells like a petting zoo. And I don't think that comics are a dying art form...simply that the delivery system for them (the printed paper booklet) is taking some hits. There are plenty of comics online that are doing just fine.

  • Chad asks

    "Have you ever thought about scripting comics, at least as a creative experiment? What comic franchise or property or character would you revamp if you had your pick? And how would you revamp it?"

    I've made a half-hearted attempt or two to sell a script here 'n' there, but beyond our own local self-published mini-comics concern, I've remained mainly on the retail end of things. Which is probably just as well. I suspect the industry has more need of people trying to sell comics properly than it needs more people trying to create comics. There's no lack of the latter.

    As far as revamping goes...well, I've gone on about Swamp Thing enough, I'm sure, so let me think of another. Well, one character that can use it is Aquaman. He's gone through any number of permutations lately, and you'd probably want to strip away all that mystical jazz, minimize references to old plot points/supporting characters like Mera and Dead Aquababy, and just keep it to the simple stuff everyone associates with the character. He's King of the Seas, fights crime underwater, uses his telepathic abilities to communicate with undersea life, occasionally pals around with the Justice League, sometimes fights villains like Black Manta and the Fisherman. Well, okay, you may not want to dredge up the Fisherman, but certainly bring back the Ocean Master. Just make it a plain ol' Silver Agey superhero book. Maybe not simplified to the point of a comic specifically aimed at kids, but definitely make it kid friendly. I've seen enough young'uns at the shop react positively to the idea of Aquaman, so an entry-level, low-continuity title starring the character isn't the worst concept in the world.

    I mean, what's the worst that could happen? Another canceled Aquaman series?

  • Dallas Senosco has this to say:

    "I would love some reports of recent price increases and affects on customers. I have a job and long ago said that 3 bucks is my limit. I passed on IDW when they were the first many moons ago.
    I have to think that with each price increase, some people stop buying.
    I told my local store that and he understands, but do you not worry that eventually, websites that sell their comics for 40 to 50 percent off are going to be cooking your and all other physical stores bacon."

    That certainly is a concern, as people are approaching their limits as to what they think is an acceptable price for the standard comic book format. I think $3.99 is...well, not great, but not as much of a psychological deterrent as, say, a five buck price point for the current format. (Of course, fifteen years ago I'm sure I would have said the same thing about the $3 price point). Something is going to have to change...I'm not quite ready for a "trade paperback only" model, but the periodical comics are going to have to beef up their offerings to keep folks willing to pay the entry fee.

    I'm sure physical stores taking a hit from online discounters, but there's not really anything we can do about that aside from just trying to attract customers into our shop with our service and our selection. And backrubs. Trying to compete with deep discounters will just end up killing our business (someone once worked out that the number of extra customers you'd attract with heavy discounting usually doesn't balance out with the amount of money you're losing by not selling the comics closer to retail), so we just have to do what we can.

    Plus, there's the feeling of just getting to go into a shop to look around and see what's available, so at least we've got that going for us! And the backrubs.

  • Roel Torres reasonably asks

    "Why do millions and millions of people enjoy movies based on comic properties like Iron Man, Dark Knight, Superman Returns, X-Men, Spider-Man, etc. -- yet look down on reading comics based on the very same characters as a nerdy fringe hobby?"

    Because "watching" is cool, and "reading" isn't.

    Well, that's a bit simplistic. Probably it's because the movies provide the essentials of the characters/situations without demanding a monthly commitment to following the ins and outs and subplots and tie-ins. For most people, even the ones who really like Spider-Man, one Spider-Man movie about every three years is plenty. Reading three Spider-Man comics a month would just be wallowing in it to the point of obsession, and who'd want to do that?

  • The infamous Aqualad Knox has more for me:

    "When will people stop bitching about Brand New Day?"

    I think people are still bothered by it as it was the result of a fairly egregious example of an editorial decision to fix something that, by most people's thinking, wasn't really the issue. The problem with Spider-Man wasn't that Peter was married to Mary Jane. The problem with Spider-Man was crummy Spider-Man comics.

    The "Brand New Day" era of Spidey comics, which for the most part have actually been pretty good, are simply a continuing reminder of that "Spidey makes a deal with the devil" story that laid the groundwork for the soft-reboot. It's hard to shake the memory that some of the character's most basic foundations re: responsibility had to be violated to bring this about. And that twenty years of the character being married is suddenly done away with...that's a pretty big thing to suddenly ask your 60,000 remaining Spider-man readers to accept. Just judging by the number of customers who've asked me at the shop, I'm sure a large percentage of the total readership is waiting for the "conclusion" to the Mephisto storyline, where the marriage is restored, and that all these "in-between" stories are just "alternate universe" Spider-stories that are killing time 'til the former status quo comes back.

    "Didn't you say you used to be a librarian? Why'd you stop?"

    I'd sorta had enough of it, and the opportunity arose at Ye Olde Comick Book Shoppe for a position there. Plus, it was better pay and more hours.

    Yes, a librarian was able to get better pay and more hours at a comic book store. Let that sink in a bit.

    "Why do bad things happen to good people?"

    For the amusement of the bad people.

  • Direct from beautiful Thailand, Mr. Andrew Davison asks

    "I'd love to see some (humorous) photos of your 'team' and the shop."

    Yeah, it has been a while. I'll see what I can do.

    "I've offered wondered about the mysterious 'owner' of the shop, who YOU NEVER MENTION."

    I think I decided early on it would be poor form to go on about the owner...I mean, not that he'd really care. We have known each other for decades, it's not like he doesn't trust me.

    His name's Ralph, he's a cool guy despite his preference for the Grateful Dead, and he looks something like this:

    ...only his actual cape is maybe a little shorter.

    "You seem to have stopped doing reviews of late."

    I really don't like doing reviews, aside from maybe brief smart-assed one-liners or such. Occasionally I'll get inspired to wax poetic about some book or 'nother, but generally my reviews are "MIKE LIKE ART, YOU BUY THIS BOOK NOW."

    Every time a New Comics Day rolls around, I feel like I should say more than a few words about some of the new releases, but ooh, look I found a penny isn't it shiny?

    "More on the stuff you do for local libraries."

    Just by pure coincidence, I just wrapped up several hundred dollars' worth of orders for a couple of the local libraries. In fact, even as I write this, I have a few boxes sitting downstairs in my house that I need to deliver to a library in the next day or so.

    I haven't said much about it because there's not really much to add that I haven't said before. They want kids comics, they really want Pokemon titles, and they really don't want any Archie comics since kids tend to turn their noses up at them.

  • Oscar Blotnik wants to know

    "We all know how you feel about Swamp Thing, but what are your feelings towards his daughter? Is Tefe a vital element to the Swamp Thing saga or does she add little to his mythos?"

    I think Tefe was an interesting side story, but ultimately not a "vital" element. If you ask your average comics fan what they know about Swamp Thing, the fact that he has a daughter isn't going to come up.

    Tefe's position in the mythos is an extension of the generational aspect of the Swamp Thing "position" (geez, I'm using more quotation marks than a Jack Kirby script) in nature that Alan Moore introduced in Swamp Thing #33. Specifically, she was the merging of the Green World and the Human World...an elemental in human form that was supposed to bring about something or another. So basically she's a supporting character/plot point for Swamp Thing's ongoing saga, which means she's only as vital as the story demands.

  • Chris K will wrap things up for today with another Swamp Thing question:

    "What was your first Swamp Thing comic? More specifically, was it pre-Alan Moore/ Anatomy Lesson? (I've always had the sense that it was) Were you one of the few people who got in on the ground floor with that run, and how did you feel about it at the time?"

    I actually have noted it before...in this post about Swamp Thing (first series) #23...the one where Swamp Thing is turned back into Alec Holland. I bought that sometime in the very late '70s, early '80s.

    I started reading the second Swampy series with the first issue, which meant that I was indeed one of the few who got in on the ground floor with this new British writer: Adam Mores, or something. In fact, at the time I was one of the two people buying the comic at the local shop.

    I was blown away by those initial Alan Moore issues. I must have reread those things about a dozen times each waiting for the next issue to arrive. I remember specifically feeling a sense of dread at the end of Moore's first issue, after Swamp Thing was shot through the head. I wasn't sure how Swampy was going to get out of this one, but I was sure it was going to be something pretty drastic.

    And whaddaya know...it was.

Thanks for putting up with this, internet pals. Hopefully Sunday will be the end of this...see you tomorrow.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Progressive Ruin Questionnaire-Fest 2009, Part Four: Citizens on Patrol. 

Yes, it's a fourth part to my ongoing quest to answer your questions. I'm sorry if this is going on too long, as I really didn't intend for it to drag out like this. But I'm still fighting an illness, and answering these questions a few at a time is, for the time being, easier than trying to generate a whole lot of content on my own. So, to all of you who participated, I really do appreciate it. You've made this week go by a lot more easily, and without having to resort to another "low content mode" series of posts again.

Anyway, on to your questions:

  • Ryan wants to know

    "How poorly is The Amazing Spider-Man selling compared to before the Brand New Day mess?"

    For us, sales are Amazing Spider-Man have been generally declining (aside from, oh, say, the Obama issue), and I think they're at lower sales levels than before the sorta-weekly relaunch. Now, at the time I thought maybe we'd experience a dip below normal ASM sales, but that sales on three issues per month of ASM would still be higher than sales on one monthly issue of ASM and two issues of the other monthly Spider-Man series. However, I suspect the numbers may have dropped even further than that, though I don't have our cycle sheets right in front of me to see exactly how they're doing.

    On the other hand, Spider-Man sales prior to Brand New Day were mostly one crossover tie-in or special event after another, so average sales were sort of on the inflated side anyway before the whole Mephisto boondoggle. After Brand New Day, there weren't all that many heavily-promoted event issues of ASM, aside from the Anti-Venom story and the aforementioned Obama comic. Without the constant onslaught of events, sales couldn't help but average lower than before.

    Of course, I'm just talking about our sales. Maybe the comics are doing great elsewhere. But judging from the sales chart someone dropped into my comments a while back...well, while we have learned that those sales numbers people keep posting aren't necessarily 100% accurate, they're good enough to present general trends, and ASM certainly seems to have been trending downward.

  • Ray Cornwall ponders

    "Who'd win- Swamp Thing, Man Thing, or Herbie in a three-way fight at the Nexus of the Universe?"

    With such a horrific conflict among such powerful and influential beings, there can truly be no winners, only losers, as we all face total and utter destruction at the cosmic conflagration that would certainly result.

    Shorter answer: Herbie.

  • Thwacko dares to ask

    "Is it true J*** B**** once drew a guy's penis in a mainstream comic?

    Oh, wait, wrong column."

    I believe the column you're looking for is this one, where the kind and good Brian Cronin takes on that very topic, with pictures and everything! But I'm going to respectfully disagree with Brian's negative response to said rumor...man, that's totally a penis sorta hangin' on down there. Nobody looked at that panel and didn't think it. Even if that wasn't the intent, that's what you got.

    (I'm sorry, Brian...but when it comes to penises, we're just going to have to agree to disagree.)

  • Snapper asks

    "Do you think Swamp Thing would be even cooler if he had Batman for a left arm?"

    I don't know about cooler, but he'd certainly have a conversation starter.

  • g23 comments

    "You can make at least one post out of Gail Simone's Twitter challenges... they are brilliant."

    I'm kinda vaguely aware of these challenges, as I don't follow Gail Simone on the Twitter, but I'll occasionally see a bunch of folks I follow suddenly send a bunch of messages her way, all seemingly on the same theme. They're in response to Simone's commands, like this one:

    "Your Twitter Mission for the Day...give me a superhero's post-coital comment, six words or less, and no cursing. I dare you."

    I wouldn't want to make a post out of her particular Twitter game, as it's specifically for her Twitter followers and not fodder for weblog content. Er, not that it stopped me from writing a couple of paragraphs about it, but you know what I mean.

  • Nik must know

    "What canceled comic book would you bring back if you could?"

    Yes, I know, everyone expects me to say Swamp Thing. And that would be the obvious answer. But I suspect we'll get a new Swamp Thing series sooner or (more likely) later, so no special wishing power on my part is really necessary.

    If I were to pick a cancelled comic that's not likely to return, I'd pick Jupiter by Jason Sandberg. The ongoing narrative starring Pelasgus and the continuing building of a society around him was compelling reading, and I was sorry it ended so abruptly.

    Plus, Customer Rob is still kinda steamed at me for turning him on to that comic, only to have it stop. Sorry, Rob!

  • CW has a couple of questions for me

    "Mike, what do you think of Avatar's Crossed? I think it's actually a satire of the horror genre, since it's so over the top."

    I think there are certainly some satirical elements to it, yes. But the horror element is really horrific and just beyond the pale, and the end of that one issue (oh, you know which one) still has just kinda stuck with me in a way most horror comics don't. Now that's what I want from a scary comic. An actual honest-to-God impact.

    "Also, can we have high DPI scans of old funnybook characters pointing angrily?"

    All seriousness aside...for a "low content mode" week, the amount of work I put into those posts was just stupidly crazy. Remind me never to do that again.

  • Philip asks

    "Now that I've mentally worked through all of my 'can I borrow 20 bucks?' and 'what's that on your face?' type questions:"

    1. You're asking a guy who sells comics for a living for money?

    2. That would be my ritualistic tribal Native American tattoo, in honor of Star Trek: Voyager's Chakotay, as portrayed by Robert Beltran.

    "Did you set out to be comic book retailer or was it thrust upon you? And, in your career as a retailer, what are some things that surprised you (good or bad) and what might you take a do-over on if you could?"

    Basically, I needed a job, hey I liked comics, I was in the right place at the right time (pushing previous job holder Ray out the door), and next thing you know, here I am writing a blog about comics every night because I don't get enough of the things during the day.

    I think the next part of that question requires a dedicated post on the topic, but...huh, what surprised me? I think the sudden burst of comic book faddishness in the late '80s/early '90s and the huge mainstream interest in the collectibility of comics certainly came as a surprise. 'Course, it nearly resulted in the end of the industry, but it was a surprise nonetheless.

    And related, what I'd do over: more conservative ordering in the early '90s, ordering more for rack sales than for estimated back issue sales...essentially, read the writing on the wall a little more quickly than we did for the impending market crash.

  • Jamee asks

    "Does your store have a manga section? If so, does it sell well? I ask because of all the stores I've shopped at over the years, only one had anything that could be called an actual manga section. Maybe manga does better in bookstores?"

    We do have a large manga section on several tall and full bookshelves at the front of the store. It sells well enough, though some books certainly sell better than others. I've seen the manga shelves at the local bookshops...I certainly see a few kid in those aisles, sitting on the floor mooching free reads, but if they're buying one for every five they read and put back, I'd be surprised.

    Let me amend that...I used to see kids in the manga aisles. The last few times I've been at the bookstores, I've seen no one in those aisles.

  • K26dp wonders

    "Did you ever in a million years think that the Death of Batman would generate so little buzz?"

    I'm grateful it didn't, since I'm still getting the occasional walk-in customer wondering why there are still Superman comics since, you know, didn't he die a few years back?

    Besides, we know he didn't die for good, we know he's coming back, we know Warner Brothers wouldn't allow DC to do permanent harm to one of their most valuable properties. And, for the people who actually read the comic instead of just grinding axes and bitching about it, we know that this is clearly not the Final Fate of Batman. It's just a plot twist in an ongoing serial. Surely nobody seriously thought it was anything but.

    That there wasn't an onslaught of real world news stories about "the Death of Batman" is...well, I want to say it was a sudden outbreak of common sense and restraint, but, you know, c'mon. I don't know if DC tried to get real world news in on it, but if they did and the story didn't catch on...well, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Which is why retailers don't order books assuming freak sales based on news coverage.

    Anyway, here's all the Batman death coverage you need.

  • Andrew Leal leals

    "Who do you think would win in a fight amongst Nancy, Lulu, *and* Audrey?"

    Ah, geez. Well, Audrey would be out right away, I think, narrowing it down to a close contest between Nancy and Lulu. While Nancy may have a slight edge physically, Lulu is perhaps a bit more cerebral. Assuming Nancy's brawn doesn't end the fight early (though it should be noted Lulu is bit of a scrapper herself), given enough time and opportunity Lulu would likely think of a clever way to ensure her victory.

  • Caleb demands answers:

    "--Have you ever considered maybe possibly blogging about Batman and Robin (the movie)?"

    Stand a little closer...I want to show you this wooden baseball bat.

    "--How come you won't mention that person you won't mention on your blog? Please explain in great detail, without mentioning that person or that person's identifying works and characeristics."

    If we're speaking about the same person we're not speaking about, it's because that person, who used to be a favored creator of mine, has very clearly become, via his online behavior, someone I don't necessarily want to promote or even really discuss.

    "--I've been reading Essential Man-Thing lately, and noticed the covers of some bill him as 'The Most Startling Slime Creature of Them All!' Were there mutliple Slime Creatures in comics at the time? Were they calling Swamp Thing out? Is Swampy really a slime creature? I always thought of him as more of a plant creature."

    Well, if you have a bunch of wet swamp plant life in your body, some of it is bound to be pretty slimy. I'm guessing, too, that they probably didn't want to use the word "Swamp" in their slogan, reminding folks of their crosstown rival creature. Thought it should be noted that "Swamp" was the word used on the early issues.

    "--Is it true that you're a cheater pants? According to the Internet, you are."

    If it's on the internet, it must be true.

    (Here's where that started, by the way. Like most things of this nature, it's ultimately my own fault.)

Okay, and that's enough of that for today. Will I wrap this up tomorrow? Come back and see! You know, if you really want to.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Progressive Ruin Questionnaire-Fest 2009, Part Three: At World's End. 

Boy, you people asked a lot of questions! Well, here we go....
  • Mike Nielsen asks

    "What is the strangest giveaway comic you've come across at the shop?"

    I think my favorite giveaway comic (though we certainly weren't giving it away at the time!) was a copy of 1949's Dagwood Splits The Atom. Alas, we sold it long before my blogging days, otherwise it would have made some good post fodder. Thankfully, there's no shortage of other folks who have covered it, and you can actually read the whole comic right here.

  • Pal Mojo IV wonders

    "What is the most unsellable comic in your quarter bins?"

    It's hard to pick out one item out of the bargain bins as being particularly unsellable. Even stuff like Turok #1 from Valiant, a dog of a title by most standards, tends to move out of the bargain boxes thanks to the fancy cover.

    In general, the stuff that moves the most is the familiar Marvel and DC books, and the stuff that kinda sits is the black and white boom stuff, or other forgotten indie titles. I wish I could just point to specific titles and say "Good Lord, I'm going to be buried with these issues of Wolfpack and Semper Fi," but nothing really stands out.

  • Old Bull Lee asks

    "I was wondering if you would comment on Patrick McGoohan's death and/or the upcoming Prisoner remake. I don't know if I've read about it here or not, but it just SEEMS like you would be a fan of that show."

    Unfortunately, I think I may have only seen the first episode of the series. I never did get around to seeing the rest, though thanks to the Netflix I can finally rectify this situation. (In fact, I took a break from composing this post to go add them to my queue. Good gravy, ten discs?)

    So alas, I have no particular opinion on the show, beyond acknowledging that folks really like it, and that it has a certain measure of influence. As far as the remake goes...I've no particular beef with the idea of remakes, so long as they're reasonably well done. Some kind of condensed version of the series, like the film version of The Fugitive might not be too bad, and may very well introduce more people to the original. You never know.

    I remember reading someone's comment somewhere that the real shame was that McGoohan died before the publicity machine went to work for the remake, as it's likely he could have had a few more interviews, a little more attention thrown his way. Alas, it's not to be.

  • Jon Cormier asks

    "Do you think well translated Euro-comics would sell well in today's graphic novel market?

    "I guess I'm also asking if you know anything about comics on another continent and whether or not that approach could work where you are."

    In today's market? With the right shelving placement and the right material, sure. But it's a tough marketplace right now, and material unfamiliar to a U.S. audience will have a hard time getting a toehold.

    Not to say we don't carry European albums when available, but this is a very limited, select clientele that we have for it. Which is better than no clientele, so who am I to complain?

    I should note that I'm not very familiar with how comics are sold overseas...I did have one customer who used to live in Belgium explain to me how the stores back home worked. Just sounded like a standard bookstore situation to me, with less emphasis on periodical releases. If I have an incorrect perception, set me straight!

  • Someone who apparently received a check from Employee Aaron, K Kokoska, inquires

    "Always enjoyed your reported exchanges with Employee Aaron.
    Does Employee Aaron still work there?
    If yes, you need to give him a guest blogger spot for a week, or have him review your entries for a week, or have him draw for a week. More Aaron is what I am saying. Let's make it employee Aaron's progressive ruin for a week!
    If no, you need to explain yourself STERLING!!!"

    Employee Aaron does still work here, and I believe he was talking about starting his own blog sooner or later. In the meantime, you can get your most current Employee Aaron updates at his Twitter.

    But it has been a while since I've posted any in-store exchanges amongst the employees. I'll see what I can do.

  • Jim Kingman barks right up my tree by wondering

    "Mike, if a representative from DC called you today and said they had decided you should write the 'return' of Swamp Thing to the DC Universe, and you accepted, what would the story be?"

    I've mentioned a few times to friends polite enough to put up with me that if I were to write a DCU Swamp Thing, I'd just need two pages at the beginning of the book to get everyone up to speed as to what happened in those long Vertigo years. Retell the origin, retell the "not really Alec Holland, but a plant that thinks its Holland" thing, the romance with Abby, the birth (et al) of Tefe, the whole 'Swamp Thing takes over the world' thing from Millar's run...okay, it might be a lot of little, text-heavy panels, but I think I can do it. Basically, a "here's what you missed, but we're back to an elemental swamp creature and...oh, hey, here's your team-up with Red Tornado! Yay!"

  • Ray Van Buskirk (aka The Guy I Replaced Here at The Shop When I Got This Job Lo These Many Years Ago...Yes, There Was Someone Pre-Mike) has a few requests:

    "How about an issue by issue analysis of Sonic Disruptors by DC?"

    Oh, goodness. I'm trying to remember the last time I read this series...probably close to 20 years now. Rereading it now would likely be a frustrating experience, given that the series was canceled prior to its conclusion (and I swear I remember seeing a news blurb in Amazing Heroes that a one-shot drawn by Mike Mignola was planned to wrap it up...was this just some fever dream? Can anyone confirm?).

    As for an issue by issue analysis...well, I'll think about it!

    "Oh, and another vote for the facial hair thing...wait was that facial hair in comics or was that your facial hair?"

    My facial hair is an ongoing tragedy. And honestly, I don't have anything more to really say about comic book character facial hair. Hey, remember when a lot of superheroes in the 1970s had sideburns? Like, even Superboy had some serious sideburns. How awesome was that?

    "A biography of Ralph H? (or at least Ralph Snart)"

    Well, I wrote a little about the store's Ralph on our website (which still needs more content...I'm workin' on it!), and as for Ralph Snart.... Well, it's interesting that the most recent Ralph Snart comics have gotten away from "schlub who has whacked-out adventures in his overactive imagination" to "guy who has whacked-out adventures," without the multiple "inside the mind" and "real world" plotlines. As far as tracking an actual throughline for all the comics' events...that would take a braver man than I, sir.

    "I would love to see a post on underground comics or at the least more posts of Woodeye? Maybe a "where are they now" feature of the contributors to Woodeye? A "how it got started" to a "why did we break up" kinda thing? A reunion?...."

    Phew...more Wood-Eye posts. (Wood-Eye is the anthology mini-comics digest that some friends of mine and I did in the mid-90s.) It basically started since pal Rob had a bunch of friends who could draw but weren't really doing anything with our scribblin' skills at the time, so he created Wood-Eye as a place where we could put our etchings for the entertainment of others.

    There was no particular reason it ended, beyond everyone sort of moving on, or away, and just plain not having the time to do it anymore. But I've thought about a reunion or revival of the comic once or twice. Maybe someday.

    "Where Are They Now?" Well, here I am. And here's pal Fred, a Xeric-award winner and very funny cartoonist, and here's pal Scott, an award-winning author. All contributors to Wood-Eye, and all owe every single ounce of their success to their affiliation with our fine comics magazine.*

    * May not be entirely true.

    "GROO! You can never have too much..."

    Well, we haven't had too much lately, other than a series about a year ago. Supposedly we still have Groo/Conan and Groo/Tarzan series in the works, which hopefully we'll see someday soon. As soon as I have new Groo news, you'll see it here!

  • Wrapping up for this post, it's Mike P with

    "Care to comment on last night's Legion-themed episode of 'Smallville,' and/or all things LSH in general?"

    Well, I just want to say I totally called it back in '04. But I did like the episode, I thought the costumes were nicely done...very evocative of superhero outfits without being explicitly superhero outfits. I did have some trouble accepting that the Legion would go for the "kill the bad guy" option so quickly, even if it was just there to give Clark a reason to impart some good ol' values to them.

    And the Legion in general...I'm just hoping this Legion of 3 Worlds mini wraps up once and for all which version of the Legion is going to be the "real" Legion. Well, I know that's the purpose of the series...I'm more hoping that it sticks, and we don't have to go through any more reboots. I've been a Legion fan for a long time, but frankly, it hasn't been easy.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Progressive Ruin Questionnaire-Fest 2009, Part Two: The Smell of Fear. 

More shocking answers to incisive questions. Can your heart handle the results?

  • H asks

    "Can I request a week of photos showing you and co-workers pointing in dramatic fashion, preferably in response to someone having said one of the things not to say to a comic shop employee? If not, how about a photo series of you and your cohorts re-enacting the 7 Deadly Harveys?

    "If not, I'll settle for the answer to the question of what super team comic book you would create if you had the chance."

    Would you settle for a fellow who used to be an employee, pointing in a dramatic fashion?

    As for the superteam book I'd create...hmmm. That's a good question. Naturally it'd have to revolve around Swamp Thing, and maybe featuring some of the folks from this post.

    Or if we have to stick to characters from one company...I don't know why, but "Swamp Thing and the Outsiders" just popped into my head. "Hold on...Geoforce...I'll take...this one."

    Ooh, ooh, I got it...a "League of Extraordinary Gentlechildren." Sluggo, Lulu, Nancy, Tubby, Charlie Brown, Linus, Richie Rich, Little Lotta, Little Orphan Annie, Herbie...you'd pay to see all those characters in one adventure. Don't you lie to me!

  • Isaac asks a couple of questions:

    "I'd like to hear your take on some of Rick Veitch's early, trippy solo work: Abraxas and the Earthman; stuff like that. How does your knowledge of his later Swamp Thing work color your interpretation of those early books?"

    I was a fan of Rick Veitch from the moment I was first exposed to his material in Epic Illustrated. I think it was "Abraxas and the Earthman" that really solidified the fact that I was going to pretty much read anything he was attached to from that point forward. In other words, I already pretty much had a solid opinion of those early works by the time he got around to taking over Swamp Thing. If anything, being a fan of those early works helped me get over the loss of Alan Moore on the title right quick, since I knew if anyone could fill those big bearded shoes, it would be Mr. Veitch.

    "Worst facial hair in comics?"

    Egads. Um...well, let's say J. Jonah Jameson (as drawn there by Rick Veitch), if only because of the Hitler-stache. Not a look you want if you're the kind of boss your employees already dislike. (And wouldn't you know it: a Wikipedia entry on that very type of moustache, which includes Jolly Jonah as a famous fictional wearer of said style of lip fur.)

  • Jacob T. Levy levies

    "What, if any, Swamp Thing stories do you treat as out of continuity, because it's just easier that way?"

    None, really. I mean, there's that whole business at the end of the original Swamp Thing run (which runs into his appearances in Challengers of the Unknown) where Swamp Thing is turned human again, which was considered "out of continuity" by DC when they were asked about it in a Swamp Thing lettercol. But even then, as you can read at the end of that second link, I had my own personal workaround to keep it in continuity if were, you know, any big deal.

    By and large I don't worry a WHOLE lot about continuity. Some consistency is nice, and I realize that sometimes I go on about how this contradicts that on the site, but that's more out of the fanboyish fun of dissection than any real concern or complaint. (Like, say, all this crazy talk about Lex Luthor's timeline.) But with multiple creative teams over multiple decades, some inconsistencies are going to worm their way in, and, eh, not a problem. I'll deal.

  • Max asks

    "Shared Universe Comic Book Continuity: threat or menace?"

    I kinda covered part of that in the last question, where I'm not too overly worried about continuity. I mean, if you worry too much, you start thinking about how the very existence of the Teen Titans fouls up the entire DC timeline (a recurring discussion topic of mine and pal Dorian's, which we got into again last weekend for Employee Aaron's benefit and someday we really just need to sit down and record).

    But half the fun of the superhero books is seeing your favorite heroes team up and/or fight, so I don't mind the shared universe aspect that much. At least until you have some kind of major crossover event title upon which the rest of your publishing line depends, and delays on the main title ripple across the other books and the poor retailer's budget goes out the window waiting for the company to get its act together.

    But I rant..er, digress.

    I don't mind the shared-universe thing, by and large, is what I'm trying to say. Sometimes, when I was a kid, I'd be reading, I don't know, Green Lantern, and some serious crap would be going down, and I'd wonder "man, you'd think Superman would at least check in. 'Hey, Hal, need help?'" But, you know, Superman would never even call.

    'Course, nowadays characters pop up in each other's books at the drop of a hat, so it's a bit different. And not quite the novelty it used to be.

  • Just Some Guy wonders

    "Do you have more turn over in TPB's than monthlies? Are there books that sell very well as trades but do horribly as individual issues; what about vice-versa?"

    We do sell a lot of trades, but the periodicals are still where most of the customers are following their particular serials.

    I can't think of anything that sells well as trades but not as a periodical. There are plenty of items that sell great as singles but not as collections...Marvel fans, for example, seem to prefer the monthlies. But there are lots of comics that sell well as periodicals and as trades. Fables and Walking Dead are the examples that leap immediately to mind.

  • Googum asks

    "You've probably answered this before, but do you have any of the Swamp Thing's toys and whatnot? Besides the chalk, I mean."

    Boy, do I ever. The pencil sharpener, inflatable bop bag, and the aforementioned chalk, the board game, the puffy stickers, and all the action figures and portfolios and statues and t-shirts and original soundtrack albums and so on.

    Alas, I still do not have the Swamp Thing slippers, items so awesome that it got none other than legendary Swamp Thing artist Steve Bissette to ponder their true horror for our entertainment, as well as discussing other items that I'd featured on my site.

    "And, is there any comic or related item, that you sell on a regular basis, that is just an embarassment to you? Like, to the point where you really wish you could not carry it anymore, even if it does sell."

    Not since we stopped selling POGs. If I'm going to hell for anything, it's that. (I go into further detail somewhere in the middle of this post.) Heck, not even selling Pee Soup embarrasses me. ...Much.

  • Skipped Pickle picked

    "1. What did Jennette Kahn ever do for you?

    2. More Funky Flashman please.

    3. WWTTMW? What would 'T.M. Maple' write?"

    1. She created Dynamite Magazine, which a young Mikester loved to pieces.


    from Mister Miracle Special #1 (1987) by Mark Evanier, Steve Rude & Mike Royer

    3. What he would always write...a shitload of letters to every comic book in existence. If he were still alive.

  • Alex ticks

    "I either don't remember or haven't been a reader long enough, but what was your take on the original Tick series by Ben Edlund? Did it fit in well with the black and white comic boom, or stand out to you at the time? And did you ever think The Tick would've made it as far as he did, longetivity-wise?"

    I didn't start reading The Tick until a few issues in, when a friend of mine kept talking it up to me and I said, "okay, fine, I'll check it out," and lo, it was very funny. Those original issues by Edlund remain some of the funniest comics ever published, and it was a shame that the other Tick books, while okay, never really felt quite the same to me as the ones direct from Edlund's fevered brow.

    I don't recall now that it stood out any more than the other books, aside from getting a little more positive buzz than most, and, hey, they're actually going back to press on the earlier issues...when was the last time a small press book had to do that?

    As for its longevity...I hadn't really thought about it, but yeah, of all the things in comics to catch on with a general audience, it's this? But it's funny, and funny in a way that you don't have to be a member of the comics-converted to enjoy, even as it mocks some of the long-held conventions of the genre.

  • And let's wrap things up for today with a little Harvey Jerkwater:

    "Have you ever noticed the parallels between Herbie and the Golden Age Hawkman?

    --Both fly and bop people with spheres on sticks.

    --Both are mostly unrecognized as the kings they are.

    --Both are devils with the ladies.

    Is there a connection? Should there be?"

    I'm going to say 1) no, I've never noticed, and 2) if there wasn't a connection before, there is now, at least in my head, as I'm currently picturing a bare-chested Herbie with hawkwings and a mace fighting the Shadow Thief. There's a commission piece to ask Joe Kubert for.

    "Who never worked on 'Swamp Thing' that you would have liked to have seen? A Liefeldian, footless Muck-Encrusted Mockery of a Man? Steve Gerber, using his experience with Marvel's swamp beast to bring wit and absurdity to Alec Holland's world? Jack Kirby, just because?"

    I mentioned in my Twitter-thingie a while back that I wanted a Rob Liefeld Swamp Thing drawing, because, c'mon, wouldn't you want to see it?

    And I've often said I wanted to see Jack Kirby's Man-Thing (hur hur, yes I know), with the big squared-off fingers reaching toward you, because that'd be awesome. But a Kirby Swamp Thing would be cool, too.

    Other creators: I would love to see Ed McGuinness on the character, just to see Swampy reinterpreted in that particular "chunky" style of superhero art. Or how 'bout Art Adams? Or Walt Simonson (who did a ST pin-up once, I think)? Or even Mike Kaluta...I know Kaluta did some covers, but I would have loved to see some interiors by him.

    Ah, hell, let's completely cross the streams: Mike Ploog Swamp Thing! From Marvel's swamp monster to DC's! Maybe he can draw the eventual crossover comic with the two characters that I may have just now promised to give up my firstborn child for in order to have happen. Don't try to reread that sentence...I think I may have pulled something just writing it.

Okay, that's enough fun for now. More questions answered next time, faithful Progressivites...same Ruin time, same Ruin channel!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Today's post called due to health reasons. 

from Targitt #3 (July 1975) by Conway, Meyers, Lieber, Kupperberg & Nostrand

No, the health department didn't perform a surprise inspection in the Progressive Ruin Industries kitchens and discover hamster droppings in the baked bean vats. Rather, I've been pretty under the weather and when I tried to continue the Questionnaire-Fest 2009, I found I had a hard time putting together coherent responses. I mean, more so than usual. I don't even know if this post makes any sense. The ducks are on fire, someone get the marmalade. Stapler!

So the answers will hopefully resume tomorrow, and I plan on taking enough medication to make me forget Monday ever happened. See you then.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Progressive Ruin Questionnaire-Fest 2009, Part One: Let the Self-Indulgence Begin! 

Yeah, I know..."begin?"

I asked for questions in this post, and you folks delivered, so let's see what I can do for you.

I'll just do 'em in order, aside from the couple I already addressed, and I'll do a few a day 'til I get 'em all done.
  • M.A. Masterson asks

    "How deep is your love?"

    So you know the little puddles of dew that occasionally collect on your car in the morning, like on the hood or right there by the windshield wipers, or even on the roof? The puddles that are barely hanging together thanks to the surface tension?

    About half as deep as that.

  • Former employee Josh asks

    "best facial hair in comics?"

    Aside from me? Knowing you, the answer you're fishing for is "Green Arrow," which I'm probably going to have to agree with, if only because he had that beard and was able to maintain a secret identity at the same time. I mean, who was he fooling, really?

  • Lurkerwithout lurks

    "Could Nancy and/or Sluggo beat up those babies from Sugar & Spike everyone else thinks are funny?"

    Oh, come now. Nancy and Sluggo, beating up babies? That's a pretty low thing to do...I think Nancy and Sluggo, despite their occasionally overwhelming self-centeredness, are generally ethical beings and would certainly draw the line at beating up babies.

    Now, those son-of-a-bitch Katzenjammer Kids...they'd beat up babies, I'm sure.

    "Is there a DARK HERBIE?"

    While Herbie has shown the occasional flash of anger, by and large he's pretty unflappable, and I don't think I've ever seen him in an uncontrollable and persistent state of rage and destruction, as per X-Men's Dark Phoenix. Sure, he gives what-for to the folks who've got it coming, but he's never, for example, blown up a planet full of plant people. But he totally could if he wanted to.

    In fact, if Herbie were to ever turn his powers to evil, who could stand against him? Who? Who?

    "When will Pogs be making their nostalgia driven triumphant comeback?"

    I'm honestly expecting this to happen, sort of. It may be too soon, and I'm expecting more of a limited "hey, I'm looking for that 'Death of Superman' pog set" type of nostalgic demand rather than the crazy "buy anything that looks kind of like a flat disc of cardboard" hording frenzy.

    "Does a tinfoil hat protect you from space aliens or government spy rays? Or both?"

    I seem to recall reading how a tinfoil hat would, if anything, amplify the rays being beamed into your head. Whoops!

  • Pal Sean dares to inquire

    "I've always had one for you: Who knows more about Spider-man: you or your lovely significant other? And does she read anything other than the Spidey titles?"

    I posed the Spider-Man question directly to Nora, and she told me in no uncertain terms that she knows more about Spider-Man than I do. So who am I to argue?

    She doesn't read a whole lot of other comics, though she has an interest in the art of Alex Ross and read that Justice mini. Plus she wanted to know more about Darkseid, so she's poked through some of my Fourth World funnybooks. Oh, and a while back she wanted me to give her the lowdown on Aquaman, so I let her read that Giffen/Fleming/Swan/Shanower special, which she really liked.

  • Here's former employee Josh again, apparently having gotten into the cooking brandy and asking me

    "if a tree falls in the woods, and no one is around, does Swamp Thing hear it?"

    If no one is around, no one hears it, since the vibrations being caused by the falling tree reaches no ear drums. But Swamp Thing probably could sense it, through his connection to the Green.

  • Brian Smith quarks

    "I'd honestly never heard of the show 'Quark' before you posted its DVD cover art back in August...I wound up researching it and buying the thing. Did you get it? Do you know anyone else who did? (Coming into it without benefit of nostalgia, I thought the show started off terribly but had a lot of promise by the end.)"

    I haven't bought it yet, though it's on my short list of must-buys once I have that kind of money to start throwing around again. I (ahem) may have the episodes on videotape, so I have at least seen the shows relatively recently. It's certainly silly humor, definitely dated, but there's a kind of harmless, innocent charm to its goofiness and political incorrectness. I can see why I liked it as a young Mikester. Plus, dude, Richard Benjamin!

    I don't know if anyone I know personally bought it, but I know I've sold a few whenever I posted the Amazon link for the DVD set, like I did right there.

  • The man with a new website, Dave Campbell, demands

    "How do you feel about Man Thing, aside from the obvious and belabored penis jokes? Pale imitation of Swamp Thing or archetypal monster? ANSWER ME STERLING!"

    Man-Thing penis jokes? Can't say I've heard any.

    Well, I suppose I'd better get this out of the way...I can't say Man-Thing is an imitation of Swamp Thing, because (cough) Man-Thing appeared first (cough), though it appears generally accepted that the proximity of their introductions was simply coincidence. But the two characters are certainly different enough that I don't feel like they're redundant.

    I do like the character...it was certainly at its best when written by Steve Gerber, who used it as a catalyst for stories of psychological horror, bizarre fantasy adventure, social satire, and just some plain whacked-out weird-ass shit.

    J.M. DeMatteis did some good work with the character (particularly in this issues of Marvel Fanfare), and this issue from Manny's second series remains probably my favorite non-Gerber story with the character. And aside from some other brief moments in that second series, I haven't cared much with what's been done with the character since. None of the recent appearances have really grabbed me, unfortunately, though I keep looking at them whenever he pops up.

    And the less said about that movie, the better.

  • Aqualad Knox wants to know

    "How does your store stay successful through slump periods? I've seen a ton of comic shops come and go here in NJ, it's kind of depressing."

    Well, I don't know that I'd use "successful" to describe some of those down times. There are times when it's more like "by the skin of our teeth, a bunch of scrambling, and a hell of a lot of luck," which is not a position anyone wants to be in. But a lot of it has to do with a large clientele, a diversity of product, and a good reputation, which keeps people coming back to us as opposed to going elsewhere.

    And then there's taking on other product lines...like, I hate to say, the pogs thing, which brought in some much need revenue when the comic side of the business was down. And during the '90s comic market slump, the games section of the store helped keep us afloat. There's also the mail order business we do, which really took off once eBay popped up.

    So there are lots of ways to ride out the lean times. While we'd love to always be successful, when things get really rough you need to focus on simply surviving. It's not easy, but it can be done.

  • Gordon divines

    "Is there any way to counteract the Satanic pact that allows Rob Liefeld to remain working in comics?"

    Alas, that deal was attached to the same pact that also brought about the reprinting of Herbie, the return of Beanworld, and the Complete Peanuts, so we're stuck with it. Damn those Satanic congressional riders!

  • And to wrap things up for today, Dave Norman wants to know

    "Because you run a comic shop, do you feel the need to read EVERYTHING that comes out, to be in the most knowledgeable position possible for your job? Or was it something you used to do in your youth but have now realised the folly of it (and have left it to mad young turks like Sims)?You obviously keep abreast of current comic trends and are a fan, but do you skim through all books that come out each week? Do you do it in the occasionally quiet times in the shop, in between scanning old comics for the blog and Twittering?"

    What? Twitter at work? Why, I have no idea what you're talking about.

    But no, I don't try to read everything that comes out. I don't personally buy a whole lot of comics...for example, this coming week I'm picking up about a half-dozen DCs and no Marvels, and that's usually typical for what I get from the Big Two, though some weeks I usually do get at least one Marvel. I do try to be aware of what's going on, however, even if it's just through solicits or what I read online or talking with the customers. And the other employees can pick up the slack if I happen to be lacking in specific knowledge of a book. New employee Tim reads a whole lot of Marvel, for example, so he can clue me in if I need it.

    If there's something that's causing a big hubbub, I'll take a closer look at a title if it's one I don't normally read. And sometimes I'll flip through a few of the new issues on Wednesday just to see what's going on...not in any kind of detailed reading, just a quick pass through the pages. I will note that I've been perusing Walking Dead this way for a while, and I should really just knuckle down and get the trades and stop being a cheap bastard.

    So short answer: read everything, no. Try to at least be somewhat aware of what's going on in the titles, even if in the most general of details, yes.

Okay...more questions answered tomorrow. Some of them even answered correctly, for no extra cost!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

"He is undoubtedly one of the best supporting characters the Flash has ever had." 

So I'm sure most of you are somewhat familiar with one of DC Comics' most famous Silver Age oddities, Mopee:

Appearing in Flash #167 (Feb. 1967), courtesy Gardner Fox, Carmine Infantino and Sid Greene, Mopee was a magical imp (or "Initiate Tenth Class of the Heavenly Helpmates") who claimed to have been responsible for the lightning 'n' chemical accident that gave Barry Allen his abilities as the Flash. And it wasn't just a claim...by the end of the story, the claim still stands, and we're left with the knowledge that, yes, Mopee did in fact do what he said he did.

This is one of those ideas that, like Clark using super-hypnosis to disguise his identity, was roundly, and perhaps wisely, ignored. And I only bring it up here because as it turns out, Mopee makes his return to the printed pages of a DC comic this week, his first (I believe) since being mocked in an issue of Ambush Bug. Pal Dorian pointed it out to me when he dropped by the store on Saturday...we were explaining the character to his husband Pete and to Employee Aaron, which prompted me to extract the actual Flash issue in question for their perusal.

As they looked at the comic, the thought crossed my mind. What did the letter writers at the time think of the story? So, jumping ahead a few issues to #171, here's what folks had to say:

From a gentleman in Simi Valley:

"The story cannot be compared to any Mr. Fox has ever written. [...] I especially liked the use of Mopee. He is undoubtedly one of the best supporting characters the Flash has ever had."

The next fellow wasn't so enamored of the revelation:

"Gardner Fox must have been mad when he introduced that inept initiate Mopee as the prime mover behind Flash's career, for in doing that he has robbed this magazine of its uniqueness and its drama. Mopee, the 'heavenly helpmate' (what a name!) has made a face of Flash's origin. Was the Human Comet born of a freakish burst of raw energy (elegant irony - sheer accident creating a man with a purpose); or did Flash arise from the bidding of an unscrutable [sic] Fate? No! he is the protege of an Otherworld Wally Cox, whose superiors are too similar to Green Lantern's Guardians to be original.

"Please forget that 'heavenly helpmate.' Otherwise your readers will finally understand why Flash is still called a 'comic.'"

Here's another note of criticism from a fellow in our store's town of Ventura, CA, with some extra commentary on the Batman TV show "camp" influence on comics:

"This is the silliest thing I've seen in my Flash reading history, and if it isn't stopped now, I'm afraid of what such fantasies will start running rampant through what was formerly, to all intents and purposes, a serious magazine. If you think it will be easy to get back on this trail of the straightforward tale, just look around, and you'll see several magazines glutting up the stands which started as superhero fiction, but are now marked by stories which now reek of comedy and satire."

I think, my favorite letter, however, is this one:

I'm reasonably sure that would be the very same Cary Bates who would later become a comic book writer...and not of just any ol' comic book, but of the Flash book itself! Okay, maybe it's another fan with the same name, but that would be a heck of a coincidence. At any rate, Mopee never turned up during Bates' run, as far as I know. That would have certainly perked up that long ol' "Trial of the Flash" storyline.

In other news:

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