Too Many Long Boxes!
   
     
Fanzing Mailroom graphic by Jeremy Greene

by Chaim Mattis Keller

First order of business is a sad one: letters about our small tribute to the late Bob Riley.

From: gvh (garyvh@intranet.laprensa-bolivia.com)

Subject: About Bob Riley

It was a sad day for every fanzinger, the day we got the really bad news about Bob's death.

He was a very talented man, and he and his drawings of the DCU animated were the reason I get coming back time after time to the Fanzing site.

I'm so sad knowing that the career of such a fine person, in who all the fanzingers have hopes for him getting a pro in the comic field, had to meet an early stop.

Give my sympathies to his family, and let know them that Bob will be remembered for all the people who appreciated his fine art.

Gary A. Valenzuela (a.k.a. gevalher)

La Paz - Bolivia.

From: blue eyes (blueyes@aaahawk.com)

Subject: bob riley

I am Bob Riley's sister Sherri and I would like to thank you for your kind words for Bobby. Our hearts are broken by losing him; comics were his life. He and I were only one year apart and for as long as I can remember he always loved comics...his favorites were Superman and of course Batman. It saddens me that he spent so much time admiring other people's art yet not recognizing his own extradoinary talent. I am grateful for you mentioning him on your website. Again thank you for your prayers.

sherri ann riley

From: Irishgirl1274@aol.com

Subject: About Bob

Hi this is Bob's sister. I just want to say I read the mailer that went out to Fanzing subscribers, and I was so moved to know how loved and admired my brother was. Who ever was lucky enough to get close to him knew he was like a teddy bear with a big heart and ready to help anyone at anytime. Thank you for writing the mailing, and also for anyone that wants to share some thoughts about Bob, for the family to read may do so here. There is a guestbook you can sign on this page. That way we can share in some of the good memories and absolute skill that Bob had when he worked with people. And again thank you for the warm words in this time of sorrow.

Sincerely,

Rachel Riley

Irishgirl1274@aol.com

From: David Schock (david1313@peoplepc.com)

Subject: Bob Riley

Just read about the tragic passing in this months Fanzing. To say it was a shock would be a under statement. To be touched by the passing of some one who touched your life would be bad enough. But to pass away at such a young age is worst then a tragedy, it's a crime. Even if I didn't know Mr. Riley personally I was touched by him through his art work. First at fanzing were he even did a drawing for one of my stories {Death takes a holiday!} Then at various other sites around the net. The only comfort you could find in this sad time would be the knowledge that Bob art and drawings had begun to be accepted in the professional world. Please pass on my best wishes to his family for me: David Schock

Thanks for the good words, everyone. Bob wil be sorely missed.

Now for sunnier matters. This one's about our article from last year, still getting attention, with a different thesis:

G.E.D. (e-mail addy withheld upon request)

Subject: re:how to save the comic industry

Hey Michael,

I just read you Fanzing article on 'How to Save the Comic Industry' with a great deal of interest. If you don't mind, I have a couple of thoughts.

First of all, the art today is terrible. This is a paradoxical statement, since at first sight, it would appear that art in comics is better than ever before, from a technical standpoint. But even though many artists have work that borders on the photorealistic, its kind of cold, and ampty. It doesn't have the kind of verve that Silver Age comics did. And it is missing a _lot_ of the coolness that Golden Age comics did. Take, for example, the 'sexy chick' art in comics these days. Just about every title has one character with lots of sex appeal. The balloonish chests and buttocks on these characters are probably worth every ounce of derision heaped on them, but at least they draw in young male readers. The problem with the 'sexy chick' art is that it is often so obsessed with being technically perfect that it renders every single muscle and line of shading in minute detail. It doesn't say 'sexy chick'. It says 'the artist is showing off', and it's boring. By contrast, take these Golden Age covers:

http://www.chivian.com/chivian/SubMarinerGold24.html

http://www.goldenagebatman.com/cover3.html

They certainly show off plenty of skin, but they don't try to hit you over the head with every anatomical detail. They're not modest, but they also don't aspire to be soft-core porn.

That leads me to another point: too many comics try to hit you over the head with how 'adult', or 'edgy' they are. The industry (I hope) is past the point it was at in parts of the 90's where every other character had to be gay or pregnant out of wedlock, and Dr. Fate would run anti-Republican messages every other issue. So if the industry actually has got out of the business of hitting us over the head with politics, this is a good thing. But the hitting-over-the-head continues in a lot of other areas.

First, 'darkness'. Some of the Batman titles are the worst in this department. Now, Batman is a dude whose parents got murdered, who runs around at night in a black and gray costume, and has weird, obsessive relationships with most of his villains. Yet lots of books insist on making the costume all black, and making the horns on the cowl stick up real high, etc., all to emphasize how _dark_ Batman is. Every artist and writer seems to get hold of a Batman title, and says to himself, "I know what I'll do with Batman, I'll make him _dark_." This is like saying, 'I know what I'll do, I'll write a book on Hitler, only make him real _evil_'. Or, "I'm gonna write a grammar of Ancient Greek, only _complicated." A lot of the 'dark' interpretations of Batman only end up looking ham-fisted and comical; they bore.

In Golden Age Batman comics, by contrast, the darkness was there, but always below the surface. Kids could read it on one level, older readers on another. In the Golden Age comics, the first through fourth steps you identified often coexisted in a single storyline, albeit with varying levels of backgrounding and foregrounding. The cartoon series is very good at maintaining this mixture. Unfortunately, the comic book version of it, though good, seems heavy with the breath of marketing executives down the artists' necks, and will probably never break out of the youngest bracket.

Back to art, another way in which the quest for technical perfection has ruined comic art is in leading artists to forget that they are drawing cartoons. The villains in these old covers are wonderful! (although you couldn't get away with the ethnic stereotyping of the second one these days)

http://www.chivian.com/chivian/SubMarinerGold22.html

http://www.chivian.com/chivian/SubMarinerGold5.html

http://www.chivian.com/chivian/SubMarinerGold30.html

Can you imagine one of these villains showing up in a title today? If they did, they'd be more anatomically correct, more photorealistic, less cartoonish; in short, much lamer. In forgetting that comics are cartoons, too many artists have lost the art of caricature, and a powerful weapon in the comic art arsenal has been lost. By means of creative caricaturing, Golden Age artists could make a gun-toting elderly couple on a houseboat a big draw; many artists today couldn't draw you in - even with a real villain like the Joker - if they tried.

Speaking of covers, the cool thing about all of the above covers is that you can tell _exactly what the comic was about_ just by looking at them. Comics these days? Ha! Take for instance this months Marvel covers:

http://www.marvel.com/comics/covers/covers.html

The only one where I can even vaguely tell what it's about is Fantastic Four, which is about the 700th Sub-Mariner/Human Torch punch-up in Marvel history. But it doesn't give me even a clue as to where they're fighting, what they're fighting over, etc.

Now, I suppose there are two rationales for not making the story obvious from the cover. First, it's more sophisticated not to. This is perhaps true, but I still don't have a damn clue as to whether the story I'm gonna buy is a good one or not, so at this point, sophistication doesn't really matter.

The second reason is the 'story arc'. I hate story arcs. Not just because they are usually overwrought and unexciting, but because the very idea in itself is offensive. It practically cries out for derisive quotation marks to be put around it. First of all, two words: 'horror comics'. The old horror comic writers could put out a better, deeper, more sophisticated story in five pages than most writers put out in five issues. And I'm not just talking about the uber-geniuses at EC, either; I'm including ultra-lame-o knockoffs like Boris Karloff's Tales of Mystery too. Long story arcs encourage flabby storytelling and accumulate useless, soap-operaesque trivia that gets in the way of entertaining readers.

The second problem with story arcs is that they make it harder to weave a story around a 'hook'. You mentioned a couple of hooks in your article, like monkeys and motorcycles. There are a few more, too, like sexy chicks (esp. sexy chicks tied up), punches being thrown, and exotic locations/ethnic stereotyping. In other words, everything that sells Maxim and its cousins [comic books and Maxim both appeal to the same audience, basically - teenage boys and men who still think like teenage boys]. These are things people want to see. Instead, too many story arcs, and therefore covers, are weaved around complicated subplots that reach back many issues that approximately six people in the world care about.

Also, one of the rationales for story arcs is that they give characters 'history' and make them 'deeper'. As far as I'm concerned, if a hero is weak enough to need story arcs, the series should be cancelled. Batman's parents got killed and now he's obsessed with crime and criminals. That's all the backstory you need. It doesn't matter if Ras al'Ghul kidnapped him in issue #346 and stole his batterang, or if Commissioner Gordon resigned in that issue. What matters is that he's dedicated to fighting crime, but in a sort of unbalanced way. The rest just obscures, rather than illumines, the really interesting psychodrama. The same is true of all the other good characters: X-Men, Superman, Silver Surfer. They all have an intense, psychologically compelling backstory that can be explained in a short paragraph, yet is enough to fuel an infinity of stories. Anything else is superfluous, and usually detracts.

Lastly, story arcs encourage two types of stories: hero saves the world, and hero saves his own soul. These get old after a while. There was a time in which it was enough to stop a bank robbery, rescue a tied-up sexy chick, or get in a fistfight. And usually, the writers were clever enough to put saving the world or saving the soul in there somewhere, but in the background, and not shoved in your face. We need writers like that now.

Well, if you've gotten this far, I thank you. Again, enjoyed the column. Best to you and your publication,

GD

Thanks for the feedback, GD, and the examples! It's practically a column on its own.

From: Mwrice2@aol.com

Subject: buying

Please give me directions on how to buy things off this website.

Our editor, Michael Hutchison, replies:

You mean in the Fanzing Speed-Commerce?

Sorry, I meant to include a page of directions, but I haven't written it yet. Maybe today I can.

Meanwhile, here's how it works:

Our web site has links to the books on three different vendors: Amazon.com, BN.com and Chapters of Canada (for our Canadian readers). We link to all three because sometimes a book will be available at one but not at another...and so you can price-hunt between the two, although they are very often the same price. The book titles link to Amazon.com, but you can get to all three by clicking the icons on the right for each store.

If, instead of clicking on a link and going to that page, you want to look at a book in a new window while keeping the Fanzing page open, do this:

1) Point to the link with your mouse, but don't left-click it as you normally would.

2) Instead, right-click (in other words, click the button on the mouse's right-hand side) to bring up a menu of options. Both Netscape and Internet Explorer have an option to open a link in a new window.

I HIGHLY recommend doing it this way if you want to buy a number of items from the Fanzing shopping site at the same time.

However you do that...once you are at Amazon, BN or Chapters and you've decided to buy a book, click on the button (which should be quite prominent) to add it to your shopping cart. Once on the shopping cart page, you have the option to check out or continue shopping.

If you need more help, please reply. Also, you can sometimes reach me on AOL's Instant Messenger by my user name Fanzinger.

From: thomas wright (ztsw6@yahoo.com)

Subject: rogers guide to the dcu

Hi.

On usenet recently I've come across something called (Bruce Clark) Roger's Guide to the DCU, an evidently self-published thing but purportedly more comprehensive than the official Who's Who. Would you or any of your staff know of such a book, and maybe where I could find one (apparently not on Ebay!)

Thanks,

tsw

I have a copy of the Brent Clark Rogers guide to the DC Universe. I wouldn't say it's more comprehensive than Who's Who; if you're looking for in-depth character information, you won't find it there. What you will find is an extremely comprehensive listing of characters and their first appearances, teams and their membership rosters, and alien races/planets and listings of that species.

You can try e-mailing him at BCROG@juno.com.

Letters Editor Chaim Mattis Keller, aka Legion-Reference-File Lad, is a computer programmer who lives in New York City with his wife and four children.

 
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