Catching Up (chunky edition) (Part 2 of 2)

1 May

by Mike Hansen

So what else has happened lately that’s worth a mention?

Gygax Magazine #1 cover

Gygax Magazine #1


The first issue of Gygax Magazine, the spiritual (and visual) successor to the classic Dragon Magazine, was released in February. If you’re a longtime tabletop-RPG fan like me, it’s pretty great; I’ll write more about it soon.


Comics Buyer’s Guide was abruptly cancelled by its publisher, criminally at issue #1699. In its early years, CBG allowed comics fans to connect and feel that they were part of a community (much like Star Trek events did for Trekkies). I always enjoyed reading my weekly CBG in the 1990s much more than Wizard and its magazine competitors, though the strange politics dividing these publications always baffled me (and probably boiled down to the big mouths of a handful of comics “superstars” more than anything). Cofounder Maggie Thompson and longtime contributor Tony Isabella have both found new outlets for their work, so congrats to them.


Two online manga sites, JManga and Square Enix’s online service, have been/are being shut down. JManga customers are screwed, as there’s no way to access the comics they paid for. Yet another example of why DRM hurts the end-users.


On a related note, a modder has figured out how to run EA’s near-crippled new SimCity game without being always-online. Since two-time Worst Company In America EA has no intention of making this officially possible, I hope this demonstrates to other publishers that their customers will find a way to use their product the way they want. Here’s what users need to know to modify the game themselves.

(I hope the courts will soon recognize digital purchases as property and not licenses, allowing the first-sale doctrine to apply and allowing end-users to use and modify the content however they choose. There was that recent court decision that digital material (which can be easily copied and redistributed) cannot be resold as “used” content and doesn’t fall under the first-sale doctrine…)


Speaking of the first-sale doctrine, I was happy that the Supreme Court recently ruled that publishers are not protected when third-party sellers import their product from other countries and resell it at lower prices. The idea that prices should be higher in America, whether for books or drugs or anything else, has always irritated me. Now, if only that other court ruling from a few years ago that manufacturers can set minimum prices at all can be overturned…


One of the internet’s best comics sites, Comics Alliance, was surprisingly shut down by its owner, AOL. I’ll miss the commentary and analysis. Hope its columnists find new venues quickly.


One of my favorite cable-TV channels, G4TV, is basically dead, now that X-Play and Attack Of The Show are cancelled. Best of luck to all of the talent with finding lucrative work elsewhere. (I notice that Ninja Warrior reruns have recently returned. G4’s owner, Comcast, has no idea how to keep this channel viable, does it? Everything I’ve heard about the replacement “Esquire Network” sounds very Not For Me.)


I was sad to learn of the death of writer Robert Morales. His 2003 Captain America story, Truth: Red, White & Black, is one of Marvel’s best miniseries. His 8 Cap issues the following year were excellent, too. I just learned about his 1980s work in Heavy Metal; I definitely plan to track it down now. Alan Moore wrote a moving tribute to Morales.


Speaking of Moore, The Beat has been serializing a great investigative series on the history of Marvelman entitled Poisoned Chalice. While the internet is littered with comics opinions/reviews/analysis/hype (often in the name of getting a lot of traffic/clicks – obviously, I don’t care much about that!), there isn’t a lot of true comics journalism, so this series is worth celebrating.


Disney’s recent suspension/cancellation of numerous Star Wars projects and dismantling of LucasArts isn’t surprising to me. Few companies are as robust in their brand management, and Disney doesn’t want anything to distract from its marketing campaign for the new Star Wars films. (If only Warner Brothers understood how to manage its superhero brands: The cartoon versions are generally terrific (so of course they’re getting cancelled), while the comics and film versions have often suffered from top-down corporate mismanagement.)


Disney’s recent layoffs in its hand-drawn animation division did surprise me, though. Yes, the computer-animated “Paperman” short is brilliant and has a “hand-drawn” feel, but that shouldn’t mean the dismantling of the foundation of the company’s legacy. No wonder there will be a memorial service for 2-D animation at Comic-Con


It turns out that comics bogeyman Frederic Wertham made up his not-so-scientific evidence of comics causing juvenile deliquency. Who’da thunk it?


Last month, a lawsuit was filed arguing that Zorro should be in the public domain, that Zorro therefore belongs to everyone, and that the property’s licensor has no right to force others to pay to use the character. I haven’t found any updates on the suit; it sounds to me like the plaintiff has a pretty strong case, despite today’s ridiculously long copyright periods.


Sales on Marvel NOW titles seem to be stabilizing much faster than DC’s New 52 lineup. Both lines have brought some new readers into comics shops, so that’s a good thing; but both lines have also lost older readers, so that’s not so good. The overall industry is healthier than ever, though, so maybe it’s just superheroes?

In any case, I hope DC catches up to figuring out what the current market wants soon: of all comics publishers, few have such a high percentage of utterly disposable material as DC these days, and gimmicks like variant covers (which are still way too common), “WTF” plots, and unnecessary character deaths aren’t going to build brand loyalty (but at least universal outrage prevented the killing of Green Lantern John Stewart). DC’s properties and creators deserve better than to be in the company of crap like Bluewater and Zenescope. I really don’t think people want 52 monthly titles from DC; the titles seem to keep getting cancelled before the next rushed replacement series are ready to go…

Kudos to DC for finally pulling the announced Orson Scott Card-written Superman story. While in general I try to keep my opinions of creators and their work separate, I think it’s never a good idea to allow an active hatemonger to be associated with the world’s most recognizable Good Guy.

And now that the Before Watchmen travesty is over, here’s a very brief excerpt from a 1988 letter by Alan Moore, via Steve Bissette’s excellent blog (currently serializing a fascinating history of the prozine WaP (a.k.a. Words And Pictures) – go there to read the whole thing):

Ironically, the higher I progressed in the industry, the more of its indignities were made visible by the elevated vantage point…

It is, after all, difficult to feel cheated when earning more money than you’ve made in your life…

It’s only when you realize that DC could license a Saturday morning Rorschach cartoon series complete with Blot the Dog and two mod teenybopper sidekicks that you realize how much you don’t have. You don’t have the dignity of calling your work your own. You don’t have total control over how it is presented…

– Alan Moore, letter published in WaP! #6, copyright 1988 Alan Moore

(Hope that brings more traffic to Mr. Bissette; he’s one of comics’ most outspoken and intelligent writers on creators’ rights, and he deserves the widest possible platform.)

Death Proof The End

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