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MORE WATCHMEN TO WATCH?

WATCHMEN castDC Comics just can’t let well enough alone. After one mediocre attempt to expand the Watchmen universe by producing a “prequel” series about what Alan Moore’s superheroes did before the publication of the initial Watchmen, DC is apparently poised to try another approach to milking Moore’s sea-changing creation for all it’s worth. Apparently, saith Abraham Riesman at vulture.com, in this new incarnation, the Watchmen will cross-over to meet the superheroes of DC’s universe — Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman et al.

It’s a project that could go very, very wrong, Riesman said. “Notice the lack of a ‘the’ in Moore’s title as it’s the key to understanding the potential disaster the story might turn out to be.”

At first glance, Riesman goes on, we may suppose that Moore’s book is about a team of superheroes called “the Watchmen.” But that team never shows up.

“There is no group by that name,” Riesman says. “The noun, as it turns out, is referring to Juvenal’s immortal question, ‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodes,’ one translation of which is, ‘Who watches the watchmen?’

“It’s a clever and disarming misdirect: instead of denoting the costumed crusaders in the novel, the title is critiquing them for their narcissistic decision to act as humanity’s unaccountable guardians — and critiquing us for our dreams about letting them do so. That’s sorta the whole point of Watchmen. Three decades after it debuted, it remains the gold standard for deconstructionist superhero stories, subverting the perverted power fantasies and harmful delusions of grandeur that we indulge in when we create or consume superhero fiction.”

DC is likely to miss that point, Riesman speculates, “treating the pointedly pathetic protagonists of Watchmen as just another super-team. In fact, it seems almost inevitable.”

And it will undercut and destroy the whole idea of Moore’s Watchmen, Riesman continues: “Moore ... [made] an epic that was free of the moralism and heroism of the mainstream DC universe. In the ecosystem of conventional superhero stories, the good guys always win, the bad guys always lose, and the moral gray areas are never that gray. That kind of approach is antithetical to the themes of Watchmen, in which the good guys are fuck-ups, sadists, and/or sociopaths whose personal failings wind up making them the bad guys. What’s more, their world mostly follows the laws and logic of our own, with only one character possessing actual superpowers — a fact that makes him horrifyingly pivotal in the fate of humanity.”

So what will happen when the “earnest do-gooders” of the DC universe meet “the tragic idiots? There are only two possibilities that I can imagine,” Riesman writes. “One is an extremely metatextual satire that finds humor in the eye-rolling notion of such an encounter. But that’s about as likely as Batman adding a tutu to his costume. Much more probable is a story that crassly capitalizes on 30 years of enthusiasm for and familiarity with Watchmen’s characters by throwing them into a serious, high-octane adventure alongside the kinds of figures they were designed to mock. The idea is perverse in its misguided, more-is-more shallowness.”

Riesman says he “struggles” to imagine “what anyone could do to make a worthwhile and respectful Watchmen tie-in. We should withhold critical judgment until the pudding is made, but I’m not holding out a lot of hope.”

Riesman mentions DC’s recently launched Rebirth in which “creators were told to tweak the venerable mainstream-superhero pantheon so the characters could be their best selves.” It’s possible, I suppose, that “the” Watchmen could serve as a thematic foil, contrasting failed or flawed superheroism with successful “best selves” superheroism in the Rebirthed DC universe. Such a maneuver would give the Watchmen a serious (if not satirical) function. It would also perpetuate Moore’s theme.

That, however, is not likely to happen. DC is almost certainly simply using the fame of Moore’s Watchmen to hype sales of its titles, a sad but capitalistically sound tradition.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

HAS CHARLIE GONE SOFT ON ISLAMIC HOOLIGANISM?

Charlie Hebdo cover 2015

One of Charlie Hebdo’s most outspoken journalists quit the satirical magazine at the end of 2016 because, she says, it has gone soft on Islamist extremism. AFP reports that “Zineb El Rhazoui accused the weekly of bowing to Islamist extremists and no longer daring to draw the Prophet Muhammad.” Said she in a damning interview with AFP: “Charlie Hebdo died on January 7” 2015, the day the gunmen attacked the magazine’s office, killing 12 people.

She said she felt Charlie Hebdo now follows the editorial line the extremists had demanded “before the attack — that Muhammad is no longer depicted.”

El Rhazoui, 35, who is followed everywhere by police bodyguards and is known as the most protected woman in France, also questioned the magazine’s “capacity to carry the torch of irreverence and absolute liberty.”

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

COMICS AND GRAPHIC NOVELS DO WELL IN 2016

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl coverLast year, reports Michael Cavna, the only area within adult fiction that increased in sales over 2015 was graphic novels. He quotes Publishers Weekly, which, citing Nielsen BookScan numbers, asserts: “The lone bright spot in fiction was comics and graphic novels, which had a 12% increase on the year.”

Fiction overall was nearly flat last year, dipping by 1 percent. There were “no breakout bestsellers” in adult fiction, PW reports, and almost “all fiction subcategories closed out the year lower than in 2015.” Yet amid this nearly across-the-board decline on the fiction side, comics were too popular to be denied.

At mid-year (last summer), Heidi MacDonald at publishersweekly.com reported that after a year of slipping sales and smaller lines in 2015, the comics industry was in a more upbeat mood at the 2016 Diamond Retailer Summit, held August 31-September2 in Baltimore by Diamond Comic Distributors, the main distributor for periodical comics and traditional comics publishers. ...

While sales have yet to fully recover from a shaky start in 2016— overall sales are down 2.2%— graphic novels are up 2.4%. Additionally, Diamond’s customer count is up 3.6%.

Periodical comics are down 2.6%, and merchandise down 1.6%. However, at a breakfast presentation, Diamond reps announced that sales had picked up over the summer, and by year's end they expect sales to stabilize.

The growth in graphic novels was remarked on by nearly every publisher. Mainstream authors Chuck Palahniuk and Margaret Atwood have had success at Dark Horse, said editor in chief Dave Marshall, at a state-of-the-industry panel. “More and more of our readers are preferring the collected [book] format.” ...

Much of this summer’s surge in sales is due to DC’s Rebirth event, a moderate revamp of its superhero comics line, which launched in April and has shipped over 12 million returnable units since then. The sales velocity of Rebirth has been even bigger than 2011’s New 52 (an earlier DC superhero revamp), with Rebirth showing a 76% rise in sales compared to New 52’s 47% rise.

DC hopes to continue the upswing with a Justice League vs Suicide Squad event — DC’s iconic superhero team battles DC’s bad-guys turned good-guys team—early in 2017, announced by co-publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee.

At Marvel, retail channels outside the direct market (local comic book stores) have had an impact, including Scholastic Book Fairs, where lighthearted Marvel characters such as Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl are sold. Marvel senior v-p of marketing and sales David Gabriel said Marvel is having its best year since he started at the company 14 years ago. The new Black Panther series by Ta-Nehisi Coates has also expanded the diversity of Marvel’s line, as well.

Other publishers saw a similarly rosy horizon.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

GRAPHIC NOVELS OFF THE NYT LISTS

GHOSTS  coverStarting February 5, the esteemed New York Times dropped graphic novels from its bestseller lists—i.e., Hardcover Graphic Books, Paperback Graphic Books and Manga. Among graphic novel publishers, this maneuver is seen as a serious blow to the future of graphic novel publication.

“In recent years, we introduced a number of new lists as an experiment, many of which are being discontinued,” New York Times VP-Communications Danielle Rhoades Ha said in an email to ICv2's Milton Griepp. “The discontinued lists did not reach or resonate with many readers.”

The graphic novel bestseller charts date to 2009, with George Gene Gustines of the Times marking the significance of the launch in the Arts Beat blog with the pronouncement that “Comics have finally joined the mainstream,” a cultural milestone for the comics medium.

“We read the ‘did not reach or resonate’ comment as ‘didn’t get enough clicks,’” wrote Griepp, “but note that publishers and comic creators have used the ‘New York Times bestseller’ moniker frequently as a way to provide a widely accepted measure of a title’s popularity. So even if direct traffic was less than the Times wants for the amount of labor it took to produce the lists, they certainly spread the brand and credibility of the Times to a broader audience.

“We see this as a retreat,” Griepp continued, “— by the most important publication in the U.S. from one of the fastest-growing and most influential parts of pop culture, even though [as promised] the Times may increase other forms of [graphic novel] coverage.”

According to Ha, “The change allows us to expand our coverage of these books in ways that we think will better serve readers and attract new audiences to the genres.”

But, saith Griepp, “The lack of understanding that comics are a medium, not a genre, is not reassuring. And even if there are more reviews and other coverage, there is no way that the number of titles affected by such reviews can ever come anywhere near the number of titles to which publishers were able to append ‘New York Times bestseller’ for the past eight years.

It’s an unfortunate event for the comics business, which has been growing (particularly in the graphic novel format, which, coupled to comics sales, topped $1 billion in sales in a recent report), and one sign of the seemingly inexorable forces that are pummeling the newspaper business at the Times and elsewhere.

“Regardless of the reasons for the move,” Griepp went on, “the impact on comics will be negative, particularly on the front lines of the medium’s battle for legitimacy, such as schools and libraries. And we find it hard to believe that it will ultimately be good for the New York Times.”

The decision apparently came directly from the Times book review editor Pamela Paul, who took to Twitter to defend her decision:

“Quick note to fellow comics/graphic novel fans: the Times is not cutting back on coverage of these genres/formats but rather expanding on coverage in ways that reach more readers than the lists did. To wit: new graphic reviews by comic artists, more reviews and more news and features about the genre and its creators. We are big fans, and want to recognize growing readership. Stay tuned.”

For an industry that has spent decades working its way into the mainstream, said Michael Cavna at Comic Riffs, “the death of the graphic-books lists feels like an odd setback that runs counter to recent trends. Just this month, Publishers Weekly reported that according to Nielsen BookScan numbers, all types of adult fiction books decreased in sales in 2016 — except for graphic novels, which increased 12 percent over 2015.”

Although all the comics publishers were troubled by the decision to cut the lists, said Calvin Reid at publishersweeky.com, “some publishers criticized their accuracy and were not especially worried that their elimination would hurt the category.

“Ted Jones, CEO of IDW Publishing, one of the largest independent comics and graphic novel publishers in the country, said he was disappointed to see the list go, but: ‘We liked being able to say something was a NYT best-seller but I don't know that it ever really impacted sales.’

The issue is discussed at even greater (not to say tedious) length in the Usual Place (RCHarvey.com, Rants & Raves, Opus 363).

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

FIRST COMICS CRITICISM IN THE U.S.

From John Adcock on his blogspot site:

EXTRA, NO. IX. The Adventures of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck, often labeled “the first American comic book,” first issued to subscribers as a 40-page ‘Extra, No. IX’ issue of Brother Jonathan weekly in New York, and dated September 14, 1842, was a reworked bootleg version in English of Swiss cartoonist Rodolphe Töpffer’s comic strip Les Amours de Mr. Vieux Bois or Histoire de Mr. Vieux Bois (1827, Geneva album published 1837).

If Oldbuck might be called the first American comic book, the following short newspaper quip might be called the first criticism of comic books in America:

Does the “Brother Jonathan” often humbug the public with such trash as the “Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck”? The respectable papers of Boston should not become a party to such impositions by puffing them. — Gloucester [Massachusetts] Telegraph, Sep 16, 1842

Adventures of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck cover

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

KOMINSKY-CRUMB & CRUMB SHOW

A new show displays the work Aline Kominsky-Crumb and Robert Crumb have made over the decades of their partnership. At newrepublic.com, Josphine Livingstone begins her report: ‘As a woman with a big ass, I’ve always liked Robert Crumb. Those who are familiar with Crumb’s art only in passing will know him for the big, sturdy, sexualized women he drools over in his comics. ‘Nice big legs!’ one drawing reads, next to an arrow pointing to some nice, big legs. Crumb draws himself as a paltry little nerd, sometimes clinging to the legs of an enormous woman, his eyes hidden completely behind bottle-bottom glasses. Flecks of saliva tend to fly across the paradigmatic Crumb page.”

Although he is the better known of the two, Livingstone continues, “Crumb has been married for 40 years to the equally talented comics artist Aline Kominsky-Crumb. A new exhibition at David Zwirner gallery in New York City (previously on view at the Cartoonmuseum Basel) displays the work they have made together and separately over the decades of their partnership.”

Sorry: I beg to differ. Aline Kominsky-Crumb is not anywhere near as talented a cartoonist as her husband. She has an underground cartoonist’s sensibility, but she can’t draw worth a toot, as we can plainly see in the picture at the lower right, of the cover of their Drawn Together that shows both cartoonists seated on a couch, self-portraits of each. And next to that, at the left, another Kominsky-Crumb self-portrait. Above these two is a more illuminating visual — a photograph of the happy couple.

CrumbCrumb

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

GARFIELD IS A BOY

Wikipedia’s editors have apparently be arguing about the orange cat’s sex. The controversy, saith the Associated Press, began a couple years ago after Garfield’s creator Jim Davis told a viral content site Mental Floss that as a cat, Garfield is “not really male or female.” By which he meant, I think, that as a cartoon character, Garfield, like all cartoon characters, “is not perceived as being any particular gender, race, age or ethnicity ... so the humor can be enjoyed by a broader demographic.” But that was enough to send fans off into the outer reaches.

Davis has now set the record straight, telling the Washington Post that Garfield is male and has a girlfriend named Arlene.

Garfield in repose

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

BELL WINS BERRYMAN -- AND MORE

Darrin Bell of the Washington Post News Service and Syndicate is the winner of the 2016 Clifford K. and James T. Berryman Award for Editorial Cartoons. He went to Washington to receive the award and reported on a memorable experience there, visiting the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture.

DarrinBell

He began by admitting that he was nervous about his pending speech before thousands of journalists. He and his wife and daughter planned to visit the Lincoln Memorial before the presentation ceremony, but en route, they stopped at the Smithsonian’s African American Museum.

Darrin Bell self-portrait“I won’t describe what we witnessed in that museum,” Bell said. “I’m sure you can find descriptions elsewhere, but I think it’s something that’s so powerful, and so personal, that it shouldn’t be spoiled. There is something in there that’s going to stop you in mid-step and make you feel more than you thought you would. And that something is different for everyone. ... But I will say this: there comes a point, after you’ve literally risen through the centuries of struggle, persecution, and contributions of slaves and their descendants, where there’s a reflection room. You sit by a fountain that rains down from the high ceiling and come to terms with everything you’ve just seen. … Or you try to.

“I’m the great great great grandson of slaves whose contributions to America were ignored and lost to history. And here I was in the nation’s capital, about to accept an award for my contribution to the national conversation. One of the least important realizations I experienced in that reflection room was that compared to everything I’d just seen, standing up before thousands of people and saying a few words was nothing at all.”

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

GAITY IN MALAYSIA IN "BEAUTY AND THE BEAST"

Beauty and the Beast stillMalaysian censors recently ruled that a brief, gay-themed scene in the movie involving two male characters dancing promoted homosexuality, but Walt Disney Studios refused to cut the scene, meaning the film did not open there on March 16 as scheduled. The sequence, reported Reuters, is said to be three seconds long.

“The film has not been and will not be cut for Malaysia,” Disney said in a statement on March 14 without elaborating.

The film is a live-action remake of Disney’s 1991 animated blockbuster of the same name. The film’s director, Bill Condon, confirmed that the scene in question — involving a character named LeFou, manservant to the villain, Gaston — is an “exclusively gay moment.”

Oddly (as either John Oliver or Bill Maher — forgot which — observed), the Malaysians have no objection to bestiality —a  woman falling in love with an animal. THE FILM IS PROMOTING HUMAN-ANIMAL SEX! Where’s the outrage? Geez.

Belle and BeastMalaysia is a Muslim-majority country, and sodomy is illegal there, although the law is seldom enforced. The capital, Kuala Lumpur, has a thriving gay community.

With about 30 million people, Malaysia is a small part of Disney’s overall audience. But the movie has experienced other hesitancies elsewhere.

Russia agreed finally to let “Beauty and the Beast” be shown there, but it barred children under 16 from attending unless accompanied by someone over 16. A Russian lawmaker had called for it to be banned entirely, saying it was “blatant, shameless propaganda of sin.”

Kuwait, another Muslim-majority country, pulled the film from cinemas after it had been showing for almost a week. Again, the cause was concern over the gay scene. Nobody minds that this bimbo is fucking a horny buffalo.

Right: no one really minds. Brooks Barnes at nytimes.com reports that “Beauty and the Beast” achieved “an astounding $170 million in ticket sales at North American theaters over its opening weekend (March17-19). That total broke multiple Hollywood records, including one set last year by ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ for the biggest March opening.”

Back in Malaysia, the authorities ultimately overturned the Film Censorship Board’s earlier ban against “Beauty”: the movie opened, nation-wide, on March 30. Perhaps tourism played a part in the reversal: Tourism Minister Nazri Aziz, reports Richard Paddock at nytimes.com, objected to the prohibition, calling it “ridiculous. ... You don’t ban a film because of a gay character,” he said. “All these years even without the gay character in the ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ there are also gays in the world. I don’t think it is going to influence anyone” (to become homosexual).

Meanwhile, in the ensuing days, another American-made movie, “Power Rangers,” has apparently escaped B&B’s fate: the movie is the first big budget superhero movie to have an LGBT protagonist, but it got a green light from Malaysia’s censors until they found out that the Yellow Ranger, Trini, may be lesbian. The censors wanted to have another look. But, perhaps cowed by international outcry over the B&B censorship, they let “Power Rangers” slip into the country’s theaters, unscathed, reports Patrick Brzeski at hollywoodreporter.com.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

ARCHIE INTO MOTION, BIG TIME

Archie Warner BrosIn the wake of the launch of “Riverdale” on tv at CW, Archie Comics has signed an exclusive deal with Warner Bros Television to develop more of the publisher's properties for television and original content.

As Archie CEO Jon Goldwater tells The Hollywood Reporter, the deal extends beyond the traditional Riverdale crew of Archie, Betty and Veronica as seen in the current CW series. It could include lesser-known properties, including "America's Queen of Pin-Ups and Fashions" Katy Keene, as well as the superheroes of the company's Dark Circle imprint.

Said Goldwater: “Archie is unique in that we have a huge library of characters that are not only recognizable, but they’re successful and entertaining. Everyone knows Josie and Sabrina. Beyond that, we have an entire pantheon of heroes and villains that are perfect for tv or movies. Not to mention Black Hood and Sam Hill, just to name a few. The possibilities are endless, and I can’t wait to start talking about what we have coming up.”

“Riverdale” creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa told reporters last month he was interested in creating a whole Archie world. The series, with its dark tone and sexy new murder mystery plot, was, initially, a critical hit. The deal is similar to Warner Bros tv’s pact with DC Comics, which has seen it put a whole stable of series on the air, including CW's Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl, as well as Fox's Gotham and NBC's Powerless.

“Riverdale's” success and the tv pact marks the latest stage in Goldwater's push to modernize Archie as a company, which started with the 2010 introduction of Kevin Keller, the first openly gay character in the publisher's long history, and continued with the launch of a series that featured an adult Archie struggling with life post-marriage (to both Betty and Veronica; the series ended with his death).

Coinciding with news of the Warner Bros deal, Archie revealed that Mark Waid, the writer of flagship comic book series Archie, will be expanding his relationship with the company later this year by signing up to co-write a number of series, as well as mentoring upcoming writers, with the overall aim of growing the current stable of talent at the company.

Goldwater, asked if he is experiencing a “sense of vindication” in seeing the success of his drive to get the characters accepted once again by a mainstream audience, agreed:

“This deal with Warners is in many ways a culmination of the work, along with the amazing staff and freelancers who work at Archie, to bring these characters forward into the present day. To show that Archie is an iconic brand that is flexible, relevant and energized.

“The moment where I could finally sit down and say “Okay, now we’re ready to roll,” Goldwater continued, “was [2015's] Archie No.1, by Mark Waid and Fiona Staples. This was ground zero for the company. This was a rebirth. This was an Archie for today’s reader. Obviously, we still cherish and respect the classic Archie stories — we still produce them because that audience is hugely important to us. But the ‘Death of Archie’ was more than a publishing stunt. It was a metaphor for the company. That Archie had to die, saving Kevin Keller, the face of the new Archie brand, to ensure the company would continue.”

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

PREZ

Prez coverMark Russell’s satirical comic book Prez, about the first woman teenage president of the U.S., was supposed to return last October with six more issues that would complete the 12-issue series. But those issues were cancelled, ICv2 reported last summer. Instead, a 12-page winding-up Prez Election Special was supposed to arrive in November.

No official reason was offered for the change, and perhaps poor sales had some influence, but Steve Bennett (Confessions of a Comic Book Guy) speculates that “given the nearly hysterical political mood of the country as we move ever closer to this year’s presidential election, you can’t discount the possibility that Time Warner just didn’t want to seem to take any sort of political stance (especially with so many people busy online comparing one of the current candidates to former President Lex Luthor).”

Prez finally showed up as a backup story in Catwoman Election Night No.1 in November, and there, it fizzled out sadly but brilliantly, the last appearance of this happy frolic of a political satire funnybook.

Herein, Russell takes on gun control (or, in this case, lack of it) and women’s reproductive rights, linking them for one of the niftiest wrap-ups you can imagine.

The opening gun segment ends with the deaths of several open-carry advocates when the police can’t tell who the rogue shooter is. So much for the advisability of arming everyone: everyone armed is everyone a target — and everyone a shooter.

Later, Prez Beth is defeated in an attempt to control gun violence by limiting access to ammunition. “The Second Amendment,” she points out, “guarantees the right to bear arms, but it doesn’t say anything about ammunition. I mean, as long as we’re interpreting it exactly as it was written...,” she concludes satirically.

But Russell gets in one final jab: birth control pills, which Beth’s Congress wants to outlaw, are finally permitted when they are shaped like bullets that can actually be fired from a gun rather than taken orally.

Too bad there won’t be more of this caliber comedy in the future. Apparently at DC Comics, George S. Kaufman’s famous saying “Satire closes on Saturday night” is as accurate ever.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com