On his Cozy Lummox blog, award-winning designer Eric Skillman discusses his process for putting together the new issue of The Comics Journal: "I was pretty excited when Jacob Covey emailed me to ask if I might be interested in re-designing the venerable Comics Journal for its upcoming relaunch as an annual (rather than monthly) publication. Then I found out it was going to be 600-something pages. But by that point it was too late to say no! (I'm kidding... mostly.)" It's a fascinating behind-the-scenes peek!
10:00-11:00 Publishing Comics— Four publishers—Matt Gagnon (BOOM!), Gary Groth (Fantagraphics), Dallas Middaugh (Del Rey Manga), and Mark Siegel (First Second Books) -- each from a different part of the comics industry, discuss what's involved in running a publishing company and in creating and fostering a unique comics ideology. Moderated by Graeme McMillan (Techland). Room 8
10:30-11:30 Spotlight on Moto Hagio— Comic-Con special guest Moto Hagio is considered to be the mother of shōjo (young girl) manga. Her large body of work is renowned the world over, and Fantagraphics Books is publishing a new collection of her short stories, Drunken Dreams. Celebrate her first-ever visit to the U.S. at this special Q&A session, moderated by Matt Thorn, associate professor in the department of manga production at Kyoto Seika University in Japan. (Thorn decided to translate shōjo manga into English after reading Thomas no Shinzō by Moto Hagio in the mid-1980s). Room 5AB
12:00-1:00 Spotlight on C. Tyler— Comic-Con special guest C. Tyler is known for her personal brand of storytelling. Her latest book, You'll Never Know, Book 1: A Good and Decent Man chronicles the story of her father's life during World War II and interweaves it with her own story. Fantagraphics publisher Gary Groth interviews Tyler about her work. Room 4
2:00-3:00 Graphic Novels: The Personal Touch— You know when you read it: that certain something that sticks out in a graphic novel. It's the personal touch, a work that draws on the life of the creator or the people around him or her. Call the work autobiographical, call it reality—many times it results in truly personal and inspiring comics. Comics creator and journalist Shaenon Garrity (Narbonic, Skin Horse) talks to Comic-Con special guests Gabrielle Bell (Cecil & Jordan in New York), Howard Cruse (Stuck Rubber Baby), Vanessa Davis (Make Me a Woman), Larry Marder (Beanworld), Jillian Tamaki (Skim), and C. Tyler (You'll Never Know Book 1: A Good and Decent Man) about their very personal work. Room 4
2:00-3:00 Peanuts Turns 60— On October 2, 1950 the Peanuts comic strip launched in seven American newspapers. Little did anyone know the impact this comic strip would have around the world for decades to come. Nearly 60 years later, Peanuts appears in over 2,200 newspapers, in 75 countries and 21 languages. The animated specials have become a seasonal tradition and thousands of consumer products are available in every country around the world. Moderator Jerry Beck (animation historian/cartoon producer/consulting producer to Warner Bros., Universal, and Disney), Comic-Con special guest Jeannie Schulz (widow of Peanuts creator Charles Schulz), Paige Braddock (creative director of Charles M. Schulz's studio in Santa Rosa), Andy Beall (fix animation lead for Ratatouille, Wall-E, UP), Stephan Pastis (creator of Pearls Before Swine), and Marge Dean (general manager, W!ldbrain Animation Studios), present an in-depth foray into the work of Charles M. Schulz and what new things fans can look out for from Peanuts. Warner Premiere is joining the celebration with a sneak peek of something all new from Peanuts that fans won't want to miss. Room 25ABC
3:00-4:00 Spotlight on Émile Bravo— Eisner Award 2010 nominee -- three nominations for My mommy is in America and she met Buffalo Bill (Fanfare/Ponent Mon) -- and Comic-Con special guest Émile Bravo makes an illustrated presentation: "Graphic Writing, Comics as Calligraphy," with Michele Foschini (BAO Publishing, Italy) and Stephen Vrattos (Captain Gravity; www.heroesinmycloset.com), followed by a Q&A. Room 4
3:30-4:30 Comics Design— How do pages of art become a book? Six designers -- Mark Chiarello (DC Comics), Adam Grano (Fantagraphics), Chip Kidd (Random House), Fawn Lau (VIZ), Mark Siegel (First Second Books), and Keith Wood (Oni Press)—discuss what's involved in the process of comics design, and the importance of design to a book's critical and consumer reception. Moderated by Chris Butcher (The Beguiling). Room 26AB
• Review: "In reviewing Jaime Hernandez's Penny Century, I could point to the frenetic pace of many of the stories; the cute, odd, and endearing sort of strangeness spawned in this lightly magical universe; or even the beautiful art, which is truly the mark of this master cartoonist. But, no, I am going to hype the very first story, 'Whoa Nellie,' beyond anything else in this fantastic volume. ... Such a wonderful, and grounded, story is a nice start-off point for the still compelling, yet far stranger and sexier, tales that follow. Soup to nuts, this is a great book." – Jeremy Nisen, Under the Radar
• Reviews: The new episode of Easy Rider, the radio show for "rock, punk rock, country, power pop, garage and comics" from Radio PFM out of Arras in northern France, features High Soft Lisp by Gilbert Hernandez and Penny Century by Jaime Hernandez among their Comics of the Week
• Review: "R. Kikuo Johnson's debut graphic novel, Night Fisher, is a compelling yet unsentimental coming of age story. It’s a portrait of awkward adolescence on the cusp of adulthood illustrated with the darker, more realistic tones of teenage life. Night Fisher is filled with bold artwork, psychological intricacies, and mature depictions of immature actions. ... R. Kikuo Johnson has proven himself as a masterful storyteller in his first graphic novel." – Steve Ponzo, Multiversity Comics (via ¡Journalista!)
• Interview: The Los Angeles Times' Noelene Clark questions Tim Hensley about Wally Gropius: "I did grow up in sort of a show business family, so I was continually in an environment of going places where a lot of people were famous, and I was sort of tagging along. I had the idea of somebody who is continually mistaken for someone really famous, but actually has nothing to do with that."
• Interview:The Daily Cross Hatch's Brian Heater continues his conversation with Gene Deitch: "Terr’ble Thompson was a style I adapted for that comics strip. I wanted something that looked like a comic strip, was a little ahead—something that had the UPA influence. ... Of course, if you’ve seen my other book, The Cat on a Hot Tin Groove, my jazz cartoons, that’s a completely different style. I’m used to working in all different styles. I don’t want people to say, 'this is in Gene Deitch’s style.' I want to do everything."
Above is the poster triptych for the upcoming film for Will Eisner's Spirit, as done by Frank Miller-- a poster set that I feel deserves some scrutiny in this age of design consciousness.
Basically there are two mediums coalescing here: Comic Books, a medium defined by multi-panel narrative, and The Poster, a medium that relies upon bold, single-image impact to resonate at a glance. Granted, the poster can have multiple levels-- allowing for a more involved, secondary narrative within the primary image-- but at the most basic level it must compel people with the initial impact of a single, overall form.
In many ways it seems a dream opportunity in teaser marketing to use the staggered movie poster concept with a comics film. Afterall, the staggered delivery of poster teasers essentially requires a kind of multi-panel narrative. (The first poster goes up in Week One, the second poster goes up in Week Two, and finally the piqued audience is rewarded with the payoff with the final poster in Week Three.) Throw in a master of dramatic, 2-color imagery (Frank Miller) and you should have it sewn up.
Yet whoever is behind this design has managed the least compelling image possible as a 'teaser' for the new Spirit movie. To make my point, I've Photoshopped the second teaser poster onto a wall of posters you might see around town. Can you even find it on there? It's a bad sign when you can't stand apart from the chaos of community posters (and I didn't even bother with the first poster which has zero visual interest). The only saving grace is that the image has a lot of "white" space. Perhaps the folks behind this just figure they'll put up all three posters together all the time, which goes against all of the realities of postering. Competition for wall space is fierce and there are limited venues for blanketing a wall with the posters. More likely, they just lost sight of the fact that comics can do so much more than this one static, hacked up image does. And, on the other hand, if they do intend to only do these as a set I'm offended if only because of the oppulence of it. That's not guerrilla marketing, that's a lot of money thrown at a half-considered solution.
In any case, the point of a teaser poster is to post a single compelling image that leaves the viewer wondering what's next. But here you get one part great primary poster image and two parts lazy extension of the main image. You get a vague red tie. Comics fans can love this trio of images but the fact is a lazy red tie isn't going to hook anybody not already interested in this film. A lazy red tie isn't even going to get people to waste their time wondering what the formless red mass on black might be. It's not even interesting enough to be used in a Rorschach test.
Maybe it works with all three posters placed together (I still find it lazy and even cheesy... especially as they have it animated on their official website). I realize this is Miller's style and that Miller is Hollywood Gold but that doesn't excuse this weak campaign. There's just no reason whatsoever that the Spirit's multi-panel comic book storytelling couldn't have translated brilliantly onto the individual posters that compose the final triptych.
You may wonder why I care. Basically I care because graphic design is a field that is currently in a position of finally being understood and valued by the mainstream culture while becoming overrun with unconsidered value for novelty and the idea that anyone with a computer is a designer-- resulting in a pervasive mentality that "if it looks cool, it's good." This phenomena also happens to parallel the position of comics as the field breaks into mainstream acceptance as valid Art and grown-up Entertainment while also being overwhelmed with Johnny-Come-Latelys who think there are any number of ways they're going to get rich quick. Both of these fields are weakened by work that is created with only a surface understanding of "the rules" but has no follow-through. In the case of the Spirit poster series the look of the final tryiptych is a superficial accomplishment, completely lacking in real-world follow-through.
I'm particularly critical of this campaign because the film has such high visibility (and huge budgets) that this type of work is dragging down the potential and perceived significance of both comics and design. And this isn't a philisophical issue-- it even makes economic sense. In fact, I originally thought this film was produced by Marvel or DC (I guess DC owns the publishing rights) but it's telling that this appears to be independent of any comics publisher and that, in spite of Frank Miller's connection to it, the marketing is so insensitive to the source material and the comics medium. This kind of marketing will only serve to perpetuate the popular opinion of comics as gimmicky and lacking in thoughtful and savvy substance. Ultimately I guess it's fitting that even without Marvel or DC involved the marketing for Spirit continues popular comics' own established track record for undervaluing the power of the work and misunderstanding even the basic strategies of marketing that every other industry seems to grasp.