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The passing of Harvey Pekar requires acknowledgment, not just because we’re a comics blog and this is news from our geeky world, but because Pekar was a legitimately important writer who deserves the recognition and appreciation of all of us, whether you’re a nerd or not. With comics’ longevity in our culture comes the sad fact that there are precious few true innovators of the medium left with us. We lost another titan today, as Harvey Pekar passed away of causes yet-undetermined. He was 70 years old.

His creation, American Splendor, was a pioneering effort in independent comics, an autobiographical book depicting the real-life “drama” of the human condition told by an anonymous file clerk in Cleveland, Ohio, far away from Gotham and the center of the comic book universe. His book was populated by Pekar’s own friends, his co-workers, and anybody he interacted with in the day to day, and the stories told within its pages all came from incidents in his own life. The book was illustrated by dozens of artists since its first issue in 1976 (including, famously, Pekar’s legendary buddy R. Crumb) and over the course of its run became recognized as one of the best and most influential creator-owned properties ever.

Harvey’s writing in American Splendor was favorably compared to greats like Anton Chekhov in its narrative focus on the ephemeral emotionalism of moments between moments rather than any definitive set of linear events as they might relate to a traditional style of storytelling. But unlike Chekhov, who wrote initially for money on the side before formally committing himself to the craft of writing, Pekar was never any kind of literary genius. Rather, he was akin to those other DIY-ers that dotted the artistic landscape of latter half of the 20th century, driven by something innate and maybe a little profound, to stay up all night to write down the things that he wanted other people to see in his world, even if it meant being extra-tired during his double shift at the VA the next day.

Following the underground success of American Splendor, Pekar would be “discovered” any number of times in the ensuing years by any number of outsiders who found novelty in glimpsing the mundane existence of this glum little weirdo from the distant Mid-West. In his willingness to indulge potential readers, he even became a bit of a side-show attraction at times, as when he appeared eight times on Late Night with David Letterman, culminating with an acrimonious airing of grievance that once again relegated him to national obscurity, save for those few viewers who might have actually gone on to pick up a copy of his most recent issue.

But Harvey’s insistence that he never be “co-opted” was equal parts a commitment to his art and to himself, knowing that he could not make his comic if he ever believed himself to be another phony. Even as neurotic, cantankerous and put-upon as the man could be, he was also never nearly as self-serious as his public persona might have lead one to believe. How could he be? American Splendor was downright severe in its sincerity, and showed not one iota of inauthenticity in the four decades that it was published. His body of works are paradoxically the least self-aware metatextual texts ever created. It simply couldn’t have worked otherwise.

Harvey Pekar was a Great in the world of comics, if never more than a regular guy in the real one. And he will be missed.

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The 2010 Eisner Award nominations have been released, and if you’re like me, you probably had a mixed reaction, something along the lines of: “Hooray, comics I like! Boo, comics I didn’t read!”

…which is why you and I shouldn’t be chosen to hand out the industry’s most prestigious and coveted award: we’re amateurs! We’ve got way too many things going on in our lives that prevent us from reading all the comics we wish we could. I mean, right now I’m finishing a masters thesis, sculpting the minds of impressionable college students, and preparing a move across a state that’s bigger than most European countries, and you’re… making some sort of contribution to society that doesn’t require an orange jumpsuit on the side of a road, I’m sure. The point is that comics readers like you and me possess neither the breadth of familiarity with the vast quantity of books that are printed every year, nor the time to read them. Any picks we’d make for the “best” comics of the year would be a woefully incomplete selection from the pool of whatever titles we’ve both read and liked in the last twelve months.

Luckily there’s a group of dedicated professionals behind the most important honors in the industry, right? Well, yes and no. The truth is that while the Eisners are a fine and meaningful flagship institution dedicated to a criminally under-publicized art form, they’re far from perfect. It’s no crime. Every awards system has to revamp every once in a while, and when they do and Sandra Bullock can still end up winning an Oscar for the fucking Blind Side, perhaps they can revamp again. It’s just the way of things. So here now is my three point plan to help make the Eisner Awards the prize they deserve to be.

Point #1: Enlarge the Nominations Committee

The Eisner nominees are currently selected by some of the finest experts available from all types of comics people, be they from the industry, academia, retail or general readership. Their pedigrees are unimpeachable, and they should be, since these are the folks who have to read every submission for potential nomination and then whittle the entries down to just five nominees. Unfortunately, there are only five judges selected every year to comprise the pool of judges.

This is just comically small, and can’t possibly represent the full spectrum of styles and sensibilities spoken to by the massively diverse number of potential nominees every year. I understand that these folks are the crème de la crème, but can’t we keep an acceptably excellent standard in a pool of, say, 25 judges? Not every judge can have 25 years of experience running a store, but there are plenty of folks who have ten years and the time to read the submissions. Widening the pool would also increase diversity, meaning that maybe we could see more than one woman, or hell, anybody that isn’t white.

Finally, this diversity would also translate to a broader spectrum of experience in readership, thus hopefully limited the effects of conventional wisdom that sometimes plagues the Eisner nominations. Too often the judging committee keeps the old guard of previously-nominated books in play for slightly too long, taking away valuable spots from other deserving potential selections. A bigger pool of judges would keep long-running, previously honored books honest, and give every opportunity to elevate younger titles a fighting chance.

Point #2: Reduce the Voters Pool

Here we have a problem that’s the opposite of the nominations process. Simply put, too damned many people get to vote for the Eisners. Of the literally thousands of people will cast their votes for the dozens of nominees, how many do you think were made having read each of the other nominees in a given category?

The current system is susceptible to the same problems as the Academy Awards: with so many voters, it’s inevitable that most folks make selections that are woefully under-informed. Worse still, the system is hopelessly biased toward the major publishers. The companies that have the money to advertise titles and move the most books are more likely to have been read by the voters, crowding out smaller comics in the pages of the trades and capturing the attention of comics people at large. It’s impossible for the little guy to compete. Cutting the pool down to, say, a few hundred voters would likely yield results that better reflect the quality of the nominees than simply what’s been popular lately. The system would benefit from being slightly more selective in whom it allows to vote for the Eisner’s winners.

Point #3: Split the Categories More Fairly

The big versus small dynamic also presents another major problem: No matter if you limit the pool to some respectable degree, the major publishers have an unfair advantage in sheer number of books sold. If more of those books have been read than any other, it stands to reason that inevitably that will translate to those books being voted for more than the others. It’s just unavoidable. So what can we do?

Easy: Split the categories by sales. Books that cross the threshold of X copies shipped/sold (a number that I’m sure can be fairly chosen based on some metrics of sales figures from both the major and independent publishers) qualify for one of two designations: “Major” (X or more sold) and “Select” (X or fewer sold.) A title/writer/artist/publisher should not be punished for the fact that not enough people bought an issue, and this adjustment allows for the books that fall through the cracks to earn the same honor as the best of the big boys.

If this idea proves favorable, you can create as many tiers as are fitting. The true “blockbusters” can duke it out amongst themselves in one category, while self-published books vie for the win in their own. Parity in awards can be restored for quality instead of quantity, and winning an Eisner can truly be called the birthright of the best of the best.

If you want your beloved Disney Afternoon heroes to come back to life in comic book form, apparently all you have to do is ask.

Last October at Long Beach Comic Con, BOOM! Studios hosted a panel on their upcoming titles, including a few from their Disney line; Uncle Scrooge and Mickey Mouse. The second I saw ducks, I shot my hand up and asked when we’d be seeing a Darkwing Duck comic – at the time, the answer was something along the lines of “Not sure, maybe never.” Turns out, they were either playing coy last year or their plans changed because I just received this press release:

March 13th, 2010 – Seattle, WA – He is the terror that flaps in the night. He is the super-hero that is about to make his return. He is…DARKWING DUCK! This June, Disney and BOOM! Studios herald the triumphant comeback of the beloved Disney Afternoon star with DARKWING DUCK: THE DUCK KNIGHT RETURNS. Lanchpad McQuack, Gosalyn Mallard, and the fiercest of Darkwing’s rogue gallery all join the daring duck of mystery in an all-new, completely original four-issue mini-series: DARKWING DUCK: THE DUCK KNIGHT RETURNS!

Whether you’re a Darkwing fan from the hit TV show or want to discover this cherished character for the first time, this new mini-series delivers all the madcap adventurous spirit that made a fan out of millions!

Written by Ian Brill (ZOMBIE TALES) and James Silvani (MUPPET KING ARTHUR), the mini-series sees Darkwing’s city of St. Canard under the control of a mysterious corporation. Darkwing’s been out of commission for a while but when his friends and family are under attack…you better watch out you bad boys! Darkwing fights new villains as well as old, for Megavolt, Quackerjack, Liquidator and Bushroot are on the loose!

“It’s such a dream to bring back Darkwing, a favorite of mine and millions of other’s,” says series writer Brill. “Everyone involved in this book are working tirelessly to make sure this comic has the same feel of anarchic fun of the TV series, while still presenting a whole new adventure in the life of Darkwing.”

Debuting in 1991 as a spin-off of the hugely popular DUCK TALES, DARKWING DUCK brought super-hero action and excitement to the Disney Afternoon animation block, captivating viewers for years. Shown around the world, DARKWING DUCK is still a fan-favorite of pop culture fans everywhere.

DARKWING DUCK: THE DUCK KNIGHT RETURNS #1 is written by Ian Brill with interior art by James Silvani. The debut issues features two covers in a 50/50 split by Magic Eye Studios and Silvani respectively and a 1-in-10 incentive cover by Silvani and Jake Myler.

I’m not gonna lie to you, I’m more excited about this than I am about the new Flash run. And I love the Flash. We’ll be sure to preview the return of Darkwing for all you nineties kid comic nerds out there as soon as it’s available!

Let’s. Get. Dangerous!

Should we be releasing 5 variant versions of this post? Oooo! I know! We can release it wrapped in a black plastic wrapper and tell everyone it’s a collector’s item for sure!

Orrrrr not.

Jon, Rob, and I sat down a few months ago after tearing through a six-pack and a Wednesday pull. We started riffing (and we’re funnier in Real Life, I swear). After a while, I said, “Man, we should podcast or something.” And thus, the birth.

Granted, we’re at post #100 and haven’t quite gotten around to podcasting yet. We’ll get on that one of these days. Really.

Big thanks to our other contributors, Hava, Brendan, and Ian – at least one of whom may or may not have a new regular High Five! column in the works. Thanks also to BOOM! Studios, who for some reason seems to give a (small) rip about what we think, Kelson at SpeedForce.org for all those retweets, TV Rots Your Mind Grapes for reminding us there’s entertainment outside comics (the girls are funny, read them), all of our Twitter followers, all the artists/writers/letterers who’ve been willing to let little old us pick their brains, and most especially to everyone who’s been reading us everyday, even when we’ve sucked.

We’ve got some great stuff in the pipeline, so stick with us, High Fivers!

Here’s to making it to issue #600.

Chug!

397px-Green_Lantern_Vol_2_100

At High Five! we’re usually more into goofing off than reporting industry news, but the DC news out of Baltimore is pretty awesome, so I’m going to chatter about it a bit.
From CBR’s article on the Diamond Retailer Summit in Baltimore:
DC Comics took the stage to wrap the event with VP of Sales and Marketing Bob Wayne quickly announcing that the publisher would take advantage of its “Blackest Night” skip month by resurrecting a slew of former DC titles which will pick back up at their previous numbering. Some of these comics will feature the original writers who were behind the titles back in the day like “Suicide Squad” #67 by John Ostrander and “Starman” #81 by James Robinson, while others will include new writers continuing the stories of classic characters. Those included “The Atom and Hawkman” #46 by Geoff Johns, “The Question” #37 by Greg Rucka, “Phantom Stranger” #42 by Peter Tomasi, “The Power of Shazam!” #48 by Eric Wallace, “Catwoman” #83 by Fabian Nicieza, and “Weird Western Tales” #71 by Dan DiDio.
What a great way to keep things interesting (read as: get our money) in a skip month! I can’t help but wonder just how long these resurrected titles will stick around, the relaunch issue sales will be decent, I’m sure, but I imagine a lot of these titles will have HUGE sales drops as they continue. That said, Renee’s going to have her own book! I wonder how this will affect the Detective Comics Question second feature, perhaps we’ll end up with TWO Kate-heavy books?
Wayne also announced that DC would release a book to be sold on December 30th: “Blackest Night” #6. Since the comic would have to ship a week before its on-sale date, Wayne told the retailers that threaten future opportunities like this with death if anyone breaks the set street date for the highly-anticipated book.
I honestly think they’re just testing everyone. If I were a retailer, I’d be a little terrified. Odds are that someone, somewhere is going to leak this. Comics fans are, on the whole, a pretty loyal lot but with an event this huge? Yipes.
Still this is great for retailers. Blackest Night will bring the regulars in during a week that they’d normally stay at home, and we’ll all be wash with Christmas cash. Way to support the direct market!

At High Five! we’re usually more into goofing off than reporting industry news, but the DC news out of Baltimore is pretty awesome, so I’m going to chatter about it a bit.

From CBR’s article on the Diamond Retailer Summit in Baltimore:

DC Comics took the stage to wrap the event with VP of Sales and Marketing Bob Wayne quickly announcing that the publisher would take advantage of its “Blackest Night” skip month by resurrecting a slew of former DC titles which will pick back up at their previous numbering. Some of these comics will feature the original writers who were behind the titles back in the day like “Suicide Squad” #67 by John Ostrander and “Starman” #81 by James Robinson, while others will include new writers continuing the stories of classic characters. Those included “The Atom and Hawkman” #46 by Geoff Johns, “The Question” #37 by Greg Rucka, “Phantom Stranger” #42 by Peter Tomasi, “The Power of Shazam!” #48 by Eric Wallace, “Catwoman” #83 by Fabian Nicieza, and “Weird Western Tales” #71 by Dan DiDio.

Question_Renee_MontoyaWhat a great way to keep things interesting (read as: get our money) in a skip month! Still, I can’t help but wonder just how long these resurrected titles will stick around. The first relaunch issue sales will be decent, I’m sure, but I imagine a lot of these titles will have HUGE sales drops as they continue. That said – Hurray! Renee’s going to have her own book! I’m curious as to how this will affect the Detective Comics Question second feature. Perhaps we’ll end up with TWO Question & Batwoman-heavy books? Hopefully the relaunch succeeds, Renee’s book stays afloat and Kate gets to have her very own solo ongoing title when Bruce gets back from being dead (sort of) and wants Detective back.

So. Which relaunches one-shots are you guys jazzed for?

UPDATE: More clarification! Looks like commenter Kelson was right! These issues are just going to be one shots! Kind of a bummer, but makes WAY more sense. Now, to decide which ones to pick up…

Wayne also announced that DC would release a book to be sold on December 30th: “Blackest Night” #6. Since the comic would have to ship a week before its on-sale date, Wayne told the retailers that threaten future opportunities like this with death if anyone breaks the set street date for the highly-anticipated book.

bn6I honestly think they’re just testing everyone. If I were a retailer, I’d be a terrified. Odds are that someone, somewhere is going to leak the book. Comics fans are on the whole a pretty loyal lot, but with an event this huge? Yipes.

Even with the risk of a leak, this is wonderful for retailers. Blackest Night will bring the regulars in during a week that they’d normally stay at home, and we’ll all be swimming with Christmas cash. Way to support the direct market!


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