Friday, August 22, 2014

A New Power Girl?

Last month, Marvel Comics stirred up a lot of comment by announcing that there was going to be a new THOR, who would be female; and almost immediately following that up with the announcement that the new CAPTAIN AMERICA would be black.
Well, DC Comics is not one to pass up a possible marketing gimmick, and this week an interview with writer Paul Levitz on the comics website Newsarama reveals that the new version of DC hero Power Girl is going to be... flat-chested.
I'm kidding, of course.  She has a perfectly normal bust-size so far as I can tell.  Smaller than the original Power Girl's Most Prominent Super-Powers, but then it would be hard to get much larger without becoming ridiculous.  Oh, and the new PG is black, which I suspect might be a reaction to the criticism DC had gotten over the past year over its "whitewashing" of black characters.
Who is Power Girl and why should you care?  I probably don't have a good answer for the latter question.  The former one will take a bit of explaining.
For starters, you can blame Roy Thomas.  Roy was a writer at Marvel and later at DC during the '70s and '80s who loved the Golden Age comics he grew up with, and loved bringing elements from them into the comics he wrote and later edited.
Years earlier, DC had established that it's Golden Age Characters, such as the original incarnations of the Flash and the Green Lantern, existed in an alternate universe which they cleverly named "Earth-2".  (Although you'd think that since the Golden Age came first, that they'd get to be "Earth-1"; but nobody asked them, I guess).  For a while there was a kind of tradition that every year the Justice League would cross over into the other dimension to have a team-up with their older counterparts in the Justice Society of America.
Since the Earth-2 heroes were a generation older than the heroes of Earth-1, Roy began playing around with creating a next generation.  His comic INFINITY, INC. was a team consisting of descendants and newer versions of the older heroes.  Huntress, the daughter of Bruce and Selina Wayne (yes, Bats and Catwoman got married in this universe) was one of these.  
Another was the Earth-2 analogue to Supergirl, who was named Power Girl.   She had shorter hair and a different costume, but the same basic powers.  She also was an outspoken feminist; (or at least what a male writer in the '70s thought of as feminist).
According to legend, Wally Wood, who was drawing the comic at the time, and who was very good at drawing sexy girls, started making Power Girl's bust a little bigger, and the decolletage of her white costume a little bit deeper, each issue, to see if his editors would notice.  The adolescent fanboys buying the comic certainly noticed, and Power Girl's bustline became her most noticeable feature.
At some point, I'm not sure when, her costume became modified so that instead of having a low scooped neckline, it sported a "boob window."  Possibly because the scoop front had already gotten silly and this was the only way to show more cleavage.
In the mid-'80s, DC decided that  it's multiverse of Infinite Earths was getting too confusing, and so they created a huge mega-series to clean it all up.  This was the infamous CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS; (it's title a reference to the old JLA/JSA team-ups which had titles like "Crisis on Earth-2" or "Crisis on Earth-X").  The end result was that all of the redundant Earths were folded into the one and there were no more alternates.  Theoretically, this was supposed to make the DC Universe less complicated; in actuality, DC spent the better part of the next decade or two trying to chase down loose ends created by their house-cleaning.
One of these loose ends was Power Girl.  She was the younger cousin of the Earth-2 Superman, (as Supergirl was the kryptonian cousin of the Earth-1 version).  Only there was no more Earth-2 Superman.  What's more, as part of the re-vamp it had been decreed that Superman would be the only survivor of Krypton, and that there would be no Supergirl at all.  (Supergirl was killed off during CRISIS and probably the iconic image from the series is the cover depicting Superman crying in anguish as he cradles her lifeless body in his arms).
So where did Power Girl come from?
Writer Paul Kupperberg came up with a convoluted backstory in which Power Girl only thoughtshe was Superman's cousin, and that actually she was the granddaughter of an Atlantean wizard named Arion (a sword & sorcery character Kupperberg created in the '80s inspired by Michael Moorcock's Elric) who had been placed in suspended animation for several thousand years.  But pretty much everybody ignored this origin story.
In the late '80, she joined JUSTICE LEAGUE EUROPE, a spin-off title from JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL.  Her strident feminism got ramped up in the name of comedy, and she became cursed with a succession of bad costume changes, each one of which kept the boob window.
In the late '90s, she was treated with a bit more respect and began appearing in BIRDS OF PREY, a very good team book with a female cast.  She also re-joined the Justice Society, which had gone through a couple deaths and revivals of its own.
That was about when I dropped out of comics, so I'm a little fuzzy on what happens next.  But some years back, DC decided to give the Multiverse another spin.  Instead of having potentially an infinite number of Earths, though, they said there would be exactly 52.  Because 52 is DC's special number now.  Because... reasons.
So now there is once more an Earth-2 adjacent to the mainstream DC Universe, and DC publishes a couple books set in it.  One of them is WORLD'S FINEST, featuring the adventures of Power Girl and Huntress.  Remember Huntress?
Apparently in a recent storyline, Power Girl and Huntress become stranded on Earth Prime, the main DCU.  (Although back in my day "Earth Prime" was the name of our universe, not the DC Universe and... dang kids.  Sorry.)  There they meet a brilliant 17-year-old girl named Tanya Spears who helps them figure out a way to get back home.  Somehow in the process, Tanya gains super-powers of her own, (writer Paul Levitz is not yet revealing where her powers have come from), and before Power Girl returns to Earth-2, she "bequeaths" her hero name to Tanya.
Levitz says that DC has "Special plans" for Tanya.  Levitz is a good writer and I'll be interested to see what comes of this.  You can read the whole Paul Levitz interview and take a look at Tanya at the Newsarama site
I just hope they can resist giving her a boob window.

Monday, August 18, 2014

ICv2 Announces "Hobby Game Market Wins As It Hits $700 million"

Hobby Game Market Wins As It Hits $700 million

(August 18, 2014-Madison, WI) Pop culture experts ICv2 released today the results of their study on the hobby game market and it shows that the North American market totaled $700 million at retail for 2013. Breaking down the estimate for the total industry by category shows that collectible games was the largest at $450 million; miniatures second at $125 million; boardgames were third at $75 million; card and dice games fourth at $35 million; with RPGs coming in last at $15 million. “Hobby games” are defined as those games produced for “gamers” and are most often sold in the hobby channel or game and card specialty stores, but these items are not limited to sales in that market.   

ICv2 CEO Milton Griepp commented, “A $700 million market is a significant geek culture market segment. With the growth it’s been experiencing, a billion dollar market is within reach in the next few years, and hopefully this kind of industry analysis will help us get there. I cannot thank enough the industry insiders who helped us compile these estimates. Without their willingness to speak frankly with us about their own estimates of market size and the reasoning behind them, we would have been unable to complete this project.”

The hobby game industry remained strong in the Spring season of 2014, according to information compiled by ICv2.  In collectible games, WizKids' Dice Masters was the red hot and hard-to-find item due to high demand. Magic: The Gathering led the pack, but not as strongly as previous seasons.  Boardgames continued to grow with support from hard core gamers and an influx of mainstream gamers coming over from other markets. The heat in the miniatures category came from Star Wars X-Wing and Star Trek Attack Wing, with any extra space filled by anticipation of the new edition of Warhammer 40K. The big news in the Card and Dice Game category was high interest and quick sell-out of both Boss Monster and Adventure Time Card Wars. The largest change overall in the RPG category was the failure of Dungeons and Dragons to hit the Top 5 list for Spring, before the release of the new edition. This change is a first in ICv2's decade long history of sales reporting on the hobby game industry.

About ICV2.Com:For the people on the front lines of the pop culture business, staying ahead of the trends isn’t something that can be left to chance—it’s a basic necessity for being successful. That’s why ICv2 is the #1 source of news and information for the buyers, gatekeepers, and tastemakers on the front lines. ICv2 is where trend-watching has become a science
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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A New Book from Me, Alex Ness


Thanks to JM Hunter and Evette Langford for their format and design help. A collection of journal entries, prose, and verse, in the world where Cthulhu is a God. Words by Alex Ness Art by Caspar David Friedrich

Monday, August 11, 2014

ASHLEY WOOD the long lost interview


This is an interview that comes from 10 years or so back.  I was fortunate to meet Ashley, and he did what was a relatively rare interview, answering my questions and fulfilling my dreams, I guess.  Interviews of Ashley and Grant Morrison were the two high points of online journalism life.  Despite various boneheads who hate me, the fact that these two creative artists took time to answer my question and do so in high fashion was very rewarding.  The interview itself was lost when PopThought was hacked by evil doers.  Someone online saved this for their own purpose and while searching online I found that archive.

Ashley Wood is a brilliant artist of many styles and talents. He has illustrated the various characters in the IMAGE Spawn mythos as well as the two detectives from that mythos, Sam & Twitch with Brian Michael Bendis. His two excellent series POPBOT and AUTOMATIC KAFKA struck many as amazing post modern works. His work on covers and interiors of IDW’s Steve Niles books Savage Membrane and Guns Drugs and Monsters set a mood that words alone cannot describe. Also at IDW he has had three collections of his work come out and he has illustrated the covers and interior flash back scenes for CSI. At this time he is kicking serious ass with his tale LORE, which explores a mythic world that I think would be true to describe as only from the pen and mind of Ashley Wood. He is among the best talents in the field of comics but his work strikes people in many ways, as he is not content to leave it in the hands of reader to look at the page content, they must think about and consider his page content. 


ADULT LANGUAGE Warning, Ashley speaks expressively

Are you married, have kids? I know you have a cat from our discussions at SDCC, what is the cat’s name?

AW: Yup I’m married and have 2 young lads, everyone knows my wife's name is Paula. My cat’s name is Eddy, he is the inspiration behind kitty, from Popbot.

AN: You are from Perth, on the western coast of Australia and I wonder how that geographic placement has effected your perspectives and influences. How might you say that it has affected you in ways different from US or European artists?

AW: I am not really sure, Australia gets product and cultural fallout from the entire globe, which is great, I am pretty sure there's not many places where there is such a melting pot of cultures and ideas. So I am guessing I have a pretty rounded set of influences, Asian comics and cartoons were always accessible in my home town way before they became cool, European comics such as Tintin and Asterix are staples of school libraries, and of course news agents and specialty shops brought in American comics, I got it all, loved it all. English comics such as 2000AD, Commando, Starblazer etc., were gnawing on my brain from early on too, ...I think I’ve got a very broad showing of material, that no doubt influences me today,

AN: How does your particular region affect work, is it more expensive working out of Australia?

AW:   Nah.  Pretty much the same, different time zone makes it a wee bit difficult to talk some times, but email fixes that… I'll be back stateside soon enough.

AN: What artists (not necessarily comics artists) awed you as a young fellow?

AW: As mentioned those who worked on Tintin, Asterix, 2000AD had very profound effects on me, I sure didn't comprehend the class and skill of Tintin and Asterix while reading them as a kid, but they still were great reads, today I now understand what stellar works they are while reading them to my own kids… 2000AD is the comic that me want to be a comic artist, it blew me away, Mike McMahon, Bolland, Ezquezzera fried my mind, and gave me the comics hard on, I still cherish those comics... awwwwwwww.

AN: Where did you learn your craft? University or tech school or self taught?

AW: Drawing everyday since I can remember, I studied Graphic design when I finished High school, but this was just before the computer design boom, so I was saddled with out of date production skills, and teachers who, looking back today were broken people, and shit artists themselves who were bestowing there bilge on unsuspecting kids such as myself ... bastards ... so I left … and just did it myself, worked for night clubs doing ad's, creating artwork for bands, had exhibitions and after a couple of years scored work with the 2000AD guys, I was very happy that day!!!

AN: Artists want to work and get paid obviously but why did you choose to enter the field of comics as an avenue of employment? I look at your work as being more of the fine art category than I do that of commercial or certainly cartooning art. What made you want to draw or paint in a medium that is not yet regarded in America at least as a high-minded medium?

AW: Shit I enjoy it, plus I never considered myself a comic book artist, I'm an artist who does comics, because I love them, and believe their place and effect on culture is much more important and far reaching than anyone understands yet. In fact I believe comics are pretty well part of the mainstream entertainment world, you only have to look around from movies to toys to video games to fucking everything, wait that wasn't the question... Fuck high-minded mediums anyway, what is that, comics, movies, books, original art, music all sit on the same shelf, great stuff floats to the top, shit drowns, move on… Sometimes I think people in some comic scenes will only be happy and believe the craft is being accepted is when 'Mainstream Joeblow' can name all the members of the X-Men since issue 94, and repeat at least 5 Spider-man quips... Fuck them, they’re like the snaggled tooth inbred, who at family gatherings should be left in the car.

AN: Any time an artist with a new style comes into the field folks seem to want to label him. I have heard that you are a Sienkiewicz clone yet I think that both of your styles are unique and fascinating, if also a bit similar. Is/was Mr. Sienkiewicz an influence upon your work and if yes how important are influences to note, I mean at some point unless you are swiping which I do not think you do, your work is your own. Is it merely convenient to label or is there something worthwhile in noting such things?

AW: I think its kinda irrelevant , I love Sienkiewicz, he was a trailblazer in pushing comic art, he opened many eyes to a new way of seeing, and don't believe we can thank him enough, go Bill… He certainly inspired my work early on, he did most things better than anyone else. Sure wasn't a clone because my worked didn't look as good, must have fucked up on the DNA transfer, or maybe I’m not Jewish… :)

I think influences are great, nothing really can grow in a vacuum, and you would be hard pressed to find many artists or musicians who have..Bill had a Neal adams touch early on, then a Bob Peak feel, then a Sienkiewicz... So what? It all looked great. Ashley Wood is no different, I figure start with something already great, odds are in your favour. But you are always gonna get dickheads who want to sling shit out of jealousy, or whatever, if calling me a Sienkiewicz clone is the best they can do, I am very honored.

AN: Your work on Spawn and Sam and Twitch were noteworthy for the use of painted covers and mind bending interiors but they were not nearly so unusual as your later work. Was that a result of working with writers like Bendis and Niles and their particular styles of storytelling or was it that the books were for a more mainstream audience than say AUTOMATIC KAFKA or POPBOT? Do you alter your style for the perceived audience?

AW: Didn't have the balls do be myself I guess, up until Popbot, I always tried to strike a balance, some of what Ash wants, some of what publisher want, or what I think they want. So in my headed I wanted to bust loose and retrospect should have. The main reason I moved on from Toddy, was a yearning to do more ASH WOOD stuff, where I could be free so to speak. Popbot and Automatic Kafka were the first steps in that direction. Of course the irony is, once I started saying fuck'em, I’ll do it my way, the reader response support was great... FUCK'EM, best advice I can give..

AN: I have heard from sources that your experience at WILDSTORM on AUTOMATIC KAFKA was brutal, and that however brilliant a book it was, the experience left you quite sour towards WILDSTORM. How was it working with Joe Casey? I doubt that he was the problem because he later worked on WILDCATS 3.0 so I am assuming problems went higher up. What were you and Joe trying to accomplish on the book, do you feel even with a truncated run it was accomplished, and with the problems did cancellation come as a result of sales or editorial intrusion?

AW: Well I was soured that it didn't get fuck all promotion and it got cut at issue 9 when 12 were promised… It was a hard book to do, from the outset, it got bagged by certain useless critics, which seemed to create a landslide against it, which was hard to fight against. It was hard to figure out where the support was. It wasn't selling great so no one cared much about it, either way, which left me and Joe to just have fun. Joe put his heart and soul into this book, as did I, I believe it will stand out as one of my best works. We had so much to tell with kafka, and it was a creative blow at the time. I still laugh at what we got away with, and what people have missed, Joe put a lot of cryptic shit in there that nobody has still cottoned on too.

My problems with Wildstorm/ DC is that when you lose favour with them, even signed contracts and promised books are thrown in the bin… That doesn't leave a good taste in my mouth.

AN: Why don’t many readers understand POPBOT? I realize that that is a broad paintbrush I just used for that statement but many people do not seem to understand the work despite its beauty and interesting concepts. Are readers too used to being spoon-fed in comics and popular culture in general?

AW: But so many do, its a funny thing, I dunno, I don't make it easy, yet if you read them, really read them and look at the purdy pictures, the story is there. I do believe mainstream American comic readers in particular need to be spoon-fed, because that's what they’re used too, and that's great, sometimes its nice to be led, but my style is different as I take a more European outlook on comic creation, involve the reader, make them a part of the creative process, their imagination is as much a part of Popbot as mine. A conversation between two people is a lot more satisfying than one. Popbot will last 13 x48 pages books, and it will all make sense, its just Mickey Mouse with nekkid girls..gotta love that.

AN: LORE was Mythica but the name/title was changed... why?

AW: Well microsoft pretty much owned the name due to a game they were gonna release, then didn't...but I like LORE better..nice feel etc..

AN: Do you sell artwork from your site Ashley Wood, do you do commissions or sketches?

AW: Sometimes, never have much left too sell, have regulars who buy it all!! Sometimes I take commissions but not often…

AN: What do your fans not know about you or your work that would make them appreciate either more?

AW: I care deeply about everything I do, it is art to me, not a product...

AN: Your favorite beer?

AW: Mmm prolly Corona, coz back in Oz in considered a classy beer, but stateside it seems to be thought of as a crap beer ... I dunno, who cares, I like Fanta.

AN: What mainstream character would you like to work on most?

AW: None, mmm maybe Magnus Robot Fighter, but it would have to jazzed up, then all the old school moaners would bitch how it sucks, blah blah I'll stick to my own...DANTE REX ROBOT PUNCHER

AN: What would your greatest hope be for the comics industry?

AW: That it becomes a mainstream part of publishing, where trades, comics are reviewed alongside other publications not special sections or whatever… we don’t marginalize our own craft with stupid out of date fandom ideals, and fix the distrib system, for fuck's sake...

AN: Any books on the horizon you can pimp?

AW: Buy Metal Gear Solid its gonna be cool, buy LORE its fucking great, buy Popbot coz its ma babee, there's some other stuff that cant mentioned, you know the drill ... I'm going to da daily web strip… tons of shit, Ness!!!


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Another great author's works upon my book shelf: Edward Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany, "Lord Dunsany"

Edward Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany 

While I write poetry, which is devoted to giving the big picture in small words, I adore the authors who can write lush, evocative sentences, just words I know, but the least of all of Lord Dunsany's were better than the best of my own.  Lord Dunsany was to me the author who took the can opening to my lid and opened it up.  I have read great authors, but to me he is the greatest.
He was of noble title and used it to give his efforts a sense of archaic fantastical glory.  He was a Chess expert, a sports hunter, and a member of the military. He belonged to the second oldest house of peerage in Ireland.  And he died of an Appendectomy

Here are some of his works.

The King of Elfland's Daughter (Perhaps my favorite book)

Over the Hills and Far Away

Don Rodriguez: Chronicles of Shadow Valley

Beyond the Fields We Know

The Charwoman's Shadow

At the Edge of the World