Smash Pages End of Year Survey, Part 1

Comic folks answer the question, “What do you consider to be the top five important events of 2015?”

For this year’s inaugural version of the Smash Pages End of Year Survey I had people answer the question: “What do you consider to be the top five important events of 2015?” I encouraged people to not necessarily answer the question in that manner if it didn’t strike their fancy. I cannot thank everyone enough for the participation during a busy time of year.

Jimmie Robinson

Image creator

Star Wars:

Screenshot 2016-01-01 at 3.50.18 PMA global phenomenon on all levels, even the comic spin-offs have done well in comic & book stores. This film/event has bridged generations together.

Noelle Stevenson:
My pick for comic industry person of the year.  Stevenson is in the right time and place and with the right talent to spur a new era of comic readers.  We love superheroes, but Stevenson has jumped into the arena of a cross audience with Nimona and Lumberjanes.  We need more creators like her, and Kelly Sue, for the next generation of readers.

Comics Journalism:
This might be something not noticed on a lot of people’s radar, but in this information era we should take note that comics journalism has grown and changed a lot in 2015. Sites, blogs, videos, periscopes, live streams and more have brought people together with news & information ranging from blockbuster films to the latest Internet rage, changes in publishing and even in the news sites themselves.

Comic conventions:
I include this because to be honest this has been a great year for comic conventions on all levels.  Sure we’ve had a few hiccups with the growing pains.  Sexual conduct, professional ethics, and such. BUT, the good news is that none of those incidents brought about a knock-on effect on attendance or the attendees.  Tackling such problems and moving on is the sign of a healthy industry.  We should all celebrate not just another good year, but a solid year.

The rise of comic awareness:
This spins off my inclusion of comic conventions for 2015, but *awareness* takes it a step further.  I’m an old fart and I remember the days of the comic industry as something done in backrooms, secret clubs and comic stores.  At that time I advocated that fans and readers bring our hobby into the light and share it with friends and family. It used to be a hidden secret among many of us, but  now, thanks to the popularity of several blockbuster superhero films, we’ve seen a surge of awareness and acceptance in pop culture.  TV, film, books, magazines, conventions, advertising, college classes, online sales and other ancillary spin-off merchandise.  It’s a great time for comics right now.  A lot of kids today don’t realize how good they’ve got it.

Paige Braddock

EVP / Creative Director
Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates

Giant Days  by John Allison (Author), Whitney Cogar (Author), Lissa Treiman (Illustrator)

Lumberjanes by Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, and Noelle Stevenson

Doomboy by Tony Sandoval (an import that was originally published in 2014, but I didn’t discover it in the states until this past year)

 dddrAnd a VERY funny illustrated children’s graphic novel titled “Apocalypse Bow Wow” by James Proimos III, illustrated by James Proimos Jr.

I also really liked “This One Summer” by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki (but I think that may also have come out in 2014, sometimes I’m behind in my reading!)

“Fun Home” on Broadway. Based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel

Stuart Moore

Editor/writer

Screenshot 2016-01-01 at 10.14.58 PMPAPER GIRLS by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang. The perfect melding of these two amazing talents—a seamless tale of adolescent trouble, time travel, and just plain fluid storytelling. The comic of the year (creator-owned division).

THE VISION by Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta. An eerie tale of a family of robots living in suburbia, with a deeply existential undercurrent. Reminiscent of an early Alan Moore super hero book, which is high praise around here. Best company-owned book of the year.

GET IN TROUBLE by Kelly Link. A collection of stunning, character-oriented short stories, each and every one of which carries an emotional punch. Several of them have comics connections; “Secret Identity” takes place at a hotel hosting conventions for dentists and super heroes; while “Two Houses” concerns a pair of spaceships called House of Secrets and House of Mystery.

MAD MEN THE FINAL SEASON, created by Matthew Weiner. The last episodes were absolutely on fire; this series stands as a writer’s model for multilayered dialogue, unexpected twists, and the delicate balance between symbolic meaning and character logic. Comics connection (and MINOR SPOILER): Lou Avery’s fuck-you to the advertising business when his monkey-themed strip “Scout’s Honor” becomes a Japanese animated series.

YOU’RE THE WORST, created by Stephen Falk. The best sitcom that no one’s watching, focusing on the frequently dysfunctional relationship between a British writer and an unstable L.A. publicist. Bonus points for Falk’s hilariously honest interviews, and for not being afraid to take things to a pretty dark place in Season Two. Hilariously weak comics connection: Chris Geere plays Jimmy like John Constantine if, instead of being driven to fight demons, JC decided to just write a book and buy a house he couldn’t afford.

Honorable Mentions:

JESSICA JONES

DOCTOR WHO – season finale and Christmas special

SHOW ME A HERO (which is not what it sounds like)

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

TRANSPARENT

Carmine Di Giandomenico

freelance artist

DK III  

Miller-Azzarello- Kubert

Screenshot 2016-01-03 at 5.43.50 AMHuck

Millar- Albuquerque

Catwoman

Valentine- Messina

Star Wars

Rucka – Checchetto

Tokyo Ghost

Remender- Murphy

Ethan Young

Young Illustration

1.) nnnnnnnHow incredibly entertaining the Marvel Netflix series have been. Although Daredevil is intensely drab in parts, it is 90% how I imagined a live-action Daredevil would play out. And Jessica Jones has given us a great mix of dark humor, crime intrigue, and action

2.) Steve Skroce’s return to comics storytelling with We Stand On Guard. Man, I’d buy almost anything that dude draws. Kinda sad that Burlyman never released the collection of his storyboards for the Matrix sequels. Woulda loved to have owned that.

3.) Kate Beaton’s Step Aside, Pops made me laugh out loud more than a few times. I’d be really interested to see what she’d do with a superhero sandbox (and more than just a Strange Tales short), but that’s just me projecting what I want to see.

4.) NYCC reaching over 160K attendees was both incredible and frighteningly claustrophobic. I had to take several stress shits over that weekend.

5.) On a personal note, having finally released a book through Dark Horse, I’ve discovered that people feel more forthcoming with blunt critiques of your work, as opposed to the practiced constraint when reviewing small press creators.

Tim Seeley

http://timseeleyart.blogspot.com/

Okay, I have to admit that once again this year, I didn’t really read many comics, and even fewer that I really enjoyed. That’s not to say that their weren’t a whole hell of a lot of great comics out this year…there definitely were. But it turns out that when you spend so much time writing comics, you can’t really read ‘eHey, I gott

MAD Max Fury ROAD– A great sci-fi action movie that was also just a damn great film. It’s impressive just how wide the appeal of this movie became, considering the relative “cult status” of the previous films. And, it’s got friggin’ AWARDS BUZZ. Sure, it’s not a comic book, but I think anytime a “genre” product gets this kind of acclaim, it’s good for the comic industry.

Screenshot 2016-01-03 at 6.14.44 AMBLACK MASK STUDIOS– The rise of this small publisher was heartening to me for a couple of reasons. One, it’s run by two old buddies of mine, Matt Pizzolo and Steve Niles. Two, they make quality content with a very distinct voice and vision. And three, a healthy alternative comics publisher does wonders for the industry. Though “We Can Never Go Home” seemed to get most of the hype, I actually totally preferred the excellent and provocative “Young Terrorists” and the weird retro futurism of “Space Riders.”

THE DIVERSITY CONVERSATION– Sure, much of what actually got published was lip service, and a fare percentage of those shouting loudly on the internets didn’t seem to put their money where their mouth was…BUT, many who were unaware of the problem were made aware, and some outreach was made to expand the creative voices and audience for comics. Comics (especially superhero comics from the Big 2) should do a better job of reflecting the world outside our doors, and hopefully the conversations of 2015 are the beginnings of a better industry in 2016.

DCYou– Yeah, everyone will tell you the launch of DC’s “new audience friendly” line wasn’t met with big sales, but fuck everyone. There were some great comic books in that launch (Prez, Omega Men, Black Canary, etc) and in five years we’ll look back and remember it fondly for being ahead of its time.

DIGITAL DIDN’T KILL THE PRINT STAR– Some people buy their comics in print. Some buy them digitally. And apparently a whole hell of a lot of people do both. Sure, digital comic sales leveled off somewhat in 2015, but they’re still goddamn good, and they haven’t come at the expense of print comic sales. The comics industry is primed to accept new and varied means of distribution, and that can only be a good thing in a world that’s rushing right up that Curve of Accelerating

The Grumpy Color | Carla and Tom retire 2015, Part 2

Today, on The Grumpy Color!  Movies, TV shows and how hardcore can you make Aquaman before he just starts looking like Rob Zombie?  Let’s join our discussion, already in progress…

Then, Now, Forever...
Then, Now, Forever…

Tom Bondurant: So since we’re talking movies and TV, how much has the comics’ Marvel U changed to resemble the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

Carla Hoffman: Not enough? I mean, it’s a good thing, don’t get me wrong. We have a female Thor kicking butt and a Sam Wilson Captain America three separate Avengers teams that are nothing like the movie’s roster, all with their own agendas and purposes. Comics are brilliant in that it costs so much less to take chances with and do big radical shifts of character, tone and setting that the current ANAD Marvel shouldn’t look like the MCU. On the other hand, the Inhumans are now more prominent than ever in the books, more even than mutants were. There is, in fact, an Ant-Man solo series that has adjusted somewhat for the movie. Brian Michael Bendis is trying his best to write dialogue for Robert Downey Jr. It’s different enough, but not jarring. That being said, an Agent Carter series would be a no-brainer, don’t you think?

TB: Do you think the Marvel U books are helped by those sweet, sweet Star Wars sales?

CH: ARE WE EVER! I wasn’t going to mention that either, because I feel kind of bad that a good chunk of Marvel’s sales success is thanks to some really awesome Star Wars titles. Yeah, I’m pretty sure I could slap a sticker of Darth Vader’s helmet on a phone book and send it out the door, but Marvel is not treating these books lightly as a lot of really good creative teams are coming together  for some pretty cool stories. The Force Awakens has blown the lids off of fanboy’s brains and we’re going to move a lot of Star Wars merch, that’s for sure. Let’s here it for our corporate Disney overlords!

TB: For that matter, how’s small-screen Marvel been treating you? Have Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s fall episodes turned into a warm-up for the second season of Agent Carter? I’m only two episodes into Jessica Jones, so no spoilers; but did it meet your expectations?

I watch a lot of Sesame Street, folks.
I watch a lot of Sesame Street, folks.

CH: This is kind of what I was getting at in an earlier question; I’m… not very good at keeping up with the small screen. I haven’t even finished Daredevil yet! But I have seen Aveggies: Age of Bon-Bon a dozen or so times, let me tell you…

Marvel has always captured a college aged audience, a groovier crowd if you will, and the new Netflix series are drawing that same set of eyeballs in a new and fresh way. Personally, I wanted to like Jessica Jones but it wasn’t my cup of tea. I felt that Alias had time for a much more likable and approachable character and didn’t get to that Purple Man punch until the end of the series. But at time same time, I don’t have to watch Jessica Jones to enjoy the MCU. Or even the M, err… NU? When Luke Cage gets his series, Jessica Jones can be there but under a completely different script and director, so maybe I’ll enjoy her more. It’s even a good thing that the show wasn’t a straight adaptation because fans can now (hopefully) go into a comic shop and get a book that has a familiar story, but more detail and rich artwork that enhances their Netflix experience. Something new, couched in the familiar….

TB: And — you knew this one was coming — their 55th anniversary is in 2016, so whither the Fantastic Four?

CH: Hoo boy. Dead? Reed and Sue and the kids, I think, are ‘gone’, leaving Ben in the Guardians and Johnny Storm kissing another man’s wife over in Uncanny Inhumans. It’s weird, but I’m kind of interested on seeing where they take Marvel’s first family without the actual family and how Human Torch and the Thing survive without the essentials that brought them together. Not that this is their first time at the solo rodeo, but there’s an expectation that these four characters are going to orbit each other. Maybe this time next year, we’ll be doing the think pieces and tributes that always follow a big change in the FF for an anniversary lap, then sale decline, then back on the shelf. Sigh. I’d say maybe a summer event is in order on getting the band back together, but you know. Civil War II.

a.k.a. Everyone Hates Iron Man
a.k.a. Everyone Hates Iron Man

Side note: Oh man, why I am this excited for a Civil War II? Just six months ago, typing those words out would have made me nauseous, but maybe it’s the power of the upcoming Captain America movie (I’ll get into that later) or the incredible job that Charles Soule did with the Battleworld book set in Civil War, but coming back to that idea or heroes conflicted over ideology based around current events, but this time not from Mark Millar or as clumsily done now that event books have more of a framework in modern comics, this is actually kind of exciting!

Maybe there is more synergy at work between comics and movies than I thought. Speaking of the big screen, are you ready for the grimace fest of the century? Superman vs. Batman! Wonder Woman is also here! And Aquaman… for some reason! Why not just call it Justice League and be done with it?

TB: It makes me very nervous that Warner Brothers is depending so heavily on a movie which they’re promoting (at least in part) with grim, serious photos of Aquaman.

slowly working towards a Momoa makeover...
slowly working towards a Momoa makeover…

CH: And a weird looking Aquaman at that! DC really can’t have their cake and eat it too with that design, you know. Either he’s the blonde guy in an orange shirt that everyone knows and loves or go whole hog and bring back the Old Man and Sea look from Peter David’s run and ..  they’re doing the latter, aren’t they?  I just took a look at a recent comic cover for Aquaman and yeah, orange shirt is in the trashcan. They have to balance the look of what’s on comic stands and what’s on the silver screen; there’s been a lot of that balance with Marvel so that when you look at the covers of the comics, you can right away know who is in what book…

TB: I did like the most recent trailer — the one that ends with Wonder Woman saving Batman — and I’m maybe looking forward even more to the Wonder Woman movie.

CH: Note how you didn’t say saving Superman as well. Those two make such a weird couple….

But yeah, I think it’s a bad idea to stuff Wonder Woman in a movie that has two huge personalities that should sort themselves out first, but that’s me. Over here. With a franchise that made sure to introduce all the big heroes in individual movies first before combining them all together. Because that sells more books and develops characters better.

TB: As for the title … well, the actual title is clunky and pretentious, and it only really works if you know it’s basically a “zero issue” for the Justice League series. It’s like The First Avenger subtitle, in that everybody just called that movie Captain America.

CH: They added in that First Avenger tag line to make sure a movie entirely focusing around a nationalistic hero played well in other countries, but point taken.

TB: I suspect the general public is about as aware of the Justice League in 2015 as they were of the Avengers in, say, 2007. Man Of Steel 2: Batman vs. Superman probably would have been better (if about as clunky), because this movie won’t be the Justice League. I don’t think you can call it a League until there are at least five members and a headquarters.

CH: But here’s the thing and I’m going to try to tie it back into comics as best I can without going full Hollywood on you here: I agree that it’s not the Justice League; it’s not even the Super Friends as no one in this movie seems very friendly. I think DC stepped into the role of Very Serious Movie makers with Batman Begins and held to it all through the Nolan trilogy. Stepping outside the ranks with Superman Returns didn’t fare very well, nor could it make a cohesive Cinematic Universe. When you go super serious, you’re kind of in all the way. So it brings about the problem you mentioned before, where when a comic is good and the characterization is what you want to see, it feels weird when you read another book with them in it and they’re practically a different person.

The faces change, the costumes are different, they might even be different people in some respects, but Marvel has this consistency that follows through comics to movies through tones of storytelling that is making this cinematic universe work. Mind you, we’re lucky that there hasn’t been any new actors replacing older ones yet (wait, Ruffalo replaced Norton; but I won’t count it), but you should know who that hero or villain is no matter where you see them.

Yeah, no one knows what a Justice League is right now, but if you do it right, you will know its component parts well enough to handle a contrived title like the Avengers. And to be honest, Joe and Joan Q. Public know about a Justice League movie because there was an Avengers movie already released. We know the song and dance.

TB: I do notice (thanks to this handy chart) that Justice League 2 — where I presume they finish fighting Darkseid — is supposed to come out a month before Avengers: Infinity War 2, where I presume they finish fighting Darkseid knock-off Thanos. Something for the Grumpy Color 2019’s agenda!

CH: 2019!?!? Good grief.

TB: Getting back to comics — I know this will sound like the ultimate DC conspiracy theory, but bear with me. It almost seems like Marvel is using its commanding market presence to sustain an air of invincibility which can absorb whatever missteps it might make. Put another way, the combination of dominating top-sellers (including Star Wars) and sheer volume practically guarantees that Marvel will have a market-share advantage. Since that’s how we tend to keep score, Marvel keeps winning, and whatever it does either adds to its winning ways or at least doesn’t get in their way. It has much more room for error than DC does, so it can take more risks, and I would argue that those risks are minimized because of all the successes. Conversely, DC’s risks (Doctor Fate, say) are magnified because they’re seen in the light of overall market strategy, and each DC book has a greater responsibility to perform because there are fewer of them.

So my questions are 1) am I way off-base? and 2) will we ever hit Peak Marvel, where there’s just too much product coming from the House of Ideas?

Unleash the horde of new titles!
Unleash the horde of new titles!

CH: For the first part, I totally agree, but I don’t think this makes Marvel as bullet proof as that. Mistakes are made that can tarnish story lines and creative teams and books can tank hard (I’m giving ANAD about three months to sort itself out to what the stands are going to look like for realsies). Yeah, Star Wars is helping to keep the lights on, but I can’t really name a sure fire hit for my store off the top of my head. There was a time when Ultimate Spider-Man was just going to sell like gangbusters no matter what and now… well, Ultimate Spider-Man doesn’t really exist anymore and every title gets a new make-over every September, making longevity a thing of the past.

For the second part, no? Product I don’t think is the problem as series come and go rather regularly at this point. We keep sampling dishes and Marvel keeps taking the plates away, even the dishes we like and want more of (Mark Waid’s Daredevil could run for a thousand years, you guys). I think comics readers could get dizzy after awhile with the turn over rates and might yearn for a more regular ongoing series with less creative change-ups, but then boom! A new series will debut or suddenly NOTHING WILL EVER BE THE SAME, etc. Comics are more malleable than ever and I think that’s going to change the way we read and consume them in some respects.

Now, I’m not saying it’s a perfect business model and everybody should try it but let’s face it, folks: it works at Image. Yeah. Think on that.

TB: Sounds like a good note to go out on! 2015 was wild and wacky, but at least it gave us plenty to discuss. Here’s hoping 2016 is at least equally eventful!

2016: Year of the (Black) Beetle?

Francesco Francavilla takes to Twitter to tease the return of ‘The Black Beetle,’ his well-regarded pulp comic from Dark Horse.

Our long, national nightmare may soon be over, as creator Francesco Francavilla teased on Twitter the return of The Black Beetle. Francavilla posted an image of the pulp hero with the hashtags #TheYearOfTheBeetle and #BlackBeetleReturns.

The Black Beetle originally appeared on Francavilla’s website back in 2009, then Dark Horse brought him to comic shops in 2013. Their first miniseries, Black Beetle: No Way Out, received many accolades (including an Eisner nomination for best miniseries) and appeared on several “best of the year” lists. But a second miniseries, “Necrologue,” was scheduled but never made it out of the gate. But it looks like that might be changing this year:

No word yet on when the excellent series will return, but we’ll keep our eyes peeled for it.

CXsTZuwUkAArHOf.jpg_large

Lemire’s ‘Roughneck’ skates into stores in 2017

Lemire returns to small-town Canada for a new graphic novel from Simon & Schuster.

The prolific Jeff Lemire, who has left his stamp on monthly comics from DC, Marvel, Image and Valiant in recent years, returns to his graphic novel roots in October with Roughneck.

Update: According to Lemire’s blog, Roughnecks will now arrive in April 2017.

Originally announced in 2013, the graphic novel is written and drawn by Lemire. Like his Essex County series, this one is also set in small town Canada. Here’s how Simon & Schuster described the project back in 2013:

“Derek is a former hockey tough guy whose quick rise to the NHL was cut short when a brutal on-ice incident left him banned from professional hockey for life. Now, four years later, Derek has returned to Black River, his hometown in Northern Ontario, not far from the Moose Cree First Nation, where his mother grew up. Derek’s slide into alcoholism and depression is interrupted when his long-lost sister, Annie, returns home trailing a violent ex-boyfriend. Together, the two escape to the woods, where they struggle to reconnect with the traditions of their Cree ancestors in order to escape their past and gain redemption.”

This is definitely something to add to the “Comics I’m looking forward to” list for 2016.

RN PROMO

The Grumpy Color | Tom and Carla retire 2015, Part 1

Smash Pages contributors Tom Bondurant and Carla Hoffman continue their end-of-year tradition, looking back at the year in Big Two superhero comics and looking forward to 2016.

hulk_vs_superman_rude
World’s Smashiest

[Smash Pages contributors Tom Bondurant and Carla Hoffman continue their end-of-year tradition, looking back at the year in Big Two superhero comics and looking forward to 2016.]

Carla Hoffman: Time to get off the couch, put down the Ben and Jerry’s and stop listening to Moonlight Sonata on repeat, it’s the end of the year! Marvel and DC have cast their nets wide through event books, new titles, TV shows and movies to reel in new readers, viewers and mass market appeal and somebody’s has to sort through it all, sir! For somebody, read: us.

Continue reading “The Grumpy Color | Tom and Carla retire 2015, Part 1”

Valiant teases 2016 slate: Bloodshot Island, new Archer & Armstrong, more

Get a glimpse of what the future holds for Ninjak, Divinity and more.

With 2015 winding down, Valiant Entertainment has released several teasers for upcoming storylines and returning titles from the publisher. Of note: Jeff Lemire, Mico Suayan and David Baron journey to “Bloodshot Island,” while Matt Kindt and Diego Bernard plan a siege for Ninjak. And oh yeah, Archer and Armstrong return! I’m really looking forward to seeing what Rafer Roberts does on the title.

Check out all the teasers below …

4001ad

archer-armstrong

bloodshot

divinity2

ninjak

‘The Rattler’ strikes again at Image Comics

Jason McNamara and Greg Hinkle’s crowdfunded graphic novel finds a new home.

Following a successful Kickstarter in 2014, Jason McNamara and Greg Hinkle’s The Rattler has slithered over to Image Comics for a “mass market” release.

Inspired by true events from McNamara’s own life, the horror graphic novel is about a guy whose fiancée vanished without a trace and, 10 years later, he starts hearing her voice.

“The story was inspired by true events that happened to me on a road trip years ago,” McNamara told me last year. “I’ve written an afterword to the graphic novel that gets more into it, but basically a female friend and I were on a road trip and had a breakdown in a rural area of California. A seemingly helpful motorist stopped and offered to tow our car. Instead, he took off with my friend and left me behind. Luckily, in the true events she was able to get away, and we were able to get help. But I always wondered: What if she didn’t get away? What if I had to live with that? That was the inspiration for The Rattler.”

The Image Comics release will have a new cover and one new page, and is due out in March. If successful, McNamara hinted to the project’s Kickstarter backers that a sequel could follow. Check out the cover for the new release below:

rattler-cover-image

Chris Schweizer’s Paper Nativity Informational Notes: Part 6

Over the next month, Chris Schweizer will be offering thoughts on the Nativity set model (a large papercraft crèche) mentioned a week or so ago that you can find and download here:

https://gumroad.com/l/ThkR

Rather than run it everyday Chris has given us permission to run it every few days.

Advent Calendar Day 21: The Innkeepers

innnYou’ve probably seen a Christmas pageant or cartoon or book or something where Joseph, leading Mary atop a donkey, knocks on the door of the inn (Bethlehem’s population was small enough that just one inn is probable) and is told by the innkeeper (sometimes sternly, sometimes regretfully) that there’s no room.

The Gospel of Luke states that there was “no room in the inn,” and from this line we’ve extrapolated an innkeeper to convey that bit of exposition.

I don’t know when the innkeeper first appeared, but I’d expect it was in the middle ages, once crèche scenes led to dramatizations. Sometimes the innkeeper is depicted as a married pair, with the wife a hard-hearted harpy impatient at yet another traveler, or even a cutthroat capitalist granting the limited rooms at a premium beyond the financial means of the Holy Family, with the husband secretly offering them room in the stable out of pity over the notion of a pregnant woman without a roof. There’s a definite message in this, the old “if you let your wife have the power in your marriage then you’ll be dragged along in decisions to which you have a moral objection and become complicit” warning, which is why I suspect we don’t see a gender reversal of this interpretation; there isn’t really a cautionary narrative tradition associated with the husband taking the reins with business decisions.
It’s not unusual for characters to spring up to fill in the missing pieces in stories about important moments in religious stories (as we’ve seen with previous entries), but what’s unusual about the innkeeper(s) is that, despite being textually absent from the gospels, they’re yoked with mainstream theological interpretation, which is surprising to me.

The standard reflection on them is this: the innkeepers, who are either awash in the prosperity of their business or so frazzled by the bustle as to be indifferent DO permit the Holy Family lodging (this operates on an assumption, likely born of that first narrative inclusion, that the innkeeper has proprietorship of the stable), but in the little space that is left, not that which would inconvenience them. This is used as a metaphor for religious folks who profess sincerity of faith but who only give their time/attention to God when all other earthly matters have been attended. God, in this metaphor, is relegated to the stable of the person’s life.

dguyThere’s a current school of thought that the “inn” isn’t an inn at all, but a mistranslation of guest room, suggesting that it was Joseph’s relatives that turned them away, itself an interpretation rife with meaning (Joseph’s relatives, judging Mary to be an unwed mother, refused her entry, can be easily read as a refutation of those whom would deem to judge others based on their own assumptions of legality or morality). I think this is unlikely, though, as there’s no context in the verse to suggest anything other than that which is stated: there was no room. The relative idea puts a lot of emphasis on “for them”, and in doing so likely misses the point.

If the guest room translation is valid, it probably refers to one that functioned much as an inn would have: a community guest room in lieu of an inn, in which case the innkeepers remain its administrators even if their title is no longer the same.

I don’t like any of these interpretations, partially because I like to think the best of people, and partially because of personal experience. When Liz and I were first married, we managed a hotel in Mississippi, on the river across from Louisiana. When Katrina hit, we were, thankfully, spared all but the most minor cosmetic damage, but (as many of you will remember) our neighbors across the river weren’t so lucky. With more people needing a place to stay than there were places for them, we ended up housing much more than our commercial capacity, with guests bringing families and extended families, packing into every corner of the building

Liz did her best to accommodate as many as we could, and I like to think that the innkeepers in the story (which I’ve depicted as a married pair, absent those aforementioned associations with which the wife is sometimes saddled) made no less of an effort, and that the stable was a creative way to extend their hospitality well beyond their means.

Advent Calendar Day 22: The Tempter

putxThe Eastern Orthodox Church has its own nativity traditions, and one of them is depicting an old shepherd dressed in animal skins. Byzantine art pretty much always shows sad-sack Joseph sitting despondent and pouty off in a corner (just google search “Byzantine Nativity Art” and take in dozens of Josephs who make Keanu Reeves look positively jubilant by contrast). Nature, and with it any semblance of Joseph’s paternal/husbandly authority, has been vanquished by a sexless conception, and Joseph, his world upended, doesn’t take it well.

Though there are shepherds, including old hide-wearing ones, in early nativity icons, one in particular becomes a narrative figure by the early 1300s: The Tempter, who stands next to Joseph, stoking Joseph’s doubt about Mary’s virginity. This is either a man doing the devil’s work (though some early versions treat him instead as a man doing the Lord’s work, reminding Joseph of ancient words of Isaiah that Christians would take as prophecy regarding a virgin birth) or the devil himself in disguise.

By the mid-1300s, you see James, Joseph’s son, interceding, attempting to ward this tempter (this is also, I believe, the first usage of James in Nativity art) to save his father from doubt, or maybe to just give the really, really sad guy a little space.

Advent Calendar Day 23: Roman Soldier

There are plenty of traditional nativity characters whose inclusion is meant to foreshadow something in either Jesus’s adult life, including having a burial shroud as his swaddling and an encounter with the thieves with whom he’ll later be crucified. To my knowledge, though, there isn’t a traditional Roman soldier character (though they do often turn up in more sprawling nativity sets with other Bethlehem denizens and are a staple of church walk-through-Bethlehem setups).

The soldier here isn’t, like you see in the walk-throughs, a fancy Roman in the lorica segmentata armor of popular imagination. He’s a rural reserve, stuck in Bethlehem, a deputy constable in a podunk hamlet. So his armor is the minimum a provincial soldier might be issued while still being identifiable as a Roman soldier.

Advent Calendar Day 24: La Befana

lfLa Befana is the Italian gift-giver, just like we get Santa Claus, the Spanish get the Three Kings, and the Austrians get Baby Jesus (he doesn’t come down the chimney; I checked). Her original story is heartbreakingly sad, and its traditional alternative is kind of lackluster, so I’m offering a variation that marries the two.

The Three Kings, on their way to see baby Jesus, ask for shelter for the night at a rural house. In it, La Befana (whose name derives from a mispronunciation of “Epiphany” and who probably has OCD) is busy cleaning, as she always does. Learning that they’re taking gifts to a baby, she volunteers to go, too; her kids are grown and she’s itching to get rid of their old toys. Following the kings, she gives Jesus the toys, delighting him, and in thanks he bestows upon her immortality and a magic hamper perpetually full of toys so that she can bring other children as much joy as she did him. She also uses her broom to tidy up the manger for Mary. You could eat off that floor.

La Befana now rides her broom from house to house, leaving toys for youngsters and flying up the chimney.

Advent Calendar Day 25: Baby Jesus
Merry Christmas, friends!
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Tom Palmer in Splendid Black and White

What good is running a website if you cannot feature majestic Tom Palmer uncolored art?

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Avengers #287 cover. Marvel Comics, 1987. Pencils by John Buscema. Inks by Tom Palmer

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Comic Book Artist #13 cover. TwoMorrows Publishing, 2001. Pencils by Gene Colan. Inks by Tom Palmer.

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Captain Britain #28 page 5. Marvel UK, 1977. Pencils by John Buscema. Inks by Tom Palmer.

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 Star Wars #76 cover. Marvel Comics, 1983. Pencils and inks by Tom Palmer.

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Star Wars #86, page 3. Marvel Comics, 1983. Pencils by Bob McLeod. Finishes by Tom Palmer.

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Punisher #2, page 8. Marvel Comics, 2004. Pencils by Lewis LaRosa. Inks by Tom Palmer.
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X-Men: The Hidden Years #1, pages 2-3. Marvel Comics, 1999. Pencils by John Byrne. Inks by Tom Palmer.

 

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Avengers poster. Marvel Comics, 1989. Pencils by Paul Ryan. Inks and painting by Tom Palmer.
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Star Wars #62, page 22. Marvel Comics, 1982. Layouts by Walt Simonson. Finishes on duo-shade board by Tom Palmer.