The Moment: Huck

huckIn this week’s edition of The Moment, I detail how in some ways Huck reminds me of Mark Millar’s 1998 Superman Adventures run.

Superman Adventures remains the high point so far 0f Millar’s work, serving return to that form dating as far back as 1998. Huck is an incredibly likeable character in the way he is characterized in these first two issues there’s an unseen optimism to him I don’t know if it will last but all I know is it’s really a refreshing change from a lot of comics currently on the market. The moment that hooked me was from issue 2 when he could have quit but he chose to presevere and help people as he always does.

Rafael Albuquerque on art is merely icing on the cake.

Chris Schweizer’s Paper Nativity Informational Notes: Part 4

Over the next month, Chris Schweizer will be offering thoughts on the Nativity set model (a large papercraft crèche) mentioned last week 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 13: The Midwife

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The midwife appears in the apocryphal mid-2nd century Gospel of James, as well as a variety of other non-canonical books that likely used James as one of their sources for nativity stories.

In the story, Mary goes into labor and Joseph leaves her with his sons (plural, which I missed earlier; I ought to have included at least one more in the set. Whoops!) in the cave to find a Hebrew midwife. He comes across one walking (the first woman he sees, luckily), and they race to the cave. Joseph is pretty darn open about the whole conceived-by-the-Holy-Spirit thing, laying all his business out without much prodding, and the midwife seems dubious until they get to the cave and Mary’s nethers are all aglow, lighting up the cave.

The midwife is understandably awed by glowbaby Jesus and the story told by Joseph, and runs to spread the news to some close friends.

When I was in early college I stumbled across the Gospel of James and was floored by it, mostly because, so far as Jesus fan-fiction goes, it’s pretty solid, filling in a lot of the gaps in the canonical gospels, satisfying genre conventions (annunciation of pregnancy to an old but pious couple, etc), and, most of all, adding elements that gave it an earthy and ancient realness (the stable being a cave, for instance, and the logistical necessity of a midwife). I copied it longhand in order to help with memorization. For some reason, who knows what, I thought it would be a worthwhile thing to be able to recall.

Advent Calendar Day 14: Salome

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Though the apocryphal Gospel of James doesn’t dwell on the medical details save for the description of a bright light accompanying the delivery, future books do, and Jesus goes from being “born” in the traditional sense to either phasing through Mary or beaming out of her, Star Trek-style, depending on the source.

The midwife, having witnessed temporarily intangible nightlight Jesus appear in this manner, runs out of the cave and encounters Salome, whose relationship with the midwife isn’t fully articulated. Is she a friend? An acquaintance? A relative, maybe? I kind of like the idea that she’s a nosy neighbor frenemy.

Anyway, the midwife tells Salome about Jesus’s miraculous conception, and Salome ain’t buying. So we get a scene that’s basically narrative apologetics for the Virgin Birth: The midwife, alerting Mary to the fact that she’s a subject of “great controversy” (highlighting the symbolic nature of this tableau; two people who’ve been talking about something for forty seconds do not a great controversy make), asks Mary to “show herself,” and Salome checks for a hymen.

Salome’s hand then withers up and seems likely to fall off, which I consider pretty darn fair payout for anybody keen on subjecting someone to the humiliation and discomfort of a physical virginity test, though contextually it’s Salome’s doubt, not the act, that causes it. Salome, freaked out and in pain, cries up to God to forgive her for doubting, and reminds him of how good a person she is. An angel appears and tells her to hold baby Jesus, which she does, and is cured.

Salome served a very important narrative role for early church followers, which was to give a scene in which the met-with-skepticism-Virgin-Birth is directly addressed not by pronouncements but by hard proof (albeit internal anecdotal proof).

I considered drawing her screaming at her dying mummy hand, but I thought it might pull too much from the hopeful solemnity of the crèche scene. Also, because the notion of a hymen being evidence of virginity is, biologically, an errant one (and one that I think has a negative social impact for both genders), I didn’t want any parents to have to explain it to their youngsters, probably necessary given its centrality to this particular story.

Unrelated, today is my thirty-fifth birthday.

Advent Calendar Day 15: The Druggist

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In one of the apocryphal infancy gospels, the 8th or 9th century Arabic First Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ, there’s a lot of crazy stuff that bolsters then-current theological traditions (infant Jesus gives a speech about his own divinity, chases off a robber band, brings to life toy animals, thwarts a vampire, and turns his hide-and-seek playmates into goats), especially the burgeoning emphasis on relics as a standard part of altar construction/veneration in the church. Some folks want to date the Infancy Gospel a couple of centuries earlier, but aside from the statistical unlikelihood of pre-Islamic written texts that could have been translated by westerners in the 17th century (which is when this one found its way to Europe), the motive of any scripture is always colored by the situation of its author(s), and the Infancy Gospel practically reads like a J. Peterman catalog of potential relics, explaining how they would have come to be preserved. This, I think, is the most striking indicator of a post-second-council-of-Nicaea (787 CE) date of authorship, when relics became official church policy rather than merely accepted church policy.

In this book, Jesus’s circumcision is given a specific location: the cave of his birth. The midwife takes the foreskin (yep!) and/or his umbilical cord, and puts it in an alabaster box full of oil-of-spikenard (muskroot). She then gives this to her druggist son and tells him to never sell it. The verse that immediately follows tells us that Mary of Bethany procured the box and used the oil on Jesus when she washed his feet and head, so apparently the druggist didn’t listen to his ma.

Basically, this is the origin story of the Holy Prepuce, which is what the church called Jesus’s foreskin, a relic of which there were, as might be expected, many (after all, what church wouldn’t want a divine weiner flap on the communion table, legit or not?). There’s a lovely article by oft-mentioned Christmas expert Benito Cereno about controversy surrounding these, and you really should read it, but this story is the evidence of its preservation, the eBay certificate of authenticity of the 8th century:

http://benito-cereno.tumblr.com/post/76697555260/your-post-about-st-valentine-got-me-thinking


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Smash Pages Q&A: Neil Kleid on ‘King and Canvas’

Kings and Canvas is a monthly, ongoing digital comic by Neil Kleid, Jake Allen and Frank Reynoso, published by Monkeybrain Comics and released via Comixology. It explores the lengths a man will go to find purpose after liberty and career have passed him by. I was pleased to interview Kleid.

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Tim O’Shea: What were the vital criteria were there for assembling the creative team?

Neil Kleid: Generally, when partnering with an artist, I like to make sure of three things: 1) That the artist is open to a collaborative partnership which allows for push and pull from both sides of the creative table. 2) That the artist is passionate about the material to not only invest his or her time and energy into the work, but also feel strongly enough about it to embellish on it, add his or her own signature touches, and 3) Finally, that my partner on the piece is dedicated, communicative, open and honest enough to tell me when something needs to be rewritten or whether or not the process is breaking down. Obviously fast, good, talented and savvy all help — but those three points always serve as the mark for whether or not the team can and will survive.

It’s funny, with KaC, I actually went through two creative partners before Jake and Frank. The series has been in the works for over three years now, ever since I began banging out a series bible in the wee hours of the night. There were starts and then stops, and though at the time I feel downhearted when a partnership fell apart, it helps now to know it was all leading to the right team. Jake’s linework has evolved in leaps and bounds since we collaborated together on BROWNSVILLE, our first graphic novel for NBM Publishing. Back then we were both learning what it meant to simply make comics. Diving into Mammoth’s world, allowing your eyes to roam over the landscape and linger on backgrounds and character details, it’s clear that this is the work of a mature, educated illustrator who has spent the intervening years honing his craft and process. And Frank, friend of a mutual friend, came along at the right time when we had lost a colorist and were casting about for the correct palette that would bring life to the bleak, gray wastes of Gaol and then the vast, lush, verdant environs of the Training Grounds. I couldn’t be happier and more privileged than I am to be working with them both…I imagine one day they’ll both be too famous for the likes of a young, humble writer from New Jersey.

Would you say Mammoth and Nik have a buddy picture vibe?

Oh, sure. There are elements from Bing and Bob (“on the road to Queensbury”) and more importantly, classic trainer-fighter matchups most vividly brought into focus by Balboa and Creed… or maybe more specifically if you’re referring to Stallone’s filmography, because of the age gap, Lincoln and Michael Hawk. But then, you can get that vibe from a great number of fantasy or action stories with dueling personalities tossed at some point within an epic journey or adventure. Hell, you’ve got Star Wars’ Han and Luke (and Leia and Chewie, et al), or Game of Thrones’ Brienne and Podrick (or Jon and Sam, or Tyrion and Varys, or…). Of course the Fellowship of the Ring could be the most classical of buddy pictures (Sam! Frodo! Sam! Frodo!) and if you hearken even further back, good ol’ Moses and Aaron, wandering in the desert for forty years with thousands and thousands of their closest, biblical buddies. Look, you get two disparate individuals whose fates have been joined together (Riggs and Murtaugh, Cagney and Lacey, Fred and Barney, so on and so forth…you’re gonna get that buddy vibe at some point.

But let’s not forget—Mammoth and Nik are only the first of our boon traveling companions we meet on the road to Queensbury (or wherever they should finally, inevitably alight). Issue #2 introduced us to Milla, our would-be polar bear boxer from the North, and I daresay even more stalwart associates will join the cast as we wind down the first arc of our series. When we say “buddy picture,” it suggests give and take, comedy and a bit of friction. There’ll be plenty of that to spare, but also a great deal of emotional turmoil and perhaps a tragedy or two. Here’s looking forward to walking down that road together.

When you take characters to a new town, do you give a glimpse into your world building process?

Generally, we start with the idea — whether it’s larger or small, a hook or place or line or in this case, a visual that inspires. For Kings and Canvas, the world began with an image. Someone, somewhere on our wonderful world wide web tossed out two subjects in tangential relation to one another: “Frank Miller” and “dinosaur.” I believe it was in discussion of The Dark Knight Strikes Again, the graphic novel in which the Atom fights a dinosaur. Those two phrases made me think of “Frank Miller’s Dinosaur,” as a story concept which immediately put me in in the mind of an aging brawler, past his prime, bandaged and bruised with hands like cinderblocks and lonely, wounded eyes. That was my first-ever picture of Mammoth, the lead character in Kings and Canvas, and simply typing out a character description led to my winding an entire world and history around his desperate, despairing, yet-to-be-molded form.

After the character, I needed a reason for him to exist. So I started fashioning the place that he was —a hole, a cell (physical or metaphysical) from which he needed to be released, and started painting outward. The room outside his cell. Then the town, then the nation. I knew I wanted it to be in some version of America—having been influenced at the time of the bible’s creation by the landscape of Millar’s Old Man Logan —and so I grabbed a map and started naming towns and charting the path Mammoth might take once he escaped that dreary little cell…and more importantly, the reason for why he would take that path. And were there other paths, paths with which Mammoth’s might cross? And if so, why? Did it have anything to do with the vast history I was spinning for my beloved, broken lead character? And what did the world look like ten years ago? Twenty? Thirty? What would it look like in fifteen?

The bible became a tool I’ve adopted on other projects since finalizing the one for Kings and Canvas, because it serves as a map to not only place and location, but also time and space. It allows me to flesh out social norms, currency, etiquette for a particular town or watchtown on the edge of the Western Kingdoms, for example. The bible charts ties between every settlement in the Training Grounds, and connects the dots from one point of Mammoth’s journey to the next…stretching back to the cell from which he’d escaped at the beginning, even farther than that—ten years, twenty, thirty…the steps and dots that led him to the cell in the first place.

A proper history—a fleshed out map—is key to understanding where your characters stand, where they’ve been, where they might be going. I’d get lost without it, especially on a journey of such scale. And my partners—Jake and Frank— help ground me to where I’m standing with amazing visual landmarks, intimate and culturally specific color tones and architecture (the town of Southporte in issue #2, for example, is much different than the town of Westgate mere pages later). Merging all of that—the history, the factoids, the map of culture, progress and society along with incredibly diverse and yet completely relatable illustration—helps bring a vivid, unique and exciting world to life not only for our readers, but also for the creative team as we navigate the journey at Mammoth’s side.

What do you most enjoy about being published by Chris Roberson?

Chris —and Allison—really have amazing taste. Not saying that as a brag, honestly, but merely as fact when looking at the wealth of truly incredible stories they’ve shepherded under the Monkeybrain banner. I’ll be blunt: many of the creators working with Chris are friends or tangential colleagues of mine, and each of them have produced a library of work that I love, consume and respect. That includes Chris, by the way, a writer and creator whom I’ve followed even before Monkeybrain came into being.

I always knew that I wanted to do something with Monkeybrain after digging through some of the titles in their stable…and because I knew I wanted to do something specific for a digital audience. But I didn’t want to self-publish—I’d been down that road before and quite loathed the idea of taking that path again. Working with Monkeybrain seemed like an ideal scenario: fit a project I was passionate about into a family of books and creators I admired, generally be able to chart my own course and focus on making the story sing while not having to worry about the distribution, and get to work with and know publishers I dug and partner with them on a project that not only I, but they felt extremely passionate. I couldn’t be prouder to put Kings and Canvas out under the Monkeybrain label. I respect what Chris and Allison have done with the company, and hope to continue providing more great issues for them to publish in the future.

In what ways have you most improved as a storyteller in the past 3 years?

Rewriting, trust and consuming more than my usual fare.

The first is obvious: your first draft is never your best. I developed a method in which I allowed myself time to backtrack before driving forward—write 4 pages one night, and on the second night I polished those pages before writing 4 more. Then the third night I polish pages 1-8 and then write 9-12. And so on. Overlap, backtrack, tighten and polish. Your first instinct might not be your best. Edit the fat, trim the superfluous dialogue. Rewrite until it’s ready — even if the deadline looms. Rewrite all the way until it has to get delivered.

Trust. So, I realized this last year and a half that my LARGEST fault when working with a collaborator was having the tendency to give too many notes. I’m talking about art and attempting to micro-manage an artist/partner to the point where I was focused on getting a specific picture or angle in my head down there on the paper. I didn’t trust my partner enough to let them get their vision on the page—I wanted what was in my panel descriptions (and in my head) down there on paper. I know I lost one collaborator on Kings and Canvas that way, and I nearly lost Jake as well. The email I got from Jake, explaining that the pages he was working on would be his last, really gave me a wake up call and made me realize that I needed to let go of the red pen. And I couldn’t be happier (and, I hope, Jake feels the same way). We have our own great process now — I writer the script, doing my best to get as much character/location description into the document without obsessing about angles and layout. Then we discuss the script on the phone, walking through it together to make sure we’re on the same page. Jake sends thumbnail layouts which I review and discuss with him, as well. Then he takes it to pencils and inks, which are usually stellar. I’ve learned the last two years really to let my partner breathe. And, well, you can see the results, right?

Finally, consuming more than my usual fare. Books I would have never read—many non-fiction, mostly in worlds through which I’d never traveled. Movies, comics, music, television…I exposed myself to challenging topics, interesting opinions and often, somewhat tedious research and legwork designed to expand my horizons. Writers write, but writers also read. And they experience — if you don’t have the funds to travel, then travel inside a book to a land you’ve never known. Politics not your thing? Force yourself to make sense of the front page news. Study up on what exactly happened to Lehman Brothers in 2008—not the sound bytes, but the economics involved. Writers read, but just as the greatest challenge is to write something out of your comfort zone, so too must writers consume. Because only then do you learn and grow…and that’s what I’ve been doing the last few years.

What characters if any grew beyond their original scope because you saw untapped potential?

The character of Argos Dane, who appears in issue #2 for the first time, went from being a kind of tall tale character to someone who could be a fan favorite should the series skyrocket in popularity. He was really a one-note character who served a specific purpose but as Jake, Frank and I started fleshing out the series we all kind of took a shine to him…and I realized how much more he had to offer to Mammoth’s past and future. If we compared this to Rocky, Argos might be Mammoth’s Apollo Creed. Or more to the point, if Mammoth were my Ned Stark, Argos might be his Robert Baratheon. Loud, boisterous, coarse…but wise, loyal and takes no bullshit, if you please.

The other character that surprised me was that of Milla, our polar bear apprentice boxer from the North. I had originally plotted other students for Mammoth to train on his road into the West…but I knew we were heading toward a specific direction by the end of the first arc, and the idea of a boxing polar bear was a notion that had survived from the bible’s very first paragraph—the pitch document. What I didn’t know was how much I really wanted to bring that concept forward, to diversify Mammoth’s world and make it plain as day that this journey would be something special…and that we might see it through a few different eyes. Mammoth’s, tired and jaded and weary; Nik’s, idealistic, spunky and youthful; and Milla’s…wary, more unsure of herself than anyone else in the band of would-be champions. There’s a reason that MIlla wants to become a boxer, and a reason she’s so out of her element—she’s a polar bear traveling and living in what is essentially the American south, a mite warmer than a locale she is used to. All of that will open up and get explored in our second arc, sure, but as I started adding her story to the original I realized that her relationships with the others—Mammoth and, more specifically, Nik—gave me an entirely new view as to what she could not only offer the trajectory of the story, but also the growth of the character with whom she would study, fight and travel. I’m intrigued by how much more I’ll learn about Milla as we head further down Mammoth’s path. For now, though, I’m pretty excited by the notes I’ve taken along the way

Anything we neglected to discuss?

Kings and Canvas is a monthly, ongoing digital comic by myself Jake Allen and Frank Reynoso, published by Monkeybrain Comics and released via Comixology. It explores the lengths a man will go to find purpose after liberty and career have passed him by. Punching his way out of prison, Mammoth journeys across a changed frontier in which honor is gained not by using weapons but rather fists and wits, to dethrone an unjust monarch and win back both title and family stolen from him years before. “Game of Thrones meets Rocky Balboa,” but with sea dwarves, rhinoceros-mounted kings, boxing polar bears and a healthy dose of revenge, Kings and Canvas journeys across the frontier of a changed America in which honor is gained not by using guns or swords. but rather fist, wits and the courage to change.

The comics can be purchased here (issues #0-2 are currently for sale. Issue #3 comes out on January 13th, 2016):
http://www.comixology.com/Kings-and-Canvas/comics-series/54355

We’re on Tumblr and Twitter:
http://kingsandcanvas.tumblr.com/
https://twitter.com/kingsandcanvas

RIP Luis Bermejo Rojo

According to Down the Tubes website:

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“We’re sorry to report the passing of Spanish comic artist and editor Luis Bermejo Rojo (frequently credited as Luis Bermejo or, simply, Bermejo), best known in the US for his work on titles such as Creepyfor Warren Publishing. His work for British comics included strips such as “Heros the Spartan” for Eagle (taking over from Frank Bellamy), and “The Missing Link”, which became “Johnny Future” for Fantastic in the 1960s – but who also drew for titles as diverse as Boys’ WorldGirl’s Crystal, Tina, Tarzan Weekly and the private eye stories “John Steel” for Thriller Picture Library.

He was also notable for his war stories for Fleetway’s Battle and War Picture Libraries, and strips such as “Phantom Force Five” for Buster.”

Down the Tubes has far more info.

Smash Pages Q&A: Peter Milligan on ‘The New Romancer’

Last week saw the release of the first issue for Peter Milligan’s latest Vertigo project, The New Romancer. Fired from a cushy job in Silicon Valley, Lexy becomes a coder for New Romancer, an Internet-dating app that’s seen better days. To create fake profiles, she plunders characteristics from history’s most notorious lovers. Using little-known writings by Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer, Lexy pushes the boundaries of coding and accidentally unleashes history’s greatest lover: Lord Byron. Online dating meets courtly love in this paranormal rom-com by Vertigo veteran writer Peter Milligan and rising art-star Brett Parson. Milligan made some time for a Q&A.

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Tim O’Shea: The use of Ada Lovelace seems like such an inspired choice how did you arrive at that character in particular?

Peter Millgan: I’ve always been fascinated by Ada Lovelace: the fact that father (Byron) and daughter (Ada) were so stellar in their fields. On the face of it their disciplines – poetry and mathematics/computer programming – seem poles apart but maybe there is a kind of unexpected connection: Byron used a number of poetic forms, often Spenserian stanzas of 8 lines in iambic pentameter, and one iambic hexameter. In other words numbers and patterns were at the centre of his work. And Ada Lovelace‘s programming breakthroughs surely required a kind of remarkable creative genius. So perhaps, though ostensibly very different, this father and daughter did share some important traits. I was also fascinated by the fact they Byron and Ada never met as adults. That distance – and the longing it occasionally caused in Byron – seemed a telling metaphor for Lexy’s own longing for Byron, who was separated by the greater – or so you would think – distance of time itself. Byron was proud of Ada but never – for a whole series of reasons – conspired to meet her. In NEW ROMANCER we put that right and poet and computer genius, father and daughter DO meet.

Did you ever consider anyone other than Lord Byron for this story?

Byron was always at the heart of this story. A few years back I was working up an idea called BYRON IS DEAD. That never progressed beyond some first pages and ideas but I’ve always been intrigued by him and his story potential. NEW ROMANCER was born out of the memory of that earlier unfinished germ of an idea and several e-meetings with editor Shelly Bond. Of course, the moment I saw Brett Parson’s drawings of Byron I knew our hero could never have been anyone but that complex compelling romantic poet.

How important was it creatively for you that this be a 12 issue maxi series?

It’s a six part series to begin with. I like this. I think some fine Vertigo series and ideas have first expressed themselves in this length. It gives you the room to establish a new and possible outlandish idea and see if it works in the real world.

What makes Lexy such an enriching character to tackle?

She is both an enriching and a difficult character to tackle: I’m neither 23, female, American nor a loveable computer nerd. But that’s what made her so interesting for me. She is also at once an incredibly modern young woman, working on programs for a computer dating site, but also something of an outsidera throwback almost, being such a romantic and obsessing about long dead poets. She had a strange upbringing – which we find out about in the story – which goes a long way to explaining why she is the way she is.

How much did you research Silicon Valley for the story?

Enough so I felt fairly comfortable. I read, and I watched some documentaries and spoke to someone who uses the same hairdresser as I do – Jimmy Memphis! – who has worked there. Luckily I’d already immersed myself in quite a bit of Byron before I started writing this. But I had to ask around about the whole internet dating, Tinder thing. Ashley Madison has been quite in the news and that’s been a useful insight. This is a new world and it’s probably the future.

What elements of Brett Parson’s art has you most enthusiastic.

So much of it. First, his art has that almost indefinable thing: charm. A lot of people who go for charm just get saccharine and self-consciously cute, which I hate. Brett is way beyond that. He can really get across a sense of character and humour, but he can also pull off those moments when the story veers towards the more twisted or dark. You get the idea: I think he’s great.

Chris Schweizer’s Paper Nativity Informational Notes: Part 3

Over the next month, Chris Schweizer will be offering thoughts on the Nativity set model (a large papercraft crèche) mentioned last week 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 10: Balthazar

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In yesterday’s write-ups I discussed why we default to three as the number for the magi; today I’ll touch on why we give them kingly status.

Early Christian writers (including some of those who penned the New Testament) made a concerted effort to tie Christ with scripture of the past, and the magi-as-kings interpretation is a post-Biblical example of this continued theological tradition. Though Psalm 72 (including the verse pertinent to this write-up, “May all kings bow down to him, may all nations serve him”) is clearly a literal blessing/prayer from David to his son Solomon, it becomes viewed around the 600s as a prophecy about Christ, a complete departure from its original intent, but one that quickly cements itself in the Church. The problem is that, as prophecy, it leaves some holes, especially a notable lack of kings bowing before Christ. For some, EVENTUAL bowing hundreds of years later by kings and emperors was enough, but some thought it ought to reflect events during his lifetime. Thus, we see the magi transformed into kings in order to account for this theological addition.

So this creates some obstacles: the kings are probably not from the same country, or else they would not be true kings. So the all-Persian/all-Babylonian grouping disappears, and we begin to see the varied ethnicity that has become such a staple of nativity depictions.

In the 700s, global sociology, at least for Christians, was viewed through a Noahic lens, with the assumption that all of the world’s population descended from the three sons of Noah: Japeth populating Europe, Shem populating Asia, and Ham populating Africa (this latter notion would be used to justify slavery in the United States, citing that Noah’s curse on Ham’s son extended to all his offspring, and that this curse is slavery).

With the world thus divided, the kings best serve prophetic purpose by operating as a stand-in for their continents as a whole. So we see each given a fixed position and clear ethnicity, elements which exist to some degree or another to this day. And while two of the kings, Melchior and Caspar, are all over the place, race-wise, Balthazar has been consistently depicted as Sub-Saharan African for the last six hundred years (a likely result of the increased presence of black people in Europe), though his blackness finds its way into writing and art as far back as the 1100s.

Balthazar, whose name, along with those of the other two kings, comes from an early 4th century Greek source, serves a symbolic function beyond the geographic. Like the other kings, he takes on the responsibility of being a stand-in for a third of mankind, and as such represents the first stage of life. Balthazar is young, about twenty, the avatar of youth. And though I’ve never read commentary saying so, I’d like to think that this gives added bravado to the gift of myrrh (each of the named gifts is associated with a specific king, traditionally, and myrrh is linked with with Balthazar). Myrrh is an embalming fluid, and I’d like to think that it’s a statement on the cavalarity with which the young regard mortality.

Balthazar is sometimes depicted riding an elephant, but I don’t like that approach. It doesn’t make much sense for someone from Nubia/the Sudan (my take) to be riding an Indian elephant, and there’s little precedent for domesticated African elephants. The latter also gives a kind of Africa-as-fantasy vibe that I think has bad social repercussions. I gave him a dromedary, which would have been abundant in Nubia. And the color palette? Yanked from Franco Zefferelli’s Jesus of Nazareth miniseries, in which Balthazar is played by James Earl Jones. I’ve always been a big fan of Zefferelli’s color choices (both in film and his art direction for opera) and thought this would be a good place to give a nod to his influence.

Advent Calendar Day 11: Melchior

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Following up on the writing from yesterday, Melchior is the king whose presence is representative of Asia. A king of Arabia (though in earlier traditions he continued to be associated with Persia even after his co-kings had scattered to India and Babylonia), he serves to showcase the second stage of life, middle-age, and is usually being depicted as being in his forties. As Arabia is so often associated with equestrianism, he’s often depicted atop a horse, as I’ve done here.
Melchior is paired up with the gift of frankincense, generally interpreted as a nod to Christ’s divinity, as the incense would’ve been used in religious ceremony.Though the kings are depicted in nativity art (like here), it’s generally accepted that they wouldn’t have been there. The most popular school of thought is that there was likely a one-and-a-half to two-year span between the birth and the Epiphany, the day in which the Church celebrated the arrival of the magi and thus the revelation of Christ to the gentiles (celebrated on January 6th, from whence we get the twelve days of Christmas, the lead up to the second holiday), which accounts for both travel time needed between when the star appeared to mark Christ’s birth, spurring the magi’s quest, and the order by Herod to kill males under the age of two to eliminate this prophesied rival. Even December 25th proponents who argue for same-season visitation allow for twelve days. Since Jesus was circumcised at the temple in Jerusalem eight days after being born, the likely scenario is either that the family stayed in Jerusalem (only a few miles from Bethlehem) to await their turn in participating in the census, or, having already done so in Bethlehem, returned to Nazareth.

Advent Calendar Day 12: Caspar

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Sometimes called “Gaspar,” this is the European king, coming from Turkey (then Tarsus). He’s almost universally depicted as elderly, serving to exemplify the final stage of life. He gives the gift of gold, which is likely where the Tarsus association stems; Tarsus was the big merchant hub, gold its dearest offering.

He’s usually the first of the kings to kneel before the baby Jesus, an action which carries with it a lot of significance (and ties them to Psalm 72:11). Kings, unless ceding defeat of pledging fealty, wouldn’t have bowed, and in doing so Caspar both fulfills the prophetic interpretation of the Psalm and mirrors the kneeling of later Christian religious observance. Narratively, his venerable age (and station) give the other kings precedent to follow suit.

In many traditions, Caspar was Indian, hailing from the part that is now Afghanistan. There are more theories tying Caspar with historical figures than other kings, most of them to this region. Because of this, Caspar is, like Balthazar, sometimes depicted riding an elephant.

Since I depicted the other two in the more generally accepted Noahic tradition, I figured Caspar ought be in there as well, so that there’s thematic unity amongst the three designs. Thus the Turkish rather than Indian version, with the Bactrian camel a nod to the Central Asians that would later claim descent from the Magi, the most notable of whom was probably Kublai Khan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check Out The Wonder That Is Todd Klein’s Logo of the Day

In 1977 Todd Klein was hired by DC Comics, and hit the ground running designing logos immediately. To this day he is designing logos like a madman.

As Klein recently noted: “Logos continue to evolve, but the challenge remains the same: capture a potential buyer’s attention with a logo that is readable, bold, attractive and exciting. I hope to continue to find ways to make that work.”

Klein more recently found another way to entertain through Logos of the Day. Klein gave me permission to feature a few.

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Logo of the Day #1265: ARMOR WARS designed by John Workman for the first issue dated Aug. 2015. Image from John’s files, © Marvel

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Logo of the Day #1259: THE VIKING PRINCE designed by Ira Schnapp for THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #23 dated April-May 1959. Image from printed cover found online, © DC Comics.

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Logo of the Day #1262: X-CALIBRE designed by Todd Klein for the first issue dated March 1995. Photocopy of original logo from my files, image © Marvel

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Logo of the Day #1264: GREEN ARROW designed by Steven Cook for the first issue dated Nov. 2011. Image from printed cover found online © DC Comics.

Stephen Downer: Draws Every Member of the ‘90s JLA

According to Stephen Downer: “So over the last year, I started drawing every member of the ‘90s JLA. I’m a huge fan of Grant Morrison and Howard Porter’s version of the League, and I wanted a project. I’m gonna start posting one of these each day until I run out.”

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Here we go with Day 1: Electric Superman!

 

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90s JLA, Day 2! Wonder Woman. I really like the way Howard Porter drew Diana during his run. I tried to capture a bit of the feel of his version of the character. I think this is the first proper Wonder Woman I’ve drawn, actually.

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Batman! ‘90s JLA Day 3. This version of the Batman costume is one I love a lot. Dark blue-gray color scheme, with extra-pointy ears, shoulders and fingertips. Scary, but still more “superhero” than “gritty urban vigilante”.

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1990′s JLA, Day 4. Superman! Behold the glory of ‘90s Mullet Superman. So beautiful. *sheds tears

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’90s JLA, Day 5! The ‘90s versions of these iconic DC superheroes were my first exposure to them in many cases. Kyle Rayner was the first Green Lantern I knew, and I thought he was awesome.

December 19 Update

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Day 6: Wally West, The Flash. This guy is in my top three favorite superheroes list, right after Batman and Superman

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1990s JLA, Day 7: Green Arrow! Connor Hawke Green Arrow, specifically. One of those legacy superheroes that was genuinely cooler than the original. (This was when Oliver Queen had, what, one good story to his name?) Oliver Queen got much cooler, but I’ll always like this guy. And dig that Reid Loessbergian jawline!

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Day 8: Martian Manhunter. Not too much to say about this, except that Martian Manhunter is really awesome.

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Bearded, harpoon-hand pirate king Aquaman is my absolute favorite version of the character. He seems like an example of the ‘90s “extreme badass” cliche that actually turned out to be great.1990s JLA.

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Day 10!: It’s Zauriel! You know, that time a full-on angel started hanging out with the Justice League? I drew the pre-superhero-costume version to start with. I’ll have his full superhero version coming up down the line a bit.

Smash Pages Q&A: Hardman & Bechko on ‘Invisible Republic’

irThis interview, as always with Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Sara Bechko (this time about Invisible Republic) has several gems of insight. In this Hardman notes “I want to point out how lucky we are at this point in time that the comic book industry is a place where we can tell a long form story like Invisible Republic that’s aimed at adults. That’s no small thing.”

Tim O’Shea: First off, how early in the development of the story did you realize that was easiest to mark the passage of time by making Maia’s hair red?

Gabriel Hardman: I’m always looking for simple visual signifiers like that because the content of the story we’re trying to tell is fairly complex. At least it’s heavily serialized and there’s a lot for readers to keep up with. A character having red hair in the past, then gray hair 40 years later, is money in the bank for clarity.

What were the other biggest challenges when denoting the passage of time in this time-sensitive story?

Corinna Sara Bechko: The most apparent challenge is making certain that both time lines look distinct enough for the reader to immediately tell them apart. But there’s another side to this that visuals can’t help with at all. I’m referring to the internal logic of the story, and making certain that both timelines match up when they refer to the same event, or when one event informs another. That’s an aspect that we’ve been meticulous about crafting, even though it gets more complex the further we get into the narrative. I’ve read about authors who devote whole rooms of their house to drawing out timelines on the walls for complicated stories, but I never quite believed it. Well, I’m starting to think we should do the same!

Hardman: Agreed. The relatively simple part is distinguishing the time periods visually. Keeping the content straight is the massive undertaking.

How critical was Jordan Boyd’s coloring in terms of the success of the story?

Bechko: Jordan shoulders a tremendous burden in terms of the storytelling in this book since his colors are the most immediate way that readers can tell the two timelines apart. It was immensely important to us that we work with a colorist who understood this, and who really “got” the mood we were going for.

I cannot praise Dylan Todd’s overall design sense on this book enough. What kind of instructions did Gabriel and Corinna give Dylan?

Hardman: It was actually a very painless process. Dylan had designed the print collection for my solo book KINSKI so when he came onboard for IR, there was already a relationship there. I gave him some references for the kind of thing we were looking for in the design of the supplementary pages and logo and he nailed it with few revisions. I like it what creative work goes easily.

Which supporting characters have exceeded your initial expectations?

Bechko: Definitely Woronov, the female reporter in the present. She wasn’t going to have a large role at first, but she just insisted on it. And Henry’s role has become a lot more important as we’ve scripted the second arc. It’s always interesting when characters go places you don’t expect.

Hardman: Woronov is definitely a favorite character to write. And it will be fun to show that Henry isn’t just Maia’s henchman as we move forward.

With an iconic character like McBride how hard was it write him in a manner that gave him depth versus the caricature of merely a charismatic leader?

Bechko: It’s almost a cliché to say that everyone is the hero of their own story, but Arthur McBride definitely things of himself in that way. As long as we remember that, it’s not hard to make sure that he’s got some dimension to him.

Hardman: Also, we are strictly operating under the idea that characters are defined by their actions. If there are conflicts and contradictions in Arthur’s behavior, that’s how he keeps from becoming a cliché. But at that, Arthur isn’t the main character, Maia is. She’s the one we have to worry about the most.

What was the key to getting the right voice for Croger Babb?

Bechko: I think we’ve all met people like Croger. He means well, most of the time, but he’s a bit myopic about certain subjects. He’s kind of an amalgam of several people, and we try to keep in mind what an actual person in his position would care about and do. He’s not a super hero, he’s just a really stubborn guy with a bit of an overblown sense of his own importance.

Hardman: There is one specific person that Babb is based on but I’m not saying who.

Gabriel, I love your use of white space to let some of the panel layouts breath. Can you share your thoughts on that front.

Hardman: In part, the lack of panel boarders are one of the simple ways we define the pages set in the present. It gives the impression of more white on the page. But more broadly, I tend to use a lot of texture and detail so you need some negative space so the art doesn’t become busy and overwhelming.

Anything we should discuss that I neglected?

Bechko: I want to take a moment to point out the fauna and flora of Avalon. A lot of this will become important later, but so far it’s been a bit in the background. Even so, Gabriel is designing some really cool creatures. We’ll learn a lot more soon about Jo the “dog,” for instance.

Hardman: I want to point out how lucky we are at this point in time that the comic book industry is a place where we can tell a long form story like Invisible Republic that’s aimed at adults. That’s no small thing.

Thanks for giving us this chance to chat about our book, Tim!