Sunday, July 30, 2006

Zero interest

Why can't all good things in life come without downsides?

It's like girlfriends without the five year plan

It's like bras without the fumbling

It's like stag parties without the wedding

It's like blind dates without the psychos.

With this kind of attitude you almost expect to see the slogan "Coke Zero: We don't want to sell it to girls".

Apparently Coca Cola were concerned that low calorie drinks were primarily favoured by women, so with the launch of their new product Coke Zero in the UK they have done everything possible to ensure that any woman who has actually seen an advert for the stuff won't touch it with a ten foot pole.

Cathryn Sleight, marketing director for Coca-Cola GB, said: “We're launching Coca-Cola Zero to offer people as much choice as possible. The new brand joins the Coca-Cola family, alongside original Coca-Cola and diet Coke.

“With our creative and media strategy, we're confident that we've created a campaign that's not only entertaining and engaging for a young male audience, but one that will excite them and ensure that they can't miss the fact that Coca-Cola Zero has arrived.”

She did not explain why engaging a young male audience relied on alienating the entire female audience, but I'm sure it's some clever marketing strategy.

The advert containing the "psycho" reference has now been removed from adverts in Scotland after complaints from Scottish mental health campaigners, according to The Scotsman. Unfortunately it seems nobody has complained about the entire campaign being misogynist. But I suspect most people who are as irritated as I am by the whole attitude of the campaign will vote with their wallets.

You can see the main TV advert here.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Dooooooom!! Dooooooom!!

I know I can do cynical as well as anyone, and there are specific creators who do set the cynicism pumping through my veins at the mere prospect of them approaching any of the characters I like. Someone asked me yesterday if I was going to read The Ultimates when Jeph Loeb takes over and my initial response was surprise - why would I pick up a comic I hardly read in order to see what a writer I don't like does to it? But then I had a moment of Schadenfreude and thought "yes, I'll be interested to see just how appalling it is, and then I can gloat at the wailing and teeth-gnashing coming from Marvel fandom.

I do not believe that Marvel hired him for his writing skill. I think they hired him because his name on a comic sells a lot of copies. Presumably they were aware of his work at DC and knew he was likely to screw around with continuity and established characterisation, but that was less important than the dollars. They deserve to be taunted for it.

But I do try to keep my cynicism down to those that deserve it. You can't help second guessing upcoming events that have been trailed, but unless I have good reason to fear the worst (like it's written by Jeph Loeb or Frank Miller*) I try to wait until the comic arrives before passing an opinion stronger than "I'm looking forward to it" or "I'm not looking forward to it". The only times I've addressed Batwoman was to comment on the behaviour of the media to the announcement, and I haven't said anything about the news that Jodi Picoult will be writing Wonder Woman because I haven't read any of her previous work and have no idea what kind of job she will do. It's good in theory that a woman should write the title, but what that will mean in practice I have no idea. So I'll just wait and see.

One of the things that got people a bit exercised recently was Joe Kelly saying that the only reason he agreed to write Supergirl was that everyone else turned it down. This has led to a lot of speculation that the horrible mishandling of the big relaunch of the Girl of Steel has turned her from Hot Property into Unwanted in a very short space of time.

I see shadowy figures walking the streets of the internets yelling "Doooooooom!! Dooooom!!" but in fact it's another case of Brainiac's enlargement ray and a hill of moles. I first got suspicious when I saw a post from Gail Simone saying she would have been interested but she hadn't been offered the title. Now I know I'm biased, but if I was DC editor in charge of matters Supergirl, Gail would be high on my shortlist of writers to approach.

So then I looked up the source. The quote is from an interview last month at Wizard. What it actually says is:

With Rucka departing after one issue, Kelly claims he got the gig because of his helpful nature.

"Everybody else said no," Kelly joked.

The "Kelly joked" bit seems to be forgotten. At the very least it suggests that he is exaggerating when he says "everybody". In fact it could just mean that the first couple of choices for writer turned down the gig because they are everyone's first choices to write their comic and they already had a full schedule. The impression given by the interview is that they were in a bit of a rush because Greg Rucka was leaving earlier than expected (for unspecified reasons) and they needed someone at short notice to keep it on schedule. Hence Kelly helping out. There is no suggestion that the comic is any less popular, it was just a joke that got taken way too seriously.

*My response to hearing that Miller will be working on the upcoming Spirit movie was "If he turns Sand Serif into a ninja I will not be responsible for my actions."

Friday, July 14, 2006

I have seen the Light

I just saw the cover to the new JLA issue #1.

Let's look at that a little closer, shall we?


Thursday, July 13, 2006

Molly sez, Mari respondz

This week's Marvel comics (well the one I read, anyway) contain an editorial from someone called Molly. I have no idea of who Molly is or what position she holds at Marvel, but I was so gobsmacked by her words that I'd like to reproduce them here in full. Responses mine.


My roommate, who is a teacher, told me that one of her students had asked her if Captain America was real. The girl’s brother had told her that he was pretend, but she badly wanted him to exist When I heard this story, the thing I was most surprised about was that a ten year old girl knew about a comic book character who hasn’t appeared on the big screen. But the times, they are a’ changing.

At Wizard World Philadelphia this past weekend, another friend of mine remarked that she’s been seeing more women at the convention each year. It’s no longer a surprising thing to see fangirls pawing through the stacks of half-priced trade paperbacks with the fanboys. I’ve been a comics fan since I was five years old. Growing up, I didn’t meet any girls who shared my interest. But now the female comics fans seem to be coming out of the woodwork. Groups like Friends of Lulu have formed to unite women who read and work In comics. Many stores have ‘girl friendly” titles on display,

what, like Strangers in Paradise, you mean?

but the employees are just as willing to show female customers traditional super hero books if that’s what they’re looking for. And it’s not just the number of female fans that is growing. The women inside the pages are getting a better rap as well.

Are you sure you didn't miss an "e" there? (okay, that was a cheap shot, but I just saw the latest issue of Walking Dead.)

Today, female comic book characters aren’t just the ‘women in refrigerators” of times past. Girls can admire Ms. Marvel’s strength, Kate Bishop’s bravery, She-Hulk’s Intelligence, and Spider-Girl’s determination.

Because at least one of those listed hasn't been sexually assaulted.

Yes, many of these characters still have gravity-defying proportions that would cause them serious back problems in real life. But we’re taking steps towards getting to a point where female super heroes get as much respect as their male counterparts.

what steps would those be, then? Your boss certainly doesn't seem to consider having any female creators to be one.

We’ve still got a ways to go before the general public sees comics as a medium designed for everyone—men and women, adults and children alike.

Kind of like how it was before the industry totally focused on superhero comics, you mean?

But with every new reader who picks up a comic book and likes what they see Inside, we’re getting closer.

You are? In what way?

So, yes, little girl, Cap can be real, If you want him to be.

But finding a female superhero role model might be a little trickier.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


While spell checking the last post, I find that Blogger's spell checker does not recognise the word "blog".

Fake out at Byrne Robotics

I was just reading some stuff on John Byrne's message board and I reached a post where he explains why he doesn't allow nicknames - he calls them "fake names" - on his board, and gives his opinion of people who "hide behind them".

I can see his reasoning, but it is simplistic to the level of uselessness to take the attitude that all pseudonyms are bad*, or that message board trollers can be defeated if you deny them the use of nicknames (unless you have some way of verifying the "real" names as being true, which they don't). That will only stop the ones who are stupid enough to buy into the "solution".

Now I have been writing about comics under the name of Marionette for several years, and even this blog is getting close to its first anniversary. I post and comment on a lot of message boards and blogs with this name, and wherever possible link back here. I recently broke one thousand hits in a single day, so I like to think that I have a certain reputation in this little online world of ours. But if I want to express an opinion on John Byrne's board I cannot post with this name by which I am well known because it is an "obvious nickname"**. So I have to post under a name which nobody recognises and which will not be traced back to me. It's not my real name either, but it doesn't look like a nickname, so I pass the registration. Thus I am prevented from using the identity by which everyone knows me and must use a fake name*** to pass the measures in place to prevent people using fake names.

See, that's irony.

*Pen names have been a tradition for writers since the invention of the pen. Magazines are full of "house names". Film stars never seem to keep the names they were born with, and I believe I'm right in thinking that even Stan Lee could technically be refused entry to this board.

**Bear in mind that the only criteria apparently in use is "does it look like a real name or not?" So if your actual name is something unusual like Moon Unit or Rainbow you will be judged fake and your only option, if you still care enough to continue, will be to register as Jimmy Smith or something.

***Actually I've registered several different names from different email addresses at Byrne Robotics. Not because I particularly want to comment there, I just see it as a symbolic act of giving them the finger.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Listen to the wind

Sometime last year one of the writers at DC (can anyone remind me who it was, and point me at the original quote?) suggested that they were going to use the big gear shift of Infinite Crisis to lighten up their comics a bit and move away from the grim & gritty approach that passes for "realistic" in the comics world.

This was later refuted, but somehow the idea took root in the Great Fan Unconsciousness and is still being sited as official DC policy even now. I don't think I've seen any comments from anyone who thought it was a bad idea. In fact the only negative response has been from people who thought this was happening and are now unhappy when they see no sign of it.

This isn't a pressure group demanding a change they would like to see, it's just everybody seeing an idea that seems so obvious and right that they just assumed it was happening. And now they are sad and disappointed.

We don't want a return to silver age silliness (well, we do, but that craving is satisfied by Showcase Presents), what we want is a definition of realism that encompasses the lighter side of real life as well as the darker.

And meanwhile DC is acting like the shopkeeper whose response to a request for an item they don't stock is to say "You must be the fifth person today I've told that we don't get any call for that." DC, you need to shut up for a moment and listen to the wind. It's blowing in a different direction.

Judd Winick is not a misogynist

He just likes taking women's power away and then dropping them from a great height.

In defense of Joey Q

In a recent post I invited readers to respond to Joe Quesada's peculiar comment about why there were no women creators on any of Marvel's major titles by posting to a thread at Newsarama. The support was a bit pathetic, and only two people followed it up.

So I doubt it will get any further, but interestingly I did get a response in the thread.
It's interesting because this is quite specifically not a discussion thread so it is out of order for someone to comment on another person's post. And it almost guarantees that the response will go unopposed, because the original poster would also have to break the rules to respond, and then the whole thing starts to get messy.

It's just as well I have a forum all of my own, isn't it?

Originally Posted by Marionette
from this week's Joe Friday:

So there are no female creators at Marvel because Marvel doesn't have any female creators working for them? That's not exactly my idea of an answer. Perhaps I can rephrase the question; why are there no female writers working on any major Marvel titles? And "because there aren't any" is not an acceptable answer.

It also begs the question of who is ultimately responsible for there not being any female writers working on any major Marvel titles (are there any women writers on Marvel titles at all right now?). Would that perhaps be you, Joe? Could it be that the actual answer to "why are there no female writers working on any major Marvel titles" would be "because I didn't hire any"?

Many, many people would be interested to know.

Beta Ray responds:

Breaking format here sorry... Just wondering, what answer would possibly satisfy you?

Would Joe saying "We asked them but they all did not want to join" be good enough? It's not like there are no females working at Marvel...

What answer would satisfy me?

The head of Marvel saying "You know, maybe there is a bit of an imbalance here, and since our industry is dying for lack of an audience it might be worth trying something totally off the wall and radical just this once and hiring a representative from the other half of the population to do something creative."

If Joe said "We asked them but they all did not want to join" I would like to know what was so different in the terms of employment he offers women from the ones he offers men, since he doesn't seem to have any problem hiring them.

It's not like there are no [minority group] working at [almost anywhere].

Fish, here is your barrel.

Aren't you just embarassed for even writing that?

But remember the circumstances of the original question was the Marvel "summit" where the big dogs plan the direction for their books in the months ahead. No women present = no women have any input into this important creative strategy session. It doesn't matter how many female editors they have, how many women in any positions in the company; they weren't there so they don't get a say. Joe's lame obfuscation is irrelevent and so is yours.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

colour blind

I just read something on another blog that kinda bugged me so I feel the need to stand up and make my position clear.

True story: When I was at college I had a friend called Parm. He was the coolest guy I knew. We hung out all the time and solved the world's problems in the way you do when you are 19. He had a lot of asian friends. After about six months it occured to me that he might be asian too.

That's how much the colour of anyone's skin means to me.

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Nutrasweet of the comic world

In an article I found at Blog@Newsarama (Blogarama?) that looks at Paul O'Brien's breakdown of recent Marvel sales figures, Paul is quoted as saying:

Between the Other, the new costume, the Civil War prologue, and Civil War itself, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #525 to #538 will all be boosted to some extent by crossovers and stunts. Arguably, when it goes on for that long, it's no longer an artificial boost but simply a sign that the book is running a string of particularly popular stories. Can you really talk about a fourteen-month artificial boost?

Can you really talk about a fourteen-month artificial boost?

Well aside from the pedantic observation that you are doing so right there, I think that any time a comic includes inorganic elements to bring in readers who would not be there otherwise then it's an artificial boost regardless of how long it is done for.

After all, Superman/Batman is filled to overflowing with guest stars every issue, but that doesn't stop it being a gimmick. Every time you guest a character you will get some buyers who are only there for that character. Doing this every issue inflates the sales figures but it just means that lots of different people are buying different individual issues. The effect of the artificial element only becomes apparent when you stop adding it and you get to see how many comics you can shift without that boost.

Similarly making event comics that tell a single story over several different titles is going to bring in readers who are only there for that story. Running event/crossover comics continuously doesn't stop them being a gimmick unless it is the premise for the title. On a basic level team books like Avengers or JLA are gimmicks, because they will always get readers who are only there because a character they like from another comic is on the team. It's more acceptable than the short lived event comics because the whole premise is based around these characters getting together regularly, rather than being thrown together only for a specific storyline, but if Batman leaves the team, the Batman fan may stop reading the title.

Obviously the theory is that the casual reader brought in because a character they like makes an appearance, or because they wanted to read the whole of Secret Civil Crisis Outside Wars of M Hour will be so taken by the title that they will continue reading it even once the reason for their initially buying it has departed. The problem with these artificial sweeteners is that they often interrupt the flow of the title's own story. The ongoing storylines and characterisations are interrupted and put on hold for several issues to make room for someone else's epic, which may bring in a few new readers, but can be annoying to the readers already there who are not happy to find their story continually being pre-empted and having to wait for the event to go away before they can get back to it. Not to mention that they find themselves paying for comics they have little interest in reading and that won't even make any sense unless they buy a whole bunch of other comics, many of which may not even feature their character.

It's all so introverted, too. It's hard enough for a casual reader to pick up a random comic on impulse and enjoy it, but expecting them to not only by other issues of the same comic to make sense of the story, but to buy a whole lot of different comics, is about as welcoming as writing "fuck off, loser" in large unfriendly letters on the cover. These comics are all about getting the existing dwindling audience to buy more comics when what is desperately needed is to find a way to increase the size of that audience.

Having a guest star or an event can be icing on the cake; a fun change of pace in the ongoing story. But even hyperactive ten year olds get sick of a diet composed entirely of sticky buns eventually. Not everyone wants to read every comic put out by a publisher, and stuffing every comic with characters and storylines from all the other comics puts them off buying the ones they do read. That's why I rarely read Marvel anymore. And why Infinite Crisis and all its spinnoffs pushed me almost to breaking point. They were saved at the last minute by the best gimmick of all: good writing.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Powerpuff Girls Z

What happens when the little cartoon that always wanted to grow up to be an anime grows up?

Rape of the month: June

This is an ugly little regular feature that I am instituting to highlight just how often sexual abuse appears in comics and to make it clear that it is neither clever nor original to address this issue. In fact so many comic writers have addressed it so often and so badly that it has become a ghastly cliche. It doesn't matter how thought provoking or moving your rape story may be, just don't. There are few enough unmolested women in comics as it is.

This month's featured comics are:
Squadron Supreme #4
The Walking Dead #28

Since Walking Dead ends with a cliffhanger of preparing a character to be raped to death I suspect the next issue may feature in a future instalment unless we get a last second save. Even should that occur, I think it's valid to include it here. Having several pages of preparation for serial rape still falls into the "Just don't do it" category as far as I'm concerned.

I really don't like doing this feature so please, writers, stop abusing our heroines, and I won't have to do this anymore.

I don't read many comics, so if you see an instance of sexual abuse in a new comic please add a comment to this post so it can be included in the next roundup. This is only for newly published comics, Ragnell and Kalinara are focussing on the wider view.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Marvel boss states the bloody obvious

In his regular weekly interview at Newsarama, Marvel head honcho and poor speller big Joey Q pulled up Stan's old soapbox at the Marvel Summit - It's not actually a summit, it's just an excuse for a bunch of guys to get away for a weekend to talk about comics and claim it on expenses.

Newsarama, that bastion of investigative journalism in the comics scene unexpectedly pinned the great Q with this question:

NRAMA: Noticeably absent (and for some time) is a female creator in that group. Big picture wise, why hasn't a women creator made it into the tight circle of Marvel creators?

JQ: Because currently there aren’t any female writers working on any of our major titles.

Having satisfied the eager reporter with the information that the reason there were no female creators at Marvel was because Marvel didn't have any female creators working for them, big Joe went on to inform him that water was wet and fire was hot.

Where's Jeremy Paxman when you need him?

[EDIT] I notice there is a link at the end of the column that points to a forum where you can ask a question to be put to Joe Q. I recommend anyone who is interested in getting a real answer go here and state the question politely in their own words. I'd like to see enough of us do it to force him to address the question seriously.