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April 19 2004

Celebrity Meltdown. An examination of Joss Whedon in comparison to other comic book writers and some skepticism about celebrity comic book writers and deadlines.

Great article, and I haven't read a comic in years. I think Joss is going to do great with X-Men, considering he can actually dedicate some quality time to it now. He can be forgiven for taking three years to bring out Fray. For whatever mad reason he decided to write a comic book series while running three television ones. Poor man... but that's why we love him.
Good article but from what I can gather sales of comic books are no where near as big as they were 10 or 20 years ago. If a big name like Joss can drag new punters into a comic book shop and get them into the habit of buying other comic books then fair play to Marvel for getting celeb names to write for them.

Plus Joss has the first 6 months worth written for the new X-Men title (if I remember correctly). I notice the writer isn't having a go at Millar or Ellis for the tardiness in writing for Ultimates or Planetary.
"The problem is that the worlds of film and television are growing ever closer to that of the comic book industry, to the point where the unique identity of the medium is in danger of becoming submerged."

Trust me, for comic books, that's not a bad thing. A lot of comic books are considered to be less artistic and containing less literary value than Penthouse.

Although I am annoyed by all the comic book movies that are being made. I prefer to see original material.
First of all, the author is MILES off course when talking about Kevin Smith's movies. He's right about Smith's comics writing (notoriously late), but his films? Better.

Flip that for J Michael Straczynski, who's films/TV I never really got into, but who's comics writing has always been superb (and timely).

But the biggest problem here, with regards to the Joss mention, is his comment on 'Fray' taking three years to ship eight issues. True enough, and indeed the first three issues ran late because a) Joss was stretching himself way to thin with too many projects, and b) he was a notorious perfectionist who only release a few pages of a script at a time while he "tweaked" the rest of them, often rewriting the script bits he had already "approved" and forcing the art team to play catch-up.

However, speaking of the art team, the penciller, Karl Moline, was the REAL reason this series was so late. Karl did not take this project seriously and spent nearly the whole time working on side projects or sprucing up his portfolio and seeking other work. His art was phenomenal but he never got the pencilled pages to the inker Andy Owens until the last possible minute... and by the last few issues he didn't get them out till WAAAAAY past the "last possible minute".

So Joss shouldn't bear the sole blame for that series' scheduling problems.

ETA: Invisible Green, it's a shame that comic books are consistently thought of as a "genre" and not a medium. Over generalizing and saying that "comic books" are less artistic than something else is just as bad as saying films (i.e. ALL films) are less artistic than something else. Comics are a medium, and anything can be told within that medium (and HAS been), both good and bad. Just because Joss is being driven out of television and the damned reality shows are taking over doesn't mean that ALL television is bad. Television is a medium, and it would be unfair (and inaccurate) to claim that the medium is flawed or inferior simply because at the moment it's not being used to it's full potential.

Do a Google search on "Blankets" by Craig Thompson, or "Sandman" by Neil Gaiman to see just two examples of the comics medium being used to it's best effect.

[ edited by Haunt on 2004-04-19 17:38 ]
that eight issue mini-series took three years to complete; can Whedon guarantee better regularity and commitment with X-MEN?

Guess, this guy isn't an Adrian Tomine reader--two years for ONE issue. Good article though. I think it was a good point about celebrity writers taking jobs away from people who do it for a living. The fault really lies with the publishers though.

And Haunt, that's very interesting about Moline. I didn't know that. Must have driven Joss nuts!
As someone who is involved in the comic retail business i can back Simon up in that advance sales are not what they were ten years ago. Stupid as it may sound though, that isn't a bad thing.

Back then i was just a collector myself and at the time there was a massive surge in speculative collectors, people who would buy multiple copies of a given comic in the hope that they would make money in reselling them later on. Of course after a while this proved to nearly be the downfall of the comic retail industry as every collector already owned multiple copies of the important issues, therefore who was left to buy them as back issues?

These days that kind of mass buying collecting is, thankfully, a thing of the past which gives the impression that comic sales are down. In fact the market is probably more stable now then it has been in a long time ironically, at least as far as the retailer is concerned, as we balance out lessening advance sales with a higher amount of back issue sales.

As for this article, i have to disagree for the most part. I think that the melding of these markets (movies, television and comics) is a good thing for all concerned. It certainly hasn't done any harm so far to sales anyway and as for quality, that is in the eye of the beholder surely? And regularity? There are many creators exclusive to the comic book world that are as bad at keeping to deadlines as either Kevin Smith or Joss ever was.

Invisible Green, i think you are reading the wrong comic books, there is a hell of a lot of quality out there at the moment.
Interesting bit about Karl Moline there Haunt, didn't know that. And yes, the article, while making some valid points, makes the mistake of mistaking the writer's taste in things as gospel fact.

I like Smith's movies generally (haven't seen them all) and I think to simply dismiss him like this is not fair. Although I do agree his comic writing was below par. That Daredevil story really irked me. He tosses in Pascal's wager, possibly one of the worst reasons/reasonings to become religious in history and even tries to present it as something new. Then he ends the whole story with the revelation that it was all mysterio, who wanted to get at Spiderman, but he wasn't around so he just picked DD instead. Huh?

Sorry, not impressed. Never read Green Arrow, but at least the Spiderman/Black Cat story started out more coherent and promising. But then, as pointed out....never finished. Thanks Kev.

I think Straczynski has been a lot better. And I never really noticed his 'verbosity' overkill as this article claims. Claremont can be wordy, yes but Straczynski can use quiet panels to very good effect. I agree too much in his Spiderman stories has been mystical opponents. If Dr Strange didn't pop up regularly, he'd probably have nothing to do in the marvel universe. Spidey gets all the sorcerers and dark gods these days.
However I enjoy the 'totemistic' ideas that Ezekiel has been spouting. It's an original take on the Spiderman mythos that, while new, doesn't 'retcon' the original history. And JMS is like Joss in the sense that he can keep the stories grounded in very human, very real characters. And good humor.

As for the whole notion of celeb writers not being a good thing, like the movie connections...well like others pointed out, it's nice to have these concerns for the medium, but such integrity doesn't pay the bills, and comics as a medium are simply doing badly. Marvel, DC and the other companies are doing what they can to survive, to get people to notice the comics, whatever it takes. And who can blame them? And Marvel might be less 'ruthless' in it's pursuit of licensing properties, but then Marvel isn't owned by a huge, sage corporation like Warner is it?

As for Joss' abillity to keep deadlines, we'll see. I suspect he probably worked ahead and has a lot finished already. I also think Joss needed less of a 'school' in writing for the comic medium. He's an old school comic fan and those influences, even in narrative, were always quite evident in his TV work if you ask me. And Fray was as professionally written a comic as I've seen. I'm looking forward to his X-run. Especially, since I'd grown a bit tired of Morrisson's run. I like things to be grounded in the emotions of the character and GM is all about mind blowing plots and abstract ideas. I thinkk it will be nice to see Joss bring it back to the characters.
An interesting article that sort of punctuates the difference between comics as a medium vs. comics as a genre. (Also a great point about why comics in general SEEM to be struggling so hard for success).
Seems like a major oversight on the author's part to neglect to mention Fray, as if Joss is a total newbie to the medium. Whether or not he can handle the X-Men remains to be seen, but if he fails it won't be for a lack of understanding of the difference between screenwriting and comic book writing.
The author wrote this about Fray:

I'm not saying that celebrity writers shouldn't be writing for comic books at all, but nor should they be given carte blanche to play with big league characters when they haven't earned the right to do so. Joss Whedon started out smart with his FRAY mini-series, chronicling the adventures of another vampire slayer in a dystopian future. This was an exercise in learning the ropes of sequential storytelling while using familiar material.

Of course, I would say that he "learn(ed) the ropes of sequential storytelling" long before that but perhaps the author doesn't watch television.

I'm not sayig comic books suck or anything, I'm just saying they have a bad reputation.

I am a big fan of Terry Moore's Strangers in Paradise, which I think has done more with comics than Joss Whedon's done with TV. It's simply an amazing series.

I also very much respect the works of Frank Cho (Liberty Meadows), Eric Powell (The Goon), Kyle Baker (Why I Hate Saturn), and Warren Ellis (Mek, Red, Global Frequency, Tokyo Storm Warning, etc.)

But the reputation that comics have is that of spandex-wearing people with superpowers saying cheesy dialogue, and while that is a popular genre, there is a lot of excellent work that is not recognized by the mainstream.
The sad thing is that there is plenty bad comics out there. However there are also horrible novels out there. Horrible movies and horrible TV. About 80% of everything is crap. But somehow, as MEDIA those categories never get a bad rep. People accept there is good and bad stuff out there. But with comics, people have decided they must all be like the worst examples of it.

I still blame the Adam West TV show for that to a large extent. It was so campy and cheesy it was pretty much a parody, but it got sucked into the collective consciousness that is how all comics must be.

And while dressed up superpeople seem silly as a concept, well, so does a cheerleading vampire fighter, or a computer nerd turned digital savior or, when you think about it, a bunch of hairy feeted dwarves saving the world with a wizard and an elf among others. Concept is nothing. What matters is what's done with it. And it's all just fulfilling the same function our mythologies about Hercules or the Argonauts used to do anyway.

But comics just got the short end of the stick when it comes to reputation.

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