31 January 2011

“Iconic stuff little boys think are awesome”

The webcomic Axe Cop continues to work on two levels: as an over-the-top superhero adventure not unlike the stories of the early 1990s, and as a peek into the psyche of its six-year-old coauthor. Newsarama just ran an interview with brothers Ethan and Malachai Nicolle about their upcoming Axe Cop miniseries:

Ethan: Well, without giving away too much... Bad Guy Earth is the story of two evil Psychic Brothers who create a bad guy machine and want to turn the entire earth into Bad Guy Earth. They have a gun that shoots portals to other times, dimensions and planets too, so they are able to basically make anything they want into a bad guy, including the US military.

Axe Cop is earth's only hope and it is the toughest fight he has ever fought. This is the first story where Malachai has written bad guys from the perspective of a bad guy, so the Bad Guys are about as indestructible as Axe Cop is.

Nrama: Could you tell us about some of the new characters/creatures we'll meet in Bad Guy Earth?

Ethan: There are so many... but most of it is iconic stuff little boys think are awesome. Wrestlers, lions, army men, ghosts, dinosaurs, time travel, trucks, aliens...it's all there. . . .

Nrama: Do you worry your brother will become corrupted by venturing into the psyches of the dark and twisted?

Ethan: Nah, if he delves into dangerous territory I will talk to him about the concepts just as any good big brother should. I won't let him just start gutting an imaginary nun without saying something about it.

He generally has to pretend the bad guys are under a curse and that is why they are doing evil things. He doesn't get why people would want to do evil, so he has to make up reasons. It ends up being a lot less about the reasons and more about whose team he is on. If he is on Team Good, he kills Team Bad and vice versa.
Much more about the brothers’ working methods in the interview. The student-film adaptation of Axe Cop mentioned in the interview seems to be this one. Malachai’s verdict: too much realistic blood.

30 January 2011

Is That Crazy or What?

I was planning to return to the saga of the third Robin when Colleen Coover posted this sketch on her blog. It shows the original Boy Wonder and Mary Marvel, World’s Mightiest Maid.

My favorite detail is the font for the caption, evoking New Yorker cartoons. It fits with the two characters, both created in the 1940s, and their retrospective styling. (Dick has grown up in DC’s current continuity, but Mary grew evil.)

The caption also shows how a one-panel cartoon works differently from the comics form that rests on multiple images. The first line evokes moments in time slightly before this instant, while the rest invite us to imagine what will follow.

Bill Walko’s Hero Business webcomic also addressed the Robin mythos this week. (Hat tip to Titans Tower.)

29 January 2011

Behind the Illusioniste

Last night I saw The Illusionist, Sylvain Chomet’s animated adaptation of an unproduced Jacques Tati screenplay. It’s visually gorgeous. I was blown away by how well the movie rendered Edinburgh, and even the train ride north to that city. (It turns out a lot of the movie was made in Edinburgh.)

But the rest of the movie didn’t work for me at all. In several sequences I felt Tati would have come up with funnier and longer visual gags on the set. Even worse, the story suffered from gaping holes in the characters’ motivations. I didn’t dislike this Illusionist as much as The New Yorker, which complained about “cloying sentimentality”; many movies have cloyed more. But this one has nothing but sentiment to drive it because the characters’ emotions and desires don’t add up.

The Illusionist shows a French stage magician going to London to find work, then to a village in northern Scotland. A teen-aged chambermaid attaches herself to him, and they travel together to the Scottish capital, where he finds work in a music hall. They share rooms in a theatrical rooming-house for a while—all in a strictly father-daughter way. [SPOILER DEAD AHEAD] At the end of the movie, she becomes interested in a handsome young lug, and the older man sadly slips back to France.

It’s never really clear why the magician, scraping for cash, decides to keep buying clothes for the girl. As for her, she’s obviously more interested in the glamor of Edinburgh than in mopping floors in her little village—perhaps too obviously. Some summaries I’ve read say that she believes he’s a real magician, but she keeps pointing out clothes in shop windows, so she knows darn well where they come from.

There are moments in the middle of the movie where it looks like the girl is making the denizens of the theatrical boarding-house into one big happy artificial family—one possible dénouement. But that falls apart, shown particularly in the fate of a ventriloquist. Then the young lug comes along, with no link to anything else, and everyone goes their separate ways, even the magician’s rabbit.

I kept feeling like the scenario was dancing around a relationship that would make the main characters’ actions make sense. I could think of two possibilities:

  • The magician has somehow lost a daughter of his own. Taking care of the poor chambermaid fills that hole in him, but, like other fathers, he eventually has to let her go.
  • The magician and the girl are actually a sexual couple, but when the magician realizes they’re just using each other, he moves on. That scenario would bring a frisson of illicit sex, but it’s a French movie, after all.
I came home to Google for some story-behind-the-story, and discovered what the movie was missing. And, yes, there was illicit sex involved.

Apparently Chomet received Tati’s script from the trust that controls his copyrights, having had some brief correspondence with the comedian’s daughter Sophie Tatischeff before she died. He interpreted the script as Tati’s expression of love for Sophie, and also felt it expressed his love for his own daughter. Believing that Tati planned to play the lead, Chomet patterned his protagonist after the comedian, and dedicated the movie to Sophie Tatischeff.

However, it turned out (and Chomet probably learned of this while he had already started making the film he envisioned) that Tati also had an older daughter. He got her mother pregnant during WW2, then paid her off and ignored the child as she grew up. That mother came from Prague; Tati set his script in Czechoslovakia. If the comedian wasn’t imagining reconnecting with his abandoned daughter as he wrote this script in the 1950s, he could only have been in very deep denial.

The Telegraph revealed that backstory, and the Guardian filled out details. (By coincidence, that daughter settled in the north of England, rather close to Edinburgh.) Roger Ebert published a lengthy letter from one of the oldest daughter’s sons in his Chicago Sun-Times blog. However, I don’t recall seeing anything about that history in the New York Times or other periodicals I read before seeing The Illusionist.

The grandson also described elements of the script that aren’t in the version I saw:
…the young girl attracts the attention of a handsome young man who exposes the conjurer's magic as fraudulent, nothing more than cheap tricks, illusions created to entertain an audience. Unable to hold onto her affections once his charade has been exposed the script concludes with the conjurer disappearing off into the sunset free of his deceit having as he always known he would lost the affections of the young girl to youth and the vibrancy of the city once she was able to see beyond his theatrics.
If the original screenplay contained a scene about the young lug exposing the magician’s tricks, that was dropped from this production. It would have tied the fellow into the plot, though also made him less sympathetic (and thus interfered with the story’s sentiment).

I suspect Tati stopped working on this film, near the peak of his career, because what he’d put into it wasn’t coming together, and what he’d left out were the secrets he couldn’t afford to dig up.

27 January 2011

Behind the Scenes at Walden

One of my biggest holiday presents last year, measured by weight, was the forty-year collection of Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury strips.

I grew up on that daily comic in the Boston Globe. I thumbed through the first anthology, The Doonesbury Chronicles, so often in high school that I could annoy my college roommate by reciting the punchline to a strip as soon as he read the first panel. But I didn’t keep up so closely after that.

I had completely forgotten, for example, Mike Doonesbury’s younger brother Sal, who peddled safer-sex products in the 1980s. And that Sal’s original name was Benjy, which explains Mike’s brother at Widow Doonesbury’s funeral this month.

The giant anthology contains loads of strips, but only about six pages of additional matter. I like reading behind-the-scenes stories, and they’re not in that book. But I found them in Doonesbury and the Art of G. B. Trudeau, compiled by Brian Walker and published by Yale University Press.

This volume discusses Trudeau’s down-to-the-wire working method and his collaborators, including long-time inker Don Carlton, designer and colorist George Corsillo, and others. Such teamwork is common in daily comics, but the Wall Street Journal tried to make political hay of the fact that Trudeau didn’t handle final inking in 1991. This book contains plenty of Trudeau’s pencil sketches and strip drawings to refute the notion that he doesn’t do the basic artistic work.

Still, the most visually striking item in the book is an 1841 portrait of James de Berty Trudeau by a son of Audubon. It shows an astonishing resemblance to his descendant as a young cartoonist and grad student.

Doonesbury and the Art of G. B. Trudeau left a few of my questions unanswered. Was it more than coincidence that Jim Andrews, late cofounder of the United Press Syndicate and Andrews and McMeel publishing company, shares a name and physical appearance with Jim Andrews, the strip’s plutocratic oil executive? Wikipedia says Trudeau named the character in honor of his editor, though I can’t tell whether that’s more than convincing supposition.

Is the author of this book, Brian Walker, a son of Beetle Bailey cartoonist Mort Walker? Yes, he is, and he’s also taken over his father’s Hi & Lois strip with his brother Greg. Mort Walker’s Backstage at the Strips is one of the best portrayals of how newspaper comic strips were created through the 1980s, and father and son ran the International Museum of Cartoon Art, a collection now at Ohio State University.

26 January 2011

Yet More Oz Comics to Collect

The latest installment of Bill Willingham’s comic serial Fables, issue #101, offers yet another approach to creating Oz comics from Eric Shanower.

Shanower started out writing and illustrating his own comics stories, published in Adventures in Oz. He adapted Walt Spouse’s 1930s newspaper strip into a more modern format, published by Hungry Tiger Press. He’s now scripting Marvel’s ongoing series of L. Frank Baum adaptations for Skottie Young to draw, an effort that’s already won the team two Eisner Awards.

In this magazine Shanower’s creating art from someone else’s Oz-related script. Bufkin, the bibulous Winged Monkey who works for the Fabletown government, gets some spotlight time. Other Oz characters have appeared in Fables, and Shanower has illustrated a previous page, but I think this is the first time those beams have crossed.

In addition, I see that Willingham’s version of Ozma plays a prominent role in the next five-issue arc.

25 January 2011

Worth the Waiting?

The good news was that the second collection of Linda Medley’s Castle Waiting was published last fall.

The bad news was that it breaks off in the middle of a storyline, and that Medley asked to have her name omitted from the exterior of the book, hinting at estrangement from the publisher or her own work. (The image at left is a preliminary cover design.) She has put the series on hold, so the wait for volume 3 might be even longer.

The possibly good news is that among Medley’s other projects is an adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s Oz stories, focusing on “underused characters.” In a January 2008 interview with du9 she explained:

I rewrote a bunch of Wizard of Oz stories, and I did kind of the same thing I did with Castle Waiting and fairy tales. There’s a lot of things in Baum’s story that are kind of open-ended, and during the three years that I was away from Castle Waiting, I thought: “okay, what if this and that new things happened?” So I actually laid out about nine volumes and started drawing. But I don’t know if I’m actually going to do them because I want to do them in color, and that’s really hard to get, as far as I’m concerned. Maybe I’ll do it on the web or something like that, I don’t know.
By “really hard to get, as far as I’m concerned,” Medley probably meant that her sales record didn’t justify the expense of printing many pages in color.

As of 2006, Comic Book Resources reported, Medley had created “300 odd pages of as yet unpublished ‘Oz’ material,” but put that aside to focus on Castle Waiting. I’ve found no announcement of publication plans.

Whatever work Medley is doing now, I hope that she’s enjoying it.

24 January 2011

P. L. Travers and the Paris Review

Back when The Paris Review put its entire stash of author interviews online, I skimmed the list for favorite children’s fantasy writers, and didn’t see any.

But I missed the conversation with P. L. Travers, whence this anecdote comes:

The other day two little boys accosted me in the street and said to me, “You are the lady who wrote Mary Poppins, aren’t you?”

And I admitted it, and said, “How do you know?” And they said, “Because we sing in the choir, and the vicar told us.”

So, clearly, they had thrown off their surplices and rushed after me to catch me. So I said, “Well, do you like her?” And they both nodded vigorously. I then said, “What is it you like about her?”

And one of them said, “Well, she’s so ordinary and then…” and having said “and then” he looked around for the proper word, and couldn’t find it.

And I said, “You don’t have to say any more. That ‘and then’ says everything.”

And the other little boy said, “Yes, and I’m going to marry her when I grow up.”

And I saw the first one clench his fists and look very belligerent. I felt there might be trouble and so I said, “Well, we’ll just have to see what she thinks about it, won’t we? And in the meantime, my house is just there—come in and have a lemonade.” So they did.
Further discussion covers whether Mary Poppins stories reflect the Mother Goddess or Zen parables.

23 January 2011

This Never Happened. Neither Did This.

This is one of the most commonly Photoshopped panels from Batman comics. Its combination of startling subject and blank background invites people to compose their own word balloons. Which, frankly, can’t be any less realistic than those paragraphs Batman and Robin appear to spew out in one violent instant.

DC Comics has now reprinted the story that contains this panel, so you can have a copy of the original for your very own. What’s more, the same volume will also bring you this popular panel. And as a bonus, for absolutely free, this panel of Bruce Wayne and Lois Lane water-skiing. The way they do. Actually, they don’t. These panels are all from DC’s Greatest Imaginary Stories: Vol. 2, Batman and Robin. So the events in those panels never happen in the DC Universe or any accepted variation on it (e.g., Earth-Two). They’re officially non-events. We don’t have to worry about them.

Just as we don’t have to worry about the old man next door whose green hair is turning white.

21 January 2011

Boston Comics Roundtable on the Fewcha

Today’s issue of the Boston Phoenix is devoted to the future of Boston. Among other features it includes a page of single-panel comics from the Boston Comics Roundtable. The print version shows nine in black and white, but the online gallery starting here includes sixteen in color, including a modest contribution from me.

The BCR’s introduction to the gallery explains:

We approached this future-Boston project as a sort of moderated "jam comic," an improvised group effort in which one cartoonist draws a panel, then passes it off to another who adds a panel of their own, and so on, usually resulting in a weird, amusing Frankenstein's-monster of a story. In this case, each cartoonist went off on their own and came up with a scene from the coming century, which we then fit together into a sequence.
It was fun to watch this project take shape on a very tight deadline. On the evening of 6 January, Phoenix editors met with everyone who had dropped by the BCR meeting. The group hammered out a basic approach. Dan Mazur was drafted to coordinate everything, Cathy Leamy provided a visual template, and Roho set up an email list.

That weekend a couple of writers broadcast a bunch of picture/caption ideas, and artists began posting their sketches to the email list. The delivery deadline was the 12th, giving time for selection, sequencing, final captioning, and coloring by Dan and Braden D. Lamb.

In thinking about panel ideas and watching the selection grow, two things occurred to me:
  • The urge to find a joke that works in a single panel for a broad audience meant steering away from some provocative aspects of futurism, such as demographic changes and politics, and toward some Boston stand-up stand-bys: parking, sports, Dunkies.
  • As we know, the comics form can be used to tell any type of story or discuss nearly any topic. The BCR itself has published anthologies on the history of Boston, on food, and on other down-to-earth subjects. Nevertheless, when cartoonists get the assignment to picture the future, quite a few grab the chance to draw giant robots fighting.
Of course, it’s not too late for Boston to prepare for giant robot fights.

19 January 2011

G-Man to Become a Middle Child

It’s no surprise that Chris Giarrusso based his G-Man and Great Man characters on his own childhood (a) superhero dreams and (b) relationship with his older brother. The interaction of those brothers is one of the details that grounds his G-Man comics in reality, and makes them delightful.

For Dave (Great Man), his little brother Mikey always needs to be told what to do, never has any good ideas, and says nothing worth listening to, even if occasionally what he says might keep the universe from falling apart. It makes perfect sense to Dave to build an aircraft with a comfy chair for himself and a milk crate for Mikey because he, after all, will be the pilot. (You don’t think Mikey would be pilot, do you? Ha!) On the other hand, if any other kids or creatures go after Mikey, Dave will be there in an instant to protect his little brother.

As for Mikey (G-Man), his doggedness is best summarized by Dan Savage in The Kid:

Younger brothers are less powerful than older brothers, so persistence and stamina are our survival/revenge strategies. Older siblings may hit harder, but younger brothers move faster, and we are relentless. . . . younger brothers everywhere [never] knew when to stop. We took jokes, wrestling matches, and “playful fights” past the point where they were fun...
Now? asks Mikey. Now? Now?

This interview with Giarrusso at Sketch Maven shows just how much his real older-brother-Dave shaped his career as a comics artist, in unmistakable older-brother way:
When I was in college, my brother Dave called me one day to inform me that I was going to be working for Marvel Comics. He explained that Marvel offered internships for college students, and that all I had to do was apply and then I'd get an internship and then get hired on staff shortly after. Realistically speaking, this was not a likely scenario, but he had this strange confidence that it would play out that way. And that ended up being exactly the way it happened.
And as for the video games on Giarrusso’s ChrisGComics.com website:
My brother Dave put those games together. He runs my whole website. One day he just calls me up and says, "I made a video game for you." And then he kept making more.
However, there will soon be a new variable in the comics’ fraternal equation. Mikey is going to have someone to lord over, too:
The next volume of G-Man will feature the arrival/introduction of G-Man's little brother. A lot of people know Great Man is based on my big brother, but there are actually three of us, and it's time to introduce the third G brother into the books.
(Thanks to Brigid Alverson for the link to this interview.)

18 January 2011

Wikileaks, Tunisia, and Honesty—What a Concept!

The still-evolving situation in Tunisia casts a provocative light on how Wikileaks was supposed to be damaging America’s standing in the world.

Historically, many of the worst wounds to US standing have happened because the people of other nations came to see gaps between the values America stood for, in their minds and ours, and our actual foreign policy, based on expectations of national interests. US administrations have compromised with corrupt and undemocratic governments that appear to be helping fight the threat of the decade: communism, terrorism, whatever came in between. If America supports those regimes too long, their people start to resent it.

Tunisia was one of those governments. But in early December the Guardian reported that US diplomatic cables from 2008-09, released by Wikileaks, had warned that its president was increasingly corrupt and had lost touch with the populace. (A Spanish newspaper, El Paìs, reported on the same documents, but I don’t know enough Spanish to find its story.)

The Tunisian government responded by trying to block access to the Wikileaks website. That action confirmed what US diplomats had warned about: the regime didn’t allow open dissent or criticism. A Tunisian opposition group called Nawaat.org created an online archive for the cables about their country, called “Tunileaks.”

There was little in those cables that most Tunisians didn’t already know. And most Tunisians no doubt felt sure that American diplomats knew. What Wikileaks revealed was that the Americans were concerned about the corruption and oppression. As I discussed back here, journalists say the cables mainly show their authors as perceptive and sincerely interested in human rights, though also committed to US interests.

Prof. Rob Prince of the University of Denver looked at the Tunileaks cables for Nawaat, and reprinted his analysis on his blog in mid-December:

something else is going reading between the lines, a kind of dangerous dance that on some level the two sides are both aware of: it is as if the State Department is probing [President] Ben Ali: are you still useful to us, they seem to be asking. And he is responding, ‘why yes, of course’. Tunisian authorities are somewhat defensive, nervous one would say and while the US ambassadors are not particularly rude, they are actually ‘diplomatic’, they have made mild criticisms to Ben Ali himself, to the Tunisian foreign secretary. And the cables themselves make the situation clear: all is not well in the relationship. . . .

If the cables are accurate, they suggest that the State Department is beginning, however dimly, to understand the political consequences of these economic policies, many of which, while applied in Tunisia are ‘made in America’…and referred to as ‘The Washington Consensus’.
Prince has less praise for US foreign policy than the journalists I quoted before, but even he saw the cables as showing that our government wasn’t committed to the Ben Ali regime if there could be something better.

Eleven days after the first Wikileaks disclosure, a jobless young Tunisian set himself on fire as a protest and/or despairing suicide. (That act has now inspired other suicide attempts in north Africa.) Other people took to the streets. The regime came down hard, killing dozens, which in turn sparked more protests. Even if the Wikileaks cables didn’t offer news for Tunisians, they might have strengthened that revolt by hinting that the US would not stand behind the regime.

On 15 January, the New York Times reported (without mentioning the Guardian or El Paìs):
Those cables, from the cache obtained by the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks and made public in recent weeks, helped fuel the anger on the streets that culminated Friday with Mr. Ben Ali’s flight after 23 years in power. Posted on a site created last month called TuniLeaks, the diplomats’ disgusted and lurid accounts of the kleptocratic ways of the president’s extended family helped tip the scales, according to many Tunisian commentators.
That idea has been echoed in various ways by everyone from Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic to Muammar Qaddafi of Libya. In fact, Qaddafi and the Iran government have suggested that Wikileaks is a CIA plot because it’s serving US interests better than their own.

As I type, the Tunisians’ protests have driven the Ben Ali family out of the country, and forced his Vice President to step back from initial plans to take over. The military (much smaller than the internal secret police) has sided with the people. Crowds in Tunis are trying to block the recent ruling party being included in the government of national unity. It’s not clear what will develop, but it looks like there’s even a chance of something like democracy breaking out. And so far the Tunisian people are not blaming America.

Perhaps honesty and openness are actually good for foreign policy.

17 January 2011

Holy Moley! I Thought That Robber Looked Familiar!

Universal Hub informed me that today is the sixtieth anniversary of Boston’s Brinks Robbery. Back in 1950, that crime was the largest heist in US history. The gang got away with almost three million dollars.

But what, you might wonder, does that historic event have to do with the usual topics of Oz and Ends? (Not that that’s ever stopped me before.)

The FBI webpage on the Brinks Robbery states that all the robbers wore rubber Halloween masks, including the faces of Captain Marvel and Captain Marvel, Jr.

Now that was just wrong.

In addition, the Brinks Robbery—or, to be more exact, the hunt for its perpetrators—inspired a storyline or two in Will Eisner’s Spirit comic.

16 January 2011

Sean McKeever and the Editorial Mandate

One aspect of American superhero comics that I find most interesting is how each of the major publishers—DC and Marvel—built up a complex universe of overlapping, interlocking stories.

Other examples of elaborate fantasy “world-building” depended on individual authors. L. Frank Baum did it sloppily. C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and J. K. Rowling did it carefully. Gene Roddenberry and George Lucas oversaw the same challenge as heads of large production companies with licensing arms. But the comics companies did it over decades through a shifting cast of writers, artists, and editors. The results are works of vast, collaborative storytelling, quite possibly—as Neil Gaiman said on NPR’s Talk of the Nation—“the largest stories ever created by humanity.”

In-house editors are in charge of maintaining continuity, coordinating the different moving parts, and defining parameters for writers. Sometimes the editorial staff makes detailed plans involving dozens of separate magazines. Those magazines’ writers can make suggestions and determine how things happen, but editors usually decide what happens.

Bill Walko and Tarcísio Aquino’s recent interview at Titans Tower with writer Sean McKeever opens some windows on that process. McKeever scripted the Teen Titans magazine and related stories for DC Comics for three years starting in 2007.

Back in 2008, McKeever spoke about starting with his first plotline laid out for him:

When I came onto the book, editorial had plans for the big anniversary issue #50, and they also had the idea for me to write a sequel to the Titans of Tomorrow story. I know people throw around the term “editorial mandate” like it's some great horror, but I was actually really grateful for everything they had in place for me. Titans Tomorrow was a story that I really wanted to revisit, and it was also really nice to have a premise thrown at me that I could dive into, so that while I was working on that, I could think a little more on my long-term plans for the book.
More specifically, according to the recent Titans Tower interview, the DC editors’ idea was “a sequel to the popular ‘Titans of Tomorrow’ arc where the Tomorrow Titans beat up and kidnap the JLA in the present day, and the Teen Titans have to step up and save them.” The mandate may have been little more than those basic plot points, but in the superhero genre plot counts for a lot.

Despite editors’ control, the people getting first billing on comic books are the writers—which means they can get blamed for plot developments they didn’t choose. During McKeever’s Teen Titans run two characters inspired by figures in the old Superfriends TV cartoon get mauled by their dog. Some fans lambasted him for that. For example: “McKeever CAN write good Teen Titans stories..., But now as we can see, apparently he prefers a hack story to one that's actually entertaining.” And: “Who is the idiot in editorial that let McKeever get away with this?”

But McKeever hadn’t come up with that plot twist. His recent comment on it is: “When the idea was brought to me, I thought it was darkly hilarious. I still feel that way, and I think it provided a successfully horrific turn of events in the issue.” Some fans blamed magazine editor Dan DiDio, who had extra visibility and notoriety as DC’s editor-in-chief.

Serial storytelling means that writers leave loose ends for their successors to pick up—sometimes deliberately. When Walko and Aquino asked McKeever about the powers of Wonder Girl’s lasso, he had to answer:
You know, I'm sitting here drawing a blank! Oh, I remember what our idea was now, but I'm afraid to say in case they're still planning to reveal it. We knew what the power was but we didn't have the rules in place and wanted it to remain a mystery for a time. That was two editorial teams ago, though, so who knows what the plan is now.
McKeever was still part of the Teen Titans scripting team when he gave this January 2010 interview with Newsarama. Such interviews are part of the company’s marketing, and are always about expressing enthusiasm for the next few issues without spoiling plot twists. I therefore find them nearly useless for learning how the storytelling actually takes place.

But then McKeever moved back to Marvel. In an April 2010 posting and in the recent Titans Tower interview, he described the less positive side of working on Teen Titans under editorial direction:
  • “Things were really in flux at the time because almost from week to week there would be a change in whether/when Bart [Kid Flash] and/or Conner [Superboy] were returning to the series.”
  • “Add to that that the book had 4 editorial teams in my 22 issues, and other ‘creative differences’ that I won't get into here, and you get a fairly good idea.”
  • “I generally find my teeth grinding when I pick the [comic] book up because of some stressful memories related to the series. . . . Marv [Wolfman] and I were left to put together this story that was never our idea, and we gave it our best, but we couldn't read minds and so we weren’t making editorial happy. After two passes on the plot, we were sent a new document with a terse message like, ‘here—write this.’ It was really, really great to work with Marv, but I won’t kid you—the poor guy had to talk me out of quitting altogether more than once during that period.”
McKeever even asked for an “altered credit” on a couple of issues because, he said, “my approved-and-drawn scripts were altered by other parties to my dissatisfaction.” (I’m not sure which issues those are.) So “editorial mandates” can be a “great horror” after all.

Finally, since this is supposed to be the weekly Robin, here is McKeever’s take on Tim Drake: “Always weighing his decisions against what Bruce would do. Pushing himself too hard to be perfect.”

15 January 2011

Chabon Feeling Torn on Twain

At The Atlantic, novelist Michael Chabon clocks in on the new, worst-epithets-free edition of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. As he notes, he’s criticized that volume for all the applaudable reasons.

Yet when reading Twain aloud to his own kids, Chabon found himself changing the text just like Prof. Alan Gribben:

Reading Tom Sawyer occupied the entire summer, and during that time I don't remember wrestling at all with the question of what to say, out loud, with my actual lips and tongue, when my eyes arrived at that strange little word. A cursory search of Google Books suggests that it makes a total of only 10 appearances in the entire book, which is, after all, not told by a backcountry boy in his own dialect but narrated, with a great deal of mock-decorum, in the third person. Ten is probably fairly close to the number of times that I have said "nigger" in my life, never once without some kind of ironizing or sterilizing quotation marks of tone fitted carefully around it, and, somewhat humiliatingly given the choice made by Professor Gribben of Auburn, which I heartily and firmly, piling on, condemn for its cowardice, mealy-mouthedness, and all-consuming fallaciousness, I recall that in those fleeting spots where I encountered the word I would substitute, without missing a beat or losing any literal meaning, "slave." It was no big thing. The kids had no idea that a switcheroo had been run on them.
But then comes Huckleberry Finn, because the kids want to hear more about those characters (and Tom Sawyer Abroad is, let’s face it, no substitute).

Chabon faced this awkward situation in a most comfortable setting: with his own kids well before their teens, in a bohemian-bourgeois coastal bedroom, without listeners who might be personally affected by the epithets. (Okay, there’s at least one more comfortable setting to consider the matter: my own, right now, with no big-eyed kids looking up at me and wondering why I haven’t started reading.)

Would the Chabon family stick with Huck Finn as Twain depicted him? Or would they find, like Prof. Gribben, some open compromise with the work? Read the rest of Chabon’s essay for the resolution they found. But don’t miss:
"Hey, Dad," the little guy asked me at one point. "How come if you can't say you-know-what, when you were reading Tom Sawyer you kept saying INJUN Joe, because that's offensive, too."
The NewSouth edition of Twain has already dealt with that issue.

Chabon’s essay reminded me of a story I heard about fifteen years ago at a PEN New England forum from an author whose name I’ve tried and failed to recall. Her mother was Native American, her father European-American, and one of her favorite bedtime readalouds was Peter Pan. Her father insisted that she not read that book on her own; she had to wait until he could read it aloud—the book was that special.

Only after this author had grown did she realize that her father was silently editing J. M. Barrie’s passages about the Indians to sand down the offensive stereotypes.

(Photo above courtesy of Judy Baxter, via Flicker under a Creative Commons license.)

13 January 2011

More on Max Finder

Further investigation of the Encyclopedia Brown and Max Finder mystery series yields an explanation of why so many characters in the latter seem to be up to no good.

In most of the cases that Donald J. Sobol set in Idaville, the culprit is fairly obvious: Bugs Meany, a recent parolee, the snotty braggart who’s taking Sally out to the movies, and so on. The young detective’s task is usually to spot an incongruous detail in that suspect’s alibi or behavior which cracks open his façade of innocence.

In contrast, the mysteries that Liam O’Donnell concocts for Max Finder are true whodunits. A wrong has been committed, and there are at least two suspects, often more. Readers are challenged to identify not only how the brainy detectives solve the crime, but who committed it. To make that hard, those suspects need to be equally suspicious, and perhaps the culprit should be the least suspicious of the lot. Hence the treacherous employees, frame-ups, and cutthroat competitors.

When I first wrote about this series, I was responding to Snow Wildsmith’s praise for how it gives Max’s friend Alison Santos “moments to shine.” Indeed, that aspiring journalist solves several of the mysteries before he does—though Max still gets top billing.

The town of Whispering Meadows is also notably multicultural. The kids have surnames like Diallo, Chang, Hajduk, and Kanwar. Artist Michael Cho draws Max so readers might be able to interpret him as Caucasian, Eurasian, or even Inuit. The character sketches break kids out of types. Tony, “an all-around athlete,” also “cries at sad movies,” and Nanda, who likes “the latest CDs and clothes,” is “a hockey goalkeeper.”

Only one role seems to be reserved for European-Canadian males: the bully. “Basher” McGintley and Lucas Hajduk are as white as, well, Bugs Meany.

12 January 2011

Whispering Meadows, Den of Thieves

Crime and misbehavior in Encyclopedia Brown’s home town of Idaville tends to come from three sources:

  • Criminals passing through town, or recently out of jail.
  • New kids trying too hard to show off.
  • Bugs Meany and his Tigers.
The bulk of the local young population—the kids obsessed with teeth or animals or lacrosse or whatever—come across as well-meaning and good-hearted. Trouble comes from outsiders, and the community’s recognized bullies.

I found Whispering Meadows, the home town of young sleuths Max Finder and Alison Santos, to be a more treacherous place. The first volume of this series, by Liam O’Donnell and Michael Cho, contains ten short, comics-style mysteries originally published in OWL Magazine.

In three stories, the culprits turn out to be trusted employees of the damaged businesses. In a couple more, one friend victimizes another. Several stories contain red herrings as the guilty person tries to frame an innocent bystander. And whenever there’s a contest, the kids compete in cut-throat fashion.

Punishment for the transgressions tends to be mild. Of the ten cases, only one involves action by legal authorities; in another, a summer camp sends some kids home early. But a more typical dénouement in the back of the book is along the lines of: “Jeremy apologized for breaking Sally’s stereo, and for making the scene look like Hector did it, and after a while they all became friends again.”

Which might make sense, since a lot of the kids in Whispering Meadows have a common interest in bad behavior. In the next story, Hector might well be vandalizing someone’s bike while Sally blames Angela for beating her in the spelling bee.

Whispering Meadows sounds like a horrible place to grow up.

09 January 2011

Damian Wayne: “Being Robin Is…”

When Grant Morrison introduced the character of Damian Wayne in Batman and Son, the kid was clearly trouble. He was said to be Bruce Wayne’s biological son by Talia al-Ghul, though the genetic truth wasn’t confirmed for some months and the mechanics are still murky.

More to the point, Damian was violent, defiant, angry, and contemptuous. His grandfather’s League of Assassins had raised him to be a deadly fighter. He killed and beheaded a minor Batman villain called the Spook. He attacked Tim Drake, the latest Robin. In a word, Damian was evil. Morrison even said so in interviews.

Bruce’s response to meeting a dark-haired athletic boy lacking a father figure was, naturally, to suggest that he become some sort of Robin. Damian certainly had qualities that role required. Younger than Tim when he started and probably younger than Dick (there are competing legends), he was pound for pound the best fighter. He had the intellect, if not the interest, for detective work.

The nagging question was moral. Would Damian accede to the Batman’s no-killing ethos? Would he work well with his mentor and others? Could an evil child ever be Robin?

That question hung over Damian’s first year as Dick Grayson’s crime-fighting sidekick, told mostly in Batman and Robin but also in other DC comic books. As guided by the original Robin, could Damian fit into the role of Boy Wonder? The overarching storyline was a contest between Damian’s upbringing and personality on the one hand, and the tradition that Robin isn’t evil.

In the first three issues, Damian gets sick of taking orders from Dick, quits, and storms off; to his surprise, Dick rescues him because they’re still a team. The next two arcs bring on alternative versions of the Dynamic Duo: Jason Todd, former Robin, as the Red Hood and his created-for-the-moment sidekick Scarlett; and Britain’s Knight and Squire. Since the current Knight was formerly Squire, that means we see two former Robins, one former wannabe Robin, two wannabe Batmen, and two young redheaded female sidekicks. Plus, the new Batwoman (who also has red hair). Meanwhile, Damian has his injured spine repaired by his mother Talia’s surgeons.

The final three issues of the year brought the original conflict back home. Talia uses Damian’s new spinal implant to control his movements, turning him over to Dick’s arch-enemy, Deathstroke the Terminator. There’s a fight, of course, but the real confrontation occurs when Damian faces his mother. Evil never had a chance.

If Damian hadn’t proven commercially successful, DC Comics could still have killed him off, as Morrison originally planned when he first conceived of the character. He could have died heroically, like the kid in “Punish Not My Evil Son”; or “tragically,” doomed by the advanced medical process that created and aged him, as Peter Tomasi set up in his glimpse of Talia’s baby-making technology in Nightwing: Freefall. But either way, I’m convinced that Damian wouldn’t have died evil.

Of course, he’s still a little snot.

08 January 2011

Will Anything Good Come of This?

Since this week’s theme is already Not Safe for All Classrooms, I figure I might as well relate a story about our family reading last year.

MY MOTHER: “At the library, I picked up that book by that man with the father. The man who writes on the internet about his father.”

ME: “Um. You mean Shit My Dad Says?”

MOM: “…Yes.”

Okay. My mom reads a bogglingly large number of books, in many areas. I subscribe to the @shitmydadsays Twitter feed, and had enjoyed reading off some of its remarks. But I didn’t recall mentioning the book. I think Mom must have read a recommendation in a magazine. In any event, a few days later…

MOM: “I finished the Halpern book.”

ME: “The ‘Halpern book’?”

MOM: “The man on Twitter.”

ME: “So you mean Shit My Dad Says?”

MOM: “…Yes. I’m having some trouble saying the title.”

ME: “Really?”

MOM: “But in the last chapter, the dad tells the author something he thinks is important. I think you’d like the book. And you should read through to the last chapter.”

And Mom was right.

07 January 2011

A Modest Technological Solution for Offensive Language

Several years ago, a fellow member of the CW email list wrote about her idea for a book inspired by (as I recall) a Little League teammate of her son who did a lot of swearing. So much as to embarrass other young teen boys—which must really have been a lot.

This aspiring author foresaw a big challenge for a book about that situation, however. How could she convey a character’s foul language powerfully without using foul words? If she used those words, wouldn’t that undercut her message about the costs of using coarse language, and the ability to express oneself without it? On the other hand, if she used euphemisms, wouldn’t the book come across as namby-pamby and lose readers’ respect?

Polite people and craven mass media have long used:

  • watered-down terms that sound quaint: “Darn!” “Gosh!” “Jiminy Cricket!”
  • oaths that no real person says: “Golly gee!” “Holy chicken feathers, Batman!”
  • transparent substitutes that don’t fool anyone: “friggin’,” “bleeping”
But those don’t have the power of real profanity.

It’s easier in fantasy, where writers can come up with horrible curses for one society that carry no connotations for ours: “Hippakaloric!” “Grife!” “Belgium!” And of course comics have developed a symbolic language. But those solutions wouldn’t work for this writer.

Her remarks made me imagine and describe an electronic book that includes two texts: expurgated and unexpurgated. Readers might not see the fully profane language, either because of their choice or because of a parent or teacher’s choice. But they would know that that language exists, floating in some aether just below the words they see, only one access code away. Such a book would, I posited, be more powerful than a watered-down text alone.

The same technology could address Huckleberry Finn’s “nigger” problem. Mark Twain’s original text could exist alongside a version that doesn’t put that insulting word in readers’ eyes 200 times. Readers could choose which text to read, teachers which to read aloud or analyze in class—but the original text would still be part of the package.

How difficult would it be to create a two-level electronic book compatible with existing standards? I don’t know. But I see that the Nerdy Teacher reports there’s already an iPad edition of Huckleberry Finn with the original illustrations, for full historical context.

(Incidentally, now that I think of it, one of those illustrations had to be altered during printing because an engraver had rendered it obscene. That could be something else to put behind the access code.)

06 January 2011

Standing Up for the Public Domain

As we consider the current kerfuffle over an edition of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, Americans are united on several points:

Opposing censorship is a Good Thing. Preserving our history (even of Bad Things) is a Good Thing. Preserving our culture (especially the Great American Novels) is a Good Thing.

But standing up for the public domain is also a Good Thing.

All the books that Mark Twain published in his lifetime are in the public domain. (Canny author-publisher that he was, he managed to figure out how to generate new copyrights and new publicity.) That makes changing Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn different from demanding changes to, or restricting access to, a book still under copyright with limited availability.

For one thing, such censorship won’t work. With Project Gutenberg, Google Books, more cheap “classic” paperback editions than you can swing a dead cat at, and millions of copies already printed, there’s no way the original texts of Twain’s best novels will disappear.

One edited edition of Huck Finn from one small press doesn’t erase all the other books on the market. It doesn’t stop bookstores, libraries, and schools from using unexpurgated versions if they decide those are more desirable. I can’t imagine a credible scenario in which this edition pushes out the original text.

Furthermore, because Huckleberry Finn is in the public domain, Prof. Alan Gribben has every right to do whatever he wants with the text. He chose to remove the word “nigger” and insert the chapter from Life on the Mississippi that Twain himself edited out, and in his introduction (PDF download) he explains why.

We all have the same right. For very little money I can put out an electronic edition with the word “nigger” replaced with “n!gger” and that extra chapter pulled out. White supremacists could issue an edition that replaces the word “nigger” with “naturally ignorant nigger.” Less stupid authors could rewrite the book to make Jim less childish, or substitute a better plot in the last third. People can write sequels, and fanfiction. The public domain makes all that possible. Then it’s up to the reading public to choose which uses have value.

Yesterday I noticed that several blog posts about this controversy are illustrated with the cover of the Troll Illustrated Classic edition, shown above. Perhaps that’s an ironic commentary on watering down the book to a childish level, but I suspect it’s because that edition has a big, iconic illustration of Huck and Jim on their appropriated raft.

That Troll edition clocks in at 48 pages. Obviously it’s been abridged for younger readers, another possibility made cheap and easy by the public domain. I’ll bet that a lot of Twain’s words were taken out of that book, and that “nigger” was one of the first to go. Nobody seems to have objected.

I can imagine a philosophical argument for barring people from making any changes to a reproducible work of art that its creator didn’t approve. But the cultural cost of such a restriction would far outweigh the benefits.

As long as no one misrepresents a changed edition of Twain as the original, then it’s up to readers which to choose. Gribben is quite explicit in his Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn edition about what he changed—probably more explicit than the folks at Troll Illustrated Classics.

TOMORROW: A modest technological solution.

05 January 2011

Cutting Through the Huck Finn Weeds

The edition of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn that I wrote about on Monday hit the national news today, with boringly predictable results: lots of complaints about “political correctness,” censorship, how other people are simple-mindedly misreading the book. I made up a few rules for myself for sorting through the noise.

1) If you say that it’s appropriate to use the “n word” in classrooms, but completely avoid using it in your own essay, then you lose a point. And for that reason, I’m going to use offensive terms with scare-quotes instead of euphemisms. Internet filtering programs, beware.

2) If you’re personally affected by the use of the terms “nigger” and “Injun,” then I’m more interested in your opinion than if you’re (like me) a white person for whom the issue is more abstract. Those words aren’t generically offensive—they’re particularly offensive because they derogate particular people.

Thus, I’ve sought out responses from African-American writers like Jamelle Bouie at The Atlantic and Elon James White at Salon, and from folks with African-American family members like Ann Freeman at Upside My Head. (But Freeman loses a point under rule #1. [REFEREES’ RULING: Freeman supports the use of the unedited Huckleberry Finn in the classroom, but opposes teachers’ or students’ use of the word in classroom discussions. So is that worth a point or not? It’s unexpected nuances like these that can make the issue so thought-provoking.])

3) If you’re a teacher who’s used Huckleberry Finn in the classroom recently, then I’m more interested. Some examples I’ve found include Sara Goodman as Sara*ndipity; David Ulin at the LA Times’s Jacket Copy; and Biblioklept before news of this edition broke. (But Goodman loses a point under rule #1.) Jinx as a former classroom teacher and a black woman gets double points.

Students and parents do sometimes object to Huckleberry Finn because of its language, as this news item from Seattle in 2003 explores. Teachers do sometimes choose not to use it, as described in this article from Multicultural Education in 2006. It’s more valuable to see how educators and students address the book’s challenges than to see an outsider loftily insist that they should.

I’d especially like to see some professionals address not just how to draw useful lessons from Twain’s use of “Injun” and “nigger,” but also how to do so in an environment increasingly concerned with preparing kids for standardized tests. Is there enough time in the school day? Does the book work better in certain schools, or certain grades?

4) If you use this incident to complain about “political correctness” on the left, I simply laugh at you. Not just because of the tired cliché, but because you’ve made a foolish assumption. The editor, Prof. Alan Gribben of Auburn, presented himself as a victim of the radical left in a political-academic controversy at the University of Texas back in the 1990s. For details, see Julius G. Getman’s In the Company of Scholars: The Struggle for the Soul of Higher Education, John K. Wilson’s The Myth of Political Correctness: The Conservative Attack on Higher Education, and Gribben’s own version of events.

Gribben is quite clear in his introduction to the new edition about why he feels it has value. I quoted that introduction on Monday (PDF download). Opponents should take his arguments into account before making any assumptions about the thinking behind this book.

5) If you make up ridiculous scenarios of what this editing might lead to, then I’m not interested in your opinion. This is about changing one word (or 236, depending on how we count) in Huckleberry Finn and two in Tom Sawyer. It doesn’t change the book’s plot, characters, or themes. It doesn’t affect any other editions or copies already on shelves.

And it’s not about just any offensive language. Novelist Walter Kirn joked, “Let's add offensive words to American novels that don't have enough of them. Little Women could use a few more 'shits.'” But “shit” doesn’t demean a particular class of people. If we want an equivalent, the joke would suggest renaming Little Women to “Little Cunts.” But who would say that (outside of the porn industry)?

TOMORROW: What the public domain means.

04 January 2011

Comics Memoirs about Comics History

Late last year I read both Eddie Campbell’s How to Be an Artist and Will Eisner’s The Dreamer. Both are lightly fictionalized memoirs about being part of a momentous scene in the history of comics.

Both were originally published on their own, but have been collected in thick volumes: Eisner’s Life, in Pictures and Campbell’s Alec: The Years Have Pants.

In Eisner’s case, the scene is about 1937-42, what was later called “the Golden Age of Comic Books.” It involved cramped offices, unreliable publishers, and both Depression and World War. Though the stories that Eisner and his colleagues produced were mostly about heroism, his own story is mostly about money, or lack of it.

Campbell’s topic is the British graphic novels movement of the late 1980s. It’s a picture of what Brian Eno has dubbed “scenius,” when people and circumstances come together to produce a flowering of innovation. I was pleased to read in this Comics Worth Reading review that Campbell’s never-named but vital “Man at the Crossroads” is Paul Gravett, recognized for his Graphic Novels: Everything You Need to Know. (I read that last year, too.)

Both Eisner and Campbell depict themselves as well-meaning, befuddled strivers, just trying to make enough money to live off this art thing they like doing. Their colleagues are more colorful; their women mysterious; their successes serendipitous, surprising, and often short-lived.

While Campbell and his crowd have no more money than Eisner’s, they’re focused on art. The stories they tell tend not to be heroic, unless they’re working just for the (American) money. Instead, the heroism in How to Be an Artist comes in pushing against the conventions of the comics business as it had been set up back in the “Golden Age.”

Here’s Campbell’s own review of Life, in Pictures, which focuses on Eisner’s late artistic development rather than his early experiences.

03 January 2011

The Slave Jim and Indian Joe

The John F. Blair company is about to publish an edition of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn that:

  • refers to Huck’s companion as “the slave Jim,” leaving out the “n word,” since that has such a powerful negative effect on today’s readers.
  • refers to Tom’s bête noire as “Indian Joe,” for a parallel reason.
  • substitutes “half-blood” for “half-breed” when discussing Joe. The editor says the replacement term is “less disrespectful and has even taken on some panache since J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2005).”
Alan Gribben’s introduction (PDF download) explains:
This NewSouth Edition of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn is emphatically not designed for academic scholars studying Twain’s precise texts. I simply came to believe that a significant number of school teachers, college instructors, and general readers might welcome the option of an edition of Twain’s paired novels that spares the reader all contact with a word that never seems to lose its vitriol, despite the occasional efforts of rap and hip hop musicians to re-appropriate it and the well-meaning but usually futile (from my own personal experience) endeavors by classroom teachers to inoculate their students against the “n” word by using Huckleberry Finn as a springboard to discuss its etymology and cultural history.
Gribben points out that Twain himself was a commercial writer, keenly sensitive to his audience’s reactions (even if he didn’t always try to comfort them). And that there are plenty of other editions with the original language, should a reader or teacher wish that.

Indeed, I think the fate of this approach will be determined in the commercial marketplace. If people wish a slightly bowdlerized edition of these two novels, they can buy this book, and it will remain in print. If not enough people do, this text will fade away.

Gribben is to be commended for declaring and discussing his choice up front and giving us the choice. I’m happy with the editions I have—but the words being changed have never been applied to me.

(Thanks to Bookshelves of Doom and Book Haven.)

02 January 2011

Robin’s Hood, and How It Changes the Universe

I’ve written before about thinking that Grant Morrison’s most immediate inspiration for his long Batman and Robin arc that’s produced a (by my count) sixth Robin was Frank Miller and Jim Lee’s All Star Batman and Robin.

Of course, Morrison had many other inspirations as well, going back to the collection that he (and I) read as a wee lad, Batman: From the 30s to the 70s. But Miller’s vision of a “goddamn Batman” strikes me as the most likely jumping-off point for Morrison to think up Damian Wayne, the goddamn Robin.

In All Star Batman, Dick Grayson (age twelve) creates a crime-fighting costume for himself based on Robin Hood. (That legend was in fact Jerry Robinson’s principal inspiration in designing the character, which is why the original costume has a little medieval styling.) The goddamn Batman doesn’t like the long name “Robin Hood.” And he doesn’t like the hood. So far as I know, there’s no precedent for that moment in previous DC Comics, no previous portrayal of Dick wanting to wear a hood. It supposedly happens only on “Earth 31,” reserved for Miller’s vision of the goddamn Batman.

But in Batman and Robin Morrison scripted a moment (for Philip Tan to illustrate) that’s a direct response to Miller’s. Dick Grayson, now Batman, tries to pass on some of his mentor’s wisdom to Damian—wisdom we’ve never “officially” seen Bruce give. And this hood-wearing goddamn Robin responds in his own special way. (I only wish the word balloons were placed more gracefully.)

01 January 2011

The End of the Infinite Canvas?

Yesterday I reviewed Scott McCloud’s six types of transitions from one comics panel to the next, and posited that the page turn was still an important, higher-level transition.

Theorizing presciently in Reinventing Comics, McCloud imagined comics without any page turns, or at least any necessary ones. He presented this idea in 1995 as the “Infinite Canvas”:

The basic premise is that there’s no reason that long-form comics have to be split into pages when moving online. Pages are an option—and they can work well when screen shapes are taken into account—but the advantages of putting all panels together on a single “canvas” are significant and worth exploiting.
Freed of page trims, comics could spread in whatever direction and at whatever length their stories suggested. That would necessarily make panel-to-panel transitions the norm. McCloud tried it out with his Zot! characters.

Fifteen years later, the critical consensus is that the Infinite Canvas just hasn’t worked as a storytelling device. So says TV Tropes. And El Santo at Webcomic Overlook declared in October:
The Infinite Canvas will die. It’s fun as an experiment. However, it’s not working. And with iPad limiting the screen even more than the computer does, the canvas is shrinking and shrinking.
However, on the same day I read that, I also read Emily Carroll’s “His Face All Red,” which offers a wonderful use of scrolling in a comic designed to be read on screen (see especially page 7). Another example is her “The Death of José Arcadio.”

Of course, Carroll’s comics also include “page turns” as transitions—moments when readers must consciously shift from one set of panels to another, not seeing what will come next. Sometimes the next page/canvas consists of a single panel on the screen, sometimes many spilling off the screen.

Perhaps the problem with the Infinite Canvas is the daunting name. A “Flexible Canvas,” with “pages” changing size and aspect as necessary, and the possibility of at least two levels of transitions (panel-to-panel and page turns), provides comics creators with the freedom to use many storytelling tools, but not the burden of infinitude.