Saturday, October 1, 2011

My Real Issue With DC's New 52

Scott D. Parker

I guess I feel the way I do because I’m a dad.

If the goal of the recent reboot of the entire universe over at DC Comics was to get people talking, reading, and responding to comics again, then the New 52 Campaign is an unqualified success. But I thought the stated goal was to gain new readers. In that, DC is a qualified success.

Most of the talk has centered around a couple of sex scenes, one with Catwoman and Batman, and another with a bikini-clad Starfire having casual sex with some of her team members. Commenters and authors all over have basically come down on a couple of sides. One, the sexy scenes hide the true pitfall of the books: that the story isn’t good. While I haven’t read all 52 titles yet, Batwoman, Batgirl, and the ladies of Birds of Prey manage to have some kick-ass action and storytelling while still remaining fully dressed. Two, sex has been a part of comics for a long time so what’s the big deal showing a bunch of cleavage, ab muscles, and having super-powered copulation?

The problem I see with those answers, especially #2, is that it drives away readers. Not exactly the goal of this entire thing, is it?

Perhaps the most famous reaction so far has come from a 7-year-old girl (linked everywhere, but here’s the original). The lass is a fan of comics, saves up allowance money to buy comics, and watches Teen Titans on TV. In the show, Starfire is depicted one way and, because it’s Cartoon Network and has to pass TV censors, you can pretty much guess that she’s not the vixen portrayed in the new comic. The entire article is a fascinating glimpse into how children see heroes. My favorite quote is this, where the girl states what she wants her heroine to do:

“I want her to be a hero, fighting things and be strong and helping people.”

“Why’s that?” [asks her mother]

“Because she’s what inspires me to be good.”


Despite how this first part of this post starts, this is not another essay on sexed up comics. It’s about readership. You think that little girl’s mother is going to let her daughter read another issue of Red Hood and the Outlaws? Better question: do you think the girl wants to read another issue? You can make a strong argument that DC has lost a reader who, at seven, could have been nurtured in the medium, become a regular reader, reading different comics as she grows up, and then introduces her kids to the joy of comics.

That kind of kid was me. I had what amounted to the perfect way to simultaneously grow up and continue reading comics. In the mid 1970s when I started reading comics, super heroes were still fun, often cheesy—remember those one-page ads for, say, Hostess Twinkies where Superman would save the dessert from the corny villain?—and didn’t have a lot of adult content. It also didn’t have any ratings listed on the covers. That all changed when I was in high school with the publication of both Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen. That sophisticated, adult-themed content helped change comics into what it is today: a segregated industry who basically only caters to folks like me who like comics. A crucial point here is this: at 16, I was ready for those kinds of stories. I wasn’t at age ten.

Seeing the success of these types of comics, DC did an interesting thing: instead of shifting all the mainstream titles to this newer type of storytelling, they created the Vertigo line of comics. This separate universe almost always had the "Suggested for mature readers" tag on the cover. If you’re at a store in the early 1990s and you see the complete DC offering, you pretty much know what you’re going to get based on the cover. You see The Flash, he’s cool for your elementary kid. You see Sandman, give that to your teenaged kid. If you picked up a superhero title, you didn’t really have any fear that a member of the Green Lantern Corps was going to be sliced in half or that Starfire was going to sleep with any other member of the Teen Titans.


The best thing about this arrangement was the DC could accommodate to both the teen/adult audience as well as the younger folk. It was great. They could hook a reader with the Teen Titans, Batman, or Superman as kids, and then have those readers migrate to Vertigo titles while in high school. It was win-win, and you didn’t really need a ratings system.

Earlier this year, DC pulled out of the Comic Code Authority, basically the censors that had de facto control over comics from thee mid-1950s. In its place, DC initiated a ratings system:

  • E EVERYONE Appropriate for readers of all ages. May contain cartoon violence and/or some comic mischief.
  • T TEEN Appropriate for readers age 12 and older. May contain mild violence, language and/or suggestive themes.
  • T+ TEEN PLUS Appropriate for readers age 16 and older. May contain moderate violence, mild profanity, graphic imagery and/or suggestive themes.
  • M MATURE Appropriate for readers age 18 and older. May contain intense violence, extensive profanity, nudity, sexual themes and other content suitable only for older readers.

So, with the big hoopla over the New 52 and the drive to have more readers, guess how many titles are rated E? None. Zero. (None for M, either.) So, tell me: since when does the drive for new readers all but ignore the younger audience? How, exactly, does DC hope to gain new readers—readers who may be hooked for life—when they don’t even try to aim for the youth market?


Fellow DSDer, Jay Stringer, has also been writing about comics. In the comments section of his Thursday column, he said this:

I don’t think the problem is that comic books aren't suitable for kids. The problem with the industry—for all ages—has been availability. These things used to be available on street corners and news agents. Now they're in specialist shops. The only way under-12's are getting into the shops is if their parents are into comics, or if the shop has some other lure, like toys or trading card games.

The comic book industry has totally failed for two generations now at getting comics into the hands of people who don't read comics. That's changing this month. DC comics have had TV ads, cinema ads, press coverage, their titles are available online on the day of release. So far very little of what I’ve seen has really been unsuitable for children, and those that have been are either horror books, westerns, or war comics. The 'mainstream' books that are probably not suitable for kids have failed in execution rather than content.

While I respectively disagree with Jay’s statement about the content of some of the titles I’ve read—examples here and here—I completely agree with his take on the main problem of distribution (and pricing; comics are out of the range of most kids). It is why I am super excited about day-and-date digital comics. Like the budding short story boom on e-readers, I’m really hoping to see a new flood of new readers who own iPads and love super heroes to start buying comics.

I just wish I could give some of those titles to my ten-year-old.

Book of the Week: Fellow DSDer, Joelle Charbonneau is out with her second Rebecca Robbins book, Skating Over the Line. Her first one, Skating Around the Law, completely upended my reading life, and I’m ready to dig in to the latest offering.

Tweet of the Week 1: Keith Rawson

The one thing I've noticed from interviews with my favorite writers - Woodrell, Sallis, Lansdale, @swierczy [DuaneSwierczynski] - is that they all say the same thing: If you're not having fun with writing, you're doing it wrong. And they're words to live by. If you're taking this writing shit too seriously, you need to find something else to fucking do.

Not the way I’d express it, but the dude hits the nail on the head.

Tweet of the Week 2: Peter King

How long since a truly relevant Thanksgiving Day game in Detroit? And I don't remember it EVER being the game of the week.

Love that the perpetual underdogs—Buffalo, Detroit, Cleveland, and, yes, Houston—are doing so well early this season. And if you are a NFL fan and not reading King's Monday Morning Quarterback column, Monday is only two days away. Seriously, it is simply my favorite part of the NFL season after watching the Houston Texans.

Craft of the Week: Action Figure Terrariums

Saw this in the Houston Chronicle this week. Man! How fun are those.

Friday, September 30, 2011

SHADOWS RISING - The Extended McLean Cut

By Russel D McLean

At Bouchercon this year, I was lucky enough to be involved in two brilliant panels. The first was called WOMEN TROUBLE, and boy was that ever an apt description… tasked with trying to control the femmes fatales that are Christa Faust, Lori G Armstrong, Karen Olson, Judy Clemens and Lauren Milne Henderson (also known as Bonkbuster author Rebecca Chance), I was expected to be eaten alive but thankfully came out relatively unscathed.

However, as much fun as the panel was (and boy, it really was) this week I’m talking about my other panel – SHADOWS RISING – which concerned films for the discerning crime fan. The panel was chaired by Jeremy Lynch and also featured Todd Ritter, David Corbett, Megan Abbott and Wallace Stroby (all of whome are well worth reading).

Oh, yes. We were talking movies. But of course, as it turned out, we needed a lot longer than we got. Which was a shame because we were just about to hit one of my favourite movie periods when the time ran out. Yup, in movie terms, I adore the late 60’s and pretty much all of the70’s. While I appreciate and can articulate my love for the dark noir of the forties and fifties – we didn’t progress beyond this period, having so much to talk about! – there’s something about the gritty naturalism of this period of film-making that really grabs me.

So here are my choices for the time period we never got to discuss:

One of those films that would later be “defiled” by modern Hollywood in the form of Mel Gibson vehicle PAYBACK*, the original is a powerhouse of a movie. Lee Marvin’s “Walker” would come to colour the way I viewed the Parker character from the source material (Richard Stark’s THE HUNTER) and embody, to me, the ultimate criminal bastard. He’s cold, tough and deadly. He says more with a look than a little boy like Gibson could say with a thousand tough-guy speeches. He owns the screen every second he’s on there, and his refrain of “I want my money” is delivered so coolly and devoid of the kind of faux-anger lesser actors might employ that it sends a chill down your spine.

Okay, I admit, the scene in the nightclub has dated a little (it’s pretty groovy, man) but a couple of slips aside this is an absolute masterpiece of tough guy cinema and one of my favourite all time movies. Which is why it’s a crying goddamn shame that it ain’t available on DVD here in the UK…

One of those rare UK crime movies I love, GET CARTER is perfection from start to finish. The opening score is brilliant and contrasts beautifully with the dull grey of 70’s Newcastle. And Caine is perfection. A very British Walker, I suppose, his tough guy menace is on a par with Marvin’s. Again its in the spaces between the action that Cain really shines. Just a little or a little movement shows you he means business. This is a gritty, dirty and brilliant little movie that capitalises on its UK setting in a way very few films ever manage.

Again, like Point Blank, Get Carter was subjected to Hollywood remake. In 2000, Sylvester Stallone foolishly moved the story to the US and created one of the great cinematic turkeys. Although I do believe he at least gave Caine a cameo.

Was my third choice. It was narrowed down from a further short list that included later films like Serpico and Bullitt. So why plump for the earlier In The Heat of the Night?

Well, the answer was simple: it was a film that showed me a world utterly alien to me. I grew up in a tolerant Scottish household that taught me to treat all people equally, and here was a world where a black man had to fight for respect, had to struggle against ignorance and fear because he looked different. It was a world that was shocking to me to discover, and the sheer power of the performances from both Poitier and Steiger had me glued to the screen. This is one of those films that shows crime fiction can be the ideal way to explore social and political issues. And of course, its got that great Ray Charles theme. What else could you ask for?

There were two more periods, of course, we had left to cover. And while my brief comments were recently put up by Jeremy Lynch on the Crime Spree blog, I really felt I had to expand and say what I would have if I had the chance to expand on my ideas and thoughts on what I consider to be just a smattering of the movies that for me define certain decades.

So unless something else crops up, I guess next week I’ll be talking eighties. Which probably means I have to mention my special “sacred cow” that resulted in a several minute long rant that I think took much of the audience by surprise…

*Jay Stringer and others defend this movie, especially the “director’s cut”. But I refuse to listen. Seriously, PAYBACK is a bad movie. Deal with it.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Still Got Yer 52 Right Here

By Jay Stringer

I wrote a few weeks back about DC's new line-wide relaunch of it's comics. It's been quite a month, some very impressive sales figures and a lot of comics. There have been some great stories and some....less than....good......ones.

Last week saw two very controversial depictions of women. For a few days I mulled over whether to go into more detail on that, whether to make it the central issue of today's blog. In truth though, a lot of ink has already been spilled on it, and a lot of people have already made the arguments better than I can.

I agree with the criticisms of them, and I won't be picking up the second issues. But I don;t want to focus on the negatives. There have been some real fun issues this month that you can still read online, and I want to focus on those.

First, though, I want to talk about how my reading habits have changed thanks to the new day-and-date digital releases.

Every writers blog has talked about ebooks. Hell, every writers blog has pulled people in off the street to write about ebooks. Some of us have learned to carry out seances, just so that we can get more people who want to blog about ebooks.

I don't own a Kindle, an IPad, a Nook or a cranny. I'm not against them. In fact, I'm in full support. The only thing that has been stopping me from picking one up was comics. I want my mobile device to read comics. The Kindle and Nook didn't do that, and the IPad is out of my price range. (As I type this, more details are coming out of the Kindle Fire and, well, maybe.)

I've been itching to switch over to digital comics ever since I first tried reading comics online, and this week I got the chance. There are still a few titles, a few indie publishers, who I will support in print, but as of this month my comics reading is about 90% digital.

And I've noticed something.

With print comics, I would get to the store on the day of release, or a couple days later, and buy all my weeks comics. I'd take them home in a bundle, and sit and read through them reverently. Then I'd be done for another week. With digital, my finger is hovering over the button at 7pm, waiting for the titles to show up on the Comixology website, and then I'm downloading them all in one go. But Then I spread the reading out over the week. I'll sit on my laptop (still my main reading device) and get work done, or surf the net (do people still say that?) or catch up on emails, then I'll read a comic.

Of the batch I bought last wednesday, I read the last one yesterday. So that's a full week of spreading out the experience, of effectively tivo-watching my comics.

It's a totally new way, a totally different comics-reading experience, but it feels right for now. It feels like the old ritual of the paper stack is of an other time, and that this is the way I read comics now. And I'm loving it.

Okay, so which titles do I think are the runners? To be honest, if you saw any of my predictions before the month began, then you'll already know some of the titles I'm going to say, because they lived up to expectations. But here goes.


Animal Man

I pimped it at the start of the month, and at the end I still look back on it as one of the best experiences. It was old and new. It served pre-exisiting fans and new readers. It was spooky and fucked up. I'm on for the full ride.

Wonder Woman

This surprised the hell out of me. Anyone who has heard my private rants about the character, that I never fully buy into her status as a "feminist icon," will know what a shift it is for me to say this; I loved the hell out of this book. Stripping away preconceptions of super heroic shenanigans, and not going for the old, "How does Diana live in the real 9-5 world" approach, we saw a Neil Gaiman/John Hornor Jacobs-esque world of dark Greek gods living in the modern world, and Diana standing in the path of the wreckage they cause. Buy. It.

Swamp Thing

Of the new titles, this is one that I'm not sure will work as well for a brand new reader. It does, I think, rely on some previous knowledge. But it was bloody good. Tonally a little to the gothic, rustic, creepy side of Animal Man. If you know the basic premise of the old Swamp Thing story, that a scientist was in a lab fire and woke up as a swamp creature, then this is an interesting new take. What happens when that scientist has come back to life, is flesh and blood again, but remembers his time as swampy? Interesting stuff that promises to be very, very good.


For those new to the game, there are a lot of comics out there with the batman name on them. Each is a different book, whether it's Detective Comics, The Dark Knight, whatever. They each carry the bat's name on the cover. But the one I'm talking about is the one simply called BATMAN. It delivered on pretty much every level. It was witty and inventive with some of the staple ideas of the character, it had some very playful dialogue, and it threw us straight into the middle of a story. Traditionally I've always gotten my Batman fix from Detective Comics, but this month has changed that.

Action Comics

This is a ground-up retelling of the Superman story. I don't like Superman. I've also been jaded on the writer, Grant Morrison, of late. So, as with Wonder Woman, I was very pleasantly surprised to find myself loving the book. This is Superman when he's young, when he's fresh to the city and before he has full command of his powers. It's the Superman of, "..leap tall buildings in a single bound," fame. Before he could fly, he could just jump very far. Here he is tackling slum landlords rather than meteorites. He's a much more grounded, street level god.


All Star Western

Each of the titles I'm putting as a 'good read' was pretty close to being a 'must read.' Each of them is a fine, fine example of a comic, but each was maybe just a notch below the ones above. All Star suffers a little bit from "pilot episode" syndrome, where it spends a lot of time explaining and setting things up. But that's a minor fault in a very strong western, and a story with a hook- it's set in Gotham City a couple hundred years ago. It's a murder mystery crossed with a western, and it looks like it might provide some back story to whats going on in BATMAN, so well worth a go.

Justice League Dark

Pretty much what it says on the tin. Two of my favourite characters- Zatanna and John Constantine- are being brought together into an occult team of anti-heroes. The first issue was too much reliant on set up devices to be a full 5 star book, but the series promises to be great.


Get this in print.The artist/writer does very interesting things with the layout of the panels, he's trying a whole new language of comic book storytelling, but it doesn't work as well in digital form as in print. It also suffers a bit from the exposition bug, which drags it down a few pegs. But overall it's worth sticking with.


I had a lot of fun with Nightwing, Batgirl, Frankenstein and Demon Knights. Each one will be getting picked up again by me for second and third issues, but each has some work to do to convince that the fun of the first issues can grow into solid ongoing stories.


If you'd told me at the start of the month that I'd enjoy the crap out of the vampire book, i'd laugh, then run and report you to the men in white coats. No, not the cricket umpires, the other men in white coats. But I, VAMPIRE started to get a buzz about it, and so I gave it a shot an, hey, is it a well made comic. Riffing a bit on I AM LEGEND, a bit on BLADE, and a lot on an old DC title of the same name, it tells of a race of vampires declaring Holy War on humanity, and of one vampire hell-bent on stopping them.

So there you have it, true believers.

Wait, that's the wrong company....

The word i've been using most this month when talking about comics has been fun. Each of these titles has been fun, in one way or another, and they've all been fun to read. Add them to two titles put out by Marvel, Daredevil and the new Ultimate Spider-Man, and it's a good time to be enjoying super hero comics again.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What your teacher said the author meant

By Steve Weddle

So there's this image running around the internet:

The popular response is: "LOL! So true!! LOL!!"

For some reason, readers seem to think that writers don't put much thought into the things in their books. Maybe that's true for some writers.

I heard John Updike talking once about how he writes novels. He'll go through the story, get the "who does what" down. Then he goes back through and links up images, tweaks here and there to work in another layer to help tell the story through, for example, the color of the curtains -- a thread pulled through the narrative, so to speak.

I can guarantee you that Haruki Murakami gives thought to these things. Ann Beattie. Other writers I greatly admire.

Now, maybe the writers you read don't do that. Maybe the books you write don't work past that first layer. That's fine, I guess.

And you can LOL all day long about how a teacher tried to help you see those layers in the books you read. Fine. LOL all you want.

I just don't see it as something be proud of.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Listen To What the Man Said

Yaarrrr, here there be spoilers about Dr. Who, the Sopranos, and Lost

Some of my favorite TV shows have involved speculation.

LOST: What's in the hatch?

THE SOPRANOS: What happened to the Russian? What did that last scene mean after the mob warned off Gloria Trillo?

DOCTOR WHO: Who is River Song? Why did the Doctor have to die?


These shows do multiple things. First, they entertain. They're fun, they load up on the cliffhangers and unanswered questions and they keep me tuning in (Well, at least until there are more questions than answers, and you can see the writers giving up and start fumbling the ball--Yes, I'm looking at you, THEY'RE DEAD FOR A WHOLE SEASON, LOST.)

Second, they get the fans talking. If a show is exciting enough, I'll start looking more about it. I'll read some SPOILER FREE speculation blog posts. I'll email some friends. I'll pretend there's a water cooler at work and stand in a corner pretending to talk to people about what I watched. I'll make up what I think are cool theories about the show. I'll listen to other people's whacked out--can't possibly be right--theories as well.

And I started to realize something.

The deeper and more compelling the stories gets, the less people listen to what's going on and speculate about what they WANT to happen. And then, when it doesn't, it gives them a reason to get angry.

Let me give you an example: The Russian in THE SOPRANOS. People kept expecting the Russian to come back after disappearing in the Pine Barrens (and likely dying from a gun shot wound and cold weather.). But people didn't want to believe that. Despite anything the dialogue said, people expected the Russian to be back in the final episode, shooting Tony in the head... even though Tony HAD NOTHING TO DO with the Russian event.

Or look more recently at Doctor Who. There is a whole blog post speculating about River/Mels/Melody's regenerations. Multiple. Even though in the show's reality, she's only done it once. As Mels is regenerating into River, she says, "The last time I did this..." and goes on to describe the regeneration at the end of Day of the Moon.

What's the deal with this?

Do people care about what they're watching or reading? Or do they just want to make up their own fan fiction and hope that happens in the show...?

I've even been known to do it a time or two.

But mostly, all you have to do is listen. Give it a try sometime.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Building The Ultimate Protagonist:Guest Post

I am Jochem Vandersteen, I blog at and write crime. Steve Weddle was nice enough to offer me this blog post. I thought I’d use it to give you all some more insight into what went behind the creation of my new character, Mike Dalmas. He will be appearing in a new series at Trestle Press, starting with Find Her this week.

It all started with my plans to try and bring out a series with a publisher, instead of bringing it out myself like I did with my Noah Milano stories. I was interested to see how the advantages of that would affect sales.

I’ve been writing about security specialist Noah Milano for more than ten years now and his voice comes pretty easily. I like the kind of stories he’s in and didn’t want to stray too far from that with a new series but also didn’t want it to read like a Milano-clone. That’s when I sat out to create the Ultimate Protagonist.

I started with making a list of favorite hardboiled characters and came up with: Burke (Andrew Vachss), Joe Pike (Robert Crais), Philip Marlowe (Raymond Chandler), Spenser (Robert B. Parker), Harry Bosch (Michael Connelly), Jack Reacher (Lee Child), Mike Hammer (The Punisher (Marvel Comics), The Equalizer (TV show).

I concluded from that I liked strong, male characters that could investigate crimes but more importantly were ready to deliver justice. I liked the outlaw aspects Burke and the Punisher brought to the PI mix. I liked the brutal efficiency with which Reacher does his work. All of that made me decide he wouldn’t be a standard PI but a vigilante of sorts. That would also keep people that think the PI story is dead from not picking up the book.

I wanted to set him apart from the other characters by not making him a lone wolf. I decided to give him a family. That brought the problem: why would a dedicated father be a vigilante with all the risks involved. Another problem I had was: where would he get his missions if he’s not a PI. A glance at my list of favorites showed I still liked police procedurals enough to add Bosch to the mix. That’s when I came up with the idea of making him kind of a Black Ops killer for the cops. Why would he work for them? Well, what if he didn’t have a choice? What if he was being blackmailed into it? I saw enough interesting opportunities for character conflict in that one. To make sure he could do things cops couldn’t I made him a soldier instead of an ex-cop.

There he was, my new character. Husband, father, vigilante. All I needed now was a name. I decided to give homage to Hammer by giving him the first name Mike. I paid homage to Chandler by giving him the last name Dalmas (a Marlowe prototype was called Johnny Dalmas). Since I liked the Bay City setting of Marlowe and loved the homage Sue Grafton paid to Ross MacDonald by using the fictional Santa Teresa I made the corrupt city of Bay City the setting for his stories. It would also make sure I could use the cops, mayor and others of a city without upsetting anyone.

So, there it was. Now all I had to do was write a story. The result, Find Her can be found here.

I’m interested in learning the ways you came up with your favorite character.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Another Opening Another Show

by: Joelle Charbonneau

I’ve had lots of opening nights. Standing on stage behind the closed curtain you can hear the buzz of the audience. The orchestra tunes up. The energy is electric. No matter how many rehearsals you’ve had or how well you know the show, there is a rush of nerves. A burst of adrenaline. Under the excitement there is always the worry that the show might not be ready for the audience – the press – the world.

Then the curtain goes up. The orchestra plays and there is no time for doubts. No time to worry about whether you’ll remember your lines, lyrics or dance steps. The show starts and there is nothing to do but enjoy the ride.

Tuesday the curtain goes up on SKATING OVER THE LINE. It’s only my second opening night in the publishing world. I’m excited, scared, anxious, keyed up and filled with adrenaline. But unlike a theatrical performance—there is no orchestra tuning, no dance steps to be performed or songs to be sung. I can’t peek from a crack in the curtain and look at the audience that is waiting to be entertained. I can only hope that one by one an audience will find the book.

Someone asked me recently how things have changed for me the second time around the publishing merry-go-round. The answer is this – I know finding an audience is hard. I know there is very little I can control when it comes to helping the book find an audience. Yes, I can tweet. Sure, I can use facebook and other social media. If I’m lucky friends, family and readers will tell others about the book and encourage them to pick it up. But getting the word out doesn’t mean an audience will come. I can only hope they will.

So, today I am chewing my nails as the orchestra files in and begins to tune. Tomorrow I will probably drive my family nuts as I try to ignore the adrenaline pumping through my veins and the worry rolling in my stomach. And on Tuesday I will stand behind the curtain. If I’m lucky, there will be an audience waiting on the other side and together we will all enjoy the ride.

(And thanks to my fellow DSD writers and readers for all your support. You have no idea how much it means to me.)