Hopeful for getting America back on course,
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Hopeful for getting America back on course,
My Marvel tour culminated in a sit down with new Editor-In-Chief Axel Alonso. I had met Axel several years ago as he guest lectured one of Danny Fingeroth’s Comics & Graphic Novel Storytelling classes at NYU. Axel was amazingly generous and gracious then and nothing has changed. He has had Vertigo and been a Marvel Knight, but now he’s got the keys to the kingdom. He’s a made guy. He’s a big kid whose sandbox happens to be Marvel’s vault. His toys are global brands. No time-outs.
Jason Versaggi: So I guess from your perspective now, you’re editor-in-chief. What does an EIC do? What’s your daily responsibility look like?
Axel Alonso: Well, the first thing is it means that I have to get myself off the monthly titles that I was working on directly. So, it’s taking more of a macro role. So, I’m not as involved perhaps in the minutiae of books so much as the big picture stuff. So, the hardest part of becoming [EIC] is giving up my babies. [So, you see] story arcs I had in progress that are now being edited by other people. I’ll be reading script and giving notes but there’s only so much I can be involved in any of those stories now. So, it’s much more about longer-term planning. I just ran my first summit where I went in with a specific story that they wanted us to tell. We’ve been talking about it for a while. We’ve been entertaining for a while and I wanted to explain why I felt that we got – this is the great time to tell it and what are possible inciting incident to kick things off. So again part of it is learning what it means to sort of lead the editorial group in a macro one.
Jason Versaggi: I know that you’re just getting into the role here but from what you’ve seen and what you’ve experienced so far, how do you think the role now in 2011 is different than anybody else who’s previously had the spot?
Axel Alonso: Well, the big difference is that Marvel is now owned by Disney which means that it’s much more similar to what it’s like when I worked with Vertigo which is a subsidiary of DC Comics and Time Warner. We have a parent company and so I’m aware of that parent company and my responsibility to that parent company. I’m also aware of our relationship with the studio. It’s a very different situation because even when Joe [Quesada] came in, Marvel was a Mom-and-Pop Shop, I came a week after him not knowing it would be around a year later. People forget how vulnerable the company was at that time. I assembled a great crew of people who obviously really knew what they were doing both on the West Coast and the East Coast and things turned out fine.
Jason Versaggi: You’re one of the custodians of these global brands now and these properties and how much are you involved with the film aspect which is like tied into so many other platforms. Everything is multimedia now like what is your relationship with those guys?
Axel Alonso: Yes. I mean our relationship is one where we’re consulted, but it’s not as if we’re irrelevant to the West Coast operations but [let me rewind]. I’m becoming more and more aware what they’re doing with my new job. Kevin and his crew have a master plan which involves a creation of a universe on a cinematic level that is respectful of the old fans and clearly in order to be successful needs to reach the new fans, fans like my son who can’t wait to see Thor or Captain America. The long and short of it is that I’m aware of what’s going on there. I’ve read scripts. I’ve seen footage. I’m mindful of that, of what they’re doing. In some occasions, they have a little bit of ripple effect of what we do where the aesthetics of the movie that you might see reflected in our comics with the synergy but the long and short of it is that I think we complement each other, but we don’t have a profound effect on what Kevin’s doing. They’ve consulted myself, Joe, Tom [Brevoort] – they’ve flown us out to LA to meet with [Bob Rowe] and discuss story but mostly it’s a think tank. We’re not editing scripts. I think Joe as COO probably has more input now than he ever has before but that’s a question better asked of him.
Jason Versaggi: I know that you come from a journalistic background and you probably can edit scripts in your sleep. How do you work with an artist? How do you edit an artist when you see someone turning in pages, what’s your process regarding say, “You know what? This is right. I want to see this here.” How do you…?
Axel Alonso: Well, it’s pretty simple. When you’re working with a rough artist or a raw artist, you make thumbnails the first part of the process. With thumbnails, what they’ll do is they’ll [render] very loose – and I can show you some examples, how they see the page, how they would layout the page, and now, what you do is you check those thumbnails and review. Usually, I do a primary course with them. I explain to them the importance of varying camera angles, the importance of an establishing shot with really setting up a scene, the importance of close ups for characters really so that you feel them and you feel them as actual characters in the story. So, I walk them through a primer and think that they should be thinking and I usually suggest that they work in a simple [grid] format simply because at that stage of the game when you’re breaking in, it’s usually good if you’re standing on terra firma. You’re not trying to change the way that people look a comic layout when people don’t even know you yet. So, I normally ask that they work within specific maybe tighter parameters, and I’ll just edit the hell out of them from an art director’s perspective. Once thumbnails come in, I’ll critic them. I’ll explain to them why a shot’s not working, why a shot’s redundant, how maybe they keep their camera static, and the good ones, they learn over time. They assimilate all these information and they come out the other side as fully formed from the artist within a couple of project.
Jason Versaggi: In your opinion, who are some of the artists who have blown you away with how well they can tell a story without use of words?
Axel Alonso: Yes. I mean who first comes to mind is Steve Dillon because Steve Dillon, you can look at a few Dillon comic book and fully understand the para-relationships, the emotion…
Jason Versaggi: They could express that.
Axel Alonso: …everything.
Jason Versaggi: Yes.
Axel Alonso: Just based on our direction. Again, it’s easy to say that about Steve because he never tries to be dynamic per se. He understands the importance of a dramatic moment but his career isn’t built on [two-page slashes] he still values his art. I can say that most if not all of the tough guys are amazing. John Romita, Jr. might be the best in the business. I can’t think of an artist who I put more confidence in going to a project not knowing anything about it. It doesn’t matter what that project is. It doesn’t matter. It will be better if he draws it plain and simple. There’s any number of other people – Bryan Hitch, the level of detail he brings, I don’t think there’s a more cinematic artist out there. Steve McNiven, amazing draftsman and amazing storyteller, never a boring page. Mike Deodato – I could just keep going down the list. These guys just really know what they’re doing.
Jason Versaggi: Well, going back to guy like Romita Jr. If he’s on a book, if he’s drawing a book, as an editor, how much input will you take from him if he wants to give you like, “Hey! I think I want to contribute on the writing side.” What’s the give and take? What’s the…?
Axel Alonso: Well, it’s kind of two questions. I mean when John gets a script, John draws a script and calls up his editor and explains why he’s taking latitude with something. John on occasion might be pacing. He might carry a couple of panels to the next page. When he does he usually communicates about that first, and he’s never wrong. Also for someone who’s forgotten more about comic book stories that what most of us will learn, he’s also extremely gracious when on the rare occasion you call him and say, “Did you think a panel is not quite working?” They misread the point. Maybe the writer wasn’t clear enough but again, you always look at him as being part of the stories on process. In fact, you do with everyone. Every time you get into a project with a writer and an artist, the writer is turning over their story, their baby, to an artist who’s going to make it sink or swim that’s why good artists are so coveted because they’re at least 50% of the story.
Jason Versaggi: So, the artists have to have the ability to be an editor before they even start drawing.
Axel Alonso: It helps, yes. I mean certainly they need to have the art director’s instinct in order to be able to do this and generally speaking an artist will hopefully have a better art director’s instinct but the editor once they’ve had a career long as that. The long and short of it is that you’re always better when an artist is smart. There are artists who are amazing draftsmen, but they’re not good story tellers. They miss the point of the page. They’ll invariably put an importance on the wrong panel or they’ll misunderstand the importance of an artifact in the scene. Two guys fighting in a room and there’s a knife on the ledge, if one of them grabs it and stabs the other, and the artist won’t see the importance of seeding that ledge even if it’s in the script, [seeing] that ledge and [seeing] that knife, and the existence of that knife. They’ll bury it and most of the time, all they’ll do is shot it from above looking down. You get the gist.
Jason Versaggi: They’ll take it out.
Axel Alonso: Exactly, and I’m using a clumsy example there but again there are certainly a number of artists in the industry who are like that then there are artists who are so damn smart that they’ll call you saying, “This page doesn’t make sense.” If they’re working with a new writer especially. You’re not giving me a sense of what point A to point B is. So, yes. It definitely helps if an artist is smart and a good story teller.
Jason Versaggi: So what they did to save the comic industry – once a month collecting them into trades and getting them into book stores – the Barnes & Nobles of the world. Now, we’ve got the iPad apps. Is that what’s really going to make everything all right again in the industry?
Axel Alonso: I wouldn’t go say everything that’s going to – is going to make everything all right. I’ll say that it’s an exciting, new horizon for our media. Certainly I know that I no longer buy music. I download music. There might be the rare occasion when I want a CD because of some extra feature, but I can imagine the comic future in which I buy some comics at an affordable price than watching my iPad or download them onto my iPad so that my son can read on the plane when he’s not doing video games and watching a movie, but I also fully expect it in that world that there will be books I need to [shelf] and there will be comics where I need to read…
Jason Versaggi: Yes.
Axel Alonso: …but not all. I’m only speaking for myself. I’m excited by the prospect of a world in which I can get on a plane with issues one through one hundred of a certain comic book and just flip through them and read them in leisure and when I can easily turn them over to my kid who’s very much a digital kid. By the same token, I love that hardback on my bookshelf. Yes. Again, I’ll always want my Absolute Ronin by Frank Miller on my shelf. I’ll want my Preacher hard cover wherever the most chichi version of that is. So, again that’s the way it goes. I think it’s great, and I think the retailers – there’ll always be a place for those retailers. I know some people are worried. If readers are anything like me, they’re going to still go to bookstores.
Jason Versaggi: Do you see or is there anything developing now where like you’re telling stories designed specifically for that platform?
Axel Alonso: No. We’re still telling comics for periodicals. What we’re trying to do is we repurpose those and find a way. So again it’s still a wide open terrain right now.
Jason Versaggi: Okay.
Axel Alonso: We’re too small an operation to be trying to do both at the same time. We’re mindful of it but right now when we put together a comic book – it’s nice the way the comic book portions translate to the iPad.
Jason Versaggi: Yes.
Axel Alonso: I think we’re exploring more in the world of motion comics, and it’s amazing some of the stuff we’ve done which haven’t been publicly seen yet. It’ll change the way with motion comics. I saw a motion comic book for a book I had edited previously. I heard rumblings about it for a while. When I saw it, my jaw dropped. It was like watching a movie.
Jason Versaggi: It’s weird. I used to [give them a try too] for the first time, going into them very reluctantly and then coming away saying, “Wow!”
Axel Alonso: Well, let me tell you I’ve never seen anything like the trailer I saw and again, that’s not partisanship at all. That’s just pure fact. What I saw changed the way – in fact, I’m not even sure I would call it a motion comic even though it is.
And that concludes my day at Marvel. Special thanks to Jeff Suter and Axel Alonso. The offices are not the same as when Stan ran his bullpen but the spirit still permeates the fixtures and the furniture. You really feel like the folks here are all in. They care about the characters they guide and the stories they tell. It was established a long time ago when I was a kid but that is why today, I still Make Mine Marvel.
Surf on Panelers,
Today Panel Surfing gets to chat with the author of one of my favorite books on the history of Marvel Comics. Pierre Comtois wrote an endearing study of the early years of the Marvel Age in Marvel Comics In The 1960’s and discusses that book along with news of the sequel.
Jason Versaggi: Where did your passion for the source material of your book come from?
Pierre Comtois: Believe it or not, that’s a more difficult question to answer than you might think. The easy answer is that I grew up on them when I was a kid in the mid to late 1960s. An older boy in the neighborhood introduced me to Marvel comics around 1964…the first comic I ever bought was Spider-man #14…and I was hooked. After that began long years of trying to scrape enough money together to buy the 6 or 7 Marvels I wanted every month. At first it was the characters and the stories that grabbed me but as I became more discerning, I began to differentiate among the artists and soon, I could tell them apart and had my favorites. In high school, my tastes began to shift away from Marvel’s flagship titles to the more eclectic stuff led by Conan the Barbarian. As the years passed, my enthusiasm for the medium never diminished so that to this day I find that I enjoy rereading the comics in my collection as much as I ever did. However, my interest in the latest comics has slowed down since the 1980s and I find little these days that appeals to me the way comics did from the 1960s to the 1980s. My enthusiasm was such that I was still in high school when I first decided that I wanted to write a book about Marvel Comics. I’d written a paper for a psychology class about how comics weren’t just for kids anymore and that, I think, proved to be the catalyst. When I got the paper back from the teacher, every bit of white space on the title page was covered in his red ink scribblings gushing about my paper and promising a high grade for it! I got a vague idea then about maybe expanding the theme of that paper into a whole book. Not that things turned out that way, only that it was a catalyst.
JV: When were you first exposed to comics and more specifically Marvel?
Pierre: Although this neighborhood kid introduced me to Marvel, I recall that he had a stack of comics that included as many DCs as Marvels. Forget now if he recommended the Marvels over the DCs or if that was my own taste/choice…he probably did. Later, I had a cousin who loved comics too but was less discerning in his tastes. He bought everything from Thor to Sad Sack and I was able to catch up on titles like the Metal Men and Sgt Rock by borrowing stuff from him to read. One thing I did learn through that reading though was that DC didn’t do it for me!
JV: Were comics a big part of your youth and did they influence or foster a love of reading?
Pierre: When I was a kid, a lot of my time revolved around comics in one way or another. Specifically, I had to find ways to earn the money I needed to buy my favorite comics. I started by collecting returnable bottles and later walking a paper route to earn money I needed. At first I had a friend who was just as interested as I was but he soon got out of comics so I was left alone to scour my hometown on my trusty bike going from store to store looking for all the issues that I knew came out in a certain week. Although I’d developed an interest in reading before comics (I devoured the Tom Swift and Tarzan series, read a lot of books on WWII and my former comics reading buddy and I still shared an interest in science fiction) what they did was introduce me to new literary avenues to pursue such as Robert E. Howard from the Conan comic, Bram Stoker from Tomb of Dracula, or Sax Rohmer from Master of Kung Fu.
JV: I often say Stan Lee is the 1b to Walt Disney’s 1a for who had the greatest contribution to American Pop Culture. What similarities do you see between the two imagineers? What made Stan such a visionary in the medium and how did he create such non-story related significance with the fans?
Pierre: Stan and Disney make for an interesting comparison in that both created entertainment empires based on creations from their own imaginations. But I’m not sure if the comparison can go too far. Disney seemed driven by his desire to create and use the medium of film to give his creations as wide a venue as possible. Stan on the other hand, hasn’t struck me as being terribly interested in writing comics before the Marvel age. I think it was just a job to him before that. His real interest lay in more acceptable media such as book publication…this feeling of media inferiority seemed to stay with him even into later life when he absconded to Hollywood as soon as he could get away. In between of course, he helped to create the Marvel universe as we know it. Obviously he had the talent for it and his skill as an editor and art editor was an indispensable part of that success. However, a key factor in his success was a chumminess with readers and the ability of not taking what Marvel was doing too seriously, attitudes that he likely picked up from EC Comics. Stan emulated that making fans feel like they were part of a special club whose members were in the know.
JV: If Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko were the innovators of the Marvel Universe who were the most important artists doing the yeoman’s work? Who was next most indispensible to Stan in constructing the Marvel Universe?
Pierre: For the early years, that’s easy: Don Heck! But beyond those early years there were artists like John Buscema, John Romita, and Gene Colan who no doubt helped but I think, were less involved in outright innovation than Kirby and Ditko were. The real indispensable man was a writer, Roy Thomas. I think he even more than Stan, took this new Marvel universe seriously as a coherent, interconnected entity. Where Stan could be a bit lackadaisical about continuity, Roy made it an overriding concern. He wrote stories to fill gaps in the history as much as to entertain in their own right. He brought a serious, deliberate intent to keeping things straight where Stan may never have thought too much about it.
JV: Had he not died in that tragic train accident, would Joe Maneely have been one of the founding creators of the Marvel Age of Comics? Would his style have lent itself to this new universe?
Pierre: That’s hard to say, at least to my mind. His style was nothing like Kirby or Ditko’s. But if Heck could adapt then why not Maneely? But to me, his style seemed overly rendered, dark, and ultimately stiff. There didn’t seem to be too much attempt at breaking out of the six panel grid etc. So I don’t know how Maneely would have fit in. Maybe he would have been sidelined to the dying western comics or become mainly an inker.
JV: You examine nearly every major issue and story in the Silver Age of Marvel in Marvel Comics In The 1960’s. What were your top 5 favorite stories?
Pierre: My top five storylines were Amazing Spider-Man #s 17-19 because it encompassed everything that made Marvel so fascinating to a kid in the 1960s; FF #s 48-50 for the Galactus trilogy that opened up the Marvel universe to well…the whole universe!; FF #51 because it expressed all of the high flown ideals that were embodied in Marvel in the 1960s, it’s optimism about people and the country; Sgt. Fury #13 because it was an epic length but single issue story that perfectly captured Cap and Bucky with art and story by Stan the Man and King Kirby!; Avengers #32-33 because it featured Don Heck pencils and inks on a cautionary story that was quintessentially Marvel…something you’d never see the competition doing at the time; FF Annual #6: “Let There Be Life!” whose message again encapsulated Marvel’s values including that of respect for all human life, no matter how small or helpless. A message that seems wholly absent from today’s comics.
JV: A number of years ago Roy Thomas’ Alter Ego Magazine looked at what might have been had Jack Kirby continued to draw The Incredible Hulk past issue #6. Why do you think the Hulk failed to catch on with readers right away? What makes the character such an enduring creation today?
Pierre: I think it failed in those first six issues because neither Stan nor Jack had a clear idea of what to do with the character. His personality and behavior changed with nearly every story. Later, when Stan teamed with Ditko on the strip for Tales to Astonish, ground rules were established that gave readers points of reference that they could rely upon from issue to issue. Also, the serial format helped new stories progress naturally from previous ones. Aside from that, the character is such a limited one, I can’t for the life of me figure out why it has continued to be popular all these years!
JV: Who is your favorite Marvel character or title to come out of the 1960’s Marvel Age of Comics?
Pierre: Spider-Man. When I was a kid, I immediately identified with his loner status and his apparently endless list of problems! The strip also had many interesting supporting characters (including the Torch who was far more interesting here than he was over at the FF!), real world problems, colorful villains, and intricate plotting.
JV: In your book Marvel Comics In The 1960’s one of the Jack Kirby devices you took about is his use of the larger 4 panel page. What do you think is his most important contribution to the medium for advancing a story?
Pierre: In terms of Hollywood, Kirby was about 40 years ahead of his time. For example, today’s movies are shot and edited at a much faster pace than they were in the golden age of Hollywood. The viewer isn’t allowed to hardly catch his breath, pick up plot points, or get to know the characters before the action barrels along to a thrilling, often over the top FX laden climax. That’s all pure silver age Kirby who did the same thing. It was what differentiated his comics from those of Ditko or Heck say. Kirby’s characters were constantly in motion, his stories never stopped long enough for character development of sub-plots; they carried you along like a roller coaster to their final, furious conclusion!
JV: I have always had an affinity for some of the lesser known contributions to the Marvel Age such Sgt. Fury and the trio of Western heroes. What do you think about some of the unsung creators from this period?
Pierre: If you’re looking for some comment on unsung artists of the Marvel age I would point out the number of fill in artists who worked on the Giant-Man strip in Astonish. Dick Ayers and Bob Powell are two that come to mind. They weren’t very good…or at least not on super heroes, but I do have a soft spot for the relatively awkward jobs they turned on the strip. Or Dick Ayers and Carl Burgos on the Torch strip in Strange Tales.
JV: What can you share about your upcoming follow-up book to Marvel Comics In The 1960’s?
Pierre: It’ll be called Marvel Comics in the 1970s: An Issue by Issue Field Guide to a Pop-Culture Phenomenon and will follow exactly the same format as the first volume. It will cover what I’ve termed the twilight years that extend through the 1970s an era in which the flagship titles took a back seat to newer more offbeat features. Actually, the whole project was conceived as a single book but the publisher, TwoMorrows Pubs, decided it would have been too big so divided it at roughly the half way point which was the end of the grandiose years. The new volume will be available in May, 2011.
JV: Will there be a third installment of your study of Marvel Comics?
Pierre: No, this is it.
JV: Are you planning on ever tackling the Distinguished Competition?
Pierre: No. Besides not being very enthusiastic about the subject, I don’t feel I’m qualified.
JV: How have you come up with such great art and images for your books? Do you own any original comic art?
Pierre: All credit for the images has to go to TwoMorrows and its staff, particularly layout man supreme Rich Fowlkes who has been great to work with. I made up a dream list of the kinds of illustrations I’d like to see in the book from Marvel pages to historical photos and he’s bent over backwards to accommodate me. And if he can’t find what I want, he makes his own suggestions that usually turn out to be exactly what I would have picked. Unfortunately, I don’t own any original art…I’ve preferred to spend my hard earned shekels on buying the comics themselves! The new book though, will feature quite a few original art pages reproduced from the pencils.
JV: As we move further away from the printed comic book and more and more is available digitally to a wider, younger audience do you think that one day comics – especially the Silver Age Marvel canon – will be studied as a truly great contribution to our literary culture and break through the pop culture barrier?
Pierre: I used to think so but not so much anymore (see that high school psychology paper I mention above). I think it’s limited by the very nature of its format i.e. little pictures accompanied by word balloons. There was a brief instant of time in the 1980s with Frank Miller’s Batman Returns and Alan Moore’s Watchmen when it seemed the outside world was about to embrace comics as an art form suitable for adults, but that Prague Spring seems to have fallen by the wayside. Today, the comic stores are flooded with pretty much juvenile fare more suitable for youths but not for grownups. Silver age comics, particularly Marvel, I think will retain a certain pop culture cache, but beyond that, I don’t think anyone is going to take Marvel Zombies or Crisis VI very seriously.
You can keep up with Pierre online here and be sure to look for Pierre’s new book Marvel Comics In The 1970’s this May from TwoMorrows. Don’t forget to pick up the first installment Marvel Comics In The 1960’s now to get all caught up on the story thus far. Excelsior!
Those old RIF PSA’s ringing in my head as I decide to talk about what led me to appreciate comic art in the first place: Reading. Comic Books were how I learned to appreciate reading, how to love reading. I read any and all comics I could get my hands on from the comics on my favorite toys, shows and movies like G.I. Joe, Transformers and Star Wars that eventually served as my gateway drug to the world of super hero comics.
I knew about Spider-Man, and Superman, and Batman, and Captain America as a young boy having followed whatever adventures lived through syndicated television and sure the colorful comics I saw caught my eye but until you get that all important allowance or paper route comics weren’t as accessible 20-30 years ago as they are today.
Now I am well versed in the Marvel canon and can teach courses on the history of the Marvel Universe both fictional and the real life history from the creators point of view. Lately I found myself wanting to read more and learn about how other creators told their stories so I decided to embark on a reading tour of all things comics not published by Marvel. There’s tons of good reading out there. I’ll talk about some of my favorite indie reads in an upcoming post but right now I’d like to focus on DC.
For me I have always had a working knowledge of the DC Universe and collected and read the comics in the 80’s and 90’s with many of my favorite titles including Batman, Detective, Swamp Thing, Animal Man and Vigilante. I am a sucker for the old school stuff. I love the nostalgic Golden and Silver Age stories and characters but I just never got further than Green Lantern and Atom’s early adventures in Showcase comics with regard to DC. Now I have my collection deeply invested with Marvel Comics with many near complete runs of all the major titles. I don’t have the financial resources nor the space to start up a DC collection. However, since I love original comic art and the beauty of the black and white pen and ink page I have decided to start reading all of the DC classics from the start in their line of Showcase Presents trade paperbacks. Low risk, high reward if I like the stories and I can get them in bulk for a low price. If I don’t like a book it just cost me the price of a paperback. I am starting out with some old favorites that I am currently enjoying like Adam Strange with Superman and Green Lantern on deck but I am casting out to my comics friends in cyber space. What titles do you recommend? What should I be reading in DC canon and what will I not be able to put down? I’d love your feedback as I continue to…
As I evolve as a fan of the comics medium and as the fandom of that medium evolves with me I discover the art of costume play, or “cosplay”, or as I used to refer to them: Trekkies. For me the only people who used to dress up in full regalia at cons were Star Trek fans. Now, you go to an event like the New York Comic Con and you will see more fabulous and diverse costumed fans than you will plainclothes fan boys and girls. One of the best at costume play is a comics journalist and rising star in costume play and modeling. Panel Surfing is thrilled to chat with the super-talented and super-beautiful super-heroine on demand, the lovely Elizabeth Amber.
Jason Versaggi: Tell me a little about where you are from and where you grew up.
Elizabeth Amber: I’m born and raised in New Jersey but originally we were from the area around Newark, that part most people think of when they hear the words “New Jersey;” but when I was 10 my folks moved us out to the countryside near PA. Our neighbor down the road has sheep in her front yard, there’s an acre between us and the neighbor to the north and we worry about things like hitting deer with our cars and bears and coyotes eating our pets.
JV: Were you always into comics?
EA: Actually, I was not always into comics. As a kid I rarely got them but I would read my brother’s RICHIE RICH or BUGS BUNNY although I loved the pocket books of comic strips like B.C. or FAMILY CIRCUS. I was really into coloring books, Barbies and cartoons. When I was a teenager and leafed through my brother’s INDIANA JONES and X-MEN, all I cared about was the art (and it was the late 1980s with some less than stellar art). I didn’t get my own pull list until 2006. I had been in several comic shops looking for presents and was treated like garbage; I drove past Comic Fusion for about a full year before daring to go in. Then I finally did; discovered it was co-owned by a woman named Stacy, now one of the very best friends I have. She talked to me for 45 minutes that first day explaining all about Wednesdays and pull lists and crossovers. By 2007, I was mingling at cons and writing for Dynamic Forces.
JV: What were your favorite characters or titles? What else did you like to read?
EA: I have drastically changed my subscriptions in the past 12 months. Usually I do that once a year just to get the feeling for different things. My Top 3 books are: TINY TITANS, THE LONE RANGER, and LOVE AND CAPES. I’m also really vested in the older universe of Matt Wagner’s GREEN HORNET: YEAR ONE line which has a couple books. Mainly, I’m switching over to trades and mini-series. I try to review regularly and post at YouTube.com/amberthestylist with exciting things I’ve discovered like MADAME XANADU by Matt Wagner, THE ALCOHOLIC by Jonathan Ames or SWEETS by Kody Chamberlain.
JV: What is Cosplay? How did it start? How did it start for you?
EA: I don’t know the full history of “cosplay,” per se but people have been donning costumes for centuries through rituals and celebrations. If you ever see pictures from a Mexican Day of the Dead, you’ll see some remarkable stuff. Then there’s the American biggies like Mardi Gras and Halloween. Of course for us nerds, it’s comic cons. The term “cosplay” is a spill over from the kotaku subculture of Japan (anime/manga/lolita) and it just means “costume play.” It seems that a lot of people (usually a much younger crowd) are into the “play” part where they act out skits and stay in character. I rarely see this in mainstream American comic costuming. Steampunk costumers are also much more inclined to be in character but they usually develop original characters and I’ve never heard them use the term “cosplay.” It’s a specific subculture term and honestly, some people who dress up in mainstream costumes hate being called a cosplayer and prefer costumer.
JV: How much work goes into creating one of your costumes? Describe that process.
EA: I’ve learned to hate certain aspects of building a costume like making boots, gloves and accessories in general. That’s always the time consuming part and the moments that bring me to tears. The little details of accessories take so much longer than making the suits. I’ve also learned that if there’s a costume somewhere on my To Do Someday list that I keep my eyes open for parts; Rogue for example was actually a two-year project because I keep looking for gloves, a jacket and boots that I liked. To make the suit only takes me two days.
Designing for myself is much easier. I actually don’t enjoy designing suits for people unless they just so happen to be my size, which is rare. Believe it or not, I’m a terrible artist so I usually sketch out something really rough paper or I take it digital by going into City of Heroes and creating a new costume in there to get a sense of where the cut lines will go and which colors I like.
I start with a base pattern, then have to apply the new cut lines for color blocking. I usually transfer from that pattern onto scrap fabric so that I’ll have a working fabric pattern which can be reused. I test on scrap spandex and try to get initial fittings to make adjustments to the pattern. Then it gets done on the final fabric, normally. My Star Sapphire is actually the mock-up stage on fabric I hated but I wanted to wear something new at the CGS Supershow so I wore it and hated it but it was new at least.
JV: You are essentially a 3D work of art walking around Cons. What was it like the first time you put on a costume and strut through a Con?
EA: The first time was a really fun experience because it was a small show, the old Steel City Con, where a large group of people I only knew online were getting together. We had formed our own fan club for WHO WANTS TO BE A SUPERHERO (and we’re still together to this day). A lot of us created our own characters; I was going to audition that first season and chickened out so it was the whole reason I created a costume. Wearing that with a group of really accepting and wonderful friends was an amazing experience. When I wore it to NYCC, it was different. No one knew who I was. Several people complimented me but I found out they thought I was dressed as someone from the original BATTLESTAR GALLACTICA just because my colors were the same.
JV: Who is your favorite character you have portrayed?
EA: I have three favorites: Wonder Woman for being easily the most recognizable female character; Firestar because she’s very specifically from my generation so when fellow geeks recognize me, it’s a great feeling; and Susan Storm of the Fantastic Four because she’s the character I probably most relate to which is ironic since I hated the F4 when I was little and found them dreadfully boring.
JV: Who is a character you have yet to envelope yourself in but are dying to?
EA: Wonder Woman’s villain Circe. I am in love with the Dodson design and I would feel great in that costume. It just looks out of my skill set so I’ve never tackled her. She’s magical and quite often, more like the “anti-hero” where she just wants what she thinks is best. That’s different than being crazy and evil.
JV: Name a few characters you are working on adding to your repertoire.
EA: I am hoping the costume I’ll work on over the winter is Phyla-Vell from GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. I actually don’t know much about her yet because I have only read a few issues. The Annihilation arc sprawled through it and I find epic crossovers to be so daunting (usually annoying but not always). And I don’t want to dress as a character I know nothing about, so I will definitely be doing homework on her if I decide to go through with it.
Despite my fear of spiders, there is a spider themed lady that I’d like to be. The Black Widow from the TWELVE not from the AVENGERS. She is extremely powerful; people fear her; she is free with her sexuality and orientation; and she has a badass costume.
The new Batwoman is another that I’m not sure I can ever pull off because of the complexity of the accessories. I know a lot of other people who can make them for me but it’d be a matter of having the ability to hire them for it. For kicks her villain Alice would be a fantastic costume, but talk about complicated! I know I couldn’t put that one together.
Plus, I’m always thinking of someone from a Lantern Corps, probably an original character.
JV: Who are some of your biggest influences as an artist? As a journalist?
EA: I’m part a great community called The Superhero Costuming Forum which has been instrumental in getting me this far. We have some sisterly sites like the League of Lanterns and League of Heroes and Replica Prop Forum too. My biggest influences are my close friends there. To start with though, it’s my mother; she always made our costumes and she bought me a sewing machine to get me started back in 2006.
As a journalist, that’s pretty easy. One of my best friends Jill “The Nerdy Bird” Pantozzi writes a lot of fun columns and her reviews brilliantly showcase the vast knowledge she has of DC Comics. I’m such a newbie that I don’t have all that history to draw from when I write. For me to get a great interview or a decent article, I end up spending a lot of time doing research when someone like Jill already knows all that and knows what to ask. She’s great in written, audio or video format. We both spent a lot of time in broadcast radio and have migrated to the web. The only people besides Jill would be Blair Butler and Chris Gore both from G4TV for all the same reasons; they know their stuff and they’re great on camera.
JV: Your super power is obviously devilish sex appeal in massive quantities. What is the lamest line tossed out at you at a con? Any horror stories from battles with fanboys? Other Cosplayers?
EA: This is the first year of the con circuit where I didn’t have a husband next to me at all moments holding my stuff so for years I wasn’t hit on. If I was, I didn’t notice. This year at NYCC, the worst was some young teenage boy who was doing a scavenger hunt. He showed me his list and asked me nicely if I could help. So I’m thinking, “aww how sweet.” Then he points to a line reading, “brental floss.” I had to ask him what it meant it and he said it was to get a picture of a girl’s thong. I was dressed as Amazonia from LOVE AND CAPES, which is a very wholesome comic book; and while it was true that the “slave Leia” inspired design meant I was wearing a thong I gave the little creep a firm response that there was no way in hell he was getting that picture. I should have been smarter and asked to have a picture of him and his friends then showed security but I didn’t think of it until afterwards.
I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad experience with other costumers. I do get really annoyed when there’s a shark-frenzy type of situation involving a group of manga/anime kids. They just tend to grate my nerves when they are in such large loud obnoxious groups. The Star Wars folks hang out in large groups but they’re dignified and pleasant to be around. I think it’s just that such a huge part of the manga/anime material attracts immature kids.
JV: What are some of your upcoming events? Where can fans see you and your work?
After that is Oct 30, the Great Allentown Comic Con, where I’ll be a guest to judge their costume contest. It’s great that it’s nice and close to my home so I can easily drive and it’s the first time I’m being added to an actual docket as a “Guest.”
JV: You have just spent an entire Con Weekend as the Black Queen from the Hellfire Club and you are dying to just throw on some sweats and unwind with a pizza and a movie. What’s on your pie and what’s in your DVD player?
EA: Whole wheat crust pizza with vegan pesto sauce (lots of garlic), soy cheese and really good veggies. I tend to unwind by playing marathons of my favorite TV shows like Castle, Monk, Psych, House, Dead Like Me, or Batman:TAS.
Writing is a hard business. Telling a descriptive story that people get caught up in either reading your words or listening to you speak is not easy. Brevity is key and yet how can anyone be descriptive enough and brief at the same time when it comes to the devourer of world’s Galact-er…New York Comic Con.
I have not been to San Diego Comic Con so I won’t pretend this show is any more vast and impressive but it has to be almost its equal. Your senses are guilty of the deadly sin of gluttony just by walking in the doors, if you can get in the doors. First you are assaulted with the multi-media monopolies: Marvel, DC, and the video game industry. There are many second tier publishers nipping at the heels of the big two with ambitious booths from Archaia, Dark Horse, Aspen, and Boom! Studios.
I was lucky to stop at the Atlas Comics booth and chat with publisher Jason Goodman. Jason shared with me the new creative team on the next title in the Atlas relaunch of Wulf as none other than Steve Niles and Nat Jones. Quite a coup for the upstart company.
I hacked my way through the throng like I was Danny Trejo and took in Artist’s Alley in all its crowded splendor. Just enough time to watch some folks sketch and say hello to my buddy and con sketch maven Buzz.
There are plenty of new comics and trade book sellers represented here with the biggest of those being home field advantage winner Midtown Comics. However, if you look hard enough you will find numerous vintage comics dealers on the outskirts of it all. The old money, if you will, whose furnaces are stoked with four-color gold in the form of slabbed copies of Golden and Silver Age comic rarities. These dealers are staging a resurgence thanks to CGC and are fending off the ever-increasing Cos Players with many costume booths closing in to squeeze the comics, toys and art dealers for space.
As for the original comic art there are lots to be seen by all with great piece on display from dealers like Mike Burkey, Albert Moy, Anthony Snyder, Cool Lines, Spencer Beck and many others. Even the esteemed founder of CAF, Bill Cox , was in the thick of the comic art fray at Mike “Romitaman” Burkey’s booth.
You have to imagine this is what Sodom & Gomorrah must have looked like and just hope God lets it slide this time because it is tremendous fun and an experience not to be missed.
Well I finally get to play around on my favorite site on the World Wide Web: ComicArtFans.com. The good folks at CAF, namely Bill Cox and Chris Haggard, are letting me pick out and comment on some of the best pieces of comic art that is housed in the online galleries on CAF. The largest and finest collection of comic art all under one digital roof. It is a veritable museum of the medium.
Here is the first piece I chose to spotlight. Enjoy.