Wednesday, August 31, 2005


(This is Terri, the girl one- Steve's making me post too. It's like an EST session here today. "POST IN THE BLOG OR NO BATHROOM KEY" he's saying. It's terrible. People are sobbing brokenly in the corners and Ron's trying to chew through his wrists. Although that might be more because of the music we're playing)

Anyway. Parker came back from the South with a cuckoo clock, which he put up in the studio. We had a normal clock, but Parker broke that one over his head, so the cuckoo clock is, for some of us, the sole time-keeping device in here. The cuckoo doesn't keep Pacific Standard Time, though; it keeps time for an alternate universe. It cuckoos once on the half hour, and an indeterminate number of times on the "hour" (which sometimes comes every fifteen minutes, as far as I can tell). Steve's theory is: the cuckoo clock is somehow interconnected to Parker's brain, and so it cuckoos whenever Parker thinks maybe an hour's passed.

Steve said I'm supposed to post... 

...So here's some stuff from my sketchbook. And remember, kids, it's a crime to eat the breadsticks and NOT eat the pizzacrusts.

And when in doubt, the answer is "The Beta Band".

David Hahn

"Dean Martin never sang about minestrone" 

An important discussion at 1:28 pm: What is the difference between minestrone and pasta fazool?

Optimism and pessimism at the Byrne Board 

There was a big thread on the Byrne board over the weekend, dealing with the future of the comics industry and the comics medium. Here are a couple of my contributions, addressing why I'm optimistic.

"There's a lot of doom and gloom, and for the life of me, I don't see why. I don't think there's ever been a better time to read comics. An enormous amount of the best work of previous decades is available in affordable reprints or archival editions that you can borrow from a library. There's a flood of fine work from other countries available in English. Cartoonists who want to undertake a big, ambitious project know that there's a market for such things. As a result, we're getting more good long-form comics for adults, and we aren't losing the readers who want something besides escapism and fun. And the cartoonists who want to do such things are sticking with the medium and getting better.

Thanks to manga, there are more women and girls buying comics than there have been in many, many years, and these women are already producing their own comics by the truckload. We're going to find out soon how receptive the manga market is to domestic comics. Everything I've heard says that they love Wendy Pini's work when they see it, so there's every reason to believe that when they're exposed to other comics that offer that sort of intense immersion in an artist's imagined world, they'll be similarly drawn in.

For example, this spring, Scholastic released the first of nine Bone reprint volumes in color. This has already sold over 100,000 copies. That's for ten year old material that's been available continuously for a decade in a wide variety of formats. They've got an entire line of all-new, all-ages graphic novels on the way.
They also published the eight volumes of Dav Pilkey's "Captain Underpants" books, (which are comics sold as children's books.) These have, as of 2003, sold over 25 million copies. That's 8 books at 3 million copies each, and there's every reason to believe they can sell every one of those readers a bunch of graphic novels.

Comics have made the big move into libraries over the last decade, and thanks to high circulation numbers, they're getting more popular with librarians every year. There are 16 thousand public libraries in the US and 93 thousand school libraries. This is an enormous market for all comics, but particularly those for children, and (for those of you worried about rising cover prices) it knocks the price of entry down to zero.

Yes, superhero circulation is down and it's harder to make a living working in some genres than it was in 1965. But there is a ton of good news out there, and cartoonists overall have more and better options now than they ever did before."


"I guess it depends on how broadly or narrowly we define "comics industry." I think that if Tokyopop, Viz, Pantheon, First Second, Lerner, Andrews Mcmeel, Vertical and Scholastic are publishing comics, they're part of my industry. If the discussion is only about North American direct market stores serviced by Diamond, there's gonna something to be worried about. That system serves one particular market very well, and a few others indifferently. I'm optimistic because I think there's a lot more to comics than that one particular market. And thanks to the emergence of the library and bookstore markets, comics are going to be even more accesible now, to both kids and adults, than they were when we were growing up.

Just to add perspective, when I was a kid, there were two newsstands nearby selling comics, a library, and one bookstore that carried a couple of strip reprints and maybe "Origins of Marvel Comics." The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh had fewer than 3 dozen comics-related books. I read them all, repeatedly. I just checked their on-line catalog and there are now over 3 thousand different titles in the system. They have programs about graphic novels, and displays of recommended ones. The bookstore across from the library now has a graphic novel section with several hundred titles. One of the two newstands is still there, and it still has the same comics rack. The music and video game stores carry Shonen Jump magazine and some Tokyopop titles. And of course, an adult can buy any comic he or she wants over the internet. These things to me describe a huge net gain in accessability.

Note that this isn't some hip, happening west coast enclave I'm describing. It's a neighborhood in rust-belt Pittsburgh. If you can, do a little survey of how many places someone in your old neighborhood could get comics to read back when you were growing up, versus how many places they can get them now.

Here's what I see: while the numbers in one part of the industry have contracted, the readership in other parts is exploding, and unlike the way it used to be, there's no reason to expect that we'll lose most of our new readers every few years. I can honestly say that the business looks better to me now than it did when I was a inexperienced 20 year old entering the Kubert School."

The 2nd Flytrap printing isn't as impressive. 

So I've got those second printings of Flytrap in. No, I'm not going to do a press release. Good lord. Anyhow, these have a plus and a minus. The plus is that I ran the the art a little bigger and on heavier, slightly whiter paper, so art-wonks can study my virtuoso brushwork more closely. The minus is that the printer didn't trim the books or score the cover edge for a flatter fold, so as physical objects, they feel a bit more like a zine. It's still two bucks, postpaid in the US, so go here to get a copy mailed to your home for a bit less than a slice of deep-dish. More reviews from the blogosphere: Randomville | Progressive Ruin | View From the Cheap Seats

ACHTUNG!Do you blog about comics? Email me steve@stevelieber.SPAMcom with your site and info and an I'll heave a copy right at you, free.

Fill our ears. 

Thanks to airtunes, we've been playing a lot of music in the studio, and it's always a challenge to find stuff that'll keep the energy level up without distracting people from their work. I've been putting a lot of Beach Boys and Buddy Holly out there. James Brown seems to work well, (and you can crack up the room by hitting them with "I Feel Good" right after Springsteen's "Nebraska.") Beta Band's good. White Stripes can't miss. The Supremes work well. Garbage. Veruca Salt. What else should we be throwing into the mix?

Taking a whiz in the Mighty Mercury Manner 

Our front door keys no longer work for the bathrooms, so we've been forced to humiliate bathroom-goers the same way our favorite cafes do, with conspicuous keychains!

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Wizard of Zzzz. 

Now the up-to-the-minute hipsters of Mercury Studio are discussing the mind-blowing synchronicities that happen when you play Pink Floyd and the Wizard of Oz at the same time. Cutting edge stuff, here. Somehow this came out of Parker's suggestion that one could mash-up Zapruder's Kennedy film with the Patterson Bigfoot footage.

Hushabye Geekroom 

As I write this, the studio is engaged in a fierce debate over how best to re-edit Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Developing...

Monday, August 22, 2005


Parker here– and here's Lieber's strip about his father that I talk about over on Mystifying Oracle. This orginally ran in Portland Monthly magazine.
If it isn't loading for you, go here.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Off to Gotham. 

I'm about to be busy for a month or so, so let's get some blogging in while I still can.

Word has it that Parker will be back in town soon. Everyone wants to know if he's got his North Carolona accent back, and if those crazy rumors about him actually drawing again are true.

Inker Jeremy Colwell has been working with Mercury a lot recently, doing great stuff. Looking for inking? Visit his page.

Shawn Hoke has reviewed Flytrap at his minicomics blog Size Matters. He raises an interesting question about it wondering if the illstration might be "too self-assured for a minicomic." It's not something I'd ever really considered. I approach any story as a story and try not to think of the means of delivery. Is there something about the small-batch photocopied booklet that calls for a different aesthetic, the way an old AM car radio seems to demand bubblegum pop? I can see the point. Chris Ware included stand-alone photopcopied minis with his McSweeney's issue, and we can assume he presented them that way because the he felt the format is an important part of the message. Lo-fi production values might be of a piece with the unpolished linework of some of the minis I've enjoyed. If anyone has any thoughts about this, I'd love to read them.

There's a good Jim Ottaviani interview at Broken Frontier.It's in two parts one | two.

Newsarama has the scoop on Karl Kesel and Drew Johnson's new one-shot, The Fantastic Four Wedding Special.

More worthwhile reading at L'il Rivkah's blog. This time, she asks her readers about their first visit to a comics store. I've never seen this question answered by so many people who aren't part of the direct market weekly-pull list world.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Monday, passionate Monday. 

Everyone else has linked to L'il Rivkah, so I guess I should, too. The best adverserial response I've seen was on a comment thread on Chris Butcher's blog. It came from the always quotable Abhay Khosla , and I hope he won't be too pissed that I'm reprinting it here:

I do think she has a point, though. It's easy to fall into a rut, and when an artist lets that happen, he betrays the muse and she withdraws her favors. I've seen it happen to too many talented creators. You've got to keep learning. If you're green you're growing. If you're ripe you rot.

Speaking of passion, Paul O'Brien doesn't think there's much to be passionate about in the genre he follows. This has prompted passionate debate over at Fanboy Rampage. Lest anyone doubt Paul's ability to appreciate non-spandex work, (or my own ability to turn anything into self-promotion) one can read Paul's thoughtful criticism of an indy comic here.

There's a new Peter Bagge strip at Reason. For the past few years I've enjoyed Bagge's political strips a lot more than his character stories, and -I swear I'm not just saying this to fit the theme- I think it's because he's a lot more passionate about his politics.

Mike Oeming asked for a definition of "hack" and his posters brought their opinions to the table. Here's what I had to say:

I should add that a creator's "hack" work could even be better than their most sincere efforts. Every artist has looked at the work of someone who needs to learn when to stop. "God, If someone could just STOP him from doing that last hour of "perfecting" his work would be a lot better."

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Thursday linkblogging. 

Linkblogging. It's what's for dinner.

First things first, The Willamette Week has declared Mercury the "Best Hall of Superheroes." Um... Okay. Cool. They ran our picture and everything. When they took the photo the week before their "best of" issue, we kind of thought they were going to use our name to take a shot at the competition: "Best Portland Mercury" or something like that.

Kind of interesting; kind of sad: Jim Valentino offers a hall of swipes of the same cover image.

At The Hurting, Tim O'neill writes about WHITEOUT, a graphic novel I drew back in the 20th century. What's weird for me is that one of the pages he reproduces is the one I drew the day I first visited Studiosaurus, the comic-book studio whose folding led us to form Mercury. That was the first time I met Matthew Clark, and I used him as a model for the goateed McMurdo communications worker that Carrie deals with.

Rick Geerling seems reasonably happy with it, too, but buyer's remorse could still set in.

Valuable stuff over at Pete Woods' Livejournal.

A couple of reviews of Jeff Parker's first Fantastic Four story: Silver Bullet | Well Read Press

Only one Flytrap review to link this time: Steven Grant's Permanent Damage gives it the A-OK, and notes that my collaborators and I are leading him to reevaluate the form. Good. I think it's a GREAT form, myself. Short comics stories are one of my favorite things to illustrate, but I haven't found an venue for them that makes sense to me. Chapbooks or mini-comics or demi-comics or "small-batch comics" (my preferred term) are handy, satisfying objects that can deliver a complete story, beginning, middle and end. From an artist's view, there's none of the unfortunate recontextualizing that can happen in an anthology. From a publishing standpoint, the upfront investment is near zero, and there's no big inventory to store or get nailed with at tax time. It's not a big money maker, of course. But in black and white comics, money usually doesn't happen until the trade is collected, anyhow.

Update on David Hahn writing the X-men: David's collaborator on X-men Unlimited number eleven, will be David Aja. I understand that this was already in the solicitations. The blogger is always the last to know.

Paul's got some San Diego photos. I look particularly spazzish.

Finally, here's Salon.com discussing one of my favorite comics, Finder by Carla Speed McNeil.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Heartbreakers Meet Boilerplate- In Stores Now 

Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett's latest graphic novel "Heartbreakers Meet Boilerplate" is in stores now! A year in the making and executed in a revolutionary new illustration technique Paul calls "paintography," a new art style that combines drawing, painting, and photography.

The Heartbreakers, a family of clones created from the DNA of a beautiful redheaded scientist, team up with
Boilerplate, the legendary robot created for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. This graphic novel is the first time that the robot - an internet celebrity appears in the comic book medium.

Queenie, Delta, and the Heartbreakers made their debut 15 years ago, and since then have starred in a series of graphic novels scripted by Anina Bennett and illustrated by her husband, Paul Guinan. The Heartbreakers were the first female action heroes (y'know, the kind without capes) with their own title. Their historical significance is acknowleged by Trina Robbins in her book "The History of Women Superheroes".

In the new Heartbreakers book, clones win a major political battle: no longer considered property, they become citizens, albeit with limited rights. The economy must undergo a radical shift, as corporations learn to survive without using ciones as slave labor. One company, Biovoc, plans to create androids, combining human DNA with cybernetic parts. The 19th-century robot, is key to Biovoc's plans.

Bennett says, "This is an action story set against the backdrop of enormous social change. Through the clones and the robots, we examine the nature of individual consciousness. But of course we also have fun with the characters, and a good chase scene, along the way."

Boilerplate has an enormous audience, with fans at NASA's Space Telerobotics Program, StarTrek.com, in Hollywood, and around the world. Every day, thousands of online visitors check in on Boilerplate. Bennett and Guinan even had to change web hosts because of bandwidth issues when daily hits topped 30,000.

US News & World Report featured Boilerplate in a cover article, calling it "charming," The Christian Science Monitor proclaimed it "amazing," and the San Francisco Robotics Society of America says the machine is "awesome." Among other publications that have covered it are Great Britain's Real Robots magazine; both weeklies in Portland, Oregon; and Paradox, the Russian equivalent of Wired.

Alex Ross calls Heartbreakers Meet Boilerplate "Stunning! A brilliant innovation in graphic storytelling."

Steve Rude says that "Heartbreakers Meet Boilerplate" is "The future of comics...I'm blown away!"

Is your local comic book shop carying this unique book? If not, order it directly from Paul and Anina at their website.

Off to Chicago 

The WizWorld Chicago con starts on Thursday, and I'll be there. Big Surprise. Look for me in Hall B, table 1886. Truth to tell, I never knew there was a Hall B. Please god, don't let that be the new name for the plexiglass habitrail that connects the hotel to the convention center. Or maybe I'll get lucky and find they've put me somewhere on the ramp overlooking the main room- the one with the weird german village mural. One friend says it's actually in the Sofitel. Anyhow, Hall B, table 1886. Look for the guy who used to be fat. Here's a recent picture of me looking kind of goofy.

Parker won't be there with me. He's still in North Carolina trying to figure out if it's possible to ship actual acres of land by UPS ground service. If you are a newcomer to his work and want to pick up The Interman, the book that made Marvel hand him the keys to their entire publishing empire, stop by my table in the afforementioned Hall B and I'll have some copies of it for sale, with all proceeds going straight to Allie and Stephen's college textbook fund.

Couple of interesting threads going on over at Millarworld. My contributions to them are here and here.

Joe Illidge has started a column. Ought to be a good read.

The Complete Idiot's Guide got a mention in Bookslut's San Diego report. I just wish I hadn't sold out of all the copies I'd brought on Thursday afternoon.

This was a nice start to the day- a fine review of FLYTRAP from Alan David Doane at Comic Book Galaxy. It's available in exactly no stores right now, so if you want a copy, find me at a con or go here and get a copy in the mail for two bucks, postpaid.

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