Recoloured characters or restored colouration?

An interesting find by Sean Kleefeld: Marvel may have recoloured background characters in their Masterworks series to make their early comics slightly more diverse:

On the one hand, I can appreciate that they were trying to be more inclusive in 1987 when the Masterworks book first came out. As minimal an effort as this was. But what that also does is change the historical record so that it misrepresents where Marvel was at socially in 1962. It makes the company look more progressive than it was. The truth is, as of FF #8, Marvel was not thinking about equal rights or showing people that didn’t look like anyone in their offices.

original and recoloured panels from Fantastic Four 8

However, I’m somewhat skeptical about it that Marvel really was thinking about diversity in 1987, not a period in which it had many titles starring women or characters of colour. Nor can I see the point in just recolouring some random background characters. To me, it looks more as if that character was always supposed to be black, but miscoloured in the original printing. The story was recoloured for the Masterworks edition by Glynis Oliver. Has anybody talked to her to see what she remembers about why this character was recoloured?

Friday Funnies: Wicked + Divine

panel from Wicked + Divine #1

The Wicked + The Divine: The Faust Act is the most nineties comic I’ve read in a long time. Even Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s previous project, the britpop inspired Phonogram, wasn’t as nineties as this. Largely because while that revolved around nineties music, this revolves around nineties comics. Not that this is some tedious remake or pastiche, but you can’t help but recognise the influence of a certain kind of nineties comic in this.

Luci from Wicked + Divine #1

Luci being the most obvious example. Dresses all in white, smokes all the time, makes sarky remarks, has remarkable powers but prefers to work through intimidation? Gee, who does that remind me of?

it was acceptable in the nineties

The attitude, the colouring, the deliberate flattened artwork; it’s all there from Phonogram. Both Phonogram and The Wicked + The Divine are at heart about an essential adolescent posturing, it just works better when you’re talking about supposed reincarnations of gods returning to Earth in teenage bodies to become superstars rather than indie pop devotees. This is everything Youngblood pretended it wanted to be back in 1991, or Morrison’s recent The Multiversity- The Just with its third & fourth generation heroes as reality tv stars attempted.

The critic

The plot is driven by a murder mystery, but this is largely an excuse to provide a bit of a tour through the world of the gods, as undertaken by the fan and the critic. The critic being the woman in black above, Cassandra; and isn’t that a blatant allusion. To say she isn’t quite what she seems at first would be wrong, but her role is put in a new light by new information about her provided near the end of the book, which made me reread to see if I could’ve picked up on it before. It might even explain her motivations, her hostility against the idea of these teenagers being gods, though that may also be because she seems slightly older than both the gods and the fan/protagonist.

She also wears the same glasses as David Kohl.

Brett Ewins

Brett Ewins does Judge Anderson

British comics Twitter this afternoon was rocked by the news that legendary 2000AD, Deadline, Johnny Nemo and Skreemer artist Brett Ewins had died. He had been one of those artists that never quite gotten the recognition they deserved but who was quietly influential to whole generations of artists, his influence noticable in people like Jamie Hewlett or Kieron Gillen. He was also one of the people responsible for what you might call the housestyle of 2000AD, a somewhat exagerrated, loose and kinetic style of cartooning that was like nothing seen in either American or British comics before. I personally first encountered his work on the “Universal Soldier” story from prog 750, during that glorious year or two I bought 2000AD weekly back in 1990-1992.

Brett Ewins, Jamie Hewlett, Steve Dillon at DeadlineBrett Ewins, Jamie Hewlett, Steve Dillon (L-R) at the Deadline offices.

As Joe Gordon puts it in the Forbidden Planet blog, Ewins was an essential figure in the UK comics scene of the eighties and nineties:

An utterly seminal figure for readers, especially of my generation growing up with 2000 AD and then, perfectly timed for us as we got that bit older, Deadline and other works, experimenting, pushing, improving, changing, pushing the nature of comics artwork and design (and in the case of Deadline, quite simply making comics cool – how well I remember my copies being borrowed by friends at college who hadn’t read a comic since they were kids, a perfect Cool Britannia mix of innovative comics, fresh, hip, hungry talent – being so nurtured by a generous Brett as many of them will tell you – and music and style, it was intoxicating, it was exciting).

Kwezi: South African superheroes

Kwezi superheroes from South Africa

An interesting post on Afropunk.com, about a new South African superhero series, Kwezi:

Created by acclaimed artist Loyiso Mkize, the series is centered on 19 year old Kwezi, a typical South African youngster – immersed in popular youth culture – who develops a connection with his traditional roots,. Mkize says, “It is the journey of a young man. He starts off as an arrogant, opinionated anti-hero who discovers and appreciates his superpowers … the cultural aspect brings him back to his roots.”

Quite a difference from the late seventies Apartheid era Mighty Man, which as Nick Wood describes it, was basically propaganda for the Apartheid state, aimed at the inhabitants of the townships:

But Mighty Man (MM) never challenged any agencies or laws outside the township in which they were set – ostensibly Soweto. A black hero seemingly meant exclusively for black people, his enemies were township gangsters (‘tsotis’), drug Lords (‘dagga merchants’) and generally opponents of peace and ‘law and order’. As Bill Mantlo (1978) states, Mighty Man propounded subservience to laws, non-violence and an anti-gun message (for blacks). With readership targeted to the townships and perhaps priced to ensure affordability to a relatively impoverished community, it was evident Mighty Man was implicitly intent on ensuring compliance to laws – with the underlying message that opponents of ‘law and order’ were invariably gangsters, murderers and, in some instances, ‘communists’. (As Mantlo asserts, a thinly veiled allusion to the then banned African National Congress.)

Great covers though.

Sugar, Sugar — Serge Baeken

how Sugar got his name

One of the best comics published last year was Serge Baeken’s Sugar, a slice of life comic about the life of a cat and the family he’s adopted into. Cat comics are always problematic because they so easily dive into sentimentality; it’s so easy just to lose yourself in cute anecdotes. Baeken’s work on the other hand has a bite to it. Partially because he recognises the essential truth of having cats, that you have to get used to their death, you share your life with them for, if you’re lucky, ten-fifteen years and then have to get used to their absence.

But more than that, it’s the art that keeps it from being sentimental, in its formalism. Baeken keeps the same six by four panel grid throughout the book, but within these panels experiments with layout in a way you don’t see a lot in other comics, certainly not so consistently. So in the early page shown above, you basically have a big overview picture of the street and block of flats the family lives in, intercut in panels, with the narrative set on top of it. It’s hard to know how to read it at first, your eye drawn down the page following the line of the building first, then back up to the first text balloon. Or perhaps down the road in the middle of the picture?

Sugar learns to talk

Baeken uses a lot of, if I understand McCloud’s Understanding Comics correctly, “aspect to aspect” transitions between panels, where different aspects of one idea are shown, rather than the passage of time. Here used like a training montage in a movie to show Sugar learning how to “talk” with his humans. I like the way in which the people are drawn slightly more “realistic”, with more lines to their faces than the cats, sleek and stylised.

Sugar in action

The consistent six by four grid is also great at showing action, with Sugar breaking through the panel borders, background orientation shifting with his own. There’s a touch of Toth, of Hugo Pratt in Baeken’s use of black and white, of shadow. These are pictures you can keep looking at for hours.

Sugar cover

As Wim Lockefeer laments at the Forbidden Planet blog, Sugar hasn’t been translated into English yet, but it wouldn’t need much translation. If you’re even slightly comfortable with French or Dutch, pick this up at your favourite comic store.

Friday Funnies: Ms. Marvel

Ms Marvel used to deface Islamophobic bus ads in San Francisco

The buzz around Marvel’s new Ms. Marvel series, now a year old, from the start has been as much about what it represents as about the comic itself. Kamela Khan is after all the first American-Muslim superhero to get her own series and a decade and a half into the War on Terror this still matters. How much it matters you can see from the photo above, showing one of Pam Geller’s attempts to spread hate defaced with Kamela Khan’s likeness, spreading the opposite. If there ever was a comic designed to become part of the floating online culture wars, this was it.

And with its success and that of its Marvel stablemates, quirky titles like Hawkeye and Young Avengers, comes imitation, as DC has just announced its plans to make its line more diverse. (Which is a bit ironic, considering how much effort they put in purging it from any trace of diversity in the past five years or so…) Tom Ewing called this chasing the Tumblr audience, new, younger, more diverse comics fans lured into fandom by the movies or online culture:

It’s a question where the obvious answer is the right one – new audiences live there. Just as Tumblr is more diverse than the Internet as a whole, so comics fandom on Tumblr is more diverse than comics fandom on IGN or CBR or Newsarama. It’s younger, queerer, more racially diverse and most obviously a lot more female – and those voices lead the conversation, they don’t constantly have to fight to win a place on it. It’s also – perhaps anecdotally, perhaps not – newer to comics. I argued after the end of Young Avengers’ precursor series, Journey Into Mystery, that Marvel’s original strength was built on leapfrogging the kids to attract a new, smart, post-teenage audience back in the 60s, and that now they needed to do the same thing in reverse: leapfrog the long-term fans to win that same audience back. But that new audience looks very different now.

And if you buy into the cliche of Tumblr being all about “social justice and feels”, then Ms. Marvel fits that bill perfectly. Social justice, because in the post-9/11 political climate, even now, just having a superhero comic about a Pakistani Muslim-American is social justice, a political act. Her writer, G. Willow Wilson, is of course herself a Muslim convert, something again that many can’t help but see as a political act. Feels, because so much of the first volume at least is about Kamela and her family, what it feels like to be the only Muslim in the village so to speak, but also about her feelings about superheroes. She’s a geek, a superhero nerd whose favourite hero is Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers, which is why she takes Ms. Marvel as her own superhero name.

Kamala Khan first outing

So what we have now therefore is a spinoff of what was originally herself a spinoff of a male hero, the original Marvel Captain Marvel, if not the original Captain Marvel (it’s a long story). There’s no real reason why Kamala should’ve taken this name but brand recognition, but it is sort of fitting, plays to Marvel’s seventies history of extending who can be a superhero through creating distaff counterparts of male heroes (She-Hulk, Spider-Woman, Ms Marvel etc).

comparing the first pages of Ms Marvel v1 and Ms Marvel v3

It’s interesting to compare that first Ms. Marvel series with the current one. That series started off in media res, with two of Marvel’s most dependable Bronze Age creators working on it, Gerry Conway and John Buscema. Ms Marvel flies in from the left as a robbery is in progress; there’s almost as much text here on one page as there is in any single issue of the new series. G. Willow Wilson on the other hand starts the series as mundanely as possible, at a corner store somewhere in a Jersey City neighbourhood. In this it reminds me of that other Marvel series about an misunderstood teenager becoming a superhero, but Spider-Man only needed one issue of Amazing Fantasy to have his origin, first adventure and fight his first crook. It takes Kamala five issues. This is very much a product of the decompressed era of superhero comics storytelling.

Kamala Khan meets Captain Marvel sort off

I don’t very much like decompressed storytelling or anything else that’s a cheap imitation of cinema or an attempt to make comics look more grownup, but here it works because the focus isn’t on the action, it’s on Kamala’s interaction with her family, friends and wider environment. Even the big climax of the first issue, when she gets her powers and “meets” Captain Marvel, Iron Man and Captain America, they end up talking about her family.

Kamala Khan and family at dinner

Adrian Alphona’s artwork fits the storytelling perfectly. His people are caricatures, not at all realistic, all elongated or squat in a way that codes cartoony. It gives his characters an expressiveness that even in quiet moments works well, far better than with a more “realistic” art style. It also helps with depicting Ms Marvel’s powers, all based in body deforming.

Kamala Khan and family at dinner

Put it all together and you have a comic that is a decent, well crafted superhero comic that puts its focus firmly on what Marvel has always done better than anybody else, showing their heroes’ complicated home lifes inbetween the battle royales. But the main significance of Ms. Marvel is who she is and that Marvel is comfortable publishing a Muslim written comic starring a Muslim superhero, that’s respectable about the culture Kamala Khan comes from and represents, but not afraid to show conflict either. It doesn’t devolve into cliches about oppression and Islam and all that while still showing a teenager chafing at the rules laid on her by authority figures — parents, teachers, religious leaders. It is essential Marvel teen hero stuff, reinvented for the 21st century.