Thursday, December 30, 2010

Dork Awards 2010: Best Writer

So we're getting close to the end of the Dork Awards for this year. After tonight, there'll be only one more Dorky handed out, with perhaps a few year-in-review highlights (and low-lights) to come over the New Year's holiday weekend. But for now, we move on from Best Artist to the other side of the funnybook equation...

Best Writer

As I said in my introduction to the award for Best Artist, true funnybook classics have great art and a great script. But for me, it always comes back to the writing. I can endure kinda crappy artwork (and have!), but without a worthwhile story, a comic just isn't worth my time. That's why this category is nearest and dearest to my heart, and why you get no pretty pictures to accompany the nominees. This one's all about the text! But speaking of the nominees, let's see them now...

Matt Fraction

Author of the most complex character studies in the world of corporate spandex, Matt Fraction produces books that I don’t mind spending four bucks on. This year, he continued his on-going portrait of Tony Stark’s addictive personality in Iron Man, and turned his sights onto Thor, giving that character the softest of reboots by putting some serious thought into both his aspect as a god, and as a Viking. His work on Casanova was stellar as well, but since it was 99.9% reprint… It doesn’t really count toward this year’s awards.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Dork Awards 2010: Best Artist

Arguments abound over whether writing or art is more important to the creative success of a funnybook, and, much like politics, the industry tends to swing back and forth on a pendulum between the two extremes. We’ve been very much experiencing a decade of the writer in the last ten years, a sharp response to the decade of the artist we went through in the 90s. It’s always going to come back to the writing for me in the end, but honestly… I think it really takes good writing and good art to make a true funnybook classic. And tonight, we honor the artistic side of that equation with the Dork Award for…

Best Artist

Frazer Irving

Irving has a truly unique style, one that combines rock-solid cartoon realism with a love of inventive camera angles and a lush coloring sensibility that gives his line-art the feel of something painted. His primary work this year came on Grant Morrison’s Batman, with both the “Pilgrim Batman” issue of Return of Bruce Wayne and the closing story arc of Batman and Robin under his belt.

Dork Awards 2010: Best Single Issue

So it's time once again to return to the Dork Awards...

Best Single Issue

Crafting a great single issue of a funnybook series really is an art form, and one that’s increasingly rare in this era of multi-part stories and novelistic pacing. That’s my preferred sort of serial funnybook writing, too, which makes finding great single-issue comics that much harder. Still, I was able to pull together a list of issues that made me happy this year without too much difficulty. To whit…


Iron Man Annual #1
by Matt Fraction and Carmine DiGiandomenico

This story recreating the Mandarin as a villain for the 21st Century is perhaps Matt Fraction’s best Marvel work to date, and is almost certainly the best single-issue corporate spandex story of the year. It’s only competition, in fact, is…

Monday, December 27, 2010

Byrne Victims and Other Dorks of Note: Funnybooksinreviewarego!!

So the funnybook reviews have also fallen prey to my December work and holiday schedule, to the point that the nerd wranglers here on the Dork 40 are starting to give me crap about it. Which means that it must be time once again for some Quickies. But first, a slightly more in-depth look at a book I almost didn't buy...

Next Men #1
by John Byrne

I tried this book in spite of the fact that I've liked exactly nothing John Byrne's written in the last decade. But I remember the series fondly from its 90s heyday, and thought (after debating for a week) that I'd give it a try. Much to my surprise, it's actually pretty good. This first issue is mostly recap, but in this case that might be a good thing. I haven't read Next Men in 15 years, and so the refresher was most welcome.

Getting the series' entire story laid out all at once like this reveals some serious creative missteps along the way, but it also reminds me of something far more important: John Byrne's penchant for applying serious science fiction concepts to his super hero fiction. This was what I liked most about the man's work in the 80s: it often felt like a true updating of the Lee/Kirby/Ditko creative aesthetic, applying a touch of logic and a slightly more adult sensibility to things while still delivering on the high imagination of the originals. It was work that refreshed some already-great characters and polished them up for a new generation of readers. You could see it in his contributions to X-Men, his back-to-basics approach to Fantastic Four, and even his often-forgotten work on Namor. The same aesthetic powers his revamp of Superman, though that is in some ways his weakest work of the period, feeling almost hamstrung by a slightly more kid-friendly approach to the writing.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Dork Awards 2010: Best OGN

So the Dork Awards got a little sidetracked, I’m afraid. You know how it is. Work, visits with the family, playing with your Christmas presents, deciding that an actual vacation where you just relax is probably a really good idea before you drop in exhaustion… That sort of thing. But I’ve had all that now. I feel re-energized and properly vacated. So now it’s time for the Dork Awards to resume, with the award for…

Best Original Graphic Novel

“Original Graphic Novel” (or OGN, for short) is a high-falutin’ term for a novel-length funnybook story. One that’s created to be published in book form rather than as a serial for periodical publication. It sounds pretty technical, but it’s really not. It’s comics done the same way prose novels are done. Many say that it’s the real future of comics, and I can’t disagree. Much as I love my weird adventure serials, the allure of a story with a beginning, middle, and end is undeniable. And the preferred fictional format for most readers. That being the case, if comics really are trying to make their way back into mainstream reading habits, this would seem a natural route to take. So without further ado, let’s look at what the future brought us this year…

by Jim Rugg & Brian Maruca

Ostensibly a “Best Afrodisiac Stories Ever Told” reprint collection, Jim Rugg’s tales of a pimp super hero function as both a loving send-up of the Blaxploitation genre and of funnybook publishing trends in the 1970s and 80s.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Strange Case of the Night Before Christmas

So a couple of years ago, I wrote a short story as my Christmas card for family and friends. And, me being me, it was a dark and mysterious ode to Santa... and HP Lovecraft. It seemed like something I could share with a wider audience, and so, I hope you enjoy...

The Strange Case of the Night Before Christmas

It was snowing the last time I saw Santa Claus. I remember, because a White Christmas is so unusual here in the South. All the other times I’ve seen him, I’ve wondered if he was hot in his heavy arctic snow gear. But I suppose I shouldn’t worry. He’s an immortal magic elf, after all, and a 50-degree North Carolina Christmas should hardly be enough to do him harm. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I should start from the beginning.

The first time I saw Santa Claus, I was seven years old. I stayed up that Christmas Eve, specifically to see if he was real. I lay in bed waiting, struggling to stay awake, and finally, at midnight, I heard a rustling coming from the living room. I crept out of bed and into the hallway, peeking around the corner to catch a glimpse of his red coat over near the tree. But before I knew what was happening, there was a blur of motion and my eyes were filled with coal dust. Blinded, I fell screaming to the floor, tears streaming from my eyes. I blinked, and they cleared just enough for me to see a red shape shooting up the chimney. Then the living room went quiet, but only for a moment. Because that was when the creatures came crawling out of the dark corners of the room.

Tiny, dark and gibbering, with eyes that glowed like coals, they swarmed over me, grasping with clawed hands. Incredibly strong, they held me immobile while my hands and feet were tied. And suddenly, I was blind again. A sack had been pulled over my head, a sack that smelled of cinnamon, and of blood. I heard the front door open, and heavy boots trod across the room. A thick, calloused hand grabbed the collar of my pajamas and hoisted me to my feet.

“Looks like somebody made the Naughty List,” a rough voice said in the dark.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Andy Warhol's Batman

From an Esquire photoshoot in 1967, it's Nico and Andy Warhol as Batman and Robin! Really, what else can you say about that...?

I Believe

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Fearless Vampire Santa

Danny Hellman

Introducing: The Dork Awards!

So the year's winding down, and that can only mean one thing: a list of the best comics of 2010! But here on the Dork Forty, a simple list of the year's best comics isn't enough. Around here, we say anything worth doing is worth over-doing! And to that end, we present to you...

The First Annual Dork Awards!

The Dork Awards, affectionately known as the Dorkies (if only to our own staff of professional nerd wranglers), are a recognition of funnybook excellence. The prizes (or, should we say, No-Prizes) are given based on completely arbitrary factors, mostly my own personal taste. This means that the nominations will mostly be drawn from the field of high-quality genre fiction, with little or no consideration given to things like neurotic drama or nihilistic comedy. If I didn't read it in 2010, it won't be getting a mention.

Rather than doing one gigantic post outlining all the Dorkies at once, though, I'll be awarding one Dorky at a time over the rest of the year, spread out between insufferable Christmas posts and the occasional Funnybooksinreview piece. Partially, this is because I hate bloated award shows, and partially because I haven't quite figured out all my categories just yet, and want more time to shape them into entertaining reading. That said, it’s time to get started with a category I do have figured out:

Best Mini-Series

Introduced in the very early 1980s, the comic book mini-series was an immediate hit with readers. It opened doors in the mainstream comics industry to tell more novelistic stories with a beginning, middle, and end, giving us both high and low classics in the form of Watchmen, Camelot 3000, and so many others. It was also a stroke of genius for corporate spandex publishers. Got a popular character that you’re not sure can support his own series? Give him a mini-series instead! And if that sells well, then you can commit to an on-going. Such now-venerable characters as Wolverine and the Punisher got their own books based on this model. The mini-series also gave us the line-wide crossover event series, in the form of Crisis on Infinite Earths and its inferior, rushed-to-production-to-make-it-look-like-they-had-the-idea-first retarded cousin, Secret Wars.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Santa vs the Devil!

Just a Christmas quickie, as my day job continues to kick my ass in ways I never thought possible...

It's Santa Claus showing us what a punk-ass the Devil really is when confronted with the unrelenting power of Christmas!

Taken, of course, from that insane Mexican Santa Claus movie they showed on Mystery Science Theater...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Movie Night on the Dork Forty: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

So here, as promised, is our Dork Forty Christmas movie spectacular: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians!

(But first, don't forget to scroll down a bit and watch the introductory cartoon: the ever-disturbin' Rejected! Funny how blog-time moves in reverse from reg'lar time, ain't it?)

First, a few words about tonight's film: This 1964 disaster is often hailed as one of the worst movies ever made, and was justly lampooned on the classic Mystery Science Theater 3000. Even for a kids' movie, this thing is mind-bogglingly awful. Which makes it just the kind of gloriously bad spectacle that's most worth watchin'! Also of note: this movie marks the film debut of 1980s flash-in-the-pan beauty queen Pia Zadora! And it features one of the most diabolically-catchy bad theme songs of all time! We'll be singin' this one around the nerd farm for days... and hatin' ourselves because of it!

So pull up a lawn chair, grab yourself a candy cane and some hot chocolate, and enjoy... after the jump!

Movie Night on the Dork Forty: Rejected

So it's been a quiet week around the Dork Forty. The day job's been keepin' me off the nerd farm lately; I'll try to fix that tomorrow, with some of my usual long-winded funnybook talk. But for tonight, I'm a little too tuckered out. So I thought we'd just toss the bedsheet over the barn door and settle in for another movie night. And since it's the Christmas season, I thought we'd bring you that heartwarmin' dork family classic Santa Claus Conquers the Martians! And we will! But first, a heartwarmin' family cartoon: Don Hertzfeldt's Rejected!

Now, Rejected ain't a Christmas cartoon. We should just get that outta the way right up front. But it is the inspiration for that awesome snowman picture we put up earlier in the week! And since we've had a couple of people ask what's up with that thing, we thought we'd answer 'em by showin' the source.

Special thanks to friend and honorary nerd wrangler Brian Crocker for remindin' us where the image came from, by the way; that caused us to look this cartoon up again and be reminded of its terrifyin' glory. Which you can also enjoy, in stunnin' HD... after the jump.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Movie Night on the Dork Forty: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

So it's time once again to hang the bedsheets over the barn door, pop some corn, and fire up the projector for Movie Night! Pull up a lawn chair and join us for 1921's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari! A classic of German expressionist filmmaking, this early horror film concerns the evil Doctor of the title and his sleepwalking fortune-teller, Cesare the Somnambulist! As played by Conrad Veidt, Cesare is a creepy sumbitch who's been inspiring goth and emo fashion for decades, and with good reason. I mean, just look at this guy:

Though, for my money, Dr. Caligari himself is far creepier:

Don't hate him because he's beautiful.

Of particular note here are the sets. Rather than trying to capture any sort of realism, all the action of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari takes place on purposefully-false and stagey hand-painted sets meant to evoke a sense of madness and fear. It's somewhat akin to seeing Edvard Munch's The Scream put to film.

It is, all in all, an astounding film experience. Which you can enjoy in its entirety... after the jump!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Visit Beautiful Frankensteinia!

So I've recently discovered Frankensteinia, a blog to satisfy all your Frankenstein needs! And considering how prodigious our Frankenstein needs are here on the Dork Forty... That's really saying something! Alongside articles on anything and everything related to Big Frankie, blogger Pierre Fournier also features some really great artwork and photographs. I've snagged tons of stuff from Frankensteinia for my screen saver, and I thought I'd present three pieces of it here for your edification and approval...

1. Disco Frankenstein! 'Nuff said!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Gods, Mutants, and Freaks: Funnybooksinreviewarego!!!

So I wanna review some funnybooks, but my day job's still kicking my ass. What's the solution? Why, Quickies, of course!

Supergod #5 (of 5)
by Warren Ellis and Garrie Gastonny

A somewhat disappointing ending to what I've been considering Warren Ellis' best work of the year. [SPOILER] Normally, I'd be okay with Krishna fighting a weird-ass manifestation of Cthulhu on Judgement Day, but Cthulhu just doesn't make sense here. And the way that the ending hinged on what was essentially a rote Ellis one-liner was just annoying. [/SPOILER] I dunno. In spite of some imaginative work in the fight sequence, it felt like he ran out of steam with this issue. That's happened with a lot of his more interesting comics of late: they start out as genuinely fascinating genre explorations, then fall apart in the final act (or, in the case of Black Summer, the second issue) with the central premise only partially paid off. Supergod fares better than most on that front; its examination of man-made gods and the super hero as the divine was fully-explored before the blow-off. It's just that the blow-off wasn't very satisfying.

This cover, though, might raise the grade by half a letter, all by itself:

click to embiggen
It would have been even better if Jerry Kraven was drinking a Coke...

Grade: B+

Monday, December 6, 2010

More of the World's Finest Crap!

So once upon a time, on a nerd farm far, far away... We were en-gaged in an important piece of funnybook archeology: figurin' out, once and for all, whether it was Superman or Batman who had to put up with the most crap in their classic funnybook appearances. Then Halloween happened, and there was that whole "November" thing, and well... We just forgot about it. But today one of the new nerd wranglers (a Christmas temp) fell into the dig site. Turns out some of the boys had covered it with a tarp, hopin' to use it as a sorta... Burmese Tiger Trap? For wayward trick-or-treaters? And it just laid there gettin' covered up with leaves and snow til it finally caught itself a victim. We'll be sendin' his family a nice memorial fruit basket this Christmas, but in the meantime... Let's all go enjoy ourselves some Pure-T Classic Funnybook Crap!

Now, seein' as this thing's a competition, I thought it might be nice to lead off this round with a few covers featurin' Supes an' Bats squarin' off against each other...

1. Whether they were just brawling in general...

Real men battle with boulders!

2. ...fighting over the love of a pretty lady...

Somehow, I never pictured Supes as a size queen.

3. ...or over a love that can't be named...

Are cape rides a Boy Wonder fringe benefit?

...Superman and Batman's relationship was always a tumultuous one.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

We're Horrible Men

So the Dork Forty's been a little quiet this past week, I'm afraid. My real job's gotten pretty busy, and will probably stay that way for the next couple of weeks. So, just to keep the site from going totally silent, I'm gonna cut back on my usual long-winded ramblings in favor of simpler posts. Quickies, if you will. 'Cause everybody loves a good quickie! Like this one, for example...

Sometime during the original Universal Monster craze, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi appeared together on a radio show to demonstrate their singing talents! And tonight, we bring you that performance, through the magic of YouTube...

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Why I Hate Green Lantern

So I got an interesting question recently: why don’t I ever write about Green Lantern here on the Dork Forty? It’s not an unreasonable thing to wonder about. Green Lantern is a truly significant book in the super hero genre, one of the most popular comics on the stands today, and considered by many to be the brightest jewel in DC Comics’ 21st Century publishing crown. And yet, I’m not sure I’ve ever even mentioned it here. Why is that? Well…

The first answer to that question is the simplest: I don’t like it. And while I’m not averse to writing negative reviews, I’m also not going to spend money on comics I know I don’t like. If I was getting paid to do this, I’d read and review all kinds of stuff. But in the absence of that, I’m quite happy with my amateur status. It does, however, put certain limits on the things I’m going to write about.

My second answer is a bit more complicated: I prefer to use the Dork Forty to accentuate the positive. As it says in the masthead, this place is part of my own personal nerd farm. It’s a place I come to share my thoughts on the dorky-ass stuff I like, the strange and obscure corners of popular culture that I dig the most. It’s as much about publicly enthusing about things as it is anything else. And while I’m always happy to state my opinion if somebody asks, I also don’t like to use this platform to go out of my way to crap all over stuff that other people really like.


The question that inevitably follows my statement that I don’t like Green Lantern is almost always an incredulous, “How can you not like Green Lantern?!” Which means that… Well… Somebody asked… So I guess it’s time to go negative…

"What the--?!"
First off, I should clarify that I like Green Lantern, the character, just fine. He’s one of my favorite super hero concepts, in fact. Space cop with magic alien ring? Of course I love that!

"Well, alright then!"
I just don’t like the current direction of the Green Lantern comics series. Or, more specifically, I don’t care for the writing of Geoff Johns, who’s been guiding the character’s adventures for quite some time now.

And at this point, in the interest of full disclosure, I should admit that, while I’ve read enough Johns to know that I don’t like his work, I haven’t read him since the earliest days of his Green Lantern run, and no longer own any of the Johns comics I have read. So I can’t give you much in the way of specific examples of the things I’m going to complain about, and any specific Green Lantern plot elements I do discuss are things I’ve gleaned by talking to people who have read the stories, and of course by hitting the Wikipedia in preparation for writing this. So, yeah. Just FYI. If you think that disqualifies me from expressing opinions on Johns’ work (a feeling I can certainly understand), just stop reading now. You probably won’t like what I have to say, anyway...