Tuesday, 19 June 2018

HBO's WATCHMEN (part 2)

I'll try here to describe in quick fashion Alan Moore's soured relationship with what can be described as the "mainstream entertainment conglomerates".

It is a long and winding road, I had to cut it down or I'd still be writing.

And so that you know where I'm coming from: I"m on Moore's side all the way in this.


It's 1988. after a successful run on The Saga of the Swamp Thing, various Superman and Batman stories, the seminal Watchmen and the conclusion of V for Vendetta Moore terminate his collaboration with DC comics.

He was never an employee, always worked for hire, but his stature was such that he was granted a special treatment and, not least, he was given royalties.

Such conditions were extended to other artists at the time and a tidal turn in the way artists were treated seemed to be at hand.

Nonetheless, Moore is not satisfied, disagreements arise and Moore leaves. 

Moore accuses DC of unfair tactics. The publisher is keeping Watchmen and V for Vendetta unusually long in print, meaning the rights are not being returned to the creators.

To be fair, Watchmen is a far greater hit than anyone expected, and expectations were high. 

Keeping the book in print is not that surprising, but Moore sees it as a way to swindle the creators and not renegotiate further publishing.

Moore sticks to his promise to never work for DC again until 1998.

Moore is developing the America's Best Comics line for Jim Lee's Wildstorm, but right before the line should make its debut, Wildstorm is bought wholesale by DC.

The legal implications are such that the new line of books will be OWNED by the publisher, and the creators will only receive royalties. Moore weighs the idea to scrap the whole project but since everything (and everyone) is ready for take off, he decides not to nullify his contract, as it would leave the other artists involved abruptly unemployed.

He's assured he will be given complete creative freedom but alas, DC eventually start to objects to some, albiet minor, things.

Further signs of trouble occur when the movie adaptation of From Hell, directed by the Huges brothers, is released among mild reviews.

While borrowing some visuals and the overall conspiracy plot from the book (but not without changes and significant simplifications) and in spite of the excellent casting of the incommensurable Ian Holm as doctor William Gull, that picture fails to summon either the tone or depth of the book.

Moore does not mind all that much; surely he isn't the first victim of poor Hollywood adaptations and won't be the last.

But things change after the release of 20th Century Fox's LXG, and adventure movie featuring a team-up of Victorian literary characters.


Screenwriters/producers Martin Poll and Larry Cohen claim the paternity of the idea: back in the nineties the duo shopped a script around in Hollywood called Cast of Characters, which had a similar premise, and one of the studios they pitched the idea to was Fox.

The problem? That LXG is actually based on the ABC comic book series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, penned by Moore and illustrated by Kevin O'Neill.

(to my recollection the book was optioned by Fox even before the first issue was published by DC)

The case Poll and Cohen try to make is that Fox, interested in developing the idea, secretly commissioned the comic book series to Alan Moore, so that they could then turn it in to a movie asserting it was a different property than Cast of Characters.

I'm not an expert on Hollywood politics, I do not know whether such a scenario ever occurred in history, setting therefore a precedent for Poll and Cohen's claim, but it strikes me as a silly and unnecessarily convoluted plot.

Why would Fox steal the idea from somebody, only to give it to someone else they would then have to pay royalties to? Not to mention the need to commission a new adapted screenplay?

I suppose the real contentious is the intellectual property. The scheme, if true, would allow Fox to essentially own the idea of a Victorian heroes team-up without paying royalties in perpetuity to the people who came up with the idea.

But Fox does not own the IP. They only purchased the movie rights to the book, while all other rights remained with the creators (the only title in the ABC comic book line to enjoy this statute).

And besides, all the characters used were public domain.

Moore's version (essentially "I came up with the idea myself"), is also more believable: after all the series shares its core conceit of teaming up Victorian literary characters with an earlier Moore creation, Lost Girs. On top of that, the League also fits with the overall idea behind the entire ABC line it is part of, which was: to create a new line of super hero books based on concepts that pre-date Superman.

The lawsuit drags for a while, Alan Moore is asked to testify, which he does in a 10-hours hearing session.

"If I had raped and murdered a schoolbus full of retarded children after selling them heroin, I doubt that I would have been cross-examined for 10 hours" he will later joke. 

The whole experience leaves Moore, if not disgusted, at the very least tired of Hollywood, so he decides to go for a grand gesture. From this moment on he will refuse to get any money or credit from adaptations: "Take my name off it, and give all money to artists".

This happens right when the V for Vendetta movie is announced. Moore sticks with his decision, but since his detachment from the adaptation is not good for PR for the upcoming movie, the filmmakers release a false statement in which Moore is said to be excited about the project.

Moore gets mad, DC does not quite amend, so he decides to terminate (once again) any relationship with DC. He ends the ABC line and take The League to another publisher.

Anno 2007. The long-announced Watchmen movie start actual pre-production after years of development hell.

Interesting to notice: Moore had played nice with regards of this adaptation up until that point. He praised a first draft penned by Sam Hamm in the eighties and even released a few "nonbelligerent" statements in 2000.

Moore would be fine with his "no credit, no money" policy, but a series of moves by DC are the last straw.

Moore goes from politely disagreeable to "spitting venom all over it". 

He further cuts any relationship with Watchmen co-creator Dave Gibbons and DC editor Karen Berger.

(read Moore's lengthy -very lengthy- account here)

After this DC basically stops bothering about upsetting Moore and start exploiting the hell out of Watchmen with prequels (Beyond Watchmen), sequels (Doomsday Clock) and later it starts incorporating ABC characters in the DCU.

(to be continued)

Monday, 9 April 2018

I did not even know it was Ben Day (rather than Benday)...

This is a quickie to write, but if you love the subject, it will be a very long and interesting dive.

Here below are the links to the most exhaustive series of articles I have ever found on the old "Ben Day" coloring technique used in comic strips and comic books for nearly seven decades.

It concentrates mostly on the birth of the technique and old material, but it is well researched and documented.

I have a particular fondness for the old "dots".

Kudos to the blog, Legion of Andy and its author Guy Lawley

  • Part 1 — Roy Lichtenstein — the man who didn’t paint Ben Day dots
  • Part 2 — Halftone dots, Polke dots, more Roy
  • Part 3 — CMYK / Four-colour comic book dots vs. RGB dots on screens
  • Part 4 — Pre-history, origins — Ben Day in the 19th century
  • Part 5 — Ben Day in lithography
  • Part 5.5 — French comic strips of the 1880s. Coloured by relief aquatint.
  • Part 5.75 — A lithographic protocomic (?) from 1885
  • Part 6 — Ben Day meets the Sunday Comics in the 1890s
  • Part 6.1 — Tarzan and the Ben Day Dots—secrets of 1930s comic strip colour
  • Part 6.2 — Fun With (Mis-)Registration—when colour printing plates don’t line up
  • Part 7 — The Birth of the Comic Book
  • Part 8 — 1930s to 1950s - The golden age of comics

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

John Buscema - The Anatomy Lessons

I've been familiar with the name and the work of John Buscema since a very early age.
Superman and Spider-Man is one of the first comic books I remember owning and probably one of the first I have actually READ.

(I'm sure it was among he first ones my brother Maurizio has read, for I remember some old audio recordings of him reading it aloud, practicing his then newly acquired skills)

That comic was penciled by John Buscema.

If you have been reading Marvel comics from the late sixties through the early nineties, then you have most certainly stumbled across his work, as he has been one of the pillars of the "House of Ideas".
He did tons of penciling, both as a regular as well as filling in when other artists could not deliver on time; he provided lay-outs or panel breakdowns for countless books and left an imprint on the Marvel house style second only to Jack Kirby's and possibly au pair with John Romita Sr.

Not surprisingly he co-authored the How to Draw Comics Marvel Style book (a product not without its detractors, who see it as little more than a gimmick, but still a good and fun entry point for young wanna-be cartoonists).

As a youngster I've never paid particular attention to his work until I had the chance of getting in touch with Claudio Castellini, a young but already accomplished Italian comic book artist (probably my favorite back then) who made a splash with a style greatly influenced by American cartoonists.
Castellini was gracious enough to share some of his time with the 15-years-old me, back when I dreamed of becoming a comic book artist.

I used to send him some samples which we would then discuss a couple of weeks later over the phone.

(over. the. phone.)

Always encouraging and never once rude, Castellini, who displayes very silver age taste for realistic yet dynamic art, insisted time and time again that I learn anatomy.
No. That I MASTER anatomy.

So he recommended me to study (even right down copy) Buscema's work as he thought no other artist was more accomplished in the drawing of the human figure in motion.

Castellini himself picked up a couple of Buscema's mannerisms, like the "spades" feet (as I called them) and the frequent use of poses where one character would be leaning heavy on one leg, while keeping the other foot lifted from the ground.

In order to understand anatomy I also sank my teeth in Burne Hogarth's Dynamic Figure Drawing, a book that also had a palpable influence on Castellini.

(I may be misremembering this, since my appreciation of Hoghrath has diminished greatly, but I don't recall Castellini ever mentioning Hogarth, surely not nearly as much as Buscema)

(truth be told, he recommended also s to study pictures of body builders, as "it doesn't get any more anatomical than THAT")

(well, I guess it does in porn, but I digress...)

So I went on and bought some issues of The Savage Sword of Conan.
These editions were terrible: downsized to pocket book format, not to mention the chronology in which the stories were presented.

But the art was great.

Buscema enjoyed doing Conan a lot more than he enjoyed doing "dudes in tights". Actually, he resented having to draw super-heroes, even though the quality of the work never betrayed any ill sentiment.

The inking wasn't very consistent, it went from the lavish etching-like inks of Alfredo Alcala, to the surely competent but less impressive finishings of Ernie Chan (a personal favourite of mine is Nestor Redondo's work on Savage Sword issue 90)

Buscema's hand can be seen all right through the inking, but I would have liked more consistency.

As it appears, Buscema's pencils were never very tight. Some even say he provided mere sketches, and that the inker had to do much of the heavy lifting.


While it's true that at times he provided just lay-outs and break-downs the looseness of these samples should not trick you: there is so much going in every single line.

It is all there.

Even with little to no indication to where the blacks should go, I promise you these are pages that leave only two ways to go to the inker: the right way and the wrong way.

But the one thing we should celebrate about Buscema, it's anatomy.
Especially dynamic anatomy, or even better, comic-book-dynamic anatomy.
The kind of human figure drawing that requires knack for posing the characters and staging the action.
Only in recent years I finally realize the wonderment of Castellini for Buscema.

Indeed, he never got it wrong.
There is no pose he would oppose, no angle he could not handle.

The proportions are always spot on, the poses always plausible, yet they are never dull. His characters are expressive, dramatic, readable and appealing.

Yes, he was using shorthands and formulas, but let's not forget that the guy had to crank out pages at a ridiculous rate, I'm sure he did not even have the time to lookup for references, and that can explain why many characters share the same body type, why some of his "extras" tend to look alike, but this is beside the point.

He really could draw people in motion at a drop of a hat.
Those "loose" pencils are a good measure for his confidence and draftsmanship 

There are many, many artists who have been compared (rightly or wrongly) to Michelangelo. Buscema is among them.

I suppose the abundance of semi-naked dudes and ladies in both artists' work makes the use that comparison even more tempting.

But I won't disagree.

As you should give a look to Michelangelo if you want to master the human figure, well I then recommend that you study Buscema too.

Especially if you are into sequential art.

Monday, 15 January 2018

You know, for kids!

This is not a rant about the good ol' days.

I am guilty of having read and watched tons of garbage (together with some pretty good stuff).

I gravitated towards narratives which had clear cut characters or conflicts (like good vs. evil).

Countless episodes or issues in cartoons and comics I loved were patronizing, pandering, schmalzy or conciliatory.

(not books though. Never read much kids lit.)

However, the things I always responded to in a story were:

1) a strong obstacle (be it an antagost or a situation) which had to be WORKED AGAINST, and with some effort.

2) relatable, recognizable, understandable BEHAVIOUR.

I understand the desire to promote role models, especially in stories aimed to a young audience.

I took some of the fictional characters as role models of courage, integrity, intelligence, coolness myself. From MacGyver to Peter Parker.

And I understand these were largely unrealistic characters either in skills or attitude.

So this is not a plea for totally realistic characters in fiction either.

However (again), what is the use of children stories where nobody ever gets mad, offended or nasty?

Where kids never lie (if only out of fear) or try to get even after being mistreated?

Where no real efforts have to be made to reach goals.

Where failure never occurs?

I suppose we want to present an ideal picture of the world to kids, but what about being honest about how the world and people actually are?

To present stories devoid of realistic human emotions and behaviour (even when not exemplary) is not only dull.

Is downright irresponsible.

Monday, 27 November 2017

HBO's WATCHMEN (part 1)

Sound like good news, isn’t it?
Damon Lindelof never hid his appreciation of Moore & Gibbons’ seminal comic book mini-series, which clearly influenced LOST (the non-linear structure, the mythology showcased through faux-documents, the multi-character perspective, often showing the same events from different points of view, the vonnegutian time-traveling consciousness and so on).

Besides, I didn’t dislike LOST at all, even the much-hissed last season.
I always thought the show was an experiment in story telling excess: how many twists can a plot sustain? How many double-triple-quadruple crosses are possible (both within the story and within the STRUCTURE of the story).

If the whole point was to create an almost endless series of mysteries, wrapped in riddles, inside an enigma (this is a quote), then the show delivered.

And isn’t a mini –series on HBO the natural fit for a story like WATCHMEN? Dark, edgy, detailed, ornate? Didn’t HBO produce THE WIRE, which Alan Moore publicly praised?

And while people can have problem with Zack Snyder’s turgid adaptation from 2009, doesn’t the fidelity to the details of that version bid well for any other future adaptation? Any other creative team will be forced to either approximate that level of accuracy at some level or at least replace it with something equally worthy.

Well: no, no and no.

As a general rule, any news about an adaptation of Alan Moore’s work cannot be good news.

1) I'm kind of wary of adaptations in general and particularly of works with a very high reputation or that are regarded as pinnacles in a particular art form.

It is possible that not all arts are created equal.

Some art forms do not have to put up with adaptations. Nobody will ever make a movie out of Beethoven's 5th symphony (now that I think of it, maybe someday someone will).

Other art forms, like the stage play, or the radio play, can probably translate very well in to other forms.

I suppose that fiction has an inherent "cross-adaptability" and the same material can be presented on stage, on the written (or drawn) page or on the silver screen.

But would anybody think of making a literary adaptation of Hitchcock's Vertigo or Welles'  Citizen Kane that would rival in WORTHINESS with the original?

Landmark works in art are usually not such because of the material or the plot, but rather because of the execution, and brilliant executions usually take advantage of the specifics of the art form in question.

Which brings me to point >

2) WATCHMEN is such a work. It does things that are only possible in the art form of comics, making thus any attempt to adapt the work possibly pointless.

Unless the original work is used as a starting point to build something different. If this is the case, then I have a lot less of an issue. This has happened repeatedly in history. Often such adaptation change a LOT from the material, even the title and that is a sign that the adaptation is something DIFFERENT.

Of course this makes only sense in a world where the WATCHMEN adaptation is happening for art's sake. If the writers and producers were simply attempting to create a great work of art out of another work of art.

But we all know that this is not the case. 
I will allow some bona fide intentions to Lindelof and the producers, but I think we all know what is the reasoning behind this upcoming series: we have a valuable IP and we want to turn it in to a hype, in the wake of productions like Marvel/Netfilx series or Games of Thrones.


Why shouldn't they, though?

This won't replace or obliterate the original comic book, on the contrary, it will probably rekindle the interest in it. And there is a demand for it, from fans!

That's another problem. I cannot stand this hunger for FILMED adaptation of comics or books we love. As if it is necessary to us. I do not need a movie to portray what's been in my imagination. If anything, the ones who should be attracted to adaptations are people who are NOT familiar with the material.


But anyway, the biggest argument against any adaptation of Moore's work has to do with the history of Alan Moore's relationship with DC/Time Warner.

Up until 2003 Alan Moore had no major issues with having his work adapted. Partially because he understood that it was the nature of the game in the writing business (any sensible writer will tell you that film options and film rights are one of the most substantial sources of revenue for a writer), partially because back in the day, comic book adaptations were not that big of a deal as they have become since. He thought there was little harm in getting paid for options and having a studio developing an adaptation, because most of the time the project would get stuck in development.

In those years Moore used to play along; back in 1990 he even gave Sam Hamm's draft for a WATCHMEN some credit, even though it changed a lot of stuff from the comic. I suppose he was just being nice.

Even after Moore's relation with DC had soured (not lastly because of DC's little trick played in order to keep the publishing rights on WATCHMEN) the author had no fundamental issues with adaptations, as long as he could distance himself and was not demanded to participate in the promotion.

One of the first adaptations to be actually produced was a Justice League episode based on "For the Man Who Has Everything", a Superman annual story written by Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, which has always been regarded as one of the character's best.

Moore has reportedly been generous towards this adaptation. and furthermore it was a story involving a character he himself did not invent.

Things started to get bad after the From Hell and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movies. They were both critical and box office disappointments, and deservedly so.

Moore probably started getting wary of his name being associated with bad movies rather that with the FAR FAR superior original material.

But still, he seemed cool enough, and quoted Raymond Chandler when people questioned him about his work getting ruined, showing them shelves full of his books and saying: "See? The movies did not ruin my work. It is still here."

But then things got bad after the lawsuit.


Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Ira Schnapp

Sounds like Gerhard Shnobble or one of those made-up names from Eisner's The Spirit.

He was the designer of the Superman comic books masthead/nameplate (admit I had to google for the right term: according to which side of the pond you live the masthead/nameplate is the "title logo" that magazines or other periodical publications sport on the front cover).


I was actually looking for the person who designed the definitive "S" shield logo.

One of the many thropes of the super hero genre started by Superman, was the idea that a hero's costume would implement some sort of symbol, emblem or crest, often boldly displayed on the chest.

I can only speculate where this idea could have originated.
Frank Miller proposed his theory in a conversation with Will Eisner (conversation transcribed for the posterioty in the must-read book "Miller/Eisner" - a book that still injects me with some residual respect for Mr. Miller, or at least for his past output, but I digress..) that the printing quality was so shitty that characters had to wear their name spelled out in order to be recognized.

The Superman symbol went through a number of permutation in its eighty-years history, and gets regular redesigns to this day with every new reboot, be it on paper or on the silver screen.

However, one version of the symbol got to be the "official" (or rather trademarked) variant and I wanted to know who did the job.

Unfortunately I was not able to find out. But in my internet scouting for an answer I stumbled upon Ira Schnapp.

Comic-books historian and man with a taste for flamboyant outfits Arlen Schumer has a full lecture on this lesser known artist, who helped shape so much of the DC graphic identity over the years.

Likewise, calligraph extraordinaire Todd Klein dedicated quite a few posts to him on his blog. It' all worth reading.

Comics are a visual medium. On the top of my head I can only think to advertisement as the only other discipline that worked that extensively on the cusp where words become VISUAL OBJECTS, with meaning emanating not only from the IDEA sealed in the word, but from its visual presentation.

But advertisement is not an art (a pretty big statement I do not want to unpack here, even though I anticipate some antagonism to it), while comics is (note the singular).

Monday, 19 June 2017


("kans"= chance, opportunity + "arm"= poor, low, lacking)
 A Dutch word literally meaning "lacking opportunities" or "disadvantaged"
It is the preferred word in the public discourse for low-income/lower class people, often immigrants (or children thereof).
For some reason this word sits uncomfortable with me.

It's like we do not want to say "poor".
Like, "they wouldn't be poor, if they only had the opportunity".
Like, we cannot call these people poor, because they have SOME money.
Or like we don't want to offend them.
"Poor" sounds more like a condition you cannot change.

Why don't call them "wealth-challenged"?
(I must say the term "underprivileged" is as much as lame. It's like "we are all privileged. Just, some are more privileged than others")

Well it does not take living under a bridge to be poor. It all depends on how your neighbors are doing.

I promise you, if you TODAY, with your current wage, your current house, car and family would move to Beverly Hills, between Brad Pitt and, I don't know, Miley Cyrus or whatnot, you would feel f***ing poor. You would look with CONTEMPT to your shabby l'il house, your cheap furniture and your crummy-ass garden half covered in weeds, half covered in burnt-brown grass.

I thinks it's denial.
Saying "She's from a poor family", is too definitive and confrontational.
It means poor people exist.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Big Decisions

Often what we call "big decisions" ain't nothing but small velleities.
Take me. I was chatting with my friend Fabio, in the typical internet hyperbolic fashion, and wrote "Sometimes I just want to get it over with everything and become a stand-up comedian!".
So this idea keeps hanging around in the back of my head for a couple of days and I think "hey, I should really get serious about it"
But you understand pretty quickly you ain't going to have much of a career in comedy when the first thing you do after making that decision is to google "how to come up with jokes".

Tuesday, 26 April 2016


Some new stuff, once more for a card/invitation (it seems it's all I do nowadays)

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

From Life