Thursday, February 26, 2009

Artists Aware - CRTC New Media Hearings and the Orphan Works Bill

Comic creators of all stripes and sizes should be aware of two things that are happening right now.

The current CRTC hearings over New Media are looking into whether the internet can be considered broadcasting and therefore falls under their jurisdiction. I think this is important for all artists, but especially those who deliver their content over the net, as more and more of are doing. For those of you raising the old "keep the net free" battle cry, I direct you to this delightful post by Denis McGrath, one of Canada's busier Television writers. It sums up why this should matter to you and encourages you to step back and examine the big picture.

The other thing all artists should be aware is the Orphan Works Bill in the United States. what began as a way to free up old works of art for use by libraries and historians has become a huge cash grab designed to remove, in essence, your rights to copyright on your own work.

The full interview can be heard here.

I wrote about this and related concerns at my televison writer's blog, But you can get more direct info here, and here at, which sums up the potential money grab in this way.

The really huge crux of this, is not that they bill seeks to ‘PRESERVE’ or allow use for the libraries…at least not in the larger picture. This is only about making money from searches, the sale of Orphans, and the registration of images. They are killing the goose that laid the golden eggs…many artist will be searching other means to support themselves if it becomes impossible to protect their artwork from theft and the small artists will be the most likely target of infringers.

Do an internet search for GOOGLE,YAHOO, PICSCOUT + orphan works bill. How did they wind up giving testimony?
Microsoft (who was courting Yahoo) - who incidently owns (image selling sites)-
and they (microsoft) are already working with Pic Scout (who was mentioned to me by my reps aide yesterday as a potential ‘REGISTRY OWNER’)
( MICROSOFT hired Jule Sigall who was the man that wrote the ORPHAN WORKS REPORT while he worked for the COPYRIGHT OFFICE.
( (Tech Law Journal’s owner Mr.Carney wrote, “The primary author of the report, Jule Sigall, subsequently went to work for Microsoft. See, story titled “Jule Sigall Joins Microsoft” in TLJ Daily E-Mail Alert No. 1,510, December 27, 2006.”)

the reason everyone is fighting over the images are the millions/billions in ad sales resulting from the online searches…Google is the current leader and is now courting Yahoo themselves. Besides the millions or billions of dollars that would be generated from the ad sales, these giants will also make additional money off registration and searches as well. “Companies that create no content of their own, and make money solely on the backs of other people’s content, are raking in billions through advertising revenue and IPOs. Google takes the position that everything may be freely copied unless the copyright owner notifies Google and tells it to stop. ” That sounds familar…. & ( )

Google is hooked up with Getty (images sales again) and AOL (Shawn Bentley went from the US gov. to work for time warner - owner of AOL - as VP of IP and Global Public Policy after he worked in the senate and “helped write are among the most important laws in the intellectual property world: the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act; the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the American Inventors Protection Act, the Patent Fee Integrity and Innovation Protection Act, the Anti-Counterfeiting Consumer Protection Act, and the Trademark Dilution Act, just to name a few.”

Then there’s apple fixing to jump into the mix?(

Also, any artist that uploads any amount of art onto free sites better be taking a really good look at their policies and finding out what they are up to. Artwanted’s policies already state your art goes right onto Google and WITHOUT CREDITS/COPYRIGHT INFO.

This bill will put many small artists out of business - we fight infringement daily NOW with the current laws. Removal of the penalties currently in place will open all artists up to constant infringement. Who has the time to spend hunting for infringed work on a constant basis? Oh, but don’t worry, because now, for a fee there are IMAGE SEARCHING sites springing up offering to let you find infringed copies/potential orphans - for a fee.

So there's a lot of money at stake. And some it belongs to you.

Spread the word to your Member of Parliament and ask all your US artist friends to go to this website to find out what they can do.

Beavers up!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Troy Little: Comics Renaissance Man follows up Chiaroscuro with Angora Napkin

There's a terrific interview with P.E.I. comic artist Troy Little running at Comic Book Resources here.

Way back in 2001, Ottawa animator Tory Little won a Xeric grant to help self-publish his absorbing, black and white, indie comic Chiaroscuro (Not to be confused with Chiaroscuro: The Private Lives of Leonardo da Vinci). I bought his early issues at a Comic Con but after seven issues I lost track of it. It turns out that was all he published. IDW solved that little dilemma when they published a hardcover Chiaroscuro collection a year and a half ago.

Little's expressive, cartoony figure work combined with delicate crosshatching and deep, black shadows created an intensity that helped sustain his slowly evolving narrative. Much was made of how his storytelling resembled that of Dave Sim so it's rather ironic that a positive review of his work by Sim on his personal blog brought Little to the attention of IDW.

Little has spent many years in the salt mines of animation that I know so well and his latest comic, Angora Napkin, also from IDW, is based on an animation idea by Little and friend Nick Cross.

I often find artists with extended experience in animation demonstrate a notable ability to adapt their style for different projects. It's probably all that training hitting the varying styles of different series. Little's advice to up and comers can be summed up as stick to the basics; design and professionalism take concentration, flow and drawing ability grow with time.

Angora Napkin
benefits from Little's elegant design sense. It takes a lot of thought to make something feel this effortless. With it's partial colour interior and lovely cover, it's a gorgeous, fun package. Whereas Chiaroscuro needed lots of heavy inks and mystery to suggest what was hidden within its panel borders, here we find an organic freedom to the art. The characters are bursting with life.

I can't wait to see the actual animated shorts this is based on. But right now I'm glad we're getting a sneek peek!

There's plenty of Troy Little info out there.

You can get up to date info at Troy's blog here.

His website, Meanwhile Studios, can be found here.

And Nick Cross' blog is right here.

Beavers up!

I Write Women Hear Me Bore - Women Comic Characters Need to Be More Than Window Dressing

Last week William Gatevackes of explored the prevalent idea that female characters cannot successfully carry a comic book series in his Feb 17, 2009, Guiding Lines column, entitled "No Girls Allowed". William suggests this is simply an excuse not to have to write strong female characters. He points out several other contributing reasons for the recent cancellation of several female-driven books, including She-Hulk, Manhunter, Spider-Girl and Birds of Prey and offers alternative food for thought for the female character naysayers.

Gatevackes' brief article brings to mind a few thoughts. First, being canceled doesn't necessarily mean a title wasn't a success. Just as a relationship that comes to a natural conclusion isn't a failure. Could it be things simply ran their course and did well while they did and then... stopped? End of story. There are many reasons for cancellation, sales is but one of them. Gatevackes is quick to offer a few contributing factors.

But let's look at one example.

Spider-Girl has run more or less straight ahead for twelve years and had pretty solid sales. In total I think it hit about 139 issues with a brief cancellation tucked away in there. That's an incredible success despite little promotional fanfare over all that time. I even introduced it to my niece knowing the all-ages stories would be solid and compelling even as she grew towards jaded teenhood. More on the end of that series can be found here at Comic Book Resources.

Birds of Prey made it what, 127 issues? Gatevackes comments on Dan Slott being key to She-Hulk's success. Well, Slott simply jacked into the comedy that made John Byrne's original run on the title so much fun. Slott's a funny writer and ran with the concept. I must admit that other that other writers were less successful with the jade-skinned beauty.

Gatevackes doesn't actually say these canceled comics were failures but the whole idea of his column seems to support that implication. It could be this is one of the fallacies he is trying to address so I must admit I found it funny and touch ironic that when scrolling down to his review section, we come across his review of Sabrina the Teenage Witch #100 and says,

"...the Sabrina series ends with its 100th issue. Any title that reaches 100 issues is a success, whether it is a mainstream book or not. It will be interesting to see what Archie brings us next, and new directions it allows creators to take their famous characters in the future. And I wonder when Sabrina returns, in what incarnation will she come back in?"
So a long run has to be considered a success and exploring new, creative options could be thought of as a legitimate reason to cancel a series. Gatevackes has inadvertently backed up the basic assertions of his opening paragraph and simultaneously undermined their fatalistic tone.

I love it when we write and unexpected, new aspects of our subject or questions float freely out of our pens or keyboards without our even realizing it!

The bottom line is Gatevackes is right. It's not about female characters being unable to support a book. A big part of it is that many writer's don't write interesting characters and the women so often get the short end of the stick. They're the vamp, the good girl, the good girl who's really a vamp, etc. Gail Simone has success with women characters because she writes interesting characters. Who'd have thought Rag Doll, Catman and Knockout would ever be interesting?

People whose kneejerk reaction to the cancellation of a title like Birds of Prey is to say women characters are too uninteresting or don't appeal to men, etc., are as quilty of limited thinking as the writers themselves. Don't get me worng. I'm a writer and keeping things is a challenge. It requires constantly challenging yourself and asking new questions of your characters at all times. It's exhausting. And sometimes we simply don't think of something, or at least, not in time. But keep trying people. It's so worth it!

The current state of female comic book characters in mainstream comics is discussed at length in this GeekU podcast found at, the social networking site for geeks. Smart geeks. Hosts, Simon Evans, Jess Frey and Nadine are joined by Liana K, producer co-star of the also-recently-canceled Ed and Red's Night Party on Toronto's City TV. She is also a cosplayer, comic fan, sci-fi geek and fledgling comic publisher, with two issues of
Ed N' Red's Comic Strip under her belt. Their discussion of feminism in fandom is wide ranging and a lot of fun. It's the best GeekU podcast yet.

Keep checking for sci-fi and fantasy updates including the world of comics and more GeekU! Liana K has blog here, though she updates irregularly.

Beavers up!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Who Puts The Man In Shaman? - Sigh... Nobody Yet.

In one of my earliest posts, I showed off some of the work of Ace action figure customizer, Victor Kraken. When I wrote to make sure he was fine with posting some of his pics, he informed me he'd be putting up a Shaman custom job soon. Here it is in all its glory.

And this is as good an excuse to chat about Marvel's Canadian Mystic as any.

Victor's Shaman page is here, on his website,

What amazes me is how many other toys Victor raided to make this sucker. That's a serious outlay. We should make a superhero out of toy customizer. His bag is full of hundreds of action figures and he puts together whatever hero or abilities he needs in his doll by switching out parts.

Three cheers, for ace custom toymaker, Victor Kraken

Beavers Up!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Nelvana of the Northern Lights - The Action Figure!

Oh for what might have been.

One aspect of the rise of the action figure into the collectible market is the sad fact that not all the characters a comic fan might love will get their own toy. But customizers don't let that stop them. They build their own versions of the figures using parts from other toys. So even the most obscure characters are no longer out of reach.

Victor Kraven is a crackerjack toy customizer who takes great delight in custom building action figures. He recently completed a Nelvana of the Northern Lights for my e-friend Ray over at Phil Latter's Canadian Comics group. And it was too fantastic not to share!

Man, how could I but dream about a whole line-up of beautifully crafted Canadian heroes from the forties along my shelves?

Victor's website is here. His Nelvana page is here. The talented dude is open to commissions too.

I went through the extensive examples of other customs he's done, looking for some Canadian content. He's working on an All-Star Squadron (a team of World War II-era DC Comics heroes encompassing most of the heroes featured in actual DC wartime comics and some original characters) line-up that will hopefully one day include Roy Thomas' Flying Fox, one of the DC Comics Universe's few canuck superheroes.

However, in early issues of All-Star Squadron, the team did act as bodyguards of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill on his trip to meet with US President Roosevelt and Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King.

In issue #8, Churchill is attacked by a Nazi killer, The Black Assassin, in the Ottawa halls of Canadian Parliament. Victor's Black Assassin page is here.

Later, on a Canadian train, Churchill is again attacked, this time by Kung, a shape-shifting, Japanese assassin who originally appeared in Wonder Woman #237. Victor's Kung page is here.

So while these two nefarious characters are not Canadian, they were certainly operating on Canadian soil in the early days of the war. I wonder how long they would have lasted against Captain Wonder, Nelvana, Freelance and Brock Windsor?

Thanks to Micheal Bailey for keeping his abandoned but still informative All-Star Squadron site (The Perisphere) up after moving to other things (like ). Micheal's site was designed to give us the lowdown on the entire All-Star run but only made up to issue #8. Lucky for me that was the exact the exact issue I needed to check! The cover scan above was also borrowed from Micheal's page. I claim no copyright over the characters depicted here.

Beavers up!

My Nefarious Career - How Comics Made a Master Criminal of Me

The second book I ever stole introduced me to the world of Canadian comics and a man I would come to treasure as a dear friend, Leo Bachle, aka Les Barker, aka Johnny Canuck.

This passion I have for Canadian Comics is his fault.

But it all started with a fervor for comics in general. Like many young comic fans I spent much of my childhood perusing the spinner racks at the local, five and dime store in London, Ontario, Canada, looking for the perfect combination of comics and junk food to spend my hard-earned allowance on. I rode on an ever-expanding tour of the stores within bicycling distance to find the next issue of any story I was particularly interested in.

When I came upon a treasured issue in a new store, it was added to my route. I made a point to return there regularly, assuming more spectacular comics would be unearthed over time. The Mac's Milk Variety store in which I found the very first issue of Captain Canuck was forevermore a target on my bi-weekly mad dash. I returned to London's University Hospital, which was a two bus ride across town, for months after the physio on my injured knee was over because I discovered the X-Men's Dark Phoenix saga in their gift shop and I desperately needed to know what was going to happen.

Eventually I found Multi-Mag on Bloor Street, a downtown magazine shop two blocks from the Art Gallery of Southern Ontario that had an extensive (and more importantly, a consistent) comic array. This was during the first burst of indie creativity in the early eighties. Here I found and collected Pacific Comics; Dave Steven's Rocketeer, Ditko's Missing Man and Jack Kirby's Captain Victory. Blocks away down Richmond Street stood pro-marijuana activist Mark Emery's City Lights bookshop, a London landmark where I discovered the joys of his extensive back issue collections. It was here I discovered Kirby's Fourth World.

"I can't see the difference."

"Can you see the difference?"

Finally, two honest to gosh comic shops opened across town and though bicycling to them was an exhilarating, lengthy, and sometimes harrowing experience, it was well worth the bi-weekly exodus to bring home those comics and know the next issues would not require any more detective work.

But before all that, this insatiable passion for my four-colour, saddle-stitched drug of choice was served mostly by my local variety store and second hand comics passed on to me by friends and family or found at flee markets and yard sales. In other words, comics were hard to come by and information about comics even more so. Despite growing up in the era of the fanzine and the rising comics fan, none of that information reached my young door.

Then, when I was five or six we moved closer to the Westmount Mall and my fledgling criminal career began in earnest.

The Westmount Mall in London, Ontario is now a multi-floored glass aquarium of shops and boutiques. But in the seventies it was a classic, one story neighbourhood mall. The main hallway, tiled in deep amber ceramic hues, was kept shadowed in lower light in the hopes that the brightly lit shops on either side would beckon you toward them like a moth to the retail flame. Anchored at either end by an Eaton's department store and a Dominion grocery, it served all the neighbourhood's needs.

The Coles bookstore was set up in an oddly angled corner and the design of the store took advantage of the configuration. You could wander through staggered shelves and displays and step up and down the multi-leveled platforms, seeking your books in small nooks where you could really spend some time perusing a book before purchasing. The store eschewed long aisles in favour of pockets of books; little corners and islands of browsability. This layout allowed you to slow down and take your time, absorbing the stock and unearthing hidden treasures.

Coles was a magical place for me, as were libraries. And my mother always knew she could park me there for a while as she shopped and I wouldn't go anywhere, lost as I was in this amazing world of the printed page.

Though I browsed all over, I tended to stop in the hobby section, fascinated by the world of miniatures. I always longed to work with dollhouse style sets in the hopes of making animated films with them, despite having no idea quite how to go about doing that and no access to a camera of film technology of any kind. Later, as a spate of science fiction films sparked an interest in home filmmaking, I devoured the books and magazines on home-made special effects.

I spent so much time reading and re-reading books in Coles, completely unmolested by the patient staff, (or perhaps I was simply under their radar) it came to feel like a second home. The books I liked never seemed to move off the shelves so even the ones I couldn't buy were always there for me. And then a completely unique book appeared on the shelves.

This book so excited me I was vibrating inside and out. It haunted my dreams. I returned time and time again to flip through its pages. I was aware that comics had been around a long time due to the reprints DC Comics had begun printing in the back of their books. They were often my favourite things in the books. This book was filled with reprints, but they were nothing like the ones I had seen. This book held a treasure trove of history; its cornucopia of undiscovered heroes and lush art was like a siren call to me. Flipping through I was opening a door to whole new, expanded world. In contrast to the garish colours of DC reprints, these comics were all in black and white. None of the artists were familiar to me and yet their styles were all quite distinctive. It was a time of Nationalistic fervour as Canada was still giddy over the passing of it’s centennial and America was approaching its bicentennial. Therefore I was always subtly aware that DC’s reprints were jingoistic and American. These reprints were jingoistic and Canadian.

Whoa, what? CANADIAN????!!

It was The Great Canadian Comic Books by Michael Hirsh and Patrick Loubert, designed by Clive Smith. The trio would go on to found Canada's most successful animation studio and, for a time, were my employers. After buying up the plates and artwork from much Bell Features later run of comics they had created a documentary film and interviewed several of the stalwarts of the era. They had also created a short radio drama based on Speed Savage and created a travelling Art Show with the assistance of the National Gallery of Canada. This was the first book to show Canadians that we had our own golden age of Canadian comics to be proud of. I had even seen their documentary in class once, totally mesmerized by these superheroes and comics I had never heard of.

Patriotic pride swelled within my heart every time I visited my precious book. I studied the art within its pages, trying to commit every brush stroke to memory. I would lovingly put it back on the shelf, hoping no one else would find it and reiterate a vow each time I was forced to leave it behind. "Never fear book. One day you and will be together."

My mind whirled feverishly. It would take too long to save for this book. I spent weeks returning to Coles to peruse those black and white pages, always worried that this time I would to find them sold out. But there it was, every time. I came to realize my allowance would take months to add up to enough to buy this book. I was tempting fate to leave this treasure alone. Soon, someone would snap it up and it would be gone from my life forever.
But there was way. I knew it was possible to steal the book. The first book I ever stole had been a crime of passion and opportunity. I had snuck it out under my coat from this very Coles almost without realizing I was doing it. So I knew it could easily be done again. But to actually plan a robbery? What kind of person did that make me, even at eight?

A desperate one.

I was lost to my baser urges. I emptied my gym bag (Phew! Those gyms clothes needed laundering anyway) and headed to the mall, a young rebel determined to free that book from its lonely, retail existence. I found my lovely book and tipped it into the open bag, hiding my actions with my back. ZZZZZIIP! The bag closed, I browsed a little longer and causally walked out. I had done it. My horror at my criminal act was outweighed by the depths of my need. Now the successful, master criminal could be properly sick with guilt outside.

In my own defence, I only ever tried to steal one other thing in my life. And was caught and banned from the mall for a year! A torturous time for me in which I felt like everyone I passed knew me for the marked man I was. Afterwards, I tended to shop at Coles very loyally, eager to fork over cash for the books I admired. I t was my way of making up for my misspent youth. But right then, racing home with this nationalistic treasure in my bag, I felt only cursory guilt. This book was simply too special to me. My ethics were simply drowned out by the love and fascination I felt as I poured over each page.

I was secure in the knowledge that I, and only I, would ever care for this book the way it deserved.

At home, I devoured the book, pored over it day after day and gave it a place of honour on my shelf... after several months hidden under my bed until I felt confident my mother would consider it a piece of literature that had always been a part my books. The book gave a general history of Bell Features, one of several comic book companies that rose briefly in the forties to fill a void on Canadian newsstands. It also gave a cursory overview of the many characters that filled the books. Instead of full stories, Hirsh and Loubert published tantalizing snippets as a way of showcasing as much variety in artwork and story as possible.

Three artists stood to my young mind. The elegant brush strokes and sophisticated work of Bell Features art director, Adrian Dingle, the creator of Nelvana of the Northern Lights. The cartoony yet manly art of Fred Kelly (creator of the original Mr. Monster). And finally, the unmistakable work of Leo Bachle, creator of Johnny Canuck and host of other characters.

Leo understood the heroic ideal of action comics better than any of his contemporaries at bell. Every pose was heroic. You’d rarely go more than a page without Johnny, flying, running, leaping or socking some Nazi in the jaw. Leo, a handsome teen, designed Johnny, and indeed, most of his heroes, to look like his own chiselled features. He was close to the age of his readership and knew what they wanted was to picture themselves as these heroes. And Leo always gave the readers what they wanted. Heck, in Johnny’s first appearance he was already a confirmed thorn in the side of Adolph Hitler himself.

I didn't know at the time I would go on to become friends with Leo, who eventually changed his name to Les Barker and became a much-sought after comedian and performer. In meeting Les in person and growing to know him and his family I discovered that our connection ran much deeper than mere comics. We shared a sense of humour, a sense of pride and a desire to do things better than anyone else. I miss Les every day. And any step forward I take in my attempts to bring knowledge of Canadian comics to a modern audience, I dedicate to him.

This much delayed journey (Hey, life happens. Right?) has also helped me rediscover a love for comics in general. So this Blog will likely cover a lot of what’s out there now in addition to our jaunts into the Canadian past.

Thanks old friend, for helping me rediscover my childhood passion.

The first book I ever stole?

The tale is almost identical, though lacking in maple-drenched, nationalist fervour. It was the Great Comic Book Heroes by Jules Feiffer.

Beavers up!