Has controversy taken a back seat, asks Antony Johnston, or is the industry just catching its breath? Plus, an idea for how comics could inspire video games that's a little more sophisticated than X-MEN: MUTANT ACADEMY.
23 January 2004


If you've been online over the holidays and followed the various comic news sites, it probably seems like business as usual. DC signs another creator exclusive, Marvel are launching a new line of books, the Niles/Templesmith juggernaut rolls on at IDW... I, however, wasn't online over the holidays because I was moving house. And now that I'm back online and scouring the sites for interesting news, it strikes me how very quiet it all is.

No big controversies, no companies sinking like stones, no spats between high-profile creators... Sure, there was the DC/Humanoids deal, which is certainly interesting, but it remains to be seen how that's going to play out and whether DC's muscle can give these books an audience they were previously struggling to find.

The most interesting thing to me over the last couple of weeks is that Diamond have decided to stop allocating perennially available books STAR codes (new codes given to books still available after the initial ordering period had passed, e.g. STAR14390) and instead, each book will now be keeping its original order code (the sort of code you see on the shipping list every week, e.g. JAN042612).

Now, this is interesting to me - it means order numbers are easier for retailers to keep on file, which makes reordering books easier, and it also means Diamond has finally accepted that perennially available books are The Future - but it's hardly the stuff of which industry newsflashes are made.

'No big controversies, no spats between high-profile creators.' In fact, looking back over the past year, it seems much of the news controversy was driven by Marvel and Crossgen. But where are they now? Crossgen's bad fortune is far from over, but there haven't been any significant new developments (good or bad) since the initial wave of Doom And Gloom. Marvel, meanwhile, is generating a resounding silence of the like not seen since BB (Before Bill). The sideways promotion of Bill Jemas clearly signalled the start of a new attempt at what might be called proper public conduct from Marvel, and compared to the Jemas heyday, the publisher may as well be mute.

But hang on - isn't this what bigmouths like me have been pining for? Publishers and creators conducting themselves professionally, quietly getting on with the business of producing comics instead of conducting playground fights over the Internet?

Why, yes. Yes it is.

I've never quite understood the desire to get into slanging matches, giving in to the let's-you-and-him-fight urges of certain fans. I don't see what it achieves (other than creating two rival sides of supporters, which I suppose might be a laudable aim, but I've yet to see how), and I don't see how anyone can come out of it looking good.

It's the sort of thing that just drives public perception of our medium and industry - because in most people's minds, the two are still one and the same - down into the gutter. But the last few months indicate that the times, they might be a-changing.

'Isn't this what bigmouths like me have been pining for?' Maybe this is the calm before a storm (I have to be cynical, it's in the contract), or just a lull. Maybe the rest of 2004 will see a resurgence of divisive controversy, which will at least give people like me something to write about.

But perhaps not. Perhaps a few people have considered their positions and decided that maybe, just maybe, we'd all be better off if we acted like the professionals we're supposed to be...

What? A man can dream, can't he?


Before the holidays, I was asked to contribute to an article in February's edition of OFFICIAL PLAYSTATION 2 magazine, wherein authors from non-videogame media - an artist, a musician, a film director, a design agency and a writer - were asked to come up with videogame ideas, something influenced by their own field. (I was "the writer", by the way. Cunning, I'm sure you'll agree.)

So naturally, I started wondering; what aspect of comics is totally unique? What part of our form can't be replicated by any other? Sure, there's the whole 'words and pictures' thing, but that's not really enough. What does the use of this combination - static, visually transmitted words and pictures - actually give us? What does it let us do, or not do?

The answer, of course, is in how comics use time. There's a two-way thing going in comics, here. On the one hand, the creators control the perception of time within the story through pacing, and usage of panels. But the reader also controls time; not just because they decide how quickly to move from panel to panel, but because there's no need for expository prose to set a scene. The visuals are right there, without the need for any text - and you can stop and look around as much as you want. You can flick back to re-read a previous scene, perhaps in a new light because of later events.

Unlike prose, in comics everything is right there in front of your eyes; unlike movies, in comics you don't have to move along at a pace set by the creator; and unlike a picture, in comics you're seeing a story unfold.

'What part of the comics form can't be replicated by any other?' So I asked people to consider this, to think about how such a useful storytelling tool - something that allows a creator to be enormously subtle, while simultaneously ensuring the reader will have enough time to find those subtleties - could be transplanted into a videogame.

Imagine playing a mystery adventure, where you could stop and review what you've done so far; like take a second look at a previous, seemingly unimportant conversation your character had with a shifty bystander, and gain new insight because of what you now know. Or maybe freeze the action as you move through a crowded bar, giving you as much time as you want to see who's there, who's drinking with whom, maybe even notice a threat you might have otherwise missed.

The potential for complexity and subtlety in such a game would be enormous; it would certainly have to be very well-written and executed to get the balance right. But, you know, I'd play it. And it would make a change from the usual comics-inspired game of "You're a superhero and you must save the world with your incredible bandicoot-summoning powers..."


Long-time readers may recall that I'm a big fan of Kagan McLeod's INFINITE KUNG-FU comics, about which you can read more here. Well, McLeod's just informed me that he's finally created a dedicated website, which you can find at the fiendishly deceptive URL infinitekungfu.com. His Flash-Authoring Kung Fu is mighty!


One of the nice things about being a freelancer is that people send you free swag, and we all love the free swag. Especially when the free swag is a copy of PROBOT.

Probot is a new side project by Dave Grohl, frontman of the Foo Fighters and all-round Nicest Guy In Rock, so it's a bit of a surprise (to those of us not ardent fans, anyway) to discover that he used to be a 14-year-old metalhead with a penchant for original black/thrash metal bands like Venom and Celtic Frost.

What do you do if you're one of the most successful rock musicians ever, with a metal ache in your bones, and people in the industry will fall over themselves to help you? You call up the singers from all your old favourite bands and ask them to guest on a supergroup metal album, that's what.

PROBOT features eleven tracks, with all music by Grohl but lyrics and vocals by a different frontman on each one. So we get Lemmy doing SHAKE YOUR BLOOD, a Motorhead tribute song if ever there was one; Cronos on CENTURIES OF SIN, which oddly enough sounds not unlike a Venom track; Max Cavalera barking away on RED WAR, which - go on, have a guess - sounds like CHAOS AD-era Sepultura... They're all perfectly matched to their songs, and the end result is undeniably metal. Whoever knew the perpetually-grinning Grohl had it in him?

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