Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Whither the Marvel graphic novel?

A year ago I wondered where the comics anthology had gone. Specifically, the ones from Marvel and DC. They seemed to have picked up the slack a bit in that area (although without a drop in price, which I think would help a great deal, as well as maybe get people to buy their other books at full price, but that's neither here nor there, and I don't want to get into it), so now I'm going to turn my attention to another dinosaur: the graphic novel from Marvel.

What the hell happened to them? DC still puts them out every once in a while, and other companies publish them quite often. Why not Marvel? If, as we all assume, the future of comics lies in trade paperbacks, why on earth is Marvel unwilling to publish full-length, original graphic novels? They used to. I know, I own a few. I'm sure you do too.

The Captain Marvel one is probably the best-known, but I don't own that. However, it's supposed to be good. Or at least interesting. Starlin writes good space opera, so I imagine it's good. I also don't own the New Mutants GN, but I have read it. Also pretty good. I do own a few, and I want to wax nostalgic about them, with an eye toward making my ultimate point that these suckers would sell, damn it!

I only own four GNs published by Marvel, but three of them, at least, are excellent. The first is:

Daredevil by Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz.
This book is so painfully beautiful I could just stare at it for hours. Miller, who around this time was doing "Born Again," The Dark Knight Returns, "Year One," and Elektra: Assassin, was really on a roll. Sienkiewicz, meanwhile, was producing gorgeous and highly stylized work on everything he touched, and he was getting better with each project. This isn't even really a Daredevil story - it's a Kingpin story, as Wilson tries to reach his comatose wife the only way he can: he has the wife of a prominent psychiatrist kidnapped and then tells the doctor he will release his wife when Vanessa is cured. Daredevil rescues the wife, but the doctor reaches out to Vanessa and turns her against Fisk, whose heart is broken in the process. This rift is actually exploited in Chichester's dismemberment of the Kingpin in Daredevil #297-300. It's nice to see this graphic novel having an impact on the regular title.

Sienkiewicz, given the time and the palette to cut loose, really shines. His art is a stunning collage of paint and pencils, and he shifts tone throughout the book. Early on, we see a full page of Daredevil leaping off a bus in the middle of town. The streaking head- and taillights is contrasted with the streak of Matt Murdock, rising above the murk, dolphin-like. Plus, there's a nice shout-out to Ralph Macchio.

Sienkiewicz, however, is not just good at the action and gritty scenes, but the quieter ones, as well. There's a beautiful page where the doctor contemplates what he needs to do in order to save himself. Vanessa is in bed, dwarfed by it, like she is dwarfed by the alpha male to whom she is married. Miller's writing is particularly sharp here, too: "And this poor woman ... is my only weapon ..." But she must be used.

One thing Sienkiewicz does well is turn the normal grotesque in order to make a point about the characters. Fisk, large at the beginning of the book, appears to grow larger as his wife slips further away. He is all-encompassing, but he can't possess the one thing he truly wants.
This is the last page of the book, and Fisk is narrating: "I have everything I desired ..." which ends the book. It's a chilling portrait of a man who has lost what little was left of his soul. Note how small Fisk looks, despite what you initially see. This is all Sienkiewicz.

Another graphic novel I own is Jon J. Muth's adaptation of Dracula.

This is certainly not as good as either the original book (obviously) nor the Daredevil OGN, but it's a beautiful comic nevertheless. Muth is best known, maybe, for Moonshadow, his collaboration with J.M. DeMatteis, and his art style is perfect for a gothic horror book like Dracula.

If anyone has read the novel, the tone of this book is similar - arguably difficult to get through, meandering in some places, but full of creepy images and terrifying moments. Muth depicts it with deliberately hazy watercolors, lending a sheen of vagueness and dreaminess to the proceedings. The book skips the Transylvanian part of Stoker's novel and brings us right to England, and the stars of the comic are Mina and Lucy more than anyone else, even Van Helsing. As with the book, the sexual longing on the part of the two females is brought out, but, as it's a pictorial adaptation, it's a but more graphic. We have also come to expect to see Dracula as a grand seducer, thanks to Anne Rice, but in the comic, although Dracula is certainly a powerful presence, Lucy is the true hero, even though she may have lost her soul to destroy the vampire.
It's a disturbing book, one that demands that you stop and gaze at the gorgeous artwork and read it carefully. It's the kind of book that we just can't imagine Marvel putting out today, and that's a shame.

Another book I want to mention briefly is Steven Grant, Mike Zeck, and John Beatty's OGN about the Punisher, Return To Big Nothing. I have mentioned that I'm not a fan of Frank Castle, but that doesn't necessarily preclude me from reading about him. I just happen to think he's a character with such limited story possibilities that it would be difficult to keep him fresh. I could be wrong, but his "war on crime" thing just annoys me, even though I love Garth Ennis, for instance, and hear that his Punisher series is pretty decent.

I bought this book for one reason only: Zeck's art. I didn't know much about Grant, so that wasn't a draw, but Zeck's art is always good to see, and he delivers, with nice clean lines and beautifully drawn mayhem. The story is fine for what it is: Castle kills bad guys. It zips along, gives us a bit of character development, and lots of people die and many things are blown up. I haven't read too much by Grant, but I find it interesting that he can be so erudite and clever on his weekly columns for Comic Book Resources yet so pedestrian in his comic-book writing. That's not to say it's bad, it just doesn't often rise above the pack.

One of the gold standards of Marvel graphic novels, of course, is Claremont and Anderson's X-Men book, God Loves, Man Kills.

Some people might suspect this is overrated. Well, maybe - if people compare it to Shakespeare. As a comic book, you're rarely going to see a finer example of what the medium is capable of. Claremont is at the top of his form here, bringing in elements from the regular series but not getting bogged down in it, telling a brutally graphic story but still offering plenty of reasons to hope, creating a villain that could have easily been a stereotype (and often is) but making sure William Stryker had enough depth for us to understand him and be truly horrified by what he's doing rather than simply saying, "Oh, he's a villain - that's what they do." Because this isn't the regular series, and the children might not read it because of its price, Claremont can be a little more "true-to-life," as at the beginning, when two mutant children are killed:
Killing mutants
Some might say this is horribly cynical and shouldn't be shown in comics and "why can't comics just be about fun?" Well, read Archie if you want that. This is certainly a different kind of comic book, and, unlike what Brian was talking about with the consequences of Sue Dibny's rape, the consequences here are shown, as Claremont follows through on what Stryker's plans are and how Magneto and Professor Xavier plan to stop him. He wants to examine the racist motivation of people who want to herd mutants up simply because of who they are, and why mutants need to stand up for themselves. In one of the most memorable scenes in the book, Kitty Pryde lashes out at Stevie Hunter (remember her?) when Stevie tells her that words can't hurt:
Can anyone even conceive of Marvel letting someone write that today? Of course not - it might offend someone, and God forbid we offend anyone these days!

Of course, the X-Men confront Stryker, on national television, and he reveals his true colors when his assistant, Anna, is shown to be a mutant. In another gripping scene, Stryker kills Anna in front of millions of viewers:
This final scene is famous for several reasons: Stryker pointing at Kurt and asking how anyone can call him human, Kitty pointing out that Kurt is more decent and caring than Stryker could ever imagine, Stryker unable to see past his prejudices to embrace the person who has helped in on his crusade more than anyone, Charles and Magneto unable to reconcile. It's a wonderful conclusion in that it offers both hope and trepidation about the future. Claremont used to be very good at this sort of thing, and here it's on display magnificently. Anderson's art is perfect, as well - I won't say he's never been better, but he does achieve marvelous synergy with Claremont, and they produce a masterpiece. The second X-Men movie did a noble job at trying to recreate it, but the source material remains the must-read. It's probably still in print, although I can't say the same for the others (I honestly don't know).

So why doesn't Marvel publish them anymore? Other companies do - I just bought two today. Even DC puts a few out occasionally. Are they really such a loser? I would think they'd be the kind of thing that would recoup losses in the long run, because you can keep them in print or reprint them as the market demands. I don't know, but it's a shame, because these books allow writers to loosen up a bit and expand a story and explore things a bit more, and because they aren't on a monthly schedule, they allow the artist to really work at it and make the art perfect. In the past few years, DC has given us that absolutely gorgeous J.G. Jones Wonder Woman GN, Christopher Moeller's Justice League (really Wonder Woman, but technically JL) book, and Morrison and Quitely's JLA: Earth Two, plus a bunch of others I'm sure I'm forgetting. I honestly don't know why Marvel seems to have given up the practice. But I'm here to help, and I'm sure you all will be too, with my own suggestions.

An Avengers OGN by Morrison and Quitely. It could bookend the JLA one they did.

A Nick Fury book by Miller and Sienkiewicz. They've already "done" Fury in the tremendously overwrought Elektra: Assassin, and this would be a hoot.

Kurt Busiek and Tom Mandrake on a Silver Surfer book. Mandrake might not be the obvious choice for this, but if you check out The Spectre, you see he can handle big space opera.

Peter David and Kevin Maguire doing a Spider-Man GN. Who wouldn't want to see Maguire draw Spider-Man?

Steve Niles and Kelley Jones - Doctor Strange. That's gold!

Brian K. Vaughan and Gary Frank on an X-Men book. Vaughan has proven he can handle a big cast, and Frank's clean pencils make his characters easily recognizable.

Ellis and Templesmith, taking a break from Fell, to do Moon Knight. I'd buy that. It might depress me, but I'd buy it.

Anyway, give me some suggestions. Also, tell me why Marvel doesn't do this. I crave answers!

Read More


Blogger Michael said...

Quesada's repeatedly said he doesn't feel it's a viable model. Now, you can agree with this (I certainly do), but that is your answer for why Marvel doesn't do OGNs: Quesada's against it.

3/08/2006 05:22:00 PM  
Blogger Trebbers said...

I assume that Marvel prefers to serialize content that would have merited an OGN at one time because it allows them to gauge interest for an eventual HC/TPB and make money (or at least lose less) at the same time. On the other hand, DC being more inclined to publish GNs may be linked to their relatively less aggressive TPB strategy.

Anyway, I was a wee lad at the time the Marvel GNs seemed to be being phased out. They had an allure on the shelf, but were just too expensive for my 10-12 year-old self to consider pulling the trigger on. Well, I did buy a copy of Iron Man: Crash found in a bargain bin, but it's not really the best ambassador for the format or the medium, is it?

3/08/2006 05:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Chuck T. said...

I was thinking of the Simonson Star Slammers one, which might not be his most readable work, but it seems like he was having fun. What was the cover price on that? Like $5.95 or something? In that weird larger format that was probably too much of a pain for the bag-and-board types.
Although I only have a few of them now (the X-Men and Daredevil ones, Someplace Strange, maybe a couple more) I remember them fondly. Or at least more fondly than what followed: wave after wave of "prestige" format books: horrible little pricey things. Does Batman: In Darkest Night need to be friggin' squarebound? (I don't know if that's the right term, but still. And while that's not a Marvel one, it's one of the worst offenders I could think of, a story that should've been a $.75 What If?)
If printing costs didn't do it, perhaps because they thought the OGN would be competing against the comics themselves. I mean, compare the Daredevil graphic novel against whatever regular issues were done that year, and I think you can guess which would end up on top.

3/08/2006 05:39:00 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

"Iron Man: Crash"


I read the Dr. Strange/Dr. Doom OGN, and thought it was pretty kickass.

3/08/2006 07:00:00 PM  
Blogger Kyle said...

I read once that Miller and Sienkiewicz originally began Love and War as a story to be published in the pages of Daredevil. Apparently they didn't tell Marvel's editors ahead of time exactly what kind of a look they had in mind for the story. They just did whatever the hell they wanted. Eventually a Marvel editor saw a drawing Sienkiewicz did of a giant Kingpin taking up the whole page (I'm guessing the same image you posted). The editor freaked out, and decided the story would not be published in the regular Daredevil title. That's how the story ended up as a graphic novel instead. Or so I heard.

So at least on that occasion, Marvel ended up with a graphic novel on their hands specifically because of the editors' lack of vision.

3/08/2006 07:49:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Sims said...

Limited story possibilities for the Punisher?!

Brother, them's fightin words!

3/08/2006 10:07:00 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

The Punisher: There's a bad guy. Frank shoots him.

Limited story possibilities.

3/08/2006 10:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Dave said...

Stories: There's a conflict, then there's not. Or vice versa*

Limited story possibilities?

*If you want to be peaceful about it, you can say, "There's connection, then there's not. Or vice versa"

3/09/2006 01:07:00 AM  
Blogger Apodaca said...

Mike Allred: Spider-Man and The Human Torch.

3/09/2006 05:09:00 AM  
Blogger joncormier said...

This is the sort of post I'm dreaming of making some day. It really is a great rhetorical question, but not all that rhetorical really. Why don't they do it? They've been successful and people (including myself) want them.

But then I understand why they don't. If they're having so much trouble keeping 22 page stories on schedule and interesting then there is a much larger possibility for a longer story with a looser deadline to go completely off the rails. I hope nobody takes that last sentence as spiteful snark, I do actually think Marvel is doing well in some areas but like all publishers they're having trouble in some as well.

It's one thing to see a monthly title slide into oblivion and cancel it, you don't lose so much. If you have a 200 page graphic novel with a year long production schedule and 11 months into it the team still hasn't gotten past page one - bigger losses. Or if a GN gets rushed out and just doesn't move, I think there is a bigger loss.

Then again like book authours, GN teams are given a stipend or whatever and if it turns out they take X number of years instead of Y months then they only get what they got. You get a $1000.00 for a month of work, if it takes you six months, tough luck - work faster. Pay the advance and work out a diminishing system if the original deadline is missed. It could work...

3/09/2006 09:33:00 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

Mike Allred doing Spider-Man and the Human Torch would be quite excellent.

As for your points, Jon, I honestly don't know the economics behind the business. Joey Q might not like OGNs, which is perfectly reasonable, and Marvel may want to pursue the trade paperback market more, which also reasonable. It seems that if creators really want to do an OGN, they wouldn't fall victim to the daily grind of monthly serials - I could be wrong, though. Marvel seems flush with cash right now because of the movies, and the fact that this might lose them money in the short term makes little sense. Customers are also programmed to buy the serials or the trades, too. Part of it might be that if we buy the monthlies for 3 dollars, we think we're spending less than if we buy a single volume for 15-20 dollars. It's all about perception.

That said, if every other publisher can publish OGNs, Marvel can too. And the stories could be better and the production values better. I just find it interesting that they don't when they're obviously concentrating on trades, which are OGNs that come out over an extended period.

Oh, and Dave - of course that's the arc of stories. But the Punisher solves them ALL by shooting someone.

3/09/2006 09:45:00 AM  
Blogger Edward Liu said...

Marvel just reprinted "God Loves Man Kills" to go along with X-2, but as a big fat stapled comic rather than a bound TPB. It also had a new afterword by Chris Claremont in it, so I looked at it as a very small, very cheap TPB rather than as a very large, very expensive single.

I think you can look at some of the other stuff Marvel is putting out now in a similar way. The recent one-shot special they did reprinting Claremont & Rogers' "Daughters of the Dragon" includes extra interviews and has a preview of the new mini-series. The new "Giant Size" comics also seem to be doing along the same lines.

This doesn't answer why the OGN line at Marvel has stopped, but it isn't too out there to think that the success of these could lead to new big-fat-comics that would be like the OGNs you're talking about, except stapled instead of bound. The God Loves book was $5, and DotD was $4. It's kind of like looking for dinosaurs when you can find what you're looking for in birds.

3/09/2006 10:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Brian Mac said...

It seems to me that the limited series, collected in a trade, is the modern equivalent of the OGN. It costs $12 now instead of $5 way back when.

If Claremont wanted to do "God Loves, Man Kills" now, it'd end up being a six-issue limited series. I doubt that there'd be much more content -- it would just be decompressed. After all, the sequel he did in X-Treme X-Men ran six issues. (Incidentally, if you can bring yourself to buy an X-Treme X-Men trade, and I wouldn't blame you if you can't, "God Loves, Man Kills 2" includes the complete original OGN, along with the afterword Claremont wrote in 2003.)

3/09/2006 11:11:00 AM  
Anonymous SanctumSanctorumComix said...

First, let me tell you how much I loved these things, and then tell you WHY you'll most likely never see them again.

I own a bunch of the Original Graphic Novels.

Not just Marvel.
DC and First and others.

Sadly, I have probably too many.
This is due to the "hit or miss" factor of quality.

At the time, these things were being CRANKED out quite furiously, and so, some of them were duds.

I have favorites, to be sure:

by JM DeMatties and painted art by Dan Green is one of THE BEST!

Yes. I'm baised, due to my love of all things DR STRANGE, but even I will admit to a bad DOC story when it happens (cough...WITCHES...cough).

But THIS story was...UPLIFTING!
It, like many of DeMatteis works' was heavy in the "spritual" aspect of the character, and that reality is not what it may seem to be.
(Hey, George Harrison is my favorite Beatle, so that stuff is GOLD to me)

And DAN GREEN, who I had only seen as an INKER and "basic" penciller, had this beautiful painted watercolor art.
It was beautiful!

Other greats were:

- Death of Captain Marvel
(I LOVES me the Starlin Cosmic Operas)


- FUTURIANS (Dave Cockrum doing a "new X-men" type of team. Cool stuff)

- NEW MUTANTS (a good jumping point to launch their series)

- X-MEN: GOD Loves, Man Kills
(I actually did an oral presentation in an AP English class of the speech Riker gives back in 10th grade. The book was fairly new at the time, and the teacher was into "alternative forms of literature")

- DAREDEVIL (as you featured it here. I LOVED it back then. I wasn't even a DAREDEVIL FAN, and I ate that up.)

Definitive Dr Doom story.
End of discussion.

And so many others.

The DC ones weren't as good, sadly.
Better art (from a draftsman perspective. Cleaner, more precise), and better quality book, but the stories were dry.

- Atari Force?

(and sadly others I can't even REMEMBER ---
Although BATMAN: SON of the DEMON was GREAT!)

Heck, even many of the Marvel ones were

- SUPER BOXERS (although I STILL refer to Corporate stooges as "corpies" thanks to that book)

- Void Indigo (weird man, but unfulfilling)

- Someplace Strange (feh)

ANYWAY...the REASON they'll never be produced at MARVEL (at least for a while) is due to simple finances.

You get a creative team to whip up a story arc for a running title.
You pay them for that (plus whatever they'll get off the back end after certain quantities are sold, ancillary printing, etc..).

Then you SELL that run, and sell it AGAIN as a TPB, and sometimes SELL it AGAIN as a HARDCOVER!
(and SOMETIMES they'll even SELL IT AGAIN in a "flip book" or "Must Have" pamphlet format.)

The same outlay in payment to that creative team is reaping you profits many times over.

To commission a new team to work on a book that will JUST be packaged in ONE format is a no-brainer.

You DON'T do it.

I'm not saying I wouldn't LOVE to see more, but sadly they make more $$ recycling old stuff.

Look at what is being cranked out in ESSENTIAL volumes.

That work is already PAID FOR.
It's sitting around waiting to be cashed in.

Not that I'm complaing at getting all 3 volumes of TOMB of DRACULA for cheap, instead of buying all the back-issues, as well as trying out other gems (starting to read Essential Werewolf By Night).

But, Hell...I'm STILL waiting for the UNFINISHED OGN of the MAN-THING from Steve Gerber and Kevin Nowlan.

Supposedly, Nowlan says that when and IF he ever gets around to completing it (started in the late 1980's btw) it MIGHT have a publication spot.




3/09/2006 01:53:00 PM  
Blogger Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

Brian Mac: It seems to me that the limited series, collected in a trade, is the modern equivalent of the OGN.

Quesada's not been shy about saying Marvel's focus is squarely on superheroes and, as such, the mini-series > TPB model makes much more sense for their direct market fanbase than OGNs do.

Also, now that they're bringing in more writers with mainstream shelf space -- Huston, Dickey, Pierce...eventually, King -- those TPBs will allow them to carve a bit more market share from manga or, imagine this, expand the audience itself!

SIDE NOTE: Combat Zone effectively ended up being an OGN, as the orders for the individual issues of the mini-series were rumored to be so low as to not be worth serializing first.

3/09/2006 02:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anyone remember the OGN called "The Alladin Effect"? It starred She-Hulk, Wasp, Tigra, and Storm. I have it and it's pretty good.

3/09/2006 04:12:00 PM  
Blogger Apodaca said...

What's that about, and who's the creative team on it?

3/09/2006 07:12:00 PM  
Anonymous SanctumSanctorumComix said...


Just stumbled across an auction for a few OGN's and one trade.

- DAREDEVIL (as seen here)

- BATMAN : Son of the Demon (GREAT)


- IRON-MAN : CRASH (uh..only "bad" one on the list)

- Justice League : A NEW BEGINNING
(bwa-ha-ha series. First bunch of issues:
BATMAN punches out Guy Gardner,
MAX LORD and BLUE BEETLE "friends til the end", etc...)

No one will see this auction due to it's poor auction title.

So...check it out.

I have all of these (except IRON MAN) so I won't be bidding.

Good luck.



3/10/2006 11:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Roel said...

I would read a Fantastic Four graphic novel by Alan Moore and Alex Ross. Moore is very good at characters exploring the unknown, which is ripe FF territory. And the graphic novel format really favors painted art. That creative team might sell some copies. Maybe.

(It would be best if the story included the Silver Surfer, because I think Moore would write a great Surfer.)

I would read a Power Pack graphic novel written by JK Rowlings and drawn by the dude who does Bone, Jeff Smith. I figure if Stephen King is willing to do comics, Rowlings isn't out of the question, right? Plus, Marvel likes courting writers from other media.

I would read a Wolverine graphic novel written by Quentin Tarantino and illustrated by Alex Toth. I really like Alex Toth. That would probably be pretty cool.

(The Kill Bill movies would be decent templates for a Wolverine story, with Logan stepping into the Uma Thurman role.)

Just throwing out ideas.

3/13/2006 03:40:00 AM  
Blogger Darci said...

[QUOTE] Anonymous said...

Does anyone remember the OGN called "The Alladin Effect"? It starred She-Hulk, Wasp, Tigra, and Storm. I have it and it's pretty good.
3/09/2006 04:12:00 PM
Apodaca said...

What's that about, and who's the creative team on it?
3/09/2006 07:12:00 PM [UNQUOTE]

The Marvel Graphic Novel #16 "The Aladdin Effect" (1985) was by Jim Shooter, David Micheline, Greg LaRocque, and Vince Colletta. In it, Holly-Ann Ember, a little girl with psychic powers, summons four heroines to save her town. The catch is, once they arrive they have no idea who they are or what they can do. So they have to figure out their super-powers and how to save the town from a rogue AIM scientist at the same time.
Hope this helps,

5/01/2007 04:29:00 PM  

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