Saturday, October 30, 2010

Comics To Keep You Up At Night

It's the day before Halloween and you don't have a costume yet; you probably aren't planning to hit the town except maybe the local video store to rent horror movies. Not all of us have the desire to dress as our favorite comic book characters, but there is an alternative to enjoying the holiday with comics in mind; seasonal reading of course! Grab a cup of pumpkin spice latte and dig into your bowl of Halloween candy while you read some of these spooky tales.

Arkham Asylum
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Dave McKean
Publisher: DC
If you like...: David Lynch films, Victorian horror stories, The Shining

One cannot have a list of eerie tales without Grant Morrison's Arkham Asylum. The Dave McKean drawn graphic novel is one hell of a creepy story no matter what time of year you pick it up. The book follows two parallel stories about Arkham; a present day Batman entering the madhouse after it has been taken over by the inmates, and a look into the asylum's troubled beginnings. This book is remembered as a classic not only for being well-written and stylistically bold (not to mention a record breaking best-seller), but at the time it pushed the boundaries for a Batman story. Prior to its release, The Killing Joke and The Dark Knight Returns delivered more violent blows than previously seen in the Batman books. But while those stories approached violence with the subtlety of a hammer, Arkham crawls under your skin and reminds you just how terrifying deranged freaks in costumes would be in real life. Whether you are re-reading this groundbreaking book or picking it up for the first time, it goes with Halloween like bats and Gotham.

The Long Halloween
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Artist: Tim Sale
Publisher: DC
If you like...: Whodunit capers, Batman stories featuring every major Batman villain ever, the early unstoppable team of Loeb / Sale

It is widely accepted amongst comic book readers that whenever Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale collaborate on a project it is a must read, and The Long Halloween is largely responsible for that assumption. In this 13-issue limited series, Batman works towards capturing the mysterious "Holiday" serial killer with clues leading to every major player in town. Although it is not very frightening, this story of murder and intrigue is a suspenseful read. Since The Long Halloween features a different holiday for each issue it's suitable for any time of year, but it begins and ends with the night of mischief. If you're interested in more ghostly tales, consider picking up Haunted Knight, a collection of Batman Halloween specials created by Loeb and Sale prior to The Long Halloween.

(For more recommendations, continue reading below.)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Halloween Costumes On The Cheap - Part VII

Peter Parker / Jimmy Olsen

These two are together since they require a lot of the same items. Both are photographers for major newspapers (albeit in different universes), and both are fans of sweater vests. Here’s what you’ll need for either costume:

  • A camera; doesn’t have to work, but an older 35mm one with a neck strap will look best
  • Khakis 
  • White shirt tucked in, with sleeves rolled up to the elbows
  • Sweater vest
  • For Jimmy Olsen, a bowtie; for Peter Parker a regular tie or none
  • Press pass with newspaper and character name on it (I found a sample of one made for Parker's Daily Bugle)
  • Manila folder containing photos (for Jimmy, blurry shots of Supes flying through the sky, Peter will have better pics of Spidey)

These costumes are so simple yet accurate, I’m disappointed there aren’t more of them at Halloween or at the cons. All of the details add up and even people who are vaguely familiar with the characters will enjoy your costume.

That's all folks, if you don't have a costume yet, you are probably planning on staying in or you are rocking your store bought costume. Either way, now you have a head start on next year for awesomely nerdy costumes!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Halloween Costumes On The Cheap - Part VI


Okay, so you kind of need to look the part for this one. But if I had blonde hair right now, I’d totally go as my favorite Slayer. I think the best way to get this costume across is to dress like Buffy during her most stylistically iconic era, that being during seasons 1-3 where she wore skirts and had a French manicure most of the time. Later seasons have her wearing a lot of turtlenecks. And Leather pants. So many leather pants! This is just a loose guideline for how to dress like Buffy:

  • Mini skirt and white tank top OR
  • A spaghetti strap dress, a red satin one will look very 90’s chic
  • Jean Jacket or skirt length shirt to wear over outfit
  • Boots. Cute ones, preferably leather knee highs
  • Manicured nails
  • Small hoop earrings
  • A big gaudy silver cross necklace
  • C ring from Angel (and these are pretty easy to find at thrift stores seeing how popular they were in the 90’s)
  • Frosty make-up (think pinks and whites)
  • The stake (this is all you really need to make the costume)

Again, without the blonde hair, you may end up looking like a Clueless extra carrying a stake. But if you can afford a wig, go for it! Everything else will be easy and inexpensive. And hey, for brunettes, just wear pants, darker make up, a push-up bra, and go as Faith!

(More comic book themed costume ideas here, here, and here!)

Faith's style remained consistently "bad-ass" throughout the series. 5x5!

Halloween Costumes On The Cheap - Part V

Matt Murdock / Daredevil


This costume is far more comfortable than Daredevil’s tight red leather suit, and is probably less embarrassing considering the general public associates that with the terrible Ben Affleck film. Here’s all you’ll need:

  • Suit, button up shirt, and red tie; nothing too flashy or expensive (he’s a lawyer but not high paid)
  • A pair of red tint sunglasses
  • A walking stick covered in red tape with a white tip (electrical tape will look best)
  • Having waves of ginger-tinged hair will help

If anyone asks who you are, just say a blind lawyer. If they don’t get it yet, they probably won’t appreciate it when you tell them you’re Daredevil. It’s also pretty easy to use the same method as the Clark Kent costume, but replacing the Superman logo t-shirt with a scarlet red tee that has “DD” on the chest. Again, a sharpie will do the trick here since his logo is nothing terribly intricate.

(More comic book themed costume ideas here, here, here, and here!)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Halloween Costumes On The Cheap - Part IV

Scott Pilgrim / Ramona Flowers

These costumes require a little more DIY action, but from the number of Scott / Ramona’s I saw at the recent Chicago Comic Con, it’s a pretty easy costume to make. If you plan to wear it this weekend, better set aside an evening to make a trip to your local thrift and drug stores. Instructions for both costumes are after the jump!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Halloween Costumes On The Cheap - Part III


It’s tough thinking of easy costumes for the ladies. There aren’t a lot of iconic alter ego costumes, and as much as I love Alias, Jessica Jones is obscure, even for comics. If you are a Neil Gaiman fan, there is a 78% chance that you already own a Death costume. Those of us who didn’t go through a Goth phase during high school can still easily come up with the necessary items:
  • All. Black. Clothes
  • Fishnets in some form will help, leggings, sleeves, shirt
  • Heavy black eye make up / lips
  • Black chipped nail polish
  • Messy dark hair (I think making it look like The Cure’s Robert Smith is best)
  • An ankh symbol necklace

The ankh charm may be the only thing you’ll have to hunt down, but I think even cutting the shape out of cardboard and painting it black will do just fine. Being pale will also help you with this costume, but with that many black accessories, short of being Jersey-Shore orange you will look the part. People who aren’t familiar with the Sandman comics will have little reason to question your costume since you will look more than appropriate for the occasion. See below for a look at one cos-player's take on Death!

Sandman - Death by *Rossassen on deviantART

*This post is a continuation of entries on cheap comic book themed Halloween costumes. See our previous posts for the Superman / Clark Kent costume and Hellbazer!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

$2.99 Comic Books - Too Little Too Late?

With the recent announcements from both DC and Marvel that they would release all new comics at $2.99, I find myself torn between feeling relief / confusion / skepticism. This drastic measure is no doubt a direct result of rumbles amongst fans and retailers alike the past few months, not to mention slumping individual issue sales. Until these changes hit the shelves, it's hard to say how this gamble will play out for the big two - will it be a winning move or a bust? Here's a look at the possible outcomes from both sides.

Cheaper Books = More Customers = More Sales

2010's mantra among fans seems to be "less is more" as pull lists have gotten shorter and shorter for many regular customers. Citing high price tags and waning interests, fans are finding that they can live without the five ongoing Avengers titles and stick to one or two. With the prices being lowered, those that dropped a title for the high price tag may decide to start reading it again. A 25% discount is pretty significant, and will be noticeable for fans perusing the shelves. It's also a sign that publishers are actually listening to fans with this sweeping price cut, and customers are likely to show their appreciation by picking up more titles at the (kind of) new, cheaper price tag. What makes this change so unique compared to other industries is the lack of competition. This is not the result of an outside company offering deeply discounted alternatives, it seems to have been done "for the fans". Of course, retailers are always open to ways of bringing in new readers, and I doubt the big two would implement such a change without the support of the comic book stores.

Cheaper books = Saving More, Not Spending More
For readers that dropped certain titles at $3.99, will they even notice when the price goes down? Unfortunately for the big two, the damage is done and there will be no going back for some customers. Once a reader finds they can drop a title and not miss it, will it matter whether or not it is cheaper? Or say the titles a customer currently reads are at $3.99. They will notice the discount once prices are lowered, but will that prompt them to pocket those savings or go back to the shelves for another title? If a reader can receive just as much satisfaction from a $10 purchase when they were previously spending $14, what's the incentive to spend the money on a new title?

In all of these possible scenarios, there is the opportunity for publishers to lure back customers that have cut back a book or two. But what about the customers that have quit reading individual issues entirely? Those folks will be a little harder to win over, especially if they no longer go to their local comic book store on a regular basis. It reminds me a lot of when Blockbuster pulled out all the stops in an effort to lure back everyone who left them for Netflix. After no-late fees, subscriptions, delivery services, and $1 kiosks, guess who recently filed for bankruptcy? It wasn't just that customers found a cheaper alternative; after being price gouged for years, the better offers weren't enough to gain renter's loyalties once again. The same could be true for fans that gave up on comics when books went from $2.99 to $3.99.

Readers, Retailers, and Creators

Without a doubt I will probably pick up a few more titles with a price decrease. Or perhaps more toys, or trades, or candy bars, whatever strikes my fancy that week. My budget is set and I like to try new things when I can afford it. I will say though, the titles that I did drop due to price I probably won't get again. Ender's Game is a perfect example. At $3.99 per issue, that title made for a tough sell when I could get it in trade form for so much cheaper. The amount of endless minis associated with the title meant I'd literally be spending close to a hundred dollars - on a series that was supposed to be six issues. A decrease in individual prices on that title will not be enough to bring me back; however, I may pick up the next science fiction classic mini that Marvel decides to release at $2.99 (Dune, Dune Dune!!!).

Unless readers buy more comics with their savings, retailers don't stand to gain much from a price decrease. Not all titles are returnable; in fact, a vast majority are not. Many stores have cut back on orders as well as selection in an effort to reduce the amount of unsold merchandise on the shelves. A smaller profit margin on all major titles doesn't seem like a very good way to help retailers' bottom line. Creators are also affected by the price reduction. A reduction in price may mean a reduction in pages. According to Marvel, they won't reduce the number of pages, but DC has vowed to reduce their 32 page titles to 30 pages to offset the price change. How does Marvel plan to cover the costs? Will creators still be paid the same per page? If these titles start coming out in newsprint (a cheaper alternative to the glossy pages currently being used) then I wouldn't question the publishers ability to lower prices; otherwise, the cost to publishers is unseen and therefore open to speculation. And that's where the "too good to be true" comes in. How are these books suddenly cheaper? Outsourcing to cheaper labor? Lay offs? Was I simply being ripped off when I paid $3.99 for the same content? Who is paying for that extra dollar now? "We'll be making less money" seems like an unlikely explanation. The paranoid consumer in me thinks it is more likely that they won't lose profits because they were making like gangbusters at $3.99 per book and a price increase from $2.99 was overkill in the first place.

I don't want to think that my demand for a cheaper product resulted in a pay decrease for someone else, or a reduction in quality. As it stands, it sort of makes buying these titles feel like going to Wal-Mart to save a few extra bucks - the savings always come at someone else's expense. At the end of the day, whether they price a title at $2.99 or $10.99 the same statement is true for me: "If it's not worth buying, it's not worth reading." I'll still only buy a book for what I feel it is worth, and despite Marvel and DC's generous offer to lower their prices, there is no guarantee my saved pennies will go back to them.

The above image was taken at King's Comics in Sydney, Australia, the land of always-expensive-comics.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Halloween Costumes On The Cheap Part II


Unless you run in knowledgeably nerdy circles, this costume probably won’t be easily recognized. Random strangers on the street may recognize the name Constantine but they will be confused when they see you don’t look / act like the Keanu Reeves catastrophe. But for the H-Blazer fans that see you on Halloween, this obscure costume is sure to leave a lasting impression. Here’s what you’ll need:
  • A tan trench coat
  • Black pants and suit jacket
  • Black thin tie
  • Pack of cigarettes
  • A cross
  • A small bible
  • Vial of holy water (a clear hotel size shampoo bottle filled with water marked “holy water” will work great)
  • Carefully disheveled hair
  • British accent

This costume is all about attitude. No gimmicks, no “ah-ha” moments upon viewing. You simply have to be the character. With the necessary props and a reluctantly badass attitude, once they realize who you are, comic book fans in the know will love you forever. If you have an equally nerdy pal willing to go along with it, have him dress up as a cabbie and be Chaz for the night.

*This posts is a continuation of entries on cheap comic book themed Halloween costumes. See our previous post for the Superman / Clark Kent costume!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Halloween Costumes On The Cheap

Not willing to splurge on the $100 Batsuit with utility belt? Want to avoid the embarrassment of going to a party dressed in the same Joker costume as your co-worker? Or are you simply too broke to go for a store bought costume? There are plenty of comic book character costumes you can make from items in your own closet. Keep checking back as I will continue posting ideas until the holiday weekend arrives!

Clark Kent

It may not be as fun to dress up as Superman’s alter ego, but you’ll certainly get more props for creativity. And let’s be honest, most of us can pull off Clark more easily than Kal-el. Here’s what you’ll need: 
  • Jacket and dress pants
  • A button up dress shirt
  • Red or blue tie you won’t mind parting ways with
  • Some bendable wire, or a thin wire hanger
  • Black rimmed glasses
  • Superman logo t-shirt
  • Two safety pins

Most of these items are pretty self-explanatory (glasses, suit) but what makes this an awesome costume is that everyone will know it’s Superman, but you won’t have to wear a cape and blue tights. Put the superman t-shirt on beneath your suit and dress shirt. Leave the top four or five buttons on your shirt unbuttoned, pulling the middle out towards your armpits. Gather the edges and pin these parts down or, if you have yet to guess where this is going, pin it where you would be pulling open your shirt to reveal Supe’s costume. Lastly, the tie! This will really complete the costume. Tie it around your neck, loosely. You want it to be around your collar, but not too tight, as it should be comfortable. Make a small cut one-inch from the bottom of each end of your tie, preferably at the back where it will be hidden. After straightening out your thin bendable wire, cute it in half. Push each of the wires through the small holes until they reach the knot. Cut the wire where it will touch the end of your tie then tuck it into the hole, bending the wire if necessary. This will now make it possible for you to bend the wire, and the tie along with it, to create a “blowing in the wind” effect. Voila! You have one epic costume on your hands. 

Another tip, this works just as well for a Supergirl costume. I did this a few years ago as inspired by the fantastic Adam Hughes Supergirl mini-bust from the Women of DC series of statuettes.

The most expensive part of this costume? The wig rental at $20

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

24 Hour Comics Day - Chicago

Update 10/21/10: Here is a link to the completed comics created at Graham Crackers Comics in Edgewater, along with a video shot on location by Cameron Keleher!

Busy, busy artists at Challengers Comics
With the changing of the leaves comes the desire to lock one's self inside their apartment and hibernate for several months (at least that is the urge here in Chicago, where the nightly temperature is dipping closer to 30 degrees every night). Perhaps that is why 24 Hour Comics Day works so well as an annual fall event; it's a great catalyst to keep creators motivated during the cold winter months. Here's the gist of the project: create a 24-page comic book in 24 hours. The experience forces artists to finish a complete comic book, typos, scribbles and all. No more putting off that idea, or waiting to be inspired. Besides the opportunity to overcome creative blocks it's also great exposure, with all of the completed works scanned and hosted on websites for public viewing (see above links), and a few are selected each year for publishing, though these anthologies have not been collected the last few years (thanks friendly reader!).

This year the event was held on a particularly windy and rainy day in Chicago, the kind of perfect weather to be stuck inside of a comic book store creating non-stop for a day. I was able to catch the artists in action at Graham Crackers Comics in Edgewater, as well as Challengers Comics in Bucktown. (The only other store within city limits that participated was The Comics Vault, and unfortunately I was unable to make it out to their store.) Between the two stores I witnessed close to 30 comic book illustrators hard at work. Their experiences varied from professionals like Mike Norton and Chris Burnham to amateurs not yet old enough to see PG-13 films. Everyone brought his or her own methods to attacking the task at hand. Some came prepared with thumbnails, ready to do the final sketches, while others showed up without the slightest clue as to what would be their story. Several hours into the day artists had concepts such as, “This Predator is an outsider on his planet,” or “One word: Batrace.” (I’m betting both of these stories will be stimulating reads once they are put online.) Though pencils and ink were the most popular tools amongst artists, there were at least a few working digitally with Wacom tablets, a handful of brave souls attempting to color their works, and there was no general consensus for artwork size.

The best way to describe what it’s like to view a few dozen artists feverishly working round the clock is to say it’s like visiting a comic book factory. You get to see everything from start to finish, and by the end of the tour you are very anxious to sample the goods. Of course, comic book factories don’t really have artists on an assembly line, handing pages off to the press (maybe in Japan). No, this is more like how a 7 or 8 year old imagines a comic book factory, making it a lot cooler than the reality of publishing on a large scale. If this event doesn’t make you want to read comics, the sequential arts might not be the hobby for you.

In addition to a strong urge to read comics, 24 Hour Comics Day gave me a great respect for the creators, and particularly for their courage to actually draw in public. The thought of doing this gives me sweaty, sweaty palms. Hopefully next year I can work up the courage to attempt to join in the fun; my lack of skills aside, the ambition shared by participants was contagious. Here are some more pictures of artists hard at work to get you excited for next year!

Graham Crackers, Edgewater - More artists came as the day continued, but these are the dedicated early birds
I didn't see this guy get up once for a break ( I was only there for 4 hours though)
More pictures from Graham Crackers and Challengers Comics after the jump...