Friday, September 30, 2011

A Tip to Displaying Comic Books for Sale

On my most recent visit to my local comic book store I decided to wander through the independent comic racks. I have been thinking recently that I have been purchasing too much of the mainstream material, which is not a statement that what DC and Marvel is producing is poor but rather that I was hungry for something a little different that didn't involve spandex and mystical powers.

While perusing the racks of comics I noticed how some areas of the store where not utilized as highly as others, and how people went through the older racks more quickly than the area that held the week's new releases. The principle problem is that comics are placed on racks that have rows too low to the ground. I understand that space is a premium in comic stores and you don't want the racks too high because then it offers privacy for shoplifters. However, most shoppers will not bend over, kneel down, or even glance downward to see what's on the bottom of the rack. This means that roughly 50% of the product is not even being seen!

White shelves help a lot!
The solution? Place larger items on the bottom of the racks. Use large hard covers, trade paperbacks, and toys to fill in the bottom of the racks. Then have the comics on the top. This will leave less room for some of the comics but what does it matter if they weren't selling anyways? Use the comics that aren't selling as: promotional giveaways, discounted books, compiled into sets o be sold, put in boxes with the other back issues, or list them on your online store (or e-bay if you don't have that).

Dark, cramped, & uninviting comic store.
Another benefit of having fewer comics on the racks is that it provides a sense of urgency to the buyer. When you walk into a store with comics spilling out the door the customer will think that a sale must be on the horizon because of the over stock, which also implies the store is not selling a lot of comics and may go out of business. Further, the more issues one sees the less likely they will believe they need that item! Fewer issues means scarcity; the book is popular and must be a good read /investment. So in the end, it will financially benefit a comic book store owner to have fewer comics on display. Take those extra copies and tuck them away in the back until room opens up again on the shelves! It's how every other store in the world works, so why should a comic store be so different?

Most comic covers are dark colored.
Another benefit is that less product makes a brighter and more inviting store. All too often comic book stores are crammed with product. For one, it makes it difficult for staff to keep clean when there is tons of non-moving product constantly collecting dust. Secondly, most comic books have dark colored covers. With all of this dark colored mass comes a dark looking store. Dark looking stores are not inviting, unless you're a Goth (no insult intended). Brighter and cleaner stores means people will feel more welcomed. It also has the effect of keeping people in your store longer because they feel invited. Just because some comic fans still live in their parent's basement does not mean they want to also shop there! Also, a brighter and cleaner store is more attractive for that new audience /shopper which every store owner wants to see more of. If a comic fan brings a non-comic reading friend into the store, that friend will be more inclined to return on their own if they have a positive experience. How can you expect someone to have a positive experience when they enter a store that is dark and overcrowded?

Model your store after the Simpsons!
I suggest these thoughts because I earnestly wish nothing but continued success for the comic book industry. I love reading comics and want to see more people reading them too! I also know that the chances of me opening a store are slim to nil, so I share my ideas on how I would I would run a successful comic store in the hopes that a shop owner will read this, take my advice, and become more profitable. A more profitable comic store is a place that will thrive and support the industry, which in turn means I will be able to continue buying the comics I love!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Trip to Jamaica: prt I

A little over a year ago I had never been outside of Canada or the States. That all changed with a trip to Jamaica back in October of 2010.

This trip was realized through my wife winning a contest at work, allowing for an affordable and quick trip to a resort at an island destination of our choice. However, I had never yearned for tropical destinations. Sand between the toes was fine but not in my thoughts. I had never made friends with water. The carnival atmosphere of the gluttonous and sloth filled resorts had also never been in mind. Yet, there I was to embark on a trip that involved all of these.

Lifting off from Calgary we flew through the murky skies towards Toronto. From there it was a continual flight to Jamaica, touching down in Montego Bay. We entered the run down airport, meandering through the long hallways towards customs. The air was cool and damp, with murals adorning most of the walls. A large group of people pooled at the customs area. Customs was fairly quick and the biggest hassle was figuring out how to fill out the paperwork for entering the country.

view from bus
Upon leaving customs we entered another area with even more people. The area was filled with kiosks for the various resorts and transportation companies. Our resort, Bahia Principe, was sussed out and we were told that a bus was waiting outside. A man came up to us to carry our bags to the bus. Once at the bus he demanded to be paid for this 20 foot-long carrying service; I refused and he left begrudgingly. We felt awkward.

crafts sold on roadside
Once the bus was boarded we again flew, this time a little closer to the ground. Our resort was located in Runaway Bay, which worked out to be about an hour's drive from the airport in Montego Bay.

The highways in Jamaica are narrow and lined with a mosaic of inspiration. Hillsides drenched in green and studded with small hand crafted buildings. Vehicles passed each other along the turns with their pedals perpetually stuck to the floor; the bus was no different. The exotic-ness was intoxicating. We rapidly approached a pre-arranged stop with the driver's hopes you would prematurely begin your Western spending practices. A tall shack with an odd bar /jerked foods emporium was pointed out to us, along with a pleasant gentleman trying with sweat on his brow to sell us hand crafted goods. I gravitated towards a ginger beer and browsed the man's crafts, later on regretting I did not pick up anything.

After our stop it was roughly another 30 minutes of driving before we reached our resort. Exiting the bus we kindly tipped our driver. We walked into the main foyer to check in and were greeted with tropical alcohol based drinks. The large foyer had an open concept, with an absence of doors and a large plants adorning the corners. A large oddly shaped white sculpture stood at the room's center, commanding attention and tranquility. Bus boys ran about busily and fat tourists waded through the thick humidity.

Our room was splendid, with a picturesque four-post bed, tiled floors, a large bathroom, a small fridge and an outdated tv. The balcony was of a moderate size and had a table with a few chairs. From the view of our second story balcony (which also happened to be the top floor), we had a west facing view of the mountains. The highway came down from the side of the mountain but hardly made a noise from where we stood. The resort's beach could also be easily seen from our room. The large pavilion area where the resort nestled its gift shops and late night dance area was directly in front of our room, but like the highway we rarely noticed the noise.

After the flight and drive, we slowly unpacked and continued to poke through the room. Opening the fridge I found cans of local beer and a bottle of water. With beer in hand, my wife & I relaxed on the balcony. Soaking in the sun and beauty we knew right away that Jamaica would make a perfectly fine place for a vacation.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Terra Nova

Terra Nova premiered tonight. This epic, 2-hour long premier was produced by Steven Spielberg and has obvious nods to his previous works. It features time travel, the future, a dystopia, a utopia, marines /military, and of course, dinosaurs. Makes sense right?

The first thing I considered about Terra Nova was whether the dinosaurs and time travel were going to be used as a distraction from the fact that the show has a weak premise, terrible story, and laughable acting. The beginning of the episode definitely had the first two, but the acting was passable. The story was predictable and for the most part unoriginal.  The show begins in the future with a family escaping their dying world. To do so, they must travel millions of years back in time, however they do not go back to an earlier Earth but rather an earlier parallel dimension Earth -Terra Nova. This family traveled with a large group of other people and are the tenth group to have done so, with their home Earth still inhabited by millions of other people hoping to escape as well. Once the family is brought back to the past they find the settlement that the previous time-traveling groups had built and discover that not only are there dinosaurs but that this utopia still has a lot of the problems they are familiar with from their own time line: war & politics.

The Shannon family, featured in Terra Nova.
Where this show is most weak is in the dynamics of the starring family. Case in point, when the father reunites with his family the children immediately feel estranged. The father had been in jail for about 2 years, meanwhile the family had to trudge forward. When learning that they could escape their Earth through the time travel project, the family immediately arranged for a way that the father could escape his imprisonment and Earth with them. Upon reuniting in their new homes on Terra Nova, the son runs away and defies his father; acting as a teenager typically does and irrationally lambasting his father for being away. The youngest daughter doesn't remember who his father is since he's been away for years and quickly vanishes from the house; only to be found shortly after with a big family hug. The older daughter is a geek who follows her parent's wishes, much like many other stereotypical daughters in big families on TV. Not too original of a family dynamic, but you add dinosaurs and it magically becomes different right?

Promotional poster provided at 2011 SDCC
As this 2-hour epic continues, the storyline gradually becomes more complex. A fair bit of story is told in this pilot episode but the pacing seemed slow for the first hour. The problem of pacing would likely not have been an issue if it had not been for the plethora of commercials. After becoming ever-so irritated with the commercials I began to time out how long each segment of the show was before another commercial break occurred. It turned out that each segment lasted an average of 10 minutes, and a few lasted for a whopping 4 minutes! This is ridiculous and is likely due to how damn expensive this show was to make. Fox had spent millions on the special effects (which were pretty darn good) and more millions on advertisement (I remember seeing posters & such at the 2010 San Diego Comic Con for this show). Due to the price tag, Fox charged a high price for each commercial spot and apparently made sure there were plenty of these spots. Without all the commercials, the show is actually about 1 hour and 26 minutes long!

All in all, I'll be back to see the second episode. I'm curious as to where the story will go and heck, the dinosaurs are a lot of fun to see. However, I don't know how long my interest will hold as this is not the best nor original sci-fi show I've ever seen, as recently canceled shows such as Stargate Universe and Caprica were much better.

Monday, September 26, 2011

SNL Season Premier

I have not watched a full episode of SNL in years because it has been painfully unfunny. It has not been funny since the 90's and I am not the only one to think so. I have heard that the past few seasons of SNL have been getting better, particularly with the Andy Sandberg and Justin Timerblake skits. I have caught and been impressed by the recent political sketches they have done since the last US election, especially the spoofing of Sarah Palin by Tina Fey. I decided to watch and give the show another chance with last Saturday's SNL season premier.

The season premier of SNL was hosted by Adam Baldwin, and Radiohead was the musical act. Adam Baldwin has been one of the strongest and funniest hosts of SNL and Radiohead is one of my favorite bands, so automatically there were two reasons for me to watch. Another reason to watch is that the majority of SNL sketches posted on the internet (especially Youtube) are quickly taken down because NBC has a strict rule against their shows being re-broadcasted over the net. This rule is so strict that I can't find the full episodes even on the NBC website itself, forcing myself to watch the episode on TV.

The season premier began strong with a spoof of the recent republican presidential candidate Q&A that was incredibly funny. The jokes and impersonations were spot on. However, the premier quickly lost steam following this. Each subsequent sketch became less funny as though they had realized that most people won't stick around for the end anyways. The commercials seemed to become more frequent as though they were scrambling to fill their time block. This made it all the more difficult to watch the entire episode as the sketches became less funny and each individual sketch had a chunk of commercials that immediately followed it. Radiohead, however, was brilliant, but again sandwiched between long commercial breaks.

In the end, the commercial breaks became longer than the sketches themselves. In all, I doubt that the SNL premier actually ran for more than a half hour and had over an hour worth of commercials. It is the commercials that really killed the show and are the prime reason why I will not watch SNL again this year unless they have another all political spoof episode as I feel this is all they can legitimately do anymore. Even though each subsequent sketch was worse than the last, I would be inclined to still watch (on the hope of finding a gem later in the episode) if I did not have to wait through 3 to 4 minutes of commercials between each skit. The flow of the show is broken up too much by these commercials and when the sketches become increasingly weak I don't feel a strong enough draw to wait out the commercials. As the sketches are so hit & miss, this makes SNL the perfect show to be presented on-line as people can watch particular sketches and not have to wade through horrendous amounts of commercials in the hope of finding that gem of a sketch. SNL is failing because the sketch comedy is not working anymore on TV and I sincerely hope NBC starts presenting their show online instead, or perhaps start investing in better and more writers.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Week 2 of the New DC Comics!

On the week of September 14th came the second installment of the new DC comics! A total of 13 number one issues were released that week, with me buying five of them. I would love to buy them all, but as a responsible adult :), I just couldn't afford all of them! However, I did want to pick up Grifter #1 but it had sold out within an hour or so of the store opening! Insane!

From the five issues I picked up only one was a disappointment. I had previously been collecting two of the books on a monthly basis and will likely continue. The other two are definitely monthly reads now! Below are brief comments on each of the books I picked up:

Batman & Robin: A solid read with equally solid art. This is one of the books I had previously collected and the renumbered book met expectations. The book focuses on the relationship between Bruce Wayne and his son, Damian, who is the acting Robin. Previously the book had Bruce Wayne's son being partnered with Dick Grayson, who was the original Robin that later overtook the mantel of Batman (long story). In the renumbered DC comics, Batman is again portrayed by Bruce Wayne. This story begins with the relationship and roles previously established but Robin is still in the process of learning how to be a superhero, and more importantly a son /man. While I enjoyed this book, I wish that the story of how Bruce's son became Robin was explored in the first issue instead of placing the reader somewhere later on in the story.

Batwoman: This is one of my more highly anticipated books because the previous work on the character was so strong. The previous material was written and drawn by J.H. Williams III, who has continued his vision. This first issue did not disappoint but like Batman & Robin I wish the story had begun earlier in the character's career. The book does begin at the beginning of a new chapter for the character as a new villain and challenges for the heroin are introduced. Besides the story, the art is fantastic and is perhaps the best illustrated book that DC is producing -although Paquette's art in Swamp Thing deserves special attention too. The cover has a gorgeous water color painting by Wiliams that (refreshingly) ties into the story within the book. Williams also uses two different styles of art to tell the story, where a more fluid and painterly style is used when Batwoman is acting as a superhero and a more traditional comic style is used when the main character is not in her superhero persona; makes me think of David Mack's art.

Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E: Going in I thought this was to be one of my favorite reads. I knew nothing about this character and it is not a book I had previously read. The title seems ridiculous and the premise is perhaps even more off kilter as it stars Frankenstein (the monster, not the scientist) who leads a team of ultra-secret government monster /agents who go after other monsters that threaten global security. This should leave tons of room for the writer and artist to have a lot of fun, however the efforts fall flat. The writer of the book is Jeff Lemire who I have previously admired because of his outstanding work on Essex County & Sweet Tooth. These books were written with great imagination and feeling. This book does not exemplify either of these previous qualities and instead offers a tired and frankly lame story that one would think was produced by a 14-year-old. In the future I think I'll be passing on this title.

Green Lantern: Like the previously mentioned books, GL begins with a new chapter to the main character's life instead of at the character's beginning, which is what I thought the whole point of the New DC was supposed to be. GL is a book I have been reading for the previous few years and the new GL picks up directly from where the last issue ended. This left me VERY confused as to what the point of the renumbering was! The creative staff of the book, Geoff Johns (writer) & Doug Mahnke (illustrator) remains the same, which again works against the idea of changing up the books. Nonetheless, Johns and Mahnke do an excellent job on the book, producing an interesting and exciting work that I will continue to read. My only problem is that this book, in particular, left me confused as NOTHING had changed from the previous GL book.

Superboy: Here we go DC! Finally a book that begins with the origin /introduction of the character. This is what I had been expecting from DC in each of their renumbered comics. This book is written by Scott Lobdell who presents an interesting story of Superboy being born in a test-tube as an experiment by a secret company with equally secretive motives for doing so. The characters are strong and there is plenty of plot lines presented in the first issue to keep this book going for quite some time. R.B. Silva draws the book with a clean, traditional comic style that is very enjoyable to look at. The art isn't fancy and does not have a particularly unique style, but it is strong and well executed. I've never collected Superboy before but after reading this first issue I will surely be back for more!

In all I would have to say the biggest and best surprise was found in Superboy. The best continuation of expectations goes to Batwoman. Batman & Robin and Green Lantern met expectations, but I had expected more from the stories. Frankenstein is the hands-down biggest disappointment because I expected a lot more from Lemire, but in retrospect was still better than the previous week's Green Arrow.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

First Week of DC's New 52

Following DC comics release of the re-numbered and re-imagined Justice League came 13 or so other similarly styled comics each week during the month of September. It is beyond my budget to pick up each of these comics as I still collect books from other publishers -sorry DC. However, I did want to try some of the new comics to see how good or bad they were.

In all I picked up 5 of the DC comics in the first week. Out of those five, only one was a true disappointment. The other four were good enough to make me want to continue reading them. In the second week I picked up yet another 5 books, and again only 1 was a disappointment and the other four will likely become regular, monthly reads. Below are a few comments on the five books I picked up during the first week. In future posts I'll comment on the books that came out after the first week.

Action Comics: The art is very strong and features a young Superman who is still understanding his limitations. While not explicit, it seems that this book is taking place between five and ten years before the present. In the book, Superman's powers are not yet fully realized and his relationship to Louis is virtually nil. Lex Luthor is still a respected business man who is just discovering Superman, and of course his hatred for him. This book made me excited for what DC was doing and was an exceptionally fun title to immerse myself into!

Batgirl: I had high expectations for this book because the writer, Gail Simone, is a huge fan favorite for her work on the Secret 6 book -also published by DC. The artwork in Batgirl is solid but nothing too grabbing and the same can be said for the writing. A bit of a disappointment as there was not too much new or inventive being offered for this character as I felt Batgirl was being portrayed as a cliche of a superhero. Despite this, the premise of the storyline offered a few highlights that piqued my interest enough to warrant further reading.

Detective Comics: Tony Daniel! The name is enough to sell me on this title! Daniel both draws and writes this title and manages to do both tasks with considerable skill. The story is definitely dark and twisted, with Batman presented as a detective (as he should be presented) chasing down the notorious evil doers of Gotham, notably the Joker! Great read!

Green Arrow: This was the disappointment of the week. The art is OK, which is disappointing to say since it is Dan Jurgens who penciled the comic. Jurgens was once one of the biggest names in comic books back in the 1990's with his work on the death of Superman series; however, it would seem his art has not matured since the 90's and has perhaps become a little lazy. There are numerous panels that cried out for more detail (especially in the buildings), and the figures seemed stilted and overly posed in each shot. Furthermore, Geore Perez (who is also a legendary artist of the 90's) inked the book. Perez's inks are muddy and thick, almost sloppy. The writing is similarly stilted and the story is down right boring with the over-used concept of rich boy playing crime fighter and very little else added to make it stand out against the other 52 DC titles. I'm a little shocked at the low quality of this book but can only suggest that it was due to a tight time frame that the creators had to work within. Regardless, I am not exactly inclined to pick up another issue of this book any time soon.

Swamp Thing: This is another title that surprised me, but in a good way! The first issue of this title was exciting as I had little idea where the story could go and each page unleashed a flurry of beautiful art by the highly talented Yanick Paquette. Paquette offers some of the most striking visuals in any of the DC titles, with beautiful composition, soft lines, range of visions and elements, and so on. Paquette alone makes the book worth picking up! But Scott Snyder adds another element that makes this perhaps the best book DC pushed out. Snyder presents an interesting story of internal and external conflict. Snyder writes Swamp Thing for both the old and new reader, allowing for the older readers to be rewarded for their patronage to the character while also making the book assessable to new readers like myself. This is a great, great, great book that I can't recommend enough!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

DC's New 52 & Flashpoint Mini-Series

Flashpoint has now ended and DC comics is mid-way through releasing the renumbered and (slightly) re-imagined monthly comics. In all there are 52 of these new comics, most of which are comics that had already been published on a monthly basis and are now being reset to issue #1. A few, however, are comics that feature characters that did not previously have a monthly book about them, or at least they have not had a monthly book in a long time, such as Animal Man and Grifter.

Without giving away the entire plot or conclusion of the Flashpoint miniseries, it ended on a fairly high note but the storyline felt incredibly rushed. The storyline made sense but the characters and motivations could have been fleshed out a lot more; in particular I wished that the role of Louis Lane and the rise of Aquaman and Wonder Woman could've been explained more. This is a typical problem for the big story arcs that companies like Marvel and DC have been producing. The book's story lines are well executed but are thin due to the constraints of working within 28 or so pages. Flashpoint would have been greatly improved upon by making each issue about 10 or 20 pages longer. The cost of the additional pages could have easily been found in cutting out the glossy covers and premier paper stocks. A second point here is that the conclusion of Flashpoint did not seamlessly flow into the newly numbered DC comics that were supposedly directly impacted by this event. Perhaps a stand alone epilogue issue would have helped, but overall I think a one or two page nod to the Flashpoint series would have been nice in some of the more major first issue titles like Justice League, Superman, or Batman.

The first week of DC releasing the renumbered titles involved the release of only one comic, Justice League. This title was written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Jim Lee. Johns seems to be the DC equivalent of Marvel's Matt Fraction or Bendis who are responsible for writing and creating close to all the major events at Marvel. Johns is a highly skilled scribe and I best know him from his work on Green Lantern where he has produce ambitious and well executed story lines. Jim Lee is a legend in comic book art and I have found his art maturing over the past 5 to 10 years. His art has become increasingly detailed and his lines more focused (less frayed). The combination of these two talents, Johns and Lee, made Justice League worthwhile picking up without even considering what the story was about. However, the story proved to be fantastic as it explains how the Justice League came together during a time when superheroes were still mythical and not well understood by the general public. The story line takes place in the past while the other first issue books focus on what the characters are currently doing. This is a nice strategy as it uses Justice League to explain the new DC world while allowing the other books to explore that world. The issue is also great for it provides a sense of mystery and excitement in that the reader cannot readily guess how the story will come to a close. With the renumbering of the issues and declaration by DC that the new books will be a departure from the old, one cannot assume how the Justice League will be formed based on what has occurred previously in DC comics. In all this was a strong first foot forward for DC comics and definitely has me continuing to pick up Justice League!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Lego Porn!

Have you heard of food porn? I'm not talking about some naked douche rolling in a pile of foie gras; I'm referring to insanely good looking dishes of ridiculous food that's then photographed. Commonly the photograph is of a meal someone is about to indulge in and then promptly blog about to explain just how ridiculously good it was. Well, I think I've just found the equivalence of this in Lego: meet the 180 lb, 43,000 piece, hand-unbelievably-ADD laden-crafted Lego Star Wars the Clone Wars Venator Class Star Destroyer!

A guy by the name of Iomedes has some absolutely insane skills with building Lego sets based on machines from popular movies, most commonly Star Wars; examples of his creations can be found here at his blog. This behemoth is impressive for the amount of time it must have taken to construct, but also for the massive stock pile of various Lego bricks he has at his disposal and the ingenious amount of planning required to figure out how to construct this monstrosity! The Star Destroyer is truly a work of art! 

  Video of the Star Destoryer that Iomedes posted on Youtube.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Star Wars Lego: The Movie (2011)

Star Wars Lego is one of my favorite collectibles /toys out there, so it shouldn't be a surprise that I was pretty excited to hear they had made a Star Wars Lego movie! The movie uses the same level of graphics as those found in the Star Wars Lego video games, which are OK graphics that are not as clean as Pixar's but better than most straight to DVD computer animations. The movie is enchanting not because of it's graphics but because of its use of whimsy and the apparent love for Star Wars that the movie creators have.

Screen shot from the Lego Star Wars movie.
The Star Wars Lego movie is a lot of fun and is not intended to be a serious contribution to the Star Wars canon. It offers a simple 20 minute long story about a young orphan boy who tags along with a group of young padawans as they tour the Jedi temple buildings on Coruscant. Things go awry and the young orphan, Ian, tags along with Yoda on a mission to retrieve stolen battle plans. In the end Ian is shown to be a major character in the later movies -watch it to find out who he really is! Additional to the movie are a series of shorts that feature random whimsical stories within the Star Wars universe and again using the foil of Lego. These featurettes alone make the movie worth picking up!

Walmart sold a specially wrapped package of the Star Wars Lego movie that included a Star Wars Lego mini-figure! This is the first mini-figure I have picked up and is available only within the special packages of the Star Wars Lego movie because the mini-figure is of the movie's main character: Ian!

If looking to buy this figure separate from the movie package, there are a few characteristics to look for. The main feature to a mini-figure is that the legs do not move. For the Ian mini-figure, the legs are beige colored and are roughly half the length of the torso. The torso has a simple image of a collard shirt with the first few buttons undone at the neck. The head is peach colored and has a unique smirk to it, with the hair being fairly detailed.