Adventures in Further Publication

Comic Foundry Vol. 1 Issue 1

This should be out on Wednesday. It will be, for many, the first print edition of the Comic Foundry web presence, filled with all-new stuff, although I do believe prior online-only materials were compiled into print a while back, possibly not for sale. It's 80 b&w pages for $5.98, which the cover brightly informs me is one cent below the retail price of Wizard. Sadly, this new magazine does not come polybagged with free chromium trading cards I might use to signal passing aircraft if trapped in a jungle. Has Wizard actually had those since 1996? What's in the polybag these days? It'd better help me in the jungle.

Comic Foundry is a good-natured magazine, eager to attract a wide swathe of readers with its light, peppy coverage of a broad range of comics. I ought to clarify 'coverage' - Tim Leong, the editor in chief/art director/co-creator (with Amber Mitchell), describes the magazine's journalistic focus as "lifestyle stories - how comics relate to your everyday life." As you have probably heard, the magazine has no interest in engaging with comics as individual artistic works, or at least no more such interest than it takes to facilitate an interview’s progress or fill a "what to buy" sidebar. Mind you, this isn't to say that the magazine is bereft of criticism, but all such critical thought, when it comes up, is directed toward cultural considerations.

To get an idea of how Comic Foundry is set up, it's helpful to think of Entertainment Weekly, specifically the first half of each issue. Just as how the front of every EW first half is composed of a lot of small information bites, two or three per page, so goes the Longbox and Life + Style sections in the front of Comic Foundry.

The Longbox is a strongly promotional section, in which we get a preview of the upcoming R. Kikuo Johnson book, and updates on long-overdue comic and movie projects, and quickie project-focused interviews in which we discover what Brad Meltzer's "biggest geek-out moment" was while writing Justice League of America. Life + Style is where we get recipes for superhero mixed drinks, and a tour of Brian Wood's office, and additional interviews which I think are supposed to have a broader focus than the Longbox interviews, although it's somewhat difficult to distinguish between them. I liked that a lot of these little features had a bluntly humorous tone -- Michael Kupperman's list of favorite jokes was excellent -- although I do have to question the style instincts of a magazine that recommends taping superhero rasterbations to the wall as a less juvenile alternative to Wizard pinups. I also hope they like my upcoming Best Anime Wallscrolls pitch.

After that, there's a very short Costume section on t-shirts and sneakers, and then an odd thing called Departments, which is where I guess they put everything that doesn't fit elsewhere. It's a strange jumble, with things like a short piece on the making of The New Teen Titans' storyline The Judas Contract, an interview with Darick Robertson where all the questions have been removed and all the answers are tossed around the page in different fonts, and even a short prose story by Ian Brill, concerning a young bookstore employee and the broadening of his comics horizons, and how he learns stuff about himself. It'll be pretty fascinating if there's recurring fiction in this magazine; that's a particular incarnation of the 'cultural' focus that I don't think anyone else at all is doing at the moment, online or off.

That leaves the Features, which are a bit like the profiles and stories that appear in the second half of the front section of EW, to keep the comparison rolling. Some of these are quite simple: an introduction to Frédéric Boilet and the Nouvelle Manga, a chat with Bryan Lee O'Malley, and a deeply silly eight-page photo section that inserts models into panels from Death Note and Jinx and such, designer clothing names provided on the side.

But other features do adopt a more critical posture. If there's anything that really might attract a certain set of readers to Comic Foundry, it would be the magazine's attempts at appeal toward female readers of superhero and fantasy-based comics, and addressing issues directly concerning them; this aspect of comics culture provides the most in-depth content the magazine has in store, including two relatively large pieces by Laura Hudson, who is the magazine's senior staff writer. One is an analysis piece on the sexual elements behind the creation of Superman and Wonder Woman (and the themes running through the current She-Hulk), advocating that superhero comics take after the example of Alan Moore works like Watchmen and (especially) Lost Girls, and mature the sexual subtext of fantasy characters through direct confrontation. The other is an ode to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and a rundown of how other television and comics heroines stack up.

I was was most struck by a sidebar, in which one Dr. Ian Kerner (an author and clinical sexologist) reads through a bunch of recent comics, and comments on "what they might mean for the people who read them." Better scrub your brains out with soap, All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder readers! The longest bit is actually a semi-defense of the much-loathed Heroes for Hire #13 cover, which I think unintentionally illustrates differences in perception that can arise between genre-aware readers and less-acclimated commentators. I think it's very pertinent that Dr. Kerner entirely fails to mention the presence of tentacles on the cover, 'reading' it as a simple bondage/rape scenario, arguing that it ought to serve as the starting point for couples to discuss their fantasy lives. After all, some women do fantasize about being tied up and raped, as Dr. Kerner notes.

Except, that's not all a tentacle scenario is. The tentacle serves as a substitute for the penis -- the very presence of the tentacle having been devised as a means of circumventing Japan's obscenity laws -- and transforms it into an explicit weapon. Like, it wraps around things and chokes, and breaks and rips things. These sorts of comics/cartoons often contain an element of murderous violence, that I think goes beyond a typical nonconsensual fantasy scenario. Not that this necessarily erases Dr. Kerner's points, or that there aren't women who read 'tentacle' comics - actually, most women and men I know find the genre so absurd that it's difficult to take seriously. But there is that extra consideration, which I think has a way of becoming invisible to people who maybe aren't so aware of the genre implications at work on the cover of a superhero comic for a T+ audience.

Still, these features are what caught my attention most, and I hope the magazine keeps them up. A lot of what's in here is cute and fast and disposable, which is a valid direction to go in, even though it doesn't really catch me much. It's worth looking through on Wednesday, to see if it's for you.