SPECIAL TRIP THROUGH THE WIRES
We have had a few reviews of the Superhero Special, John Freeman’s downthetubes, on Richard Bruton’s forbidden planet blog and Steven Grant’s comicbookresources column. They’re pretty good reviews:

Steven Grant’s review:

TRIPWIRE SUPERHERO SPECIAL 2009 Joel Meadows & Andrew Grossberg, eds ($7.95; magazine)

TRIPWIRE‘s a former fanzine that reinvented itself as the FACE of comics in media, and has generally been pretty good, though it never seems quite sure of what audience it most wants to serve, being almost too deep into comics for a casual audience but not deep enough for a comics audience, and its annual schedule didn’t seem geared for momentum. They’ve seemingly found a swerve on the latter problem, anyway: this “special” – it does give it a more urgent aura – is one of several planned, so while the official TRIPWIRE is still an annual, it’s really more a quarterly. Clever. As with most issues, they give a lot of play to comics films, taking full advantage of WATCHMEN and cover story KICK-ASS for some good interviews with Dave Gibbons, director Matthew Vaughn and Mark Millar. Interviews have become the magazine’s stock in trade; their interviews with Geoff Johns, Paul Cornell, Mark Waid, Brian Bendis, Dan Didio and the new HEROES producers are all pretty entertaining as well. Somewhat less satisfying are the tenuous feature articles: a fairly uninspired rehashing of Kirby that quotes Kahlil Gibran and hinges on a paper tiger, “The 15 Most Important Superhero Graphic Novels Ever, which is basically an arbitrary laundry list, etc., though I have to give them props for finding 15 superhero graphic novels they can even pretend are “important.” The slick format’s very pretty, and overall Meadows and co. do a very nice job of making comics look worthy of attention. A good read.

Richard Bruton’s review:

Tripwire Superhero Special 2009

Edited by Joel Meadows

In a comic world where we seem rather bereft of regular magazines about comics at the moment it’s nice to have another Tripwire appear so rapidly after last year’s annual. For those who don’t know, Tripwire started out as a well regarded comic book news and interviews magazine; 50 issues in 9 years between ‘92 and ‘03 before turning out two well received (and huge) annuals in ‘07 and ‘08 (review of 2008 Annual here). This year we see the first in a proposed series of Tripwire specials, filling out the year before each annual. This Superhero Special, although thinner than the annual still clocks in at an impressive 82 pages which makes it a damn good value read for the £4.95 cover price.

The great thing about Tripwire is that it sticks very doggedly to what it is. And more importantly is well aware of what it isn’t. There’s no hint of news, Internet gossip or long lists of new comics coming out in the next two week. Similarly there’s no attempt to produce some 50 page feature interview each issue. That sort of thing has it’s place and that place is in the Comics Journal, which is still the premier magazine about comics for many. Just not the same sorts of comics that Tripwire concerns itself with. Comics is a big enough medium and there’s plenty of room for more magazines about comics on the racks. Tripwire does what it does extremely well: covering a wide range of comics and related film and TV stories with a mix of interviews and short articles.

Any magazine has to perform on two important levels: design and content. A terrible design can make even the most interesting article practically unreadable but even the most innovative and beautiful design work will not be able to make a pearl from a swine of a badly written piece. Thankfully, Tripwire’s design is, as usual, splendid; no overly flashy layouts, sensible use of visuals and a great use of the white space on the page:

As for content; it’s equally good. The thematic nature of this issue could have constrained the magazine and limited it’s appeal, but thanks to a combination of good timing, careful selection and a good variety of writers and subjects there’s a sense of balanced, wide ranging coverage of all aspects of the Superhero genre.

As you might expect, the magazine leads with a series of features on Watchmen; a summary of the trials and tribulations of getting the graphic novel onto the silver screen and an interview with Dave Gibbons about his recently published book: Watching The Watchmen. I’m still rather surprised that there wasn’t a Watchmen cover, but perhaps Joel is looking towards what may well bee the next big comics to film event with Kick-Ass instead and plans to keep his magazine relevant beyond the Watchmen release.

The film connections continue with several features on Mark Millar and John Romita Jr’s Kick Ass comic currently being filmed by Matthew Vaughn, the man responsible for Stardust, Lock Stock and Layer Cake. Personally I didn’t rate the first issue of the comic but the filmmakers are all saying the right things about their film, so I’ll reserve judgement on the film version until I’ve actually seen it. It definitely looks like it will stir up the Daily Mail readers out there though, with it’s mainly teenage cast and relatively high levels of violence and language. You can almost see the “Ban this comic filth” headlines already can’t you?

After that initial one-two punch of big name film and comic properties we head off for a chat with Brian Michael Bendis and Mike Carey about the latest goings on at Marvel, the ever entertaining Paul Cornell chats about his great Captain Britain and MI-13 series and Matthew Badham provides us with a quick but exhaustive look at the history of Captain Britain. And if Marvel gets covered in depth, DC is never far behind; interviews with Geoff Johns and Dan Didio cover the DC half of the superhero world.

Rich Johnston, gossip-monger extraordinaire, gets a chance to have his say away from his usual Lying in the Gutters column. And very interesting he is too. One day he’ll sit down and write the book on all of the nasty little (and extremely nasty very big) secrets he’s sitting on and we’ll all be buying it before the law suits come flying in.

And lest you start thinking this is a purely Marvel and DC show, there’s ample representation from many others writing about superheroes; a Golden Age feature, Mark Waid of Boom Comics gets a piece, Dynamite Entertainment’s Project Superpowers gets discussed and there’s a nicely respectful feature on Jack Kirby before the magazine ends with the hit series Heroes being discussed by Tim Kring, Mark Verheiden and Bryan Fuller who fill us in on where we can expect the show to go next.

As with the annual, we have a 15 of the best section; this time it’s 15 Most Important Superhero Graphic Novels ever. And as always there’s much room for debate over some of the entries and some surprises in there as well; how they can put Jamie Delano and Alan Davis’ run on Captain Britain in is beyond me (it was good, but obviously nowhere near Alan Moore’s run – being released again any day in a huge, doorstopping omnibus edition). And Spawn? Spawn? Bloody hell, there’s so much that would get the nod before that I can’t even start the list without fear of blowing a blood vessel.

It might be too much to ask for, but I’d really like to see Joel commit to making Tripwire a more regular thing, maybe bi-monthly, definitely quarterly, as I think it’s perfectly primed to take it’s place amongst the best of writing about comics, and god knows, we need something sitting comfortably in the vast gulf between the Comics Journal’s interview based art approach and the dross that is Wizard magazine. I think Tripwire could become that rarest of things; a literate, intelligent yet highly entertaining magazine about the comics we all love. The next issue is the Tripwire Adventure Special and it should be out in June. Make sure you look out for it. This current issue should be in all good comic shops right now.

Richard Bruton.

John Freeman’s review:

In Review: Tripwire Superhero Special 2009

Editor and publisher Joel Meadows kindly sent us a copy of the Tripwire Superhero Special, which is now on sale in all good comic shops, Borders UK and Barnes & Noble in the US.

Building on the fine work that went into last year’s Tripwire Annual, this time round the focus is costumed heroes and the magazine is packed with exclusive interviews with creators such as Mark Millar and Matthew Vaughn (talking about the Kick-Ass movie and comic – John Romita Jr also talks about designing the Kick-Ass characters), Paul Cornell (on Captain Britain), Geoff Johns (on his work on DC Comics Flash and the upcoming DC Universe game) and much more.

Highlights for me are the Cornell interview, a creator I’ve worked with in the past on Doctor Who Magazine and who always offers an interesting insight on his approach to writing. The feature includes an admittedly short overview of Captain Britain’s history which thankfully notes the contributions to the character of creators other than Alans Moore and Davis.

Also of note is an excellent interview-feature with Tim Kring, Mark Verheiden and Bryan Fuller on their plans for TV’s Heroes, which was recently re-commissioned, something Kring was unsure of at the time the feature was compiled, and he offers an interesting insight into the state of US TV at present. “Things change so quickly and the American networks are in a real transition period right now,” he says. “Right now, nobody knows if there’s going to be a network in a year!”

Printed on high quality paper with a wealth of impressive visuals, this is again an impressive self-published title, well worth tracking down if you’re looking for an entertaining “snapshot” of the state of the superhero comics genre.

While my feeling is that the design of this issue is less polished than last year’s Annual, and in places, some of the subbing is a little off — not that I can talk, the way I miss words out of articles! — this Tripwire Superhero Special is another labour of love from Joel and his team and features such as “15 Important Graphic Novels Ever” are worthy of attention and discussion.

So go, buy a copy now!

• The Tripwire Superhero Special is also available from Diamond, item code DEC084396, price just £4.95 UK, $7.95 US

NEW STUDIO SPACE REVIEW
Things have been really shitty on the freelance front in November and December so far but I saw something this weekend that cheered me up. This guy, Parka, from Singapore reviewed Studio Space and gave it a really good review. He even put a review up on amazon. Considering that the book has now been out for just over six months, that’s very heartening.
Here’s the review:

Book Review: Studio Space: The World’s Greatest Comic Illustrators At Work

Comic book readers are in for a treat with this book. 20 renowned artists come together in this book to talk about their life, career and art.

These artists write in first person, talking about how they got started in art, their influences, their schools, studio space and work flow. Included are artworks they have done over their careers with their thoughts. There are really interesting stuff like cringing at old work, or reading about the artist wanting to be with their girlfriends than at the drawing board.

The writeup is authentic and raw. It’s very inspiring and motivating to know a bit about the people who create great comics.

At 320 pages, some might complain that the pages devoted to each artists might not be enough. True, but there’s a always a compromise between variety and depth.

Since the book is titled Studio Space, there’s a good amount written on the artists’ working style. Read about their choice of medium, the preparation they do for their projects, where they work and other things they think about. Oh, no, this book doesn’t contain a lot of photos into their actual work area.

This book provides incredible depth to comics we read, by giving us the back stories through the eyes of the creators.

Here are the list of 20 artists featured:

  • Brian Bolland (Judge Dredd, Invisibles)
  • Dave Gibbons (Watchmen, The Originals, Green Lantern)
  • Tim Bradstreet (Punisher, Hellblazer)
  • Howard Chaykin (American Flagg, Mighty Love)
  • Sean Phillips (Hellblazer, Criminal)
  • Duncan Fegredo (Hellboy, Enigma)
  • Joe Kubert (Sgt Rock, Enemy Ace, Kubert School)
  • Mike Mignola (Hellboy)
  • Tim Sale (Heroes, Batman Long Halloween)
  • George Pratt (Batman, Enemy Ace)
  • Tommy Lee Edwards (Matrix, Batman Begins, Star Wars)
  • Adam Hughes (Star Wars, Ghost, Wonder Woman)
  • Sergio Toppi
  • Walter Simonson (Elric, Thor, Manhunter)
  • Jim Lee (Batman, X-Men, Superman)
  • Frank Miller (Sin City, 300, Dark Knight Returns)
  • Bryan Talbot (Luther Arkwright, Alice in Sunderland)
  • Alex Ross (Superman, Batman, Marvels)
  • Steve Dillon (Preacher, Wolverine)
  • Dave Taylor (Tongue Lash, Batman)

There should be another volume coming up as I’ve read on blogs that the authors, Joel Meadows and Gary Marshall, are looking for more artists to interview.

TRIPPING THROUGH THE ANNUAL WITH RICHARD BRUTON

After last week’s review of the TRIPWIRE Annual on Down The Tubes, Richard Bruton has been kind enough to review it on the FPI Blog. Check it out here: http://forbiddenplanet.co.uk/blog/?p=9420.
Preparation for the Superheroes Special is proceeding apace but it looks like the Whedon interview might not be happening. He’s battling with Dollhouse at the moment so it might be difficult to get it in. But it should still be a very nice package. 

ASSESSING THE STUDIO
So there are three reviews out there of the book Studio Space, which is out in the US today (Thursday) and in the UK on Friday, and they are a little bit mixed but you have to get used to criticism if you’re putting stuff out in the public arena. It would also be a bit rich if I was to complain about people’s reviews considering what I’ve been doing with my life since 1992! So check them out here: http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=user_review&id=137
here: http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=16575
and finally here: http://www.eyeoncomics.com/?p=286