Wendy Keeps Turning Bad Decisions Into Funny Art

Wendy Keeps Turning Bad Decisions Into Funny Art

by Gordon Mood Comedy, graphic novels, Walter Scott, Wendy Award

By Dan BrownThe Wendy Award is the fourth book in Walter Scott’s hilarious Wendy series. How is it different from her previous adventures? In this one, things take a metafictional turn.If you like comics that call attention to their own constructed nature, or you just find the hot mess Wendy and her masked friend Screamo a hoot, check it out.The Wendy Award takes the piss out of arts awards, museums, land acknowledgements, corporate sponsorships, life in the COVID era, addictions, sobriety meds, Gen Z, people who go by one name, and every pretentious panel discussion ever.The premise, such as it is, is that the title character gets nominated for a prestigious art award for her autobiographical comic strip, called Wanda. You follow?It turns out the people in Wendy’s life aren’t happy with how they are portrayed in Wanda. I’ll guess the inspiration for this theme is the way Scott’s previous work has been received by his own peers and acquaintances.The contemporary art prize is sponsored by the national chain Food Hut, whose slogan is “Because you gotta eat sometime!’ The prize includes an exhibition at “the prestigious Art Factory on the Toronto waterfront.” Since I’m more than skeptical about Canada’s arts establishment, I love this kind of comedy.Her fellow nominees include Winona, Octavia, Zima and Moonstone. The last of these is described as a “relentlessly ubiquitous artist of many mediums and collaborations.”Even though she is in line for the big award, this doesn’t mean Wendy’s perennially chaotic day-to-day existence as an aspiring artist is any less turbulent than it was in her previous books. She is still a sucker for wine and cocaine, and at one point takes a side trip to New York to find herself. She’s always trying to find herself.The strip is now in Seinfeld territory – remember the story arc in which the NBC sitcom showed Jerry pitching a sitcom to NBC? The Wanda Award is kinda like that when it bends back in on itself.Wendy crashes at the apartment of her friend Tina, who isn’t happy about the intrusion. “Maybe it’ll end up in your next book!” Tina yells as she tosses our harried heroine out on the street, terminating the tense visit.There are some nice touches here, including an experiment splash page and a panel that’s an homage to the William Burroughs/David Cronenberg acid trip Naked Lunch. While in the Big Apple, Wendy enters a cinema to watch a film in which moments from her own life are being projected on the screen almost in real time, recalling such self-reflexive motion pictures as Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo.You can feel Scott pushing the boundaries, trying to stretch himself as a graphic novelist and move the form in new directions.At another point, an upset Wendy even asks for a respite from being the title character in a comic strip. “Can you please cut away to something else for a bit?” she says directly to the reader during a vulnerable moment.Between you and me, I was unsure Wendy would be able to sustain as many books as she has. But Scott has not run out of material and now, I am more than invested in this character, who always feels she is failing at life. The joke is still funny. I am in it to the bitter end, whenever that might come.Speaking of endings, The Wendy Award concludes with a wordless epilogue in which Wendy walks out of the Art Factory, leaving the white cube behind. Is she finally forsaking the world of art for something more substantial that can make her feel whole?I look forward to finding out!! Dan Brown has covered pop culture for more than 31 years as a journalist and also moderates L.A. Mood’s monthly graphic-novel group.

Are New Stamps a Sign We’ve Reached Peak Graphic Novel?

Are New Stamps a Sign We’ve Reached Peak Graphic Novel?

by Gordon Mood Canada Post, Chester Brown, Dan Brown, Graphic novel, graphic novels, Jillian and Mariko, Michel Rabagliati, Seth, Stamps, Tamaki cousins

By Dan Brown It’s an honour few receive and fewer deserve. It’s not something young Canadians aspire to, but it’s arguably more prestigious than getting a spot on Canada’s Walk of Fame, having your name on the Stanley Cup, or joining the Order of Canada. It’s reserved for those special individuals who have had a deep impact on this dominion we call home. It’s the literal stamp of approval. And now the literary medium you and I love – graphic novels — has it. That’s right: Last month, Canada Post – the folks who deliver the mail – dedicated a series of postage stamps to Canada’s graphic novelists. Chosen for the honour were Chester Brown, Michel Rabagliati, Seth, and the Tamaki cousins, Jillian and Mariko (these creators also contributed the designs that were used). “All of (them) have made significant contributions to the genre and continue a long line of Canadian storytellers honoured by Canada Post,” the Crown Corporation said in a statement about the four adhesive tokens. Those names were selected for their influence on graphic novels as an art form. It became clear a long time ago the Great White North produces more than its share of brilliant graphic novelists. I would liken their dominance in the field to how Canadians are overrepresented in the world of comedy. “The five novelists honoured on the new stamps pushed the boundaries and elevated the form, leaving a mark on readers around the globe,” Canada Post added. I’m sure we could all find reasons to quibble with Canada Post’s selections. I realize it’s still early days, but doesn’t Kate Beaton merit a stamp? And I gotta stand up for Southwestern Ontario’s own Jeff Lemire. He should get one as well.Other possibilities include Guy Delisle, Joe Ollmann, Bryan Lee O’Malley and Dave Sim. That’s off the top of my head. It’s possible other artists were asked to participate, and declined. Whatever happened, there are clearly enough influential homegrown graphic novelists for similar future stamps. It’s true there have been previous Canada Post issues dedicated to comic characters – such as the superheroes Captain Canuck, Fleur dy Lys and Superman. This is the first time graphic novels have been singled out. “Graphic novels tell rich stories by interweaving words and drawings in comic-book-like panels” is how Canada Post makes the distinction. A far more interesting question to ask is, what does this say about society’s attitude toward comics and graphic novels? Surely despite their origins as cheap reading material for kids, they have now gained mainstream approval as an adult pastime? With its announcement, Canada Post is in essence saying graphic novels are as Canadian as beavers, the flag, hockey, and Donald Sutherland, all featured on past stamps. Could the medium get any more respectable? University courses are taught about graphic novels. Scholars write actual books about comics.. They are included in Canada Reads, and they have been source material for movies and TV shows for decades. My nightmare would be the stamps are a sign graphic novels have peaked. Could Canada Post’s gesture, which was meant as an honour, actually be the kiss of death? Naw. I ain’t worried. After all, rock-and-roll pioneer Elvis Presley had to wait a full 16 years after his death to be honoured by the United States Postal Service with a stamp. And when the USPS offered consumers a choice – did they want a handsome young Elvis on the stamp, or an older, sweaty Elvis in a jumpsuit? – more than a million Americans registered their votes in the pre-internet era early 1990s. Look what’s happened to Elvis since then. He hasn’t faded from the collective memory at all. In fact, there was a major motion picture just two years ago telling his story to an entirely new generation. No one is losing interest. Rather than being an indication graphic novels are on the wane, I choose to believe there are many more Canadian creators who will redefine the medium again and again in the days to come. Oh, and while we’re on this topic, Happy Canada Day! Dan Brown has covered pop culture for more than 31 years as a journalist and also moderates L.A. Mood’s monthly graphic-novel group.

There’s No Predicting What This Summer’s Barbenheimer Could Be

There’s No Predicting What This Summer’s Barbenheimer Could Be

by Gordon Mood Barbenheimer, Movies

By Dan Brown When I ask “What will this summer’s Barbenheimer be?” I don’t mean just which movie or movies will top the box office. I mean something broader. I mean, “What will capture the public’s attention between now and Labour Day?” What will we look back on as a cultural marker, in the future to come? Just as, when we discuss pop culture, we now talk about “before Barbenheimer” and “after Barbenheimer,” what motion picture, show, comic book or event will get people excited, fire the collective imagination, and inspire funny memes?You may recall the giant fuss. It culminated in the dual release on July 21, 2023 of Barbie and Oppenheimer. The first was a movie about a doll, the second a film about the father of the atomic bomb. These two stories appeared to have nothing in common but a release date, yet the odd combination of cute toy and doomsday weapon somehow caught the collective fancy. I knew both movies were in the pipeline, but until I spotted a friend tweeting about her plans for “Barbenheimer,” the term was unknown to me. Neither flick was on my radar. Maybe you were like me. And yes, I got caught up in the frenzy – as millions of people did. How excited was I? I actually ventured out to a theatre! Because it drew even casual moviegoers, Barbie wound up being the global box-office champ for the year. Oppenheimer claimed the third spot on that list, but got its revenge at the Oscars in March when it won seven prizes, including the award for best picture. Sure, you can write Barbenheimer off by saying it was simply an instance of spontaneous grassroots marketing. But that doesn’t preclude the facts: It was on everyone’s list of things to do, it prompted gazillions of posts on social media, it wormed its way into the zeitgeist, it gave people everywhere something to look forward to and talk about.For other examples from the past, think along the lines of Beatlemania, Woodstock, Star Wars, “Who shot J.R.?” Live Aid, Y2K, the first season of Survivor, Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code and the Taylor Swift/Travis Kelce romance. So yeah, will this summer have an equivalent cultural eruption? From the vantage point of mid-June, all we can do is guess. Maybe it will be Pixar’s Inside Out sequel, which outperformed expectations on its opening weekend to generate nearly $155 million in domestic ticket sales. One thing we know for sure is this year’s Barbenheimer won’t be Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, which bombed when it was released in late May. There are other possibilities. The series Baby Reindeer is a Top 10 show for Netflix, and seems to have legs. Even though you may not have seen it, you know it’s popular because the show has already inspired at least one lawsuit. The latest Deadpool sequel, in which he teams up with the presumed dead Wolverine, is set to land in theatres next month. And I’m sure Marvel’s comic division would love for its latest event series, which ties together the entire universe of superheroes in a common struggle, will be on everyone’s pull list. It’s called Blood Hunt and the premise is perpetual night has fallen on the Marvel Universe, allowing the company’s many vampire characters to run riot. Fans of the comic 30 Days of Night – set in Barrow, Alaska – will recall it had a similar setup. There’s also a chance a summer concert or live comedy series might take off, becoming the hot ticket of 2024. Or maybe it will be something from outside the world of pure entertainment.The 2024 Euro Cup is already drawing eyeballs to small screens and soccer fans to public houses. Plus the Olympics are bound to prompt their share of heroic moments – although I could do without Vladimir Putin continuing his habit of invading another country during or just after the Games. If you have any predictions for the Barbenheimer of 2024, I’d love to hear them! Dan Brown has covered pop culture for more than 31 years as a journalist and also moderates L.A. Mood’s monthly graphic-novel group.

Forest City Comicon Celebrates a Decade of Nerdiness

Forest City Comicon Celebrates a Decade of Nerdiness

by Gordon Mood Forest City Comicon, Pop Culture

By Dan Brown Where will you be this Sunday? I’ll be at London’s Centennial Hall among the many fans who have helped make Forest City Comicon the long-running local success that it is. Such a smash, in fact, that June 16 marks 10 years since the first edition of FCC was held. In that time, it has seen visits by a hobbit, an X-Man, a Ninja Turtle, a vampire, and both Pinky and the Brain. And I’m just talking about the celebrity guests! The real treat for me is savouring the vibe that’s created when the members of different fandoms come together to share the love they feel for a particular comic, movie, TV show, anime or video game. You might think fitting all those many pop-culture enthusiasts into one place would set off sparks, but it’s the opposite. The atmosphere is peaceful and positive. I really dig it. “What I love about comicons is these are people who are passionate about something,” says Ian Tyson, a host and member of the FCC organizing committee. “That passion makes for a good audience member” at panels, adds Tyson, who – as part of the Just Us League, along with Jeremy Bushell and Brad Bushell – has led panels in the past on topics like debating the merits of Superman movies versus Batman films. Tyson says the assembled fandoms have joined to make a community that has lasted a decade and counting. A highlight for Tyson came in 2017 when he made second breakfast live on stage during a question-and-answer session with Billy Boyd, the actor who played the heroic halfling Pippin in the Lord of the Rings movies. “Our goal starting out was to be an alternative to (Toronto’s) Fan Expo, not to replicate it,” explains organizer Carol Vandenberg. “We hoped to define a London version by focusing on local and more accessible talent.” As far as I can see, mission accomplished. This year features a guest lineup that includes a strong Star Trek presence. Both Sara Mitich and Patrick Kwok-Choon have appeared on the just-concluded Discovery while T.J. Storm is known for his motion-capture performances in such movies as Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Deadpool. “Our goal is to make the biggest one-day show we can, bursting with activities, local talent, emerging celebrities and not-forgotten fan favourites,” Vandenberg says. The cosplay contest at FCC is legendary, and there will also be face-painting, panels, two floors of vendors, a Harry Potter photo booth, food trucks, and a Mario Kart competition. Although it’s taken for granted now, no one knew before 2014 if a fan convention of this size would work in London. Fellow organizer Gord Mood says the show mostly draws fans from its namesake community, but also from towns as far as two hours away. “When I think about the first time I did it, it doesn’t feel that long ago,” Mood reflects. “We know what to do (now), but it’s still a lot of work.” And where a big-city show such as Fan Expo can afford to bring in 20 or 30 celebrity guests, Mood and his crew have to be more strategic about their resources. “I think cons have to be diverse enough to appeal to a large fan base rather than a particular type (of fan),” he says. “Early success led us to try out larger venues and weekend-long shows, but we found that really did not work out for us,” Vandenberg says. “COVID allowed us to go back to basics and perfect our original model.” I’ll see you there! Dan Brown has covered pop culture for more than 31 years as a journalist and also moderates L.A. Mood’s monthly graphic-novel group. P.S. Forest City Comicon tickets are still available

What Makes A Comic Run Legendary?

What Makes A Comic Run Legendary?

by Gordon Mood comic books, Comic history, Jeff Lemire, Phoenix, spiderman

By Dan Brown When comic fans say they love a particular “run,” they’re not referring to shredded panty hose or uncomfortable bowel distress.  No, they’re talking about long-running comic titles that have a prolonged period of creativity for a set number of issues under a certain creative team or individual comic creator. Are you a fan of a TV show that’s been around for a while? Are there maybe one or two seasons that stick out in your mind?  Then you’ve got the idea of a legendary run in comics.  This is why you’ll hear comic enthusiasts say something like, “I believe John Byrne’s run on The Fantastic Four is second only to Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s time on the same series.” Runs are possible because some titles have been around for more years than I’ve been alive. For example, in the course of a series like Marvel’s The Amazing Spider-Man, which launched in 1963, a long list of writers and artists (not to mention inkers, colourists, letterers, and editors) have worked on the book over the decades, bringing the venerable web-slinger to life. Naturally, fans like how Spidey is handled more or less depending on who is doing the drawing and writing. And of course we fans also love to debate the merits of different runs. Steve Ditko did the art for the first 38 issues of Spider-Man and his run is considered foundational. But some modern fans prefer, say, when John Romita Jr. drew the title with J. Michael Straczynski scripting in the early 2000s. It’s all up to personal preference. Why are some runs so fruitful, such a riot of invention? Dunno.  It’s up to comics alchemy. There are ongoing debates about why a particular partnership jells, setting the comic world on fire. But nobody knows exactly why a specific illustrator or writer is in the zone over a sustained period of time. So companies such as Marvel or DC can’t set out to launch a legendary run. It just happens. You might as well try to guess what the source of all creativity is.What I do know for sure is that in my long career as a comic fan, I’ve been blessed to witness many amazing runs. It was probably the partnership of John Byrne with Chris Claremont on The Uncanny X-Men back in the late 1970s and early 1980s that solidified my burgeoning love for comic books. The work they did together is still remembered fondly today, including the Dark Phoenix story arc. Those issues are beyond legendary, beloved by subsequent generations of comics fans – and the folks in Hollywood, who continue to plunder the duo’s ideas for fresh movie material. The pair launched a team of Canadian heroes, Alpha Flight, during their reign on X-Men. Byrne would later pencil and write the first 28 issues of that group’s own title, which I just finished re-reading in anthology form. Why was Byrne on the Alpha Flight series for only two years? Because that was enough to tell all the Alpha Flight stories he wanted to tell. The sometime Canadian then had a truncated run on The Incredible Hulk – it’s not clear to me why he didn’t do more than six issues of the rampaging creature’s adventures.  It’s not like he didn’t have the staying power – as he proved when he did the creative duties on The Fantastic Four for a staggering six years.  (It wasn’t until I read the early Kirby/Lee issues of Fantastic Four that I understood what Byrne was trying to accomplish with Mister Fantastic, the Invisible Woman, the Human Torch and the Thing. So sometimes a particular run will “echo” a previous one on purpose.) Other runs I love: Walt Simonson on Thor, David Mazzuchelli on Daredevil, George Perez and Marv Wolfman on The New Teen Titans, George Freeman on Captain Canuck, Michael Golden and Bill Mantlo on The Micronauts. The new wrinkle in modern publishing seems to be that the legendary runs are published as a series with a limited lifespan, such as Jeff Lemire’s 40-issue Sweet Tooth series, which was such a moving story (with a concrete ending) it made me cry. Or Mark Waid’s Irredeemable, which lasted a similar 37 issues. Those comics were not meant to go on endlessly. Perhaps today’s comics publishers realize sometimes less is more, and the concept of a superhero series that will grind on for years, eating up creative talent, has built-in limitations of its own. I mean, Byrne and Claremont had the audacious ambition to kill off Phoenix during their tenure on X-Men, a stunning move in 1980.  But looking back, it feels like each subsequent creative team has sent her to the grave, too. I know that’s an exaggeration, but even a Phoenix can die only so many times before readers grow restless. Dan Brown has covered pop culture for more than 31 years as a journalist and also moderates L.A. Mood’s monthly graphic-novel group.

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