I've been lazy about posting here this last week, but that ends now! Hopefully. We'll see. I don't need your nagging. You're not my mom! Just kidding. I love my mom. You're still not my mom.
...here's this week's 5 x 3.
The Unaware Artist
This one was inspired by an actual poem I heard at a reading a few months back.
Pretty big day today for comics. Lots of new #1's from Marvel. I don't have time today to do an extensive review of any of my purchases, but I'm happy to list them and talk briefly about my thoughts. Today I bought: AVENGERS #27, AVENGERS ASSEMBLE #25, DEADPOOL #26, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #13, HAWKEYE #18, INDESTRUCTIBLE HULK #20, NEW AVENGERS #16.Now, SATELLITE SAM #7, SERENITY: LEAVES ON THE WIND #3, SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #30, SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #11, IRON PATRIOT #1, and SILVER SURFER #1.
Today saw the end of AVENGERS ASSEMBLE. I was late to the game on this title, but I'm very sad to see it go. Kelly Sue DeConnick sent it off spectacularly, and the last page left tears in my eyes. The Trial of Jean Grey concludes today in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. I thought it was an adventurous arc. Also, a great jumping off point for both series if you had previously only been reading one of the two books (as I had been). My one complaint is that Brian Michael Bendis uses two-page spreads too frequently and sometimes I get lost on the page. INDESTRUCTIBLE HULK also concluded an arc today, leaving us with the promise of a new book, HULK #1. I've been shaky on INDESTRUCTIBLE for awhile, so I think I'll hop off the train here. I am happy with how the current arc wraps up though. IRON PATRIOT has definitely caught my attention. I believe I'll start picking it up. SILVER SURFER also seemed promising, but I have little attachment to the character and a need to slim my pulls so I'm going to pass on it for now.
SATELLITE SAM has been a confusing ride for me. I think I need to reread the whole first arc to really get it, but these last two issues have been much clearer for me. SERENITY: LEAVES ON THE WIND I continue to be excited about as a series, but this issue left me a little confused. The last two pages had me wondering if I had missed something or if I had forgotten some part of the show. I'll have to confer with my fellow readers.
That's all for this week!
Hey everyone! Today marks the beginning of Season 2 of 5 x 3! You can follow 5 x 3 on Tumblr, but I will also post new editions here. I may even provide some additional insights for each week's issue.
"Here, I’d like you to throw this away for me."
This one was a concept from back when it was nice enough outside that people were distributing leaflets. I set it aside because I thought it sounded a little mean. Jury is still out on that one.
Today in honor of the beginning of Season 2, I'm releasing a fun-filled PDF version of the entirety of Season 1. Check it out for more jokes, witticism, and occasional movie references.
Every semester the University of Michigan's Percussion Studio offers a class focusing on music that falls outside traditional Western concert percussion. Last year the class focused on the music of India. I developed my interest in tabla performance because of this class. This year, DMA instructor Dan Piccolo is back teaching a new group of students. Thanks to the University, the class was given a number of tickets to the Asif Ali Khan Qawwali Ensemble concert at Rackham Auditorium last night. I'd studied the music of Pakistan briefly last semester but never been able to hear it performed live. When Dan offered up some extra tickets to the rest of the Percussion studio I jumped at the chance.
The evening was remarkable. I knew something about the context of Qawwali but was completely unprepared for the energy the performance would inspire. The chorus was animated and the tabla player was inspired. Asif Ali Khan and the solo vocalists displayed a range and power that blew me away. When the group asked the audience to stand and dance for the last piece, I don't think there was anyone still seated. I am so thankful for the opportunity to see this group perform live. I would highly recommend seeing them if you ever have the opportunity.
At the same time as the Asif Ali Khan performance, the Wisconsin-based percussion ensemble, Clocks in Motion, was performing in McIntosh Recital Hall at the School of Music. While I wasn't able to attend, I did catch part of their dress rehearsal earlier in the day. Clocks in Motion is a fantastic group. I first saw them two years ago performing Pléïades, Iannis Xenakis's percussion sextet. The piece features six micro-tonal metallic keyboard percussion instruments known as sixxen. Clocks in Motion built their own set and has since made instrument construction a core part of their ensemble.
Since the last time I saw them, Clocks has been very busy. They've been traveling all throughout the midwest performing, giving masterclasses, and commissioning new works. Recently Clocks completed their first Call for Scores and announced a second competition this year. This group's ethos is very much in-line with my own, so I've very excited to participate in this year's competition. I suspect I'll talk more about the piece as I firm up some ideas. The opportunity to work with Clocks in Motion is simply too good to pass up.
Hello Comic Fans!
Today I want to look at ALL NEW INVADERS #3, written by James Robinson, pencilled by Steve Pugh, colored by Guru-eFX, and published by Marvel. The cover art is by Mukesh Singh. ALL NEW INVADERS covers the modern day adventures of the World War II-era super hero team made up of Jim Hammond (the Original Human Torch), Namor: The Sub-Mariner, James "Bucky" Barnes (aka The Winter Soldier), and Captain America. Since WWII, the group had largely disbanded, with only Bucky and Captain America regularly fighting alongside one another.
I was first exposed to The Invaders through references in Ed Brubaker's run on CAPTAIN AMERICA (2005-2012). Through that volume, Captain America and Bucky Barnes became some of my favorite super heroes, and I was aching for more stories about their exploits during World War II. However, I have never been a fan of comics from the '60s and '70s (or even earlier) so I was left somewhat in a lurch. When ALL NEW INVADERS was announced I was very excited.
The first two issues of the run had a promising start, reintroducing Jim Hammond (who has been out Marvel comics since about 2005) and setting us up for the first arc. The art was flashy and explosive and the dialogue seemed crisp and put together. When I picked up comics this week, ALL NEW INVADERS jumped to the top of my queue.
I must confess that I was very disappointed with this particular issue. It begins with a flashback fight scene between Namor and Tanalth, High Pursuer of the Kree Empire, information we had suspected but hadn't yet seen. Robinson's characterization of Namor is spot on, he rants and brags unnecessarily about his battle prowess while fighting, displaying the character's well-known arrogance. After awhile though, all of the talking through the battle begins to be reminiscent of early Marvel comics. Talking heads during fight scenes is largely something modern comics have shifted away from, so it is a bit strange to see it occurring in a new series.
Unfortunately, the excessive talking doesn't just confine itself to the battle. The entire rest of the issue is filled with expository dialogue, describing in great detail the history of the principle characters. I can understand to a certain degree. This is a brand new series featuring a few characters who modern readers may not be entirely familiar with. But do we need to know that Namor used to be an Avenger and an X-Man? Or that Jim Hammond was once a West Coast Avenger? Neither of these facts enhance the story, but they take up valuable real estate on the page. Jim Hammond and Captain America spend a couple panels discussing the fact that Bucky is still a wanted man for his actions as The Winter Soldier. All of it felt like lampshade-hanging. In fact, that whole page is just a conversation explaining why they've decided to pursue action the way they have, while the good Captain and Jim share an espresso.
Meanwhile, Bucky has been set to locate Aarkus, the original Vision, an ally of The Invaders back in the day. Apparently the alien has been in hiding as a shape-shifted dog amongst the homeless. This is where it felt a little personal to me. When Robinson had to find a place for a scene involving the homeless, naturally he went to Detroit, Michigan. As a resident of southeast Michigan, I get a little sensitive when people start talking about Detroit. Yes, it's a city with problems. Yes, there are many without homes in Detroit. But the same could be said of many cities in the United States. It could even be said about New York, where 90% of Avengers stories are set anyway. It might even make sense that if Aarkus was interested in the ongoing exploits of Captain America, he could have stayed close by. But other than Hell's Kitchen, Marvel rarely shines a spotlight on any of the problems regarding low income or housing in New York. Detroit, on the other hand, makes numerous appearances as a center of poverty. This is certainly a personal bee-in-my-bonnet, but I don't like to see one of the most important cities in my home state regularly trash-talked.
After the obligatory backstory recapping of Aarkus, he shows up and agrees to help Cap and the other Invaders recover Namor from the clutches of the Kree. For all the explanation of who Aarkus was, I still didn't feel like I really knew him. I think they gave more time to explaining the principal cast, most of whom the general Marvel audience would have been better acquainted anyway. When asked if he would help, Aarkus responded "Of course, Captain America. We are brothers." Brothers they may be, but little in Robinson's dialogue helped me understand that.
Clearly I have a lot of complaints. My opinions on the book are not entirely negative though. Pugh is doing a wonderful job on the art. His panel distribution is unconventional and diverse and nearly every page bleeds to a certain extent. The huge 2-page spread where Aarkus and Bucky travel though Aarkus's "office" is beautiful and just a tiny bit surreal. Guru-eFX, whose name is all over right now, compliments both the story and and the pencilling with his coloring. Each scene has a distinct color palette which helps to distinguish between simultaneously occurring scenes on the same page.
Despite my negativity, I still have a lot of hope for this book. A classic team featuring three of my favorite characters, coming together to stop a weapon that controls gods? It's a great concept. The execution worries me though. I'm going to stick with it, and hopefully by the end of the first arc the exposition-heavy story telling will subside and we'll get more meat and potatoes dialogue.
Last night was the premier performance of On Firefly's Wing, my latest composition for solo flute. I thought the performance went wonderfully. Thank you to all of you who came out and for the kind words and congratulations. I couldn't have done it without my flautist, Emily Zacek, who came through in a pinch and put together the piece in a very short amount of time. Bravo, Emily!
As with all things in life a premier of a new piece is the end of a cycle. One piece down, infinitely more to go! I've already begun work on my next piece for the new music group Yukon, for whom I wrote Sofa awhile back. I'm very excited to explore the depths of their abilities not just as musicians, but as actors and performers. More details will surely emerge as the compositional process continues...
Hey friends! Today is a huge day. I'm premiering my latest composition, On Firefly's Wing, tonight at the Student Composers' Concert at the University of Michigan's School of Music, Theatre, & Dance. Due to the preparation required and the fact that I'll be dead-tired after, I'll just leave you with a prepared post from my archive of comic analyses.
Recently, following the suggestion of Matt Fraction (one of my favorite comic authors), I’ve begun reading certain comics at a much deeper level. This is done for two main reasons:
My first subject for dissection was Saga #1 by author Brian K. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples, published by Image Comics on March 14th, 2011 and collected in paperback for publication on October 10, 2012. The digital version is currently free on comixology and Image’s website.
**SAGA contains adult themes and may not be appropriate for all audiences.
It’s hard to talk about this jam-packed, double-length issue in a concise way because of how carefully its component pieces are stitched together. In an effort to organize my numerous thoughts about this particular chapter, I’ve broken up my analysis into three primary pieces. Each of these pieces is fairly long, so each gets its own tumblr post. Today I’ll be talking about my general thoughts regarding panel and text distribution. The next two parts of the series will deal with observations related to color palette choices and a scene-by-scene break down.
Saga #1 is 44 pages long (without any ads — thanks, Image!) with 164 panels, and 2698 words in 280 speech bubbles and 31 captions*. Why count the words and speech bubbles? In my initial efforts, I thought it would be beneficial to know an average amount of words per bubble, per panel, and per page. Following all of my counting, I determined this is largely useless. Vaughan uses such diverse sentence structure that an average words-per-bubble doesn’t really tell us much, and in fact this is a sign of good writing. Reading a bunch of sentences 8.68 words long in a row would be exhaustingly boring. For those interested, this 8.68 number is the total average words-per-bubble across the issue, which came up surprisingly frequently as a rough page average. In the end there wasn’t much of importance I learned from word counting, with the notable exception that pages generally had a range of 70-150 words.
*A note about “captions.” Saga does not use non-diegetic captions, a trend more and more common in modern comics. However, the captions are also not just dialogue carried over from the previous scene (the most common use of diegetic captions in modern comics). Instead, the “captions” in Saga are the reflections of the semi-omniscient narrator, Hazel, the child born to main characters at the beginning of the issue. These reflections provide transitions between scenes, serving the function of non-diegetic captions, but adding significantly to the story-telling rather than just specifying locations (which Hazel tends to avoid).
Another lesson I learned in all my counting regards the use of sound effects. Namely, that you won’t find very many in Saga. Different writers and different books require different amounts of sound effects. A Thor book without KRAKA-BOOM every 2 or 3 pages just wouldn’t feel right. But Saga only makes use of sound effects three times across 44 pages, and generally only when the source of the sound is out of frame or if it is unclear that a sound is being made. Vaughan prefers to allow Staples’ art to do the talking.
For learning comic structure, panel counting is far more important than word counting. This is a gray area of control between writers and artists, and thus a key part of the collaboration in story telling. In this first issue, most pages featured 4-5 panels each. Notably, there were only 4 single panel pages and only 1 two-page spread. Two-page spreads are a place for interior artists to really strut their stuff, but they can be very distracting if they’re used too often. The single usage of this panel style comes at a key moment to ensure maximum dramatic effect.
With regard to panels, Staples avoids any kind of grid for panel layout. Grid paneling has fallen out of favor with modern artists. Given the unique narrative of Saga, an old-school grid layout would seem out of place. One of the things a grid provides is a very clear reading order. I think we’ve all read modern comics where we screw up the intended panel order (especially when you have two-page spreads with lots of panels). Staples panel cuts are very easy to follow, and when you look at the thumbnails I suspect you’ll be able to tell the reading order even without any context. That, to me, is the clearest sign of a clean layout.
Staples loves squares and rectangles. Which makes a lot of sense, given the shape of comic books. Other shaped panels or panels with angled cuts are becoming very popular, but these can lead to confusing reading order, and sometimes distract from the art within the panels. Not all of Staples’ panels are 90-degree angle cuts, but she does save angular or rounded panels for dramatic moments. I could say the same about bleeds (when the art runs off the page). There aren’t as many of them as you might be used to if you’re a big Marvel reader, which I think lends a more classic feel, as well as very clean visuals.
While there is great diversity in Staples’ choices, a breakdown of panel distribution doesn’t really show very many particularly odd pages, which I would argue is a good thing. Strange panel layouts would just distract from the captivating beauty and power of Staples’ art. The most notable page in terms of panel layout is 34, where we suddenly find three vertical panels. Because of the dimension of comic pages most of the real-estate is utilized in horizontal cuts, so these vertical panels are especially striking.
I’ve included thumbnails of each of the pages for reference.
This has been a very technical post, and probably only really of use to people interested in writing or drawing comics. The next two should be more interesting to general readers.
For those interested, my pulls on New Comic Book Day were: THE SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL, MARVEL KNIGHTS HULK #4, INHUMANITY #2 (I was a little late to the game on this one), WINTER SOLDIER: THE BITTER MARCH #2, THOR: GOD OF THUNDER #20, THE SUPERIOR FOES OF SPIDER-MAN #10, SEX CRIMINALS #5, NEW AVENGERS #15, MS. MARVEL #2, IRON MAN #23.now, AVENGERS WORLD #4, and ALL NEW INVADERS #3. Check back later this week for my weekly comic review.
Still looking for a fun, possibly pun-related title for this blog.
For this, the inaugural post, I wanted to lay out what you can expect to see from this blog. I don't intend this to be a "marketing blog," though I can assure you that when I put something new out into the world, you'll hear about it here. Instead I want to give some insights to my creative process, talk about issues that are important to me and to the fields I work in, and sometimes just let you know what's going on in my life.
There are some things you can expect to see on a regular basis. As you may or may not know, I publish a weekly webcomic called 5 x 3. You'll always be able to find new posts there, as they happen. I will also talk about them here, and maybe give some little tidbits about their creation. 5 x 3 is always published on Mondays at 3pm EST.
Wednesdays are new comic book days. Naturally in addition to writing comics, I read an awful lot of them. I will be taking some time each Wednesday to review one of the comics from my stack. I read mostly Marvel comics, but in this segment I plan to feature mostly independent publishers and possibly Marvel titles with a smaller audience.
Every time I premier a new piece, you'll hear about it here (and probably twitter, facebook, instagram, and any other way you choose to follow me). After the premier and after the recording gets posted on the "Music" page, I'll share some of the experience of working on the piece and with the performers.
Music and Comics are both fields that face a lot of issues. Now and again I'll take some time to write about some of these issues, or respond to an article written by someone else. I firmly believe that talking about an art form is as important as contributing directly to it.
That's all for now. Looking forward to hearing from you in the future!
E. Ross Ura is a writer, letterer, artist, composer, and blogger active in the Metro Detroit Area.