Top Shelf Productions, founded in 1997, was there early on to contribute to the rise of graphic novels in the United States with such trailblazing titles as Blankets by Craig Thompson and From Hell by Eddie Campbell. When you think of Top Shelf, you think of quality, style, and reliability. Top Shelf was started by Brett Warnock and Chris Staros. When Top Shelf joined IDW as an imprint, Staros stayed on and Warnock retired. Well, Mr. Warnock is back with Kitchen Table Magazine, a food and wellness magazine, that taps into his extensive background as a publisher and art director. To learn more, check out the Kickstarter campaign, active until December 26, 2018, in support of a subscription drive right here.
Kitchen Table illustration by Jim Mahfood
Here’s a few words from Kitchen Table to best describe this new print and digital magazine:
KITCHEN TABLE MAGAZINE is a new print and digital publication that connects adventurous souls, curious cooks, and enthusiastic eaters with talented writers, artists, cartoonists, and photographers who explore not only the how-to’s of cooking, but the whys of eating. We’re at the trailhead of adventure, and would love to have you along every step of the way.
Brett Warnock indulging his passion at a local food truck in Portland, Oregon
We all eat. We all have our particular tastes and interests. Follow Kitchen Table to get a crisp, quirky, and unique perspective. Kitchen Table will share with you a lifelong passion, cultivated in the Pacific Northwest, to keep it fresh, sustainable, and just a little bit weird for good measure. Given Warnock’s special connection to comics, you’ll definitely find a good dose of illustrations here along with excellent writing, photography and design. Visit the Kickstarter campaign in support of a most welcome addition in helping you choose items related to food and overall wellness.
This week, The New York Times declares that words are dead–in so many words. Perhaps Malcolm Gladwell awoke from a fever dream and gave the nod that we had finally reached that tipping point. Well, it would have to be a nod, right? You know, since words are dead and all. We will miss words–they were so helpful with so many things. Farhad Manjoo begins this special supplement that ran on 12 February 2018 with this cryptic message (the old fashioned text itself, by the way, begins with a young woman starting back at you from a video loop):
I’ll make this short: The thing you’re doing now, reading prose on a screen, is going out of fashion.
Yikes, such a message is running on borrowed time, is it not? You know, given that words will soon be obsolete! I guess it sort of sounds cool to make such a pronouncement, right? So, Marshall McLuhan or Malcolm Gladwell to declare it. But are words really dead? In a sense, that is what The New York Times is suggesting. Of course, there is more to this thesis. Is it possible to turn over a new leaf like Ebenezer Scrooge and make it right again? Well, no. The argument here is that this is not a matter of right or wrong–it simply is what it is:
THIS MULTIMEDIA INTERNET has been gaining on the text-based internet for years. But last year, the story accelerated sharply, and now audio and video are unstoppable. The most influential communicators online once worked on web pages and blogs. They’re now making podcasts, Netflix shows, propaganda memes, Instagram and YouTube channels, and apps like HQ Trivia.
Will this make you want to abandon your own blog writing? I hope not since I think you can sniff out the hype. Honestly, I think it just makes me want to keep doing what I’m doing all the more since I have specific reasons for working directly with the written word–which have to do with the fact written words are too precious to dismiss. That may sound a bit too erudite but, no, what I’m saying here is all very straightforward. Words, especially written words, are part of our DNA. Until we become something other than human, we will all gain essential mental nourishment from reading prose. If you were a cyborg, you may defer or maybe you would still agree with me.
But are words really dead?
And so The New York Times special media supplement is part hype and part of “all the news that’s fit to print.” We cannot hide under a rock, that’s for sure. I do have my very own YouTube Channel but, compared to my blog, it is not really an issue of one medium being more or less compelling than another. These are simply different formats. It’s totally apples and oranges to me. I enjoy using a variety of media. But I sure as hell am not going to feel less relevant or cool because, at the end of the day, I prefer the written word most of all. I suspect that you do too. And that’s okay.
Comics are a medium unlike any other as they merge visuals with the written word to tell a story. The closest form they have is film and television, but even then, they differ. Comic books are the masters of detail and controlling a reader’s movement. You can put in huge amounts of detail when necessary into a panel to convey information and a reader can look at this for as long as they like and take in as much as they desire. This doesn’t work in a novel, as it would have to be a long paragraph that would be boring to read and is tough to go over the details again and again. A movie can freeze on a screen but it can’t linger too long though. With a comic, however, you can take as much time with each panel as you think it needs and go back and forth with ease to things you may have missed. These are a comic book’s strengths.
Ever since the 1930s we have seen comics grow and grow as a medium. We’ve seen people try new ideas and formats in order to create fresh styles and concepts. Whether it’s monthly single issues, graphic novels, page a day webcomics or whatever, you can present them in different ways to further your story or hook a reader. Despite comics being popular entertainment for many years, they have never quite been as loved as their contemporaries. These characters and stories remain fashionable though and have a strong following, and this has allowed people to adapt them in new ways.
Superheroes are a great example of this. Today you can find many costumed heroes who fight villains in any form you can think of. You can go to the cinema right now and enjoy classic comic book characters and obscure ones, all with a big budget. This has brought comic heroes to a wider audience than ever. Most would know about Spider-Man, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc. but now Deadpool, Hawkeye, Black Panther, Cyborg and even Rocket Raccoon have become pop culture icons.
This isn’t the only form we’ve seen superhero style characters, as video games have also been able to successfully adapt them. Comic book style characters having amazing abilities, great villains and interesting locals and gimmicks makes them prime content to adapt for a game and this has been done in many ways. The Batman Arkham series have enabled people to immerse themselves in Batman’s world and fight like he does. Telltales’ Wolf Among Us puts you in more direct control of the cast of Fables and enables you to shape the story. Other games can be wild takes, such as Ladylucks’ Ghostbusters game. The Marvel vs. Capcom and Injustice games abandon the story of comic book characters and instead focus on their abilities and designs, taking a hyperactive and direct approach.
Comic books as a medium will likely be around forever in some form or another. They may find new popularity or become more obscure but it’s safe to say that the characters and stories they contain will be loved forever.
One thing I love in this life is an awesome comic book shop. Such is the case with Meltdown Comics & Collectibles. On the Sunset Strip, this is the place you want to make time for during a visit to Los Angeles. And, if you’re a native, then you likely know what I’m talking about. Okay, let’s say you’re a tourist and you have your list of places to go to while in LA, well, I am here to tell you that Meltdown is a landmark you’ll want to hit.
MELTDOWN 7522 Sunset Blvd
In the spirit of full disclosure, I was at Meltdown to promote my own ongoing comics series, GEORGE’S RUN, about the life and times of screenwriter George Clayton Johnson. However, as my regular readers know, and those of us in the industry fully appreciate, this is a labor of love, very interconnected, so I’m there just as much to embrace the scene and my fellow creators. Stay tuned because I will be posting reviews of some awesome comics that I picked up during my visit. If you are a creator, be sure to contact me about reviewing your work. For this post, I am providing you with a little guided tour that will whet your appetite.
ZINES & MINICOMICS
As you can see from the photos and video, Meltdown is a fully stocked, and fully loved, place for comics and related items. Keep in mind, for those of you still unsure, that comics are not only part of the zeitgeist. Comics are definitely an art form in their own right. That’s been said many times and bears repeating. Comics provide an outlet, a platform, that is a highly specific form of expression. It attracts many stripes of folk including some of the brightest and whipsmart. The word “comics” means many things and, no doubt, is inextricably linked to the world of comedy, even when it’s far from funny. It’s no surprise then that the likes of comedy genius Patton Oswalt cannot help but love comics and write for comics too.
The day I made my visit, a special Bernie Sanders event was being set up. There are all kinds of cool things going on here from music to comedy. And, of course, there are all sorts of special comics events. The next big one is a March 18th signing by Daniel Clowes in support of his latest masterpiece, “Patience,” published by Fantagraphics Books.
MIKE LE’S OPEN IP WALL
Here’s the deal, there is not, or should not be, a great divide between indie/alt comics and superhero comics. That’s a given for a lot of us. But it’s one of those things I feel compelled to repeat as often as necessary. I want readers out there who have not been around comics for a while to come back and see what’s been brewing. That just instantly comes to mind when I’m in such a fine place as Meltdown. The love and the knowledge is clearly here, each member of the staff is carrying the torch. You see it in the careful and thoughtful displays and staff picks. What Amoeba Music is to music, Meltdown is to comics. I rest my case. So, be sure to visit our dear friends at Meltdown right here.
There’s a classic moment I fondly recall from my favorite art theory class. The professor was a true bohemian from his shock of disheveled hair down to his well-worn sandals. We were constantly peppering him with questions back then in that little closet of a classroom. Back when the world was a little slower than it seems today, back in the early ’90s. Someone threw out the latest query: “At what time period would you place the taste of today’s general public?” He shot back with a mischievous look, “No later than 1840!” I appreciated the sarcasm and the point he was making: many people just want traditional portraits and landscapes. However, looking back on this, he must have been having a bad day. If he’d been feeling less gloomy, he would have acknowledged the undeniable power of pop culture. In Marcel Danesi’s book on pop culture, he takes a far more optimistic view and we’re all the better for it.
Marcel Danesi has written an essential book on pop culture, both enlightening and entertaining. The third edition of “Popular Culture: Introductory Perspectives” will be required reading on many a campus this year. And it will prove quite useful whether you take it as part of a course or not. Danesi wastes no time in setting the stage and cutting to the chase: this is serious as well as lively business. He begins with “Runnin’ Wild,” a 1923 Broadway musical that introduced the sexually suggestive, and highly popular dance, The Charleston, that became a national sensation. If you’re looking for a key moment that ushered in the elements of pop culture as we’ve come to know them, then that is definitely a perfect one to focus on. There was no turning back as the energy and the spirit spread its way across the globe.
The question of what defines pop culture is inextricably linked to the question of who owns pop culture. And the short answer is that pop culture is for and by the people. If that echoes a declaration of independence, it is no mistake as all this is caught up in youthful rebellion. To be young, or at least young at heart, is most characteristic of this subject. Danesi guides us through the inevitable cycle, or transference pattern, that occurs as one generation passes the torch to the next. Youth culture gives way to mainstream culture. What was once scandalous in one era will, as that generation ages, transition from fringe to mainstream. It may be hard to believe now but, in the future, even Miley Cyrus’s current antics will eventually be swallowed up by mainstream culture. Each transition holds its own surprises and challenges. As the ’50s gave way to the ’60s, it was wrongly assumed by conventional wisdom that the flames from the “Rebel without a Cause” generation would just flicker out. Instead, it gave way to a firestorm of protest.
A wide net is cast in each chapter to scoop up various signs of life and proto-life for the world of pop. Print culture, for instance, goes back to 2700 BC and the first books made from papyrus. You could also look back to 1453 and Johannes Gutenberg taking a wine press and converting it into a printing machine leading to the mass production of books. More to our purposes, a significant signpost of upcoming events would be the advent of the Gothic novel with Marry Shelly’s “Frankenstein” in 1818. Throughout Danesi’s work we see how pop culture is inextricably linked to technology. Marshall McLuhan is often cited regarding his views on how the medium of the time will influence content and how people perceive it and reality itself.
One of Danesi’s best examples on the origins of modern-day pop culture comes from his observations on the 2002 Academy Award winning musical, “Chicago.” It’s the roaring ’20s and a brash new chapter in media is opening up. Using the power of the new celebrity culture, starlet Roxy, hopes to win over the press and win her freedom after being sent to prison for murder. Ironically, the reason she murdered is wrapped up in her desire to be famous. Facing a death sentence, her only hope is to become famous, manipulate the media and the jury. With the new hot jazz of the day playing throughout, pulsating and sexually suggestive, Roxy, and her media savvy cohorts, rule their time and would not seem out of place in our own time.
What the future holds for pop culture is related to its cycular nature and technology. The warnings over content overload have been sounding since McLuhan proposed we have entered into a global village. No longer do we have the thought patterns of print culture. The electronic age has yielded a hyperreality. Today, with Facebook, we sacrifice privacy for instant gratification. And we let Google determine what is relevant through statistics rather than measuring the value of content alone. The current Mashpedia form highlights our focus on the ephemeral. Danesi asks if this all signals the end of the pop culture experiment. If so, what would replace it or will it survive? The answer may lie in a persistent desire to rise above any limitations and the individual’s own quirky need to create. Something tells me we will never see an end to talented, persistent, and quirky, individuals.
The third edition of “Popular Culture: Introductory Perspectives” is published by Rowman & Littlefield. Visit them right here. You can also find this book at Amazon right here.
“Pike Up!” That’s the call to action to help secure a once-in-a-lifetime improvement to one of Seattle’s beloved landmarks, Pike Place Market. At this year’s Seattle Interactive Conference, an audience was treated to a presentation by two of Seattle’s leading agencies, Wexley School for Girls and Slalom Consulting, to discuss the campaign to complete the 40-year vision to connect the Market to Seattle’s waterfront. It’s quite a job ahead and Pike Up! is a campaign that taps into the excitement and significance of this project.
A routine that was so essential to so many of us out there has come to an end. Whitney Matheson completes a 15-year run of Pop Candy, the pop culture blog at USA Today.
We will all miss Whitney Matheson at Pop Candy at USA Today but, of course, when one door closes, another door opens. September 3 was her last day as she was laid off from her post that she had held for 15 years. Of course, fans have been caught by surprise and are showing their support at Whitney’s Twitter.
Here is one from the archives: A CNN iReport put together by Jennifer Daydreamer and yours truly, this is an impromptu interview with James Sime, owner of Isotope, The Comic Book Lounge, that segued into an impromptu interview with Whitney Matheson. The discussion here involves the state of comics, which is always evolving, and how they coexist with Hollywood. This is from 2010, the year that “Scott Pilgrim” and “The Walking Dead” were big winners at the Eisner Awards at Comic-Con International in San Diego.
Whitney hosted some awesome Pop Candy meetups through the years. Well, perhaps there will be something similar in the future.
Good luck to you, Whitney! We look forward to future observations and excellent writing! You are one of the best!
Comic-Con is many things: a focal point for learning about pop culture and a place to buy and sell pop culture. It is a fascinating place to be to observe a concentrated segment of consumer culture. With an estimated attendance this year topping off at 160,000, Comic-Con International: San Diego is an instant village. Not everyone is there for exactly the same reasons. But, at the same time, even the academically-inclined that claim that they are there only for the serious panel discussion, must admit to this event being like going to Disneyland.
You are there, caught in the sweep of humanity, and you can’t help but feel that you are part of something bigger. This is a mega-community all mashed together with various views and agendas. To be fair, I like to give credit to everyone for all the hard work they do. There is so much on display, with so many issues at play all at once. On the most basic level, we have a huge number of humans all seeking something. The only way it makes sense for me is to set up guideposts for myself ahead of time and go to the things that matter most to me. And, like a grand museum, you will only manage to see part of what you set out to see.
We’re only human, right? We are more complex than we give ourselves credit for. Comic-Con is not a bunch of rats set loose, even if it may seem like that at times. We are human. Comic-Con seems like one big spectacle sometimes but, just like they say about going to school, traveling, and life in general, you get back what you put into it. The thing to remember about Comic-Con is that, at its roots, it is about fandom and a love for comic books is at its core. If you gather together a group of young (and not-so-young) people who are sensitive to seeking out something more, whatever that might be, you’re on a good track right there. That something more, whatever it might be, will be an anchor, a gateway, a portal, all at once.
I know this is as good as it will ever get for me and it’s not that good. I have a small heart, a dark heart, a heart filled with exactly equal amounts of good and evil, one that is weak and will take us only so far, but for now it propels us higher and higher and higher.
I am heading out to Comic-Con International in San Diego this year and this is the year that we take things to a new level. With your support, we can do some exciting new things here at Comics Grinder and beyond. You can check out the new campaign, “Support A Comics Reviewer and Creator,” over at GoFundMe right here.
Jonathan Woods TIME.com Senior Editor, Photo & Interactive
What will it take for TIME magazine, the landmark newsmagazine, to survive for another one hundred years and beyond? Well, no one can say that TIME is not synonymous with quality journalism because it certainly is. It has a long history that led it to that level. One of the factors, no doubt, was its vigorous, even legendary, competition with Newsweek magazine. But it’s a whole new game today. One thing is clear and that is that nothing is clear. TIME is in the midst of a revamp. Of all the Seattle Interactive Conference sessions this year, the session on TIME and its future provides the biggest glimpse into a brave new world we are all interacting with.
TIME.com‘s Photo and Interactive Senior Editor, Jonathan Woods, led a discussion about this brave new world. Instead of being overwhelmed by the shock of the new, TIME appears to be standing tall about its legacy and looking forward with confidence. Woods came across as a man very much in charge, even if he is entering uncharted waters. To help steer the mighty vessel, TIME is working with Big Human, known for its work with startups; and Blink, a web and mobile solution for finding and managing freelance media professionals worldwide. Media professionals upload their location data on the Blink mobile app to a website that media companies use to search for talent to work on their stories. Managing Director Steve Spurgat was there to speak for Big Human. He used to be CEO of the now defunct VYou, a social media platform once used by Oprah’s Book Club.
Founder/CEO Matt Craig was there to speak for Blink. Blink is online with many active users on the site. People who are interested in joining the beta site can sign up here. The Blink app is available on iTunes and Google Play. Craig worked on Page One of the Wall Street Journal for five years before founding Blink.
Steve Spurgat Big Human Managing Director
Big Human’s Steve Spurgat set the tone for the discussion by bringing up The New York Time’s “Snow Fall,” a feature story about avalanches that employs innovative use of photos and interactive. The title of the story became its nickname when referring to its storytelling features. Spurgat’s reference to Snow Fall was a way of hinting at what TIME might do differently. “A show of hands for those who have seen Snow Fall,” said Spurgat. A majority of hands went up. “Alright, now how many of you remember anything you saw?” said Spurgat with a decided sneer to test the attendees. There was some nervous laughter from the audience, probably unsure of how to respond. Instantly, just to balance things out, Blink’s Matt Craig offered: “But Snow Fall did scratch a certain itch.” So, where do you go from there?
Of course Snow Fall seems to be an easy target because of the controversy related to naysayers, particularly Medium.com’s attempt to undercut it. You can read a good recap on all the fuss here. Essentially, someone at a startup can deny that Snow Fall is much of a big deal since they believe they can offer something similar. And so a process of kicking the original around ensues. Someone at another relatively new site pokes at it and someone else comments on it and so on. Hey, give yourself some time and go read the original Snow Fall here. What you’re looking at is an excellent in-depth feature, something TIME really can’t quarrel with over quality. You are free to read, and skim over, whatever you want, just like you would any special feature that has ever been created.
Matt Craig Blink Founder/CEO
It’s not like TIME doesn’t have some very cool features of its own. There is “Timelapse,” in partnership with Google, Landsat, and Carnegie Mellon University, that presents a 30-year look at global climate change through satellite images. View it here. Woods also cited a feature with an infographic by Jeffrey Kluger and Chris Wilson mapping out the best places to live in the U.S. according to your mood. Read it here. Woods was asked a number of questions that kept coming back to whether or not there was a formula to follow to maximize readership and to this, over and over again, Woods was clear that there was no formula. “I want the right amount for a story,” was Woods’s steadfast response. To this, Spurgat could only agree with, “A story is as long as it needs to be.”
Getting back to basics on compelling content, Woods pointed with pride to the newly launched Red Border Films at Time.com. This new documentary series debuted on August 15, 2013 with “One Dream,” to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. View it here. The first profile is of Bobby Henline, an injured Iraqi war veteran who is now a stand-up comedian, directed by Peter Van Agtmael. It will debut on Veteran’s Day, November 11, 2013.
Here are a couple of other interesting observations, considering that Big Human and Blink have TIME’s ear. Blink’s Craig referenced Vice.com as a leader in original web content. The VICE audience expects great video, photography and stories. At this point in the conversation the discussion had turned to long form vs. short form media and the issues surrounding user generated content. Craig believes UGC is useful in some instances but great brands will always need to produce high quality original content. VICE is a great example of a media outlet that does it well. Craig stated that he gets his news from a wide variety of sources with the most alternative source being Vice.com. And Big Human’s Spurgat wasn’t too keen on Medium.com’s tracking of how long it takes a reader to complete reading a post. “It’s documented that people don’t always read things to the very end,” said Spurgat. “News is very fragmented today,” he added. We do, however, come back to the fact that web content is free of the restrictions of print. Web content is free to be as long as it needs to be.
Snow Fall is both derided and admired in the same breathe but it is not the problem. As much as we want instant gratification, we appreciate a feature that provides thoughtful analysis and greater detail. Have we seen the last of Snow Fall? No, instead we’ll find our way out of a free fall. Journalists will continue to pursue a good story. Stories will continue to be told, short ones and long ones. And one thing is certain: we will continue to see more competitive, and excellent, journalism ahead, no matter what the medium.