How to Draw Hands

A question I’m asked from time to time, and I know plenty of other artists get this as well, is, “How do you draw hands (and sometimes feet) in comics?”

In my capacity as a wizened(ish) comic sage(-esque non-sage guy), I would like to pass on to you the advice that really helped me in this particular aspect of comic art. I cannot remember for the life of me who this advice came from, but I think it was in a how-to column in an old issue of Wizard Magazine. And it goes (paraphrased) thusly:

Look at a hand. Draw what you see. If you’re trying to be a professional comic artist, chances are you have at least one hand. There’s no shame in being your own model.

I think sometimes aspiring artists want to think that everything they draw has to come from their imagination. They see some sort of stigma attached to using reference materials. Or maybe some young artists have just never thought to do so.

There’s an anecdote I remember about the late, great Michael Turner (one of my personal favorite comic artists of all time, and a guy who could sneeze out a perfectly drawn hand). His first day at Top Cow, he was working as a background artist for company founder Marc Silvestri, and by lunch had drawn a skyline that looked like a bunch of loaves of bread stacked on end. Silvestri thought the kid would wash out and be gone by the end of the day, but gave him a reference book about skyscrapers to peruse over lunch. When Silvestri came back, Mike had drawn one of the most amazing skylines Silvestri had ever seen. When asked what had changed over lunch, Mike shrugged and said, “No one ever told me to look at references before.”

For nearly inarticulable reasons, hands (and feet) are a major part of human anatomy that are particularly troublesome to draw. Some big name artists simply won’t do it. When I’ve seen tutorials on the matter on other websites, things get very complicated. Measurements and formulas and graphs and charts are brought in. Math. Honest-to-God math in a “how-to-draw” tutorial. Which strikes me as insane, but if it works for some, it works (who am I to judge? I’m writing a “How-To-Draw” column with no pictures). If you’re interested in that sort of tutorial, I’m sure it wouldn’t take you long to find one online.

What works for me, though, is that advice I read in Wizard all those years (decades? Crap I’m old) ago: look at a hand, draw what you see.

Comic Book Copyrights and Trademarks: You’re Doing it Wrong

By my own admission, I’m no legal expert. I’m not an intellectual property lawyer. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t have any advice for aspiring comic book creators on the subject of copyright and trademarks.

As I mentioned, I’m not an expert in the legal field. I don’t know every in and out of how to protect your intellectual property. And I’m certainly not going to tell you not to. What I am going to tell you, is that if you’re worrying about copyright and trademark before you have anything to protect, you’ve got your priorities backwards.

I recently saw a posting on Facebook by an aspiring creator. He was looking for artists, but couldn’t pay them, because he didn’t have much money, and needed those funds for printing costs, advertising, and copyright and trademark filings.

You know what else he didn’t have? A story. Characters, a plot, a title, designs, to say nothing of a script or artwork. He was worried about protecting intellectual property he didn’t even possess.

This brought to mind a scenario that I encountered at one of the first comic conventions I ever attended as an artist. There was a guy going around looking for talent in artists alley (if you know artists alley, you know there’s a lot of people there, a fair number quite good at what they do, and most of them are hungry for paying gigs). This guy would go up to an artist whose work he liked (he was also looking for writers, but don’t ask me how he was trying to identify them), and pull out a business card, proudly proclaiming that he was the trademark owner of what was on the card. The card read “BYCH” in a kind of circuitry-looking font. So this guy owned a trademark on a homophone of “bitch.”

That was what he owned. Much like the person I described above, he did not have an artist attached to this project. He did not have a writer. He did not have a plotline, or characters. He had one word on a business card. He had done, from his perspective, all the hard work, coming up with the oh-so-clever title. He just needed some people to fill out the details, like what BYCH actually was and how a story could be built around it. A quick Google search indicates that the trademark has since been abandoned. Which makes sense, since, in order to maintain ownership of a trademark, you have to show continued use. I’m not sure this guy ever had any use of it.

But that’s the problem some creators have (and, in the case of the BYCH guy, I’m using the term “creators” very generously): they have this notion that protecting intellectual property is more important than creating it. Any idea they have could be gold. They might have the next Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on their hands. Even if they do, you know what? Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird didn’t just come up with a fun sounding name for a book and run off to the trademark office. They actually made a damn book.

Protecting your IP is absolutely necessary, no doubt about it, and like I said, I’m not the guy to ask for advice about the ins and outs of that stuff. But if you’re the guy who’s more worried about trademarking a symbol or copyrighting a name than you are about actually crafting something worth protecting, you’re going about creating comics completely backwards.

Spider-Woman’s Ass and the Comic Book Boys’ Club

If you follow the world of comic books (and if not, why are you reading this? This is an article on a comic book company’s website), you know that the biggest story this week has been Spider-Woman’s ass. Marvel released an image of a variant cover to Spider-Woman #1 by Milo Manara this week, and it caused a bit of an uproar. That, normally, wouldn’t be enough to get me to sit down and write an article about it, but the backlash against the uproar disturbed me enough that I felt compelled to voice an opinion.

There are two covers to Spider-Woman #1. One is by Greg Land:

Fasteball special!

Greg Land is an artist who, if you’re not familiar with his work, literally traces photographs for his comic art, and there’s strong evidence that many of those images were originally pornographic in nature:

None of these people are actually supposed to be having sex
None of these people are actually supposed to be having sex

Surprisingly, the Land cover is not the one that caused an uproar for being overly sexualized. No, the cover that caused all the commotion is a variant by European erotica artist Milo Manara:

Isn't she looking heroic?

First, let’s be realistic about what we’re looking at here. This is a sexualized image of Spider-Woman. She has her back arched in a way that is anatomically questionable, and certainly not practical, and she has her buttocks pointing out in a very suggestive way. Her nose is tiny and her lips are full and pouty. This is a sexualized image. If you can’t acknowledge that, then you don’t get a seat at the grown-ups table. Marvel editor Tom Brevoort, in a Tumblr response to the controversy, said, “It’s also, for a Manara piece, one of the less sexualized ones, at least to my eye.” Less sexualized than most of the art of a man known for drawing erotica, but that’s an admission from a Marvel higher up that the image is sexualized.

Before I delve too far into the controversy, I will say that, prior to this cover, I wasn’t familiar with Manara’s work. Shocking, I know, but I’m not too into European erotica. Looking at his body of work, he’s certainly a talented artist in his chosen style and field. This image isn’t among his best. Ignoring the sexualized nature for a moment, there are noticeable anatomical problems (what is going on with her neck?) and perspective issues with the background.

Some people have commented on the issue, and I’m referring specifically to female commentators here, because they’re the ones people are getting up-in-arms over. There are some professional artists whose work I admire greatly who, when this story broke, came out with a resounding and, sadly predictable, round of, “Oh, great, here comes the complaining from the feminist wanna-be artists.” Because, of course, the only reason anyone would ever dislike something is because they’re frustrated that they aren’t able to do whatever it is they dislike.

(On a quick aside about comments on the Land cover: there are literally entire websites dedicated to arguing that Greg Land is a hack and figuring out what movies, other comics, and pornographic films/pictures he takes his imagery from. But those are run by guys)

It’s disheartening to hear that sort of talk from artists whose work I admire. As someone involved in the comic creator community, even if on a much lower level, these are guys I’ve admired. I think their artwork is fantastic, and I’ve had to opportunity to spend time with some of them at conventions, and they’ve been nothing but great to me, even if I’m a relative nobody.

I must also say that I find a couple of things wrong, offensively so, about that statement. The first is that “feminist” is not a dirty word. Feminism simply means the belief that women should be given equal treatment and respect to men. That’s not a terrible concept, but the word has been twisted over the years to conjure all sorts of horrible, emasculating stereotypes. The second part of the statement that I take offense to is this notion of “wanna-be artists.” To my mind, there’s no such thing as a wanna-be artist. I’ve had numerous people talk to me at conventions and store appearances and tell me they wanted to be an artist, or they were an aspiring artist, or whatever, and I always look them dead in the eye and tell them they already are an artist. If you have creativity in your heart, if you express yourself through some sort of artistic medium, you are an artist. You might not be a professional artist, you might not be on the level of skill that you’d like to achieve, but you’re already an artist.

A defense I’ve heard in favor of this cover is that “Manara’s a master of female anatomy,” implying both that, because he’s a master, he’s above critique, and that he actually is a master. I guess drawing something over and over for many years gives one greater knowledge of that thing than people who actually possess it? Telling women that Milo Manara knows female anatomy better than them is more than a little insulting.

All this talk of raging feminists and attempts to silence female critics really leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It seems there are many who view the world of comic books as a boys’ club. How dare any “outsider,” someone who’s not a professional in this industry, and especially a female outsider, dare to criticize “one of our own.”

I get being defensive. I get it. The comics community is a tight knit group, and that’s awesome. I’ve often found it to be one of the greatest things about comics how open it is to people with a genuine passion for it. I’m a virtual nobody in the world of comics, and yet I can go to a show and get the same table space and foot traffic as J. Scott Campbell or David Finch. I can rub elbows with Chuck Dixon and Greg Horn, and have conversations with Talent Caldwell and George Perez where I’m treated like an equal. It’s a great feeling. To then see that not everyone is given that same equality and welcoming is really sad.

Women make up at least have of the population of the planet (and people who love women make up even more), so why not try to include them, if not strictly from a business standpoint? And, seriously, who wants to go to a party with no girls? I’ve had the guys at my day job trying to get me to go have a beer with them every weekend for the last month, and every week we have the same conversation: “Will there be any women there?” “Nope, just creepy, socially awkward dudes.” “No thank you.”

One argument I’ve heard put forth is that Spider-Woman is, by her nature, a sexual character. “Isn’t part of her powerset pheromones that she can use to seduce people?” Well, yes, but I have to shake my head when people can’t understand the difference between sexual and sexualized. Women are, shockingly, people, human beings, and human beings, like all animals, are sexual creatures. They like sex, want sex, and have sex. And that’s okay. That’s more than okay. It’s pretty great. It’s debatable whether Jessica Drew having pheromones as part of her power set automatically makes her a “sexual character,” (especially when you examine how screwed up her backstory is otherwise), but when you reduce a woman to her physical form, and an exaggerated, nearly-impossible physical form at that, that’s not a woman being sexual, that’s sexualizing a woman. The woman depicted on the variant cover of Spider-Woman #1? That’s not a woman in control of her sexuality and her agency, that’s an object of desire for men to beat off to.

I’m reminded of a scene from this summer’s “Edge of Tomorrow,” a scene which, due to the cyclical time-traveling nature of the film, happened over and over again. When Tom Cruise’s character first meets Emily Blunt’s character, she’s doing push-ups, and gets off the ground in the most amazingly sexualized way possible, by pressing her pelvis against the floor and giving her back a ridiculous amount of chest-thrusting curvature. It wasn’t sexy. It was actually kind of funny. It was the same footage played again every time that moment came up, and I can see why. There’s no way that kind of movement can be comfortable, or easily replicable.

But, without that, how will we be reminded that Emily blunt is attractive? You know, besides looking at her. Emily Blunt doesn’t need to go through all that to remind us she’s sexy. Emily Blunt looks sexy running, jumping, punching, shooting, stabbing, or even just doing the damn push-ups. Because Emily Blunt’s a beautiful woman. Spider-Woman is a woman in a skin tight suit who goes around kicking ass. She’s a super spy who can fly, bench press a semi-truck, and shoot electricity out of her hands. That’s hot.

Look, I’m not a prude. Far from it. Ask anyone who knows me. I enjoy sex. I enjoy erotica and pornography. But there’s a time and a place. The workplace is usually not that place. A fast food restaurant is not that place. The parking lot outside of an office supply store is not that place. And the cover of a mainstream superhero comic, one that’s attempting to depict a strong, empowering image of a female character, is not that place.

Without a doubt, this Spider-Woman cover is a sexualized image of a woman. A high-ranking rep for Marvel admitted it is. Some argue that Marvel would never depict a male superhero in this way, while others will post pictures of Spider-Man that do show off his curves as he crawls, though none of them actually attain quite the spine-breaking curvature that’s on display in this picture. A counterargument I’ve heard there is that men and women are idealized differently by society (though in this instance, we’re talking about the sexualizing of a character/gender, which is a very different thing than idealizing). That’s a whole other argument, but it got me thinking: let’s set aside the male vs. female issue. I think part of the problem here is that the Manara defenders see an object of desire, a beautiful woman, idealized in a way that they find appealing: that is, with her butt in the air and legs spread. Because they find the image appealing, they won’t admit that it could be offensive or off-putting to anyone. And because it was done by “one of us,” they won’t stand for any detractors who aren’t part of the boys’ club.

What I’d like to do is image what the reaction from those same defenders would be if she were idealized in a way that was not as appealing to their ultra-macho, super-hetero viewpoint.

As Brevoort himself has said on Tumblr, “When we say ‘Manara cover’, his body of work indicates what sort of thing he’s going to do.” Yes, because he’s an artist of erotica. His body of work is provocative pictures of nearly-impossibly sexy people, sometimes doing very risqué things.

Instead of a noted artist of female erotica like Manara, what if Marvel had instead hired an artist well known for drawing futanari? A guy with just as much experience and just as long of a career. The “king” of futa. That guy has to be out there, because futanari is a thing. We wouldn’t even have a name for it, and you wouldn’t all have known what I was talking about, if it wasn’t a thing.

Instead of a woman with her apple-shaped butt a little too high in the air, the viewers were presented with a woman thrusting her crotch towards them, with a noticeable bulge in the front of her tights. No nudity, as one of the lines of defense being offered for the Manara cover is that “she’s not naked,” though her costume appears painted on. So no, no nudity, but the central focus of the hypothetical cover would be a well-defined penis and pair of testicles visible through her body-hugging suit.

I couldn't find an actual futa image of Spider-Woman that wasn't NSFW. Or almost any futa that wasn't NSFW
Okay, I couldn’t find an actual futa image of Spider-Woman that wasn’t NSFW. Or almost any futa that wasn’t NSFW. Just imagine these girls were posed in a position just as compromising as the one Spider-Woman was drawn in.

Would the people currently defending Manara be so quick to pull out the, “That’s just his style” defense when faced with an image like that? To some people, that’s an idealized image, as much as Spider-Woman’s butt all up in the air (it must be, or futa wouldn’t be a thing, and we’ve already established that futa is a thing). Should Spider-Woman, or any mainstream comic character, be depicted thrusting their erogenous zones at the viewer?

Let me try to head off one of the arguments I’m sure this will give rise to: But Spider-Woman isn’t a futa! The cover would be wrong!

My first response to this would be, how do you know? She’s never been shown full-frontal in any official publication.

My second response would be, “But that’s the artist’s style! You knew what you were getting when he was hired!” Come on, what’s good for the goose is good for the… um, shit, I’m not sure the pronoun protocol when talking about futa. Is it the same for talking about actual transgender people? (Because I’m not talking about an actual transgender person here, I’m talking about an idealized, pornographic depiction of a woman with a penis, the same as the Spider-Woman cover that started all this depicts an over-idealized image of a cis woman)

My third response would be, “She’s also not the type of character to go around ‘presenting’ to the entire city.” Now, some people are exhibitionists. They might enjoy flashing their bits at the world, and getting a little thrill that someone might be watching. Jessica Drew’s never been depicted as that kind of character (and that’s maybe a topic that shouldn’t be explored in mainstream superhero comics). To my mind, getting a character’s personality wrong is as bad as or worse than getting their physical appearance wrong.

And no, Spider-Woman in the Manara cover isn’t just “climbing.” That’s not how you climb. Your spine bends the other way when you climb.

Once the personal appeal has been removed (“Ooh, a sexy lady with a nice butt”) and replaced with something not as personally desirable (“A woman with a wang? Not my bag, man”), hopefully the pitchfork wielding defenders of the Spider-Woman cover can see how such an image might seem inappropriate. The same people who are now championing Manara, with their cries of, “That’s his style, you knew what you were getting,” could have the same thing turned back on them with this hypothetical king of futa. I have to believe most of them would have to admit, “Maybe getting a guy known exclusively for drawing chicks with dicks isn’t the best choice for the cover of a mainstream superhero book.” Just like getting a guy known exclusively for drawing erotica.

Post-Free Comic Book Day Roundup

Hi everybody!

I meant to send this out a day or two after this year’s Free Comic Book Day, but it slipped my mind. Which has actually been happening a lot lately. I’m actually kind of worried. And, man, FCBD feels like a lot longer ago than it was. But, moving on…

I would like to say a few words, first, about the heavy emotional journey that was Free Comic Book Day 2014.

It. Was. AWESOME!

And do you know why it was awesome? I rarely can say this in life, what with my day job in retail, but it was the people. The staff of Lost World of Wonders was, as always, helpful, courteous, humorous, and all around delightful to spend a day with. The customers, as well, were energetic, fun, and generous.

There were also a lot of them. A lot. What has been the norm the last 5 or so years I’ve been doing this is that, before the store opens for the day, there will be a line down the sidewalk to the end of the building. Within an hour, hour and a half, the line will have subsided to a manageable length, to at least the point where the doors can shut without cutting off the line.

This year, when the doors opened, there was a line around the block.

Two hours later, there was still a line down the block.

Four hours later, there was still a line out the door. It wasn’t for lack of trying. The staff handled the situation like pros. There were just that many people. I’ve been through at least a half dozen FCBDs, and I’ve never seen crowd like that. The “first hour rush” that I’m used to lasted for at least four or five hours. It was chaos, and it was fantastic.

While I only sold a few books, I sold way more art prints than I’d imagined I would. Usually at these in-store appearances, space is limited, and I prefer to focus on gaining new readers for Hero Universe’s line of books (hey, I work hard on those things. It takes a lot more time and effort to conceptualize, write, edit, draw, color, letter, and print a comic book than it does to draw a pinup of a popular character). I usually only take prints to conventions, where I know I’ll have a guaranteed amount of room, and in some cases a built-in audience (for example, at last year’s Chicago Comic Con, with Jason David Frank in attendance, I sold through three print runs of my Power Rangers art print).

Bringing prints to FCBD was a bit of an experiment, and I think it paid off. Not only did I more than double my take from last year’s FCBD, I shattered my single-day art sales record. Yes, FCBD at LWoW is more profitable for me than a day at a convention, not to mention that I don’t have to pay for table space, I don’t have to travel very far, I don’t have to pay for lodging, and the LWoW people even bought us artists lunch (something I can assure you Wizard has never done).

So, thank you to everyone who came out, and for those who were there in spirit (I know not everyone reading this could be in Milwaukee for FCBD, but your positive vibes were felt). Thank you to the staff of Lost World of Wonders for hosting another amazing FCBD event. And for everyone who did support my art with a purchase, thank you, and I hope you enjoy your wares. I also hope that the few new readers I managed to sucker in will enjoy their books, and will continue to be fans for years to come. This day really reminded me why FCBD is one of my favorite days out of the entire year.

There are a few new projects bubbling here at HU HQ (sorry, I’ll try never to type that again), and I hope to have some good news not too far down the road.

Until then, I’d like to remind everyone that they can check out HU’s books online, including reading the first issue of “Bombshell” for free:

http://www.indyplanet.com/front/?product_brand=herouniversecomics

http://digital.comicsplusapp.com/group_comics.php?publisher_id=118

You can also check out my art on DeviantArt:

JamesLynch.deviantart.com

You can also follow us on the Twitter and Facebook:

Twitter.com/herojameslynch

https://www.facebook.com/groups/304179068342/

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Hero-Universe-Comics/279103453142

Thanks,
James Lynch

Bombshell TPB and Free Comic Book Day

I know I don’t update as often as I’d like. The first reason for that is that, given how small our operation is, there isn’t new news too often. Also, I really need to sit down some day and get a more solid understanding of how to use WordPress.

At any rate, there is now actual new news, two bits of it, in fact, and I will share both bits of that actual new news with you now (spoiler warning, both bits of news appear in the header of this newsletter):

Bit of news #1: The Bombshell TPB, collecting all 3 issues of the series, is now available through IndyPlanet:

http://www.indyplanet.com/front/?product=104947

As always, copies will be made available directly through Hero Universe, so if you want your copy signed and/or personalized, that’s the only way to get it. We don’t have copies available for purchase yet, for the reason that the book is schedule to debut at this year’s Free Comic Book Day. Which segues nicely into…

Bit of news #2: James Lynch (hi) will once again be signing and sketching at Lost World of Wonders in Greenfield, WI (http://www.lostwonders.com/) on Free Comic Book Day, which this year falls on May 3. It’s honestly one of my favorite days out of the entire year. It’s like a day at a convention, only there’s less stress, hassle, more free stuff, more intimacy, and the people are even friendlier. As has been my custom for the last few years, I’ll likely be there all day, from when the store opens at 11 AM to when it closes at 8 PM. Sketches are always free, and I will be taking commissions, selling books, and I’ll have some art prints available, including my new Doctor Who print, which you can preview here:

http://jameslynch.deviantart.com/art/Doctor-Who-Window-to-the-Future-Past-448105135

I really encourage everybody to come out for FCBD. It’s fun, there’s plenty of free stuff, and I like seeing friendly people. Tell your friends, tell people with kids (who doesn’t like free stuff to do with their kids on a weekend?), tell the random guy you see walking down the street with the Flash t-shirt.

I like LWoW for FCBD for three reasons:

1) They’re the best store in the area. Sorry, other stores in the area, but that’s just how I feel. They’re the biggest, cleanest, best stocked, and their staff is the friendliest.

2) They give away more free stuff than any other store. Other stores have lower limits on how many free books you can take, and they have a more limited selection on which FCBD books they order. Lost World has a greater selection and is more generous with their giving.

3) I’ll be there. Lost World has been good to me over the years, and I like supporting them in return.

So, come out for Free Comic Book Day, buy the Bombshell TPB, and tell all your friends/family/horde members to do the same.

James

P.S.: You can find most of our books on IndyPlanet at the following address:

http://www.indyplanet.com/front/?product_brand=herouniversecomics

And Bombshell is available as a digital book through ComicsPlus, including the first issue being available to read absolutely free of charge:

http://digital.comicsplusapp.com/group_comics.php?publisher_id=118

What Hero Universe character was, in some small way, inspired by Harold Ramis?

After the recent, sad passing of comedy icon Harold Ramis, I posed the titular question on Twitter and Facebook (speaking of comedy: titular. Hehe). It’s a hidden bit of HU trivia, one buried deep in the annals of our company’s history (hehe. Annals).

So, here’s the answer. And, because it’s me, it’s going to be wordy:

In creating comic book characters, much like actual human babies, one thing you usually have to do is name them (naming characters is such a pain in the ass, in an upcoming series, the five lead characters are literally named after colors). Take, for example, one of my most (if not my very most) popular characters, Bombshell (please note: I’m not claiming she’s a popular character, only that she’s probably more popular than any other character I’ve created). The name “Bombshell” was inspired by the contest that spurred her creation; the people at Shadowline Comics (a division of Image) were running a contest for writers to create a female superhero. They offered the use of their Bomb Queen character as an antagonist, if the writers so chose. I did not choose to utilize that character, but the “Bomb” part of the name inspired the name of the character I created, Bombshell. The whole thing about Bombshell is that she was a 16 year old girl, without a working knowledge of superheroes, who created her own superhero identity. The first artist on the book complained that he didn’t like the costume (one of the things that got him fired was turning in pages where she was intentionally drawn incorrectly. That and turning in those pages 6 months late), completely missing the point of the thing; it was SUPPOSED to look like a teenager who doesn’t read comics designed it, and could have made it from things she had around the house. The name, too, is intentionally on the generic side. “Bombshell” sounds like something a non-fan would come up with and think was a good heroic identity. It’s so generic, in fact, it’s un-trademarkable/copyrightable. True story. As I later discovered, almost every major comics publisher has a character by that name in their roster.

But, with superhero characters, you can’t just give them one name. No, no, they need to have two (mostly. Talk to most comic fans about Sprite and Marvel Girl, and it’ll take them a second. Mention Kitty Pryde or Jean Grey, they’re up to speed). Because they need to have a “real name” in addition to their “code name.” Let’s use, again, Bombshell as our example. Her first name, Katie, came from a girl I used to work with, who shared some superficial similarities to Bombshell (teenager, pretty average, perhaps a shade on the ditzy side). But the last name? See, the trick to coming up with fictional civilian character names is that they have to seem pretty average. If they sound too distinct, they take the reader out of the story. They also can’t be puns on the character’s power set, because what kind of crazy coincidence is it that someone gains superpowers later in life that relate to their given name? That’s why every Spider-Man movie with Doctor Octopus in it feels the need to comment on the coincidence of a guy named Octavius ending up with eight limbs (okay, it’s only happened once, but still). Yeesh. And this week’s episode of Arrow reminded us all that the Clock King’s civilian name is William Tockman. Groan. Which is perhaps a shade more nuanced than his name in Batman: The Animated Series, Temple Fugate, but, come on.

Katie gained powers that involved explosive energy control: her name was not going to be Katie Boomski, or Katie Exploson.

Naming characters after people you know is pretty common in comics. The aforementioned Kitty Pryde was actually named after a woman who John Byrne went to art school with, a woman who later in life started going by her initials, because she wanted to be recognized for her artwork, not her connection to the X-Men.

So, for Katie, what was her last name going to be? Well, I’d recently watched Ghostbusters when I created the character (of course, at almost any given time, you could probably say I’d recently watched Ghostbusters. It’s a good-ass movie), and the name “Spengler” kept jumping into my head. Which was no good, because it was too distinct. I know if I ever read a book with a character with that last name, I would keep thinking, “Is this character SUPPOSED to be related to the Ghostbusters character?” But, almost as quickly as the name jumped into my head, I realized that if you changed the “gl” to a “c,” you got “Spencer,” which is a common enough name to not be jarring to the readers.

And that’s the Harold Ramis connection. Katie Spencer, aka Bombshell, got her last name from a slight modification of the last name of Egon Spengler, the character Ramis portrayed in the Ghostbusters films.

And, if anyone out there wants to make a character called Katie Boomski, take it. It’s yours.

New Sherlock!!! Woo… hoo? SPOILERS

Last night, BBC aired the first new episode of their phenomenal series “Sherlock” in almost two years. The series has been on hiatus due to other commitments of the main cast, Benedict Cumberbatch (Star Trek XII) and Martin Freeman (The Hobbit), as well as co-creator Steven Moffat (Doctor Who).

The series, for those who don’t know, is a new take on Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes (Cumberbatch) and his put-upon assistant and confidant, Dr. John Watson (Freeman). The show is a fast-paced, witty, clever update of the classic stories, brought into modern times, and for my money ranks as one of the best, if not the very best, take(s) on the Sherlock Holmes mythology ever put to film.

For those who do know, when last we saw Holmes, he plummeted to his seeming death off the top of a hospital, a scene set in motion by Moriarty and witnessed by Watson. As Watson mourned at Holmes’ grave, a shadowy figure watched from a distance, a figure that a camera turn revealed to be Holmes himself.

And that was the last thing we saw from the series. For two years.

So, you can imagine I was very excited that new episodes were finally being released (the first episode aired on BBC on the first of January this year, with the second coming on the fifth, and the third on twelfth. There will be a two week delay in American airings on PBS’s Masterpiece Theater, allowing plenty of time for all the hardcore fans of the series to bootleg the episodes and hurt the US ratings. The episodes are really 90-minute long television movies, so only three are made per season). I’d discovered the show about a year ago, so I only had a year to wait, but that’s still a heck of a long time to wait to try and figure out how cleverly Sherlock Holmes had defied death. Online fan speculation ran rampant, theories were thrown about, all the while the producers (Moffat and co-creator Mark Gatiss, who also plays Sherlock’s brother Mycroft) chuckled and said that no one had gotten the solution right, that all the online speculators were missing one key detail from the “death” scene.

If only that would let us in on what it was.

That’s right, after two years of buildup, the first episode of the new season DOES NOT tell the fans how Sherlock survived. In a ballsy open-mocking of the fans, several scenarios are presented, and each is then, in turn, debunked by the characters. Even the story put forth by Sherlock himself is torn to shreds in short order, and by the end of the episode, the secret of Holmes’ survival is still not known by the audience or his best friend, John Watson. Why Holmes would keep that information secret is at this point unknown.

Hopefully, this rather large plot point will be brought up again later in the season. The nice thing about having only three episodes, and those episodes airing in a span of less than two weeks, is that, whatever information the show is going to provide us, it will be providing us quickly. I just hope the secret of Holmes’ death-defiance is finally revealed. This show has so far been too intelligent and too clever to pull a cheat like “it doesn’t matter how he survived, let’s just move on.” That would be a huge disappointment.

What was not a disappointment, though, was everything else in the episode. Sherlock is found and returned to daily life, and attempts to rebuild what he can. The results are entertaining, perfectly in keeping with the established characters (Watson, Mycroft, Molly Hooper, DI Lestrade, Mrs. Hudson, even his former forensics nemesis Anderson), and often hilarious. Sherlock even gets a visit from an elderly, ordinary couple, amongst his string of new, easily-solved cases, who are revealed to be his parents. Getting to see where Mycroft and Sherlock come from is almost worth the lack of a resurrection revelation. Almost.

“Sherlock” is back, and so is Sherlock. And Watson, Lestrade, Mrs. Hudson, 221b Baker St., the Irregulars, Mycroft, Mycroft’s bitchy assistant, even the equally beloved and reviled deerstalker. The show is as brilliant as ever; we just have to hope it’s brilliant enough to deliver a satisfying payoff to the check they wrote at the end of season two. After all, this is, at its heart, a detective show. Its core tenant is uncovering the answers to mysteries, often in inventive and imaginative ways. It would be disingenuous to leave the greatest mystery of all as a dangling thread.

Year End Recommendations

As a semi-professional participant in the comic book creating business, I often get the question, “What are you reading?” The most basic answer I usually give is, “Not as much as I used to.” It’s true, a few years back, when Bendis was writing Avengers, Brubaker was on Captain America, JMS was on Thor, Matt Fraction was on Iron Man, Brubaker or Bendis was on Daredevil, and DC was in full vigor, it was a great time to be a comic reader. Go back a couple more years and you get Whedon and Cassaday on X-Men and Mike Turner on Superman/Batman. Even Dreamwave’s Transformers series was a reason to hit the comic shop a couple times a month.

I’d originally planned this as a sort of “Holiday Shopping Recommendations” list, but time got away from me. I’ve generally been trying to keep more of an online presence this year, and while I’ve done better than in the past, I know I’m still not up to snuff. Hey, I’m a creator, not a promoter. So, this is more a year-end highlights list (unless you’re really procrastinating on your Christmas shopping).

So, without further ado, here’s what the writer of Bombshell has really enjoyed this year:

Batgirl: Despite DC’s best efforts, this book continues to be an intriguing read. They’ve forced it to be part of not one but two pretty lame crossovers, and fired and then quickly rehired the fan-favorite writer. The couple of fill-in issues that went to press between Gail Simone’s unceremonious dismissal and subsequent reinstatement kind of show why this book needs her on board. What this book could also use is a consistent art team. Simone’s words never fail to engage, but the art fluctuates in tone, style, and quality, going from the heights of Ardian Syaf and Ed Benes to some third string fill-ins. As it is, we’ll have to settle for this book being an interesting character piece about a damaged young woman learning to be a hero all over again, with a solid supporting cast and plenty of humor and emotional drama.

All-New X-Men: This is a book that shouldn’t be any good. It really shouldn’t. The shear physics and logic involved will give you headaches. And yet, it’s pretty darn enjoyable. The original five X-Men, for reasons that still aren’t adequately explained, beyond “Beast was dying, desperate, and possibly brain-damaged,” have been pulled from history and brought to modern day. What was this supposed to prove? In-universe, something about showing estranged X-Men leader Cyclops how things used to be in the good ol’ days in an attempt to get him to stop being such a dick. In reality, it seems to be sort of a case of seeing what they can give Brian Bendis to work with and have it still turn out any good. In this case, there’s enough teenage drama, comedy, and superhero action to make this the best X-title since Whedon and Cassaday descended from Mount Olympus nearly a decade ago.

Guardians of the Galaxy: If you had told me a couple years ago that I’d be looking forward to new issues of a Guardians of the Galaxy book every month, I’d have slapped you so hard your kids would be sore. If you didn’t have kids, I’d have slapped you, fixed you up with a nice person of the opposite gender, encouraged you to reproduce, and then, when the kid was born, the doctors would all be puzzled as to why it wouldn’t stop crying. And I’d tell the doctor, “One or both of this child’s parents once told me I’d be reading and enjoying a Guardians of the Galaxy book.” And the doctor would just nod knowingly. Now, you have been officially unslapped. I know, I’m surprised, too. Although, is there such a thing as “unslapping?” I’d say “reversed slap,” but I’m pretty sure that just means I’d be backhanding you. Anyway, there are two things bringing me to a GotG title: the writing of Brian Bendis, and a consistently high-quality art team that started with Steve McNiven and was passed on to Sara Pichelli. Sara Pichelli wasn’t an artist who was on my radar before this book, now she’s one of my favorites. Her style is awesome, like a mix between McNiven and Olivier Coipel. On the writing side, Bendis has done what he does best; focus on the human side of the superhuman first, but still keeping the superheroic side humming along. Some people hate on him for it, but I’d question those peoples’ grasp of storytelling. Make me give a damn about a character, make me laugh with them, make me empathize when something goes wrong, then I’ll care about what they’re doing, if it’s doing laundry or saving the universe.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (IDW): IDW’s TMNT line has been better than it has any right to be. They’ve taken nearly every incarnation of the Turtles from the past 30 years and amalgamated them into one coherent story (I say mostly every, because my personal favorite incarnation of the Turtles, from the Archie Comics “Adventures” series, is sadly unrepresented. I want Ninjara back in the funnybooks, dagnabit). Is Splinter Hamato Yoshi, or just a mutated pet rat? Both, and they explain why. Why do the Turtles sometimes all wear red headbands, and sometimes each have their own unique color? It’s in there. Karai, Bebop and Rocksteady, April O’Neil, the Purple Dragons, the Neutrinos, Fugitoid, Slash, Casey Jones, Krang, the Utroms, Baxter Stockman, it’s all in there. Between the main series and the Micro-Series’ (though I think IDW doesn’t quite get the concept of the Micro Series. The point is that it’s a series so short it lasts only one issue, so numbering the various Micro-Series’ as part of an ongoing Micro-Series line somewhat defeats the purpose), the gem of this past year was The Secret History of the Foot Clan mini. It features a solid, compelling, self-contained story that informs the main book, explaining how the Shredder could have been an ancient Japanese warlord and a modern day terrorist. It also brings much more polished and consistent art to the series in the form of artist Mateus Santolouco, who later took over duties on the main book. My only complaint there is that Santalouco draws each of the Turtles with a differently shaped headband, rather than allowing the colors and weapons alone to carry the difference. I get what he’s going for, but there are only so many ways to draw a headband and still have it look good, and he’s exceeded that number by four.

Avengers Assemble: As anyone who knows me (or has read the previous entries on this list) knows, I’m a big Brian Bendis fan. So, I don’t say this lightly: this book got way better after Bendis left. The book originally started as an excuse to have an Avengers book on the racks that featured the same lineup as the Avengers film when that movie hit. It also was a springboard for Guardians of the Galaxy, and a place to launch Hawkeye’s crappy, crappy, crappy new costume (seriously, that costume sucks. It’s not even a costume, it’s a t-shirt. An ugly t-shirt). But after Bendis’ “it’s sort of like the movie” run (seriously, they even included Thanos as the villain, probably so people confused about the credits scene could have that character explained to them), Kelly Sue DeConnick took over. The book was no longer required to conform to the traditional 6-issue, easy to collect format, and instead could be a showcase for in-between-continuity character moments. And it was, and works well. It also launched the “Hulk, make me a sandwich” meme. Seriously, there are t-shirts.

Atomic Robo: This one barely made the list, not because of the quality (Atomic Robo’s a phenomenal book), but because I only read it in trade, and they haven’t put out a TPB since February; Volume 7, Flying She-Devils of the Pacific. I always describe Atomic Robo to the uninitiated thusly: Imagine if Indiana Jones was an unaging robot. He’s sarcastic, reckless, and clever, is always getting himself and his compatriots (the Action Scientists of Tesladyne Industries) into bizarre, sci-fi scrapes, and getting them all out again by the skin of his teeth. If he had teeth. Which he doesn’t, because he’s a robot. Which makes the issue where he… you know what, never mind. The books strive to be as scientifically accurate as any piece of humorous fiction can be, and self-awarely poke fun at themselves whenever they bend the laws of nature. I’m eagerly awaiting the collected edition of Volume 8: The Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur, due for release early next year. If you haven’t read this book, do yourself a favor and get caught up on the first 7 volumes while you wait for the next.

Oh, the things those costumed heroes can do…

Random thought about comic-related TV: on the TV show “Arrow,” which is awesome, by the way, and one of the best shows currently airing on television, it’s been shown that Oliver Queen, billionaire playboy by day, costumed archer/vigilante by night, is capable of firing three arrows at a single target at one time. This is, of course, something that almost all fictional archers are capable of. And, as is often the case with fictional badasses, Ollie occasionally comes up against a baddie that can snatch arrows fired at them right out of the air. Which begs the question, why doesn’t Oliver fire three arrows at once at those types of enemies? The guy’s only got two hands.

The makers of these shows need to keep their characters’ abilities in mind. Things like that are an invitation for writers to get creative. Like on the SHIELD show, it’s been shown that SHIELD possesses flying cars, long a piece of their arsenal in the comics. And yet they have a suspect elude them by causing a traffic jam? It makes the agents look dumb for not remembering that their cars can fly, and it makes the already bland and generic bad guys seem even more pedestrian.

Please wish George Perez a full and quick recovery

For those who haven’t heard, comics legend George Perez has been having some health issues lately. He’s diabetic, and complications from that have led to a (hopefully temporary) loss of eyesight in his left eye.

A brief story: last year, I commissioned Talent Caldwell to do a drawing of my character, Bombshell, at Chicago Comic Con. He said it would be done the first day of the show. I came back around closing time, and it wasn’t done. He said to come back the next day, and it would definitely be done. It wasn’t. He said to come back, etc., until the last day of the show. I went back to see him t the end of the last day, and he asked if he could work on it at home and mail it to me. I said that was fine, and we exchanged contact info. As that was going on, I hear from behind me, “Hey, Tal, how’s it going?” I turn around and my jaw almost hit he floor. It was George Perez. And all I could say was, “Oh my God. George Perez.” He thrust out his hand and shook mine and said, “Hey, how’s it going?” I said something about how great it was to meet him. He said, “I’ve been here all weekend. Where were you?” I said I’d had to work my table all day every day. We’re not all George Perez, having people flock to us. Some of us have to mercilessly shill ourselves to get people interested in our stuff. Then George Perez, Talent Caldwell, and little old me (figuratively. I’m 6’4″ and 240 lb.) had a few minute long conversation about how our weekend had gone, what days were the best for sales/crowds, etc.

It was surreal, but that’s what I love about this industry. Almost everyone is so personable and accessible. Even someone like George Perez, someone who earned his stripes at Marvel and DC, someone whose career stretches back decades, who drew New Teen Titans, Avengers, and Crisis on Infinite Earths, is gracious and humble enough to treat someone who barely has their foot in the door as an equal. I will always remember that graciousness and friendliness.

Please, get better, George, and soon.

Incidentally, I did eventually get that Talent Caldwell commission, 9 months later, and it’s now my Facebook profile header.