The PopCulteer
June 29, 2012

Your PopCulteer is in FestivALL recovery mode this week, so this edition of our weekly blog column is being dictated, stream of consciousness style, to his lovely secretary.

We’re going to cover as many topics as we can this week before it’s time to quit and watch “Louie” on FX.  So let’s dive on in.

A Stunning Announcement

In the production notes for Radio Free Charleston 162, I promised that in this week’s PopCulteer I would make an announcement about next year’s special FestivALL episodes. Here it is:  There aren’t going to be any.

Before you panic, allow me to explain.  For the last three years, I have covered FestivALL extensively, bringing my loyal Radio Free Charleston viewers hours and hours of exclusive coverage of the art, music, dance, theatre, and other events.  This year, instead of doing a gazillion short episodes, I decided to just do two really long ones.  That worked out pretty well.  I’m very proud of this year’s episodes.  In fact, here they are again…

…Pretty cool, huh?  So, you may be asking why aren’t I going to do FestivALL episodes next year?

The simple answer is, I want to take one year to be selfish and lazy.  While I have a blast doing Radio Free Charleston, these FestivALL episodes are a heck of a lot of work and as such, they sort of keep me from enjoying the events of FestivALL themselves.  We captured some fantastic music and events this year, but we covered so many different events that we didn’t really get to enjoy them before we had to leave to cover the next one.

It was a real treat to be included in Ian Bode's epic FestivAll painting, but next year I just want to be a spectator

Next year, for one year only, I want the freedom to stay for an entire FestivALL event or performance, to savor and enjoy it, without having to worry about where to rush to next.

This year, we were so swamped with recording and editing duties that we missed two wonderful theatrical performances, CYAC’s “American Paradise,” and the Charleston Light Opera Guild’s “Next To Normal.”  There was no way to fit blocks of time big enough to see them into our hectic and insane guerilla filmmaking schedule.

Plus, there is the matter of my partner in crime (and life), Melanie Larch wanting to possibly perform during FestivALL next year.  Mel’s never been a part of FestivALL as a performer and has been reluctant to do so because that reduces the RFC crew down to one person.

There are some other factors at work.  Next year, FestivALL will be starting a week later than normal, I’m assuming this is because of the sesquicentennial celebration scheduled for West Virginia Day.  I have no idea what effect that will have on FestivALL, but it will push it back to conflict with some possible out of town trips.  Speaking of out of town trips, this year, I ended up skipping the Marx Toy Collector’s convention in Wheeling so that I could record about a million things on June 16.  Next year, there’s no conflict, but I still have some travel plans that are up in the air.

I'm just going to sit out for a year. There's no need to bring in illegal aliens to reeplace me.

This is not an angry farewell or an ultimatum, or anything silly like that.  I just want to take a year off from performing superhuman feats in video recording and editing.  With any luck, absence will make the heart grow fonder and Radio Free Charleston will return to FestivALL in 2014, rejuvenated and ready to provide Twenty six-hour episodes in the span of ten days.  Or something like that. I made this decision before we began production on this year’s shows, and talked to a couple of FestivAll officials about it, so they won’t be blind-sided by my announcement

The reason I’m mentioning this now is so that FestivALL organizers and fans of Radio Free Charleston have a year’s notice to step up to the plate and take my place.  Anybody can shoot the Art Parade.  It should be recorded for posterity and if anybody else is willing to do it, I would be glad to post a clip here in PopCult.  In fact, while I do not plan to be out actively filming next year, I am perfectly willing to turn PopCult into a clearinghouse for other people’s YouTube clips of our city becoming a work of art.

Gentlemen (and ladies), start your cameras.

A Confession About DC Comics “New 52”

You may remember last year I promised to review all 52 titles in DC Comics massive reboot.

It didn’t happen.

After reading 41 books, my heart just went out of it.  Now, ten months later, I can look back and report to you that where I once was buying and reading almost 40 DC Comics a month, I am now only reading seven.  Three of those are new titles that just launched a couple months ago.

After quite a bit of reflection, I think I’ve put my finger on how DC Comics lost me as a loyal customer.  This is a complex trans-pop culture analogy, so you’ll just have to bear with me.

In 1999, I became a fan of the World Wrestling Federation.  After having hated the wrestling of the Hulk Hogan era, I got turned on to the “Attitude” era while writing about wrestling action figures for Toy Trader magazine.  I found the WWF to be great, brainless, semi-psychotic entertaining fun, with a unique style.  However, I hated their competition, World Championship Wrestling.   WCW at the time, was populated by wrestlers who bored the living crap out of me.

The WWF was cool...once upon a time.

In 2001, the WWF bought WCW and assimilated the WCW talent pool onto WWF television.  The wrestling shows that I enjoyed were suddenly populated by all the wrestlers whose work made me seriously dislike WCW.  I really started to lose interest in the product back then. The WWF became their competition, and people who chose them over their competition got caught in a bait-and-switch.

Getting back to comics, in the early 1990’s, I pretty much totally abandoned Marvel Comics.  The people writing, drawing, and editing their lines were producing work that bored me to tears. Under Editor-in-Chief, Bob Harras, Marvel became a mind-numbing morass of unreadable books.  I’ve always been primarily a DC Comics fan, but up until the early nineties, I also read a healthy number of Marvel titles.

Unfortunately, the current regime at DC Comics, under their new Editor-in-Chief, Bob Harras, has assembled a talent pool made up largely of veterans of what I consider to be the least interesting period of Marvel Comics history.

Probably the best of DC's reboots

I’m not going to name names, because I don’t really want to slight anybody who’s trying to make an honest living working in comics.  But the new DC universe has become a pretty generic, formulaic, and boring place.  The universe-wide reboot is a creative dud, to me.

I haven’t sworn off DC completely.  I’m still enjoying the Superman reboot in Action Comics, written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Rags Morales.  But I’ve dropped all the other Superman titles.  “All Star Western,” written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray with art by Moritat, is executed as brilliantly as its predecessor, Palmiotti and Gray’s “Jonah Hex.”  “Wonder Woman,” as re-imagined by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang, may well turn out to be the definitive treatment of this quintessential superheroine.  I’m still getting “DC Universe Presents,” but that’s mainly because it’s an anthology that features new characters and creators every few months.

Dial H..for hope, as in DC's faint glimmer, represented by this great new title

Of the three new titles from the “second wave” of DC’s “New 52,” I’m still reading “Earth 2,” even though the retention of the character names (including the now gay Alan Scott Green Lantern), is gigantically pointless. It’s still a pretty good book.  Paul Levitz is telling a related story in “World’s Finest,” with gorgeous artwork by George Perez and Kevin Maguire.  “Dial H,”an update of the Ed Woodian 1960’s comic book “Dial H For Hero,” has turned out to be an absolute delight.  Written by China Mieville with art by Mateus Santolouco, this book is a dark, funny, imaginative series that benefits strongly from not seeming to have any direct ties to the DC Universe. The gorgeous covers by Brian Bolland don’t hurt it any either.

Sales wise, DC’s “New 52” has been a moderate hit.  There’s been quite a drop off from the huge sales of the initial launch, but many books, like “All Star Western,” are still selling three times as many copies as their pre-reboot counterparts.  DC has also showed a willingness to cut the dead weight, cancelling six titles after eight issues, and replacing them with six “second wave” titles.  This fall, four more low selling books get the ax and will be replaced by four new titles, two of which (Phantom Stranger and Sword of Sorcery starring Amethyst) look pretty interesting.

Johan Hex is still kicking butt

But for me, a person who learned to read with DC Comics, someone who’s been a fan and collector for almost forty-five years, it’s a little hard to believe how easy it is not to be buying and reading comic books starring Batman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, or Hawkman.  DC made it real easy for their long time loyal fans to walk out the door.  The conventional wisdom was that they needed to do this.  That they had to bring in younger fans and replenish the pool of comic book readers with young, fresh faces who aren’t hung up on decades of convoluted continuity.  Sadly, that didn’t really happen. They brought in some lapsed readers and some Marvel fans, but the pool of available comic book buyers did not increase.

However, it did free me up to spend more money on cool indie comics and new titles from smaller publishers, which just hold way more interest to me now, than the current crop of DC Comics blah.

Next week, I’m going to tell you about some of those new comics from smaller publishers like IDW, Boom, Dark Horse, and Bongo.

Also next week, you’ll find our regular PopCult features. A week from Monday, our low-key sixth-anniversary episode of Radio Free Charleston will go online, with music from Red Audio, Tofujitsu and Mother Blues, plus other surprises.