How To Succeed In Comics (At Least Financially) Without Really Trying : Meyer And Canales’ “Iron Sights”

If you’ve been following the comics mainstream on social media (particularly Twitter and YouTube) at any point over the past year or two — especially if “industry drama” is your bag — there’s no way you’ve been able to avoid at least a few passing references to a purported “movement” calling itself “comicsgate.” More than likely, you’ve picked up on the fact that there is plenty of controversy attendant with it, as well, but what it even is — well, that depends on who you ask.

While those who have little to no time for “comicsgate” view it as an inherently reactionary cesspool of retrograde social and aesthetic sensibilities complete with all the racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of bigotry you’d depressingly expect from such a, to quote Obi-Wan Kenobi, “wretched hive of scum and villainy,” to those who have either aligned themselves with it or are sympathetic to its frankly amorphous aims, it’s ostensibly a consumer revolt against perceived “SJW gatekeeping” in comics, particularly at the “Big Two” publishers. It’s about cleansing the medium of vaguely “leftist” political messaging and “making comics great again” by going back to basics. Differences may arise at the margins as to what “greatness” is, of course, but by and large the artistic tastes of most who either label themselves “CGers” or share their general view of what the medium of comics should be in the business of producing are almost pathologically uncomplicated : big action, big guns, big villains (or monsters, or both), and big boobs. If that sounds a dismissive summation, it’s not meant to be — after spending way more time than any well-adjusted adult should poring through the Twitter feeds and YouTube comments sections of various “comicsgate” folks, I’ve noticed the same things being put forward as “high-water marks” in the medium by hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of them, to wit : these guys love early ’90s Image stuff and they love Larry Hama’s run on G.I. Joe. Some of ’em like sci-fi, some like Silver Age capes n’ tights, some like a lot of different things — but they almost all seem to hold a special reverence for the two things aforementioned, and want comics to “get back” to the ethos established by those eras/titles/creators, etc.

Now, I’m actually old enough to remember that stuff as it was coming out, and even though my own tastes were in a far more formative stage at the time than they are now (hey, I was a kid), I knew garbage when I saw it, and so it probably goes without saying that  I fail to see any sort of nostalgic glow emanating from the dollar (or less) boxes that a lot of the books the “CGers” hold in high regard are found in at countless comic shops to this day — and frankly I find the idea that comics should only, or even primarily, concentrate on a very particular brand of storytelling to be both absurd and vaguely offensive. Still, for the purposes of this review that’s neither here nor there. All that really matters here is whether or not, once the opportunity presented itself and/or was foisted upon them (depending on whose view of the “evolution” of this “movement” you put credence in) to make their own comics, the “CGers” producing said book were able to create a decent representative example of — or at the very least an “it’ll do in a pinch” approximation of — the kind of thing that’s, well, their kind of thing.

As it turns out, though, we may have to wait on that, because the first of the purportedly “big” books to make it from the minds and hands of “comicsgate” -linked creators into the hands of “comicsgate”-aligned consumers is neither the much-balloyhooe’d Cyberfrog by former DC comics “A-lister” Ethan Van Sciver, nor the just-as-much-ballyhooe’d Jawbreakers by popular “CG” YouTube “personality” Richard C. Meyer (probably better known by his social media “handle” of “Diversity & Comics”) and one-time Marvel artist Jon Malin, but a curious item to place in the role of “best foot forward” entitled Iron Sights, scripted by the just-referenced Meyer (with a co-plotting assist from one Carlos I. Silva, which I suspect may be a nom de plume, not that it particularly matters) and with — errrmmmm — “art” by a Spanish “comicsgate” partisan named Ibai Canales.

I say “curious” because this is, apparently, an attempt at a semi-topical modern “border noir,” a rather tiny sub-genre that evidence (in the form of their comic) indicates neither of these creators is terribly familiar with. Which is fine, I suppose, in and of itself — it’s not like Francis Ford Coppola cut his teeth on a bunch of smaller gangster pictures before doing The Godfather, he simply jumped right in, and if there’s one thing (and, I take pains to stress, it’s one thing) I kinda respect about “comicsgate” in general, it’s that when it became clear that the major publishers weren’t going to buckle under to their scattershot and not entirely tangible demands/requests (pro tip — harassing and browbeating writers, artists, editors, etc. may not be the best way to ensure that your collective voice is heard), a handful of them simply decided to make their own damn comics. As a small-press reader and critic myself, not to mention a staunch philosophical opponent of Marvel and DC (although not for the socially and politically backward reasons most “CGers” are), I’m all for anyone and everyone hanging up a shingle and simply doing the writing, drawing, and even publishing of the kind of comics they want to see, and create, themselves. DIY is where it’s at, and has been for a long time — and no, contrary to what many in “comicsgate” seem to think, it’s not new. Nor is crowd-funding an “indie” comics publication.

Still, any way you slice it, the amount of money that the first few “comicsgate”-affiliated books took in by means of crowd-funding has been impressive : Cyberfrog raised something in the neighborhood of $600,000, and Meyer’s two projects tallied up totals in excess of $400,000 (Jawbreakers) and $100,000 (Iron Sights). My understanding is that subsequent “CG” crowd-funders have done a small fraction of the business of these “big three,” but if they’re following the “Meyer method” as exemplified by this first book, they needn’t fear — they could take in six hundred bucks each and still be “in the black.”

Which, yeah, is my way of saying that Iron Sights bears all the hallmarks of an exceedingly cheap publication — I don’t have a physical copy, but tweets and photos of the flimsy, glued-binding paperback have been all over the place, with a fair number of customers justifiably bitching about the fact that their books (for which they paid a whopping $20, plus shipping) are already falling apart after just a few weeks. I’m guessing that Meyer, being new to the publishing game, simply went with the cheapest printer he could find for this debut release of his new “Splatto Comics” imprint, but come on — when you take in $100K, you can afford to splurge on at least a semi-decent product. Unless, of course, your definition of “success” lies in how much money you take in, rather than how good the end result of your labor is.

What’s even more inexcusable, though, is that this commitment to “quality” carries over to the scripting and illustration — in fact, “shoddy” and “embarrassing” are the two words that pretty much exemplify not only what Iron Sights looks and feels like, but is. Kelsey Shannon’s cover artwork is at least passable, even if the “sexily”-posed woman looks more like she suffered some sort of back injury, but once you get to the interior contents — all bets are off. This is “next level” bad.

As someone who’s spent over a decade reviewing “B”-grade films, I have a high tolerance for “bad,” though. In fact, I like quite like “bad.” But there’s a big difference between “so bad it’s good” and “so bad it never passes go, never collects its $200, and just stays bad” — and this is the latter, on steroids. It’s risible, sub-amateur, artistically bankrupt stuff that might at least be able to masquerade as a Ben Marra-esque partial spoof on macho, hard-boiled bullshit, but lacks the self-awareness necessary for parody. In other words, Meyer and Canales appear to  have earnestly believed they were making something really fucking cool here — but were too lazy to put much effort into it, trusting instead to some inherent level of competence that neither of them possesses.

Apparently Meyer is a military veteran himself, but that doesn’t mean that his protagonist, a former solider named Ramadi, is written with anything like a whiff of authenticity — bizarrely, his dialogue reads like what a guy without an ounce of experience at being “tough” thinks that a “tough guy” would or should sound like, which again means that in the right hands it could be something like even an entirely unintentional pastiche, but here it just comes off as every bit as contrived and stupid as it is. Ramadi also has no real personality to speak of, but at least he’s in good company there, because the same goes for basically every character in the book. They do things they’re supposed to do in accordance with the sorts of people they’re supposed to be, and that’s about it. Calling them “two-dimensional ciphers” is giving them too much credit — whether we’re talking about Ramadi, late-arriving sidekick Woods, head bad guy Old Man Rodriguez, ethically shady accountant Cancel, or literally anyone else, they read like were written by a 16-year-old with an Elmore Leonard novel in one hand and a gasoline-soaked rag in the other who makes it to page ten, decides “hey, I could do this!,” takes another huff, scribbles some shit down on a yellow legal pad, and then passes out. In other words, we’re not in “burn after reading” territory here — you wanna burn this shit well before you read it. The samples I’ve included with this review are in no way “especially bad” compared to the rest of the comic, I assure you — they’re blandly representative of all of it.

As for the art — damn, where to even begin? Canales seems to bob and weave between sort of trying (but not, crucially, having any actual ability) and flat-out not giving a shit — not only from page to page, but from panel to panel. I get that Meyer was probably only paying him a pittance and that he put forth the level of effort commensurate with what he was being compensated, but seriously — a lot of these pages don’t even appear to have been fully pencilled, much less inked. The one constant running theme is that they look like the sort of thumbnail sketches that many artists do on their first “pass-through” of a writer’s script in order to figure out how they’re going to approach things when they actually draw the pages — it’s just that, for whatever reason, some of these “rough outlines” have a little bit of ink added to ’em, and some don’t. Backgrounds are largely non-existent, anatomical proportions are all over the map, characters aren’t placed in relation to one and other (or even to objects) within space in ways that make any logical sense, facial expressions are either blank (hell, in some cases entirely absent) or overly-exaggerated caricatures, shading effects are haphazardly applied with no thought as to where or why they would be there — honestly, it looks like as much “effort” went into drawing this book as went into writing it, by which I mean : if either of these guys spent more than one or two drunken afternoons “working” on it, then there’s really no excuse for how utterly shitty it all turned out.

And while we’re at it, “shitty” is a more than fair descriptor of the attitudes on display here, as well — anyone who’s watched any of Meyer’s rambling, elliptical, steam-of-unconsciousness YouTube mouth-foaming will know he sure loves him some racial and sexual hyper-generalizations, and when a guy with a worldview that retrograde decides he’s gonna make a comic book about Iraq vets taking on the drug cartel down on the border (with a pretty girl caught in the middle!), what you end up with is less a “story” than a strung-together series of excuses to indulge in archaic stereotyping. Mind you, my best guess is that Meyer probably didn’t actually set out to churn out a series of overtly offensive cliches here — it’s just that he doesn’t know any other way to write, because he doesn’t know any other way to think.

Obviously, at this point any readers pre-disposed to defend either of these creators could be forgiven for saying “you’re just biased because you don’t like their politics,” but that’s utter nonsense. I’ve written detailed appraisals of Steve Ditko’s work for any number of websites over the years and am a major fan of both the man and his art despite finding his Objectivst political views laughably absurd. If you can’t separate art from artist you have no business being a critic and if Meyer and Canales had made a good comic here, I would suck up my pride and admit it, even if I had to do so through decidedly clenched teeth.

And I dearly hope that clenched teeth is precisely what both of the creators of Iron Sights will have when they leave comics behind forever, and embark on their next career with the words “welcome to Wendy’s, may I take your order”?

 

26 thoughts on “How To Succeed In Comics (At Least Financially) Without Really Trying : Meyer And Canales’ “Iron Sights”

      1. Ryan C. (trashfilmguru)

        Because his personal sense of self is tied in with his status as a CGer and he just can’t let a negative word about his little hate cult go unchallenged.

        Liked by 4 people

  1. El Torpedo

    Whew – that was an exhausting read. I don’t have any qualms with the review itself, but as someone who purports to be a writer, you need to go back to basics and pay serious attention to sentence structure. You have entire paragraphs of well over 100 words that are composed as a single sentence. Try and read the paragraph that begins, “As it turns out, though, we may have to wait on that, because…” aloud. You also overuse “quotation marks” which becomes very “distracting”. This reads like a first draft, which is kind of ironic, considering the subject of this review. With some editing and polishing it would be fine.

    Like

    1. Blog posys are often the first draft. And most bloggers aren’t paid for their time (except in ad revenue).

      “Iron Sights” was paid for and was supposed to be a finished product.

      (To be honest, though, I’m on a mobile device so I can’t tell if Ryan is being paid for his work here.)

      Like

  2. James T

    I consider myself pro CG. I hate early 90’s Image, never was into G.I. Joe, and huge boobs don’t matter to me on female characters.

    I’m sure you can point to many tweets or FB posts with people talking about how comics need more of all that. Those sorts of things, however, are just the tastes of that segment of CGers. We have people from all walks of life who enjoy all sorts of different comics. To try and say we all want something like 90’s G.I. Joe is stereotyping.

    I didn’t support Iron Sights with my money. This sort of book isn’t my thing but I am happy it’s out there for those who want it. Personally, I’m looking forward to Mitch and Beth’s Red Rooster. That plays more to my sensibilities…and, apparently, against your narrative.

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    1. Ryan C. (trashfilmguru)

      Problem is, I didn’t put forth any “narrative” here. I gave the view of “CG” from the perspective of those for and against it for the edification of readers who may be (blissfully) unaware of its existence, then reviewed this book specifically. No attempt at establishing an overarching “narrative” was even made on my part.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Ryan C. (trashfilmguru)

      Like I said, if they skewed things maybe 45 degrees toward somebody like Ben Marra, and put in some actual elbow grease, then they might have a lousy approximation of something. As is, they just have a mess that really can”t even justify its existence apart from being a way to separate right=wing extremist comics fans from their money.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Mars

    Man, that article was definitely tough to read. Your structure is god awful, punctuations are off. I needed a nerves recharge and body restart after all that. Try an editor next time. Don’t quit your day job.

    Like

    1. Ryan C. (trashfilmguru)

      It only took a year, but it appears a “comicsgate” partisan finally stopped by to comment on this review — not an “article.” Frankly it reads just fine — to anyone who doesn’t consider drivel such as “Iron Sights” to be an example of good writing. I don’t intend to quit my day job, though — I’m grateful for the fact that, unlike most in “comicsgate,” I actually have one.

      Like

  4. Liem Duong

    Dude your blog could have been much shorter… half of this stuff can be condensed or thrown out. Just talk about the fucking book.
    ” Mind you, my best guess is that Meyer probably didn’t actually set out to churn out a series of overtly offensive cliches here — it’s just that he doesn’t know any other way to write, because he doesn’t know any other way to think ”

    No, thats just how he chooses to write for this specific comic. Whether you find that bad or good idc, but Jawbreakers shows he already knows how to write different archetypes.

    Like

    1. Ryan C. (trashfilmguru)

      No, it shows he knows how to write STEREOtypes, there’s a big difference. literally every person — I won’t use the term “character,” because they don’t rise to that level — in that atrocity of a “comic” is a collection of tired stereotypes stitched together. I get that he’s going for a Tarantino/Ennis vibe — that’s painfully obvious — but he doesn’t seem to have anything more than a surface-level understanding of what makes their work tick. The end result, at best, readers very much like an unintentional parody of the “border noir” sub-genre. There’s not a creative writing class in the country — not even at the most half-assed community college — where this thing would get a passing grade. But, I’ll say this — he knows his audience, and the fact that it’s sub-literate drivel will not only appeal to his crowd, they’ll consider it a huge plus. Anyway, it was my one foray into the “comicsgate” world and once was enough. If anything, stuff like “Jawbreakers” and “Cyber-Frog” is probably even worse.

      Like

      1. Liem Duong

        Really… Cyber-frog and Jawbreakers average out a 3.5 to 4 on Good Reads, on youtube reviews and comic reviews from independent sites…. I don’t even Like Jawbreakers all that much and havent even read Cyberfrog, but just by what majority of people is saying, including myself, it was at minimum, a decent comic with fantastic art. The worst review I have seen gave it 5/10 to Cyberfrog, which means its okay. I also read stuff from the supposed ” crap ” EVS and RM targeted. Mags V., Gabby Rivera, Sina grace… While I am not saying EVS or RM work is the greatest, they certainly proved something against this quote ” crap “. Jawbreakers lost souls has pace issues and doesn’t even fully explain the exposition, but it at least gives me characters that I care about, who have development and conflict, especially Silkworm and Kuffz, “stereotypes” If you want to call it that with important questions that are answered and arcs that are addressed. In America Chavez, didn’t get that. In Iceman, was about to get it until it crapped down that toilet. In Female Furies, it bombed from the start. Seriously,

        I am telling your right now, lots of backers, including myself are not some random ass people who in interested in ” sub-literate drivel ” or EVS/RM dick suckers. It looked and did entertained, with problems of course. But did they make a good comic in the end, yea.

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      2. Ryan C. (trashfilmguru)

        I don’t know anything about the marvel and DC books you’re comparing the “comicsgate” stuff too, but I doubt any of them have character names as flat-out laughable as “Silkwom,” “Kuffz,” or “Cyber-Frog.” Or what was the other EVS character, “The Salamanderoid,” or something? I can’t imagine anyone voluntarily wanting to read stories featuring such uninspired drivel.

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  5. Liem Duong

    Because they are all established characters. I guess thats your opinion. But, America Chavez, a girl who represents ” America ” even though she came from another dimension. Iceman turned gay has a dialogue talking about a ” how gay men like to be touched “. Female Furies talking about feminism on Apokilips. If you thought the dialogue here was bad, then you are in for a fucking ride with what these comics have. And you have a problem with the names? Really dude?

    Telling you right now that all of us voluntarily went to read these books because it looks entertaining.
    And Uninspired? Jawbreakers mixes up 5 different movie types with its own flare. Cyber-frog has been going on for about 25 years.
    These comics were inspired to the brim, especially Jaw Breakers. Its not even a opinion, you can see it in the art. Being flawed isn’t the same as being uninspired.

    Like

    1. Ryan C. (trashfilmguru)

      I don’t know the first thing about America Chavez or Iceman or any of that stuff, it’s of no more interest to me than drivel like “Iron Sights.” And that dull, over-rendered superhero art that I saw on the sample pages of “Jawbreakers” online looks utterly indistinguishable from “Cyber-Frog” or any number of “New 52” books that confuses detail for quality. The idea of feminism on Apokolips sounds inherently interesting, and if done well would probably make Kirby himself proud given his well-known progressive and leftist political leanings. As a fan of the “Fourth World” stuff, I may just have to check that one out.

      Like

      1. Liem Duong

        I’ll give you a tip, don’t. Its bad, whether you are a feminist or not, love Jack Kirby or not, its a bad comic. And the art is probably the strongest aspect of these comics. What are you talking about? The Gorilla from JB, the art style, Cyberfrog, everyone, even people who hate the EVS/RM commend whoever made the art/drawings for these comics. How it is drawn, colored, placed and how it flows all together as a comic had to take major profession in the industry. It is better than most comic art I have seen.

        Like

      2. Ryan C. (trashfilmguru)

        I can only guess you haven’t seen a lot of comic art, then, because it’s strictly by-the-numbers stuff designed to obfuscate its lack of actual inspiration by burying it under a thick layer of technical sowing-off. More lines doesn’t equal better art.

        Like

      3. Ryan C. (trashfilmguru)

        It occurs to me that I actually did full reviews for every comic on this list, as well. I guess I’ve been busier than I realized!

        Like

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