Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Nixon's Pals: With friends like these...

Seems like I'm always behind these days...

Nixon's Pals
Written by Joe Casey
Art by Chris Burnham


Joe Casey seems to do a lot of work in the superhero genre, but he often comes up with some pretty unique, imaginative takes on it, from the existential, postmodern, whatever-the-fuck-was-going-on Automatic Kafka; to the high school drama of The Intimates; to the cosmic, Jack Kirby-inspired craziness of Godland; and even to the “The Thing’s condition as a disease expressing inner emotion” of Rock Bottom (and others besides, like Wildcats 3.0’s take on corporate superheroes). In a stagnant superhero market where the most innovative ideas usually involve adding more violence and rape, it’s always good to see what Casey comes up with next, even if his ideas have little chance of catching on with anybody else.

So what’s the big idea with this book? That would be mixing superhero tropes (or, more accurately, super-powered tropes, since there aren’t any actual heroes in the book) with noir-style storytelling and crime fiction. The book features one Nixon Cooper, a parole officer for supervillains who gets mixed up in dangerous business when he gets too close and emotionally involved with his charges. At the same time as his professional life is in upheaval, his personal life seems to be falling down around him with the discovery that his wife is cheating on him, with a supervillian, of all people.

It makes for a nice bit crime-fiction, and one of the highlights of the book is Chris Burnham's moody black and white art. He pulls off the combination of weird superpowers and gloomy shadows really well; it's a mix that I don't see very often, but it actually works really well here, highlighting the bizarre nature of the varied cast by portraying them as a sort of seedy underworld of crooks and gangsters. He also adds a gritty, dirty touch that emphasizes the street-level nature of the story.

And the great character design helps immensely. Casey and Burnham come up with a diverse array of weirdos, and they all seem to have personalities and histories, from Alchema, the stripper with faces on her breasts (and nipples on her face):



To Maxfield Reactor, the scientist trapped within bulky armor:



Or my personal favorite, a mobster named Rambles whose face seems to have been twisted around his skull in a disturbing fashion:



In fact, not to spoil anything, but a climactic scene sees the reveal of a huge array of freakish characters, and it's a stunning image, crammed full of detail on characters that only make tiny appearances, but seem fully-realized, just by the personality that Burnham imbues in them.

In another wrinkle, a subplot of the story has Nixon experiencing freaky nightmares in which he is being captured by aliens and dissected. Again, Burnham delivers here, making these scenes horrific and nasty. Here's a brief sample, but rest assured that this is pretty tame compared to the images surrounding it:



It's viscerally disturbing stuff, the kind of body horror that triggers almost subconscious revulsion, and it leads up to a final powerful and lasting image. Wow.

Oddly, this does kind of highlight one aspect of the book that bothered me, which is Nixon's seeming resistance to injury. He's meant to stand out as a contrast to all the freaks he has to deal with, but over the course of the story, he takes quite a bit of abuse, almost without feeling it. Sure, he ends up in the hospital, but considering the brutal beatings he receives, it's amazing he doesn't end up dead with a crushed head or exploded heart or something. Instead, he seems to come out of it with only a broken arm and some ugly stitches on his face.

But I suppose that's nothing too terrible to hold against the story. In actuality, while the plot works well enough, I particularly liked some of the smaller relationship elements that factored into the main plot. For one, there's Nixon's antagonistic marriage, which dissolves after he discovers her infidelity. But it's a realistic depiction of a married couple, and we see how they still care for each other even though they've hurt each other too much to remain together. It would have been easy to simply have them hate each other and be glad to get rid of some dead weight, but instead, Casey gives them that bit of humanity that helps us relate and adds a human touch to the fantastical trappings of the rest of the book.

And in the professional realm, Nixon has a touching relationship with one of his charges, a genetically-enhanced professional killer named Sputter Kane. In what might be a commentary about the ease of recidivism for ex-convicts, he is trying to go straight, but the money and allure of a criminal lifestyle seems like it might be too hard to give up. It ends up being one of the central conflicts of the book, as Nixon tries to save him from falling back into the lifestyle he once led. Again, even though the setting is fantastical, this bit of character development adds enough realism for us to relate, giving an emotional focus to a story that could be all surface. Nicely done.

So, yeah, if this sounds like something you might dig, I heartily recommend it. Casey continues to stretch and come up with new ideas while still retaining a human core, and I expect to keep reading the comics he writes.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Stuff from this week; there's a lot of it

Busy weekend, so not much in the way of posting. Maybe tonight or tomorrow. But for now:

New comics this week (Wednesday, 4/30/08):

Big Amoeba One-Shot

One of several releases from Platinum Studios this week; this one is by Art Baltazar, the guy who does Tiny Titans, and it's about an artistic high school student who stages a fake comics award show and everything gets out of hand. Hey, it could be cute.

Black Summer #6

We're almost getting to the end of Warren Ellis and Juan Jose Ryp's superhero violence-fest. Better late than never, I guess. We'll see how it goes, but I hope it hasn't lost its momentum; it seems like the last issue was a while ago...

Caliber #1

One of the first books from new company Radical Comics, who don't exactly seem set to light the world on fire or anything, but they might have a few things worth looking at. This one seems to be a retelling of the King Arthur myth in the American West. Weird. I'll look inside if I see it on a shelf.

DC Universe #0

While I don't care about Marvel's Secret Invasion nonsense, I'm afraid I can't resist the pull of Grant Morrison going crazy with the DC universe in Final Crisis. So I expect I'll have to pick up this nearly-free preview thing, or whatever it's supposed to be. Hopefully it won't turn me off of the whole thing.

Ex Machina #36

This issue apparently starts a new storyline, so let's get a collection of the one that just finished already! Since switching to trades, I'm getting impatient to get caught up with the story.

Glamourpuss #1 Comics Edition
Glamourpuss #1 Fashion Edition

Ah, it's the new Dave Sim comic/fashion magazine spoof. It seems nice and weird, so I hope it doesn't disappoint.

Hercules #1

Here's the other Radical book for this week. If there are any fewer than twelve labors, I'll feel ripped off.

Injury Comics #2

I never read the first issue of this artsy series by Ted May, Jeff Wilson, and Jason Robards, but it looked interesting. So I bet this one will be too.

I Was Kidnapped By Lesbian Space Pirates #1

Another book from Platinum, this one grabs the attention just by featuring the word "lesbian" on the cover. It probably won't be very good, but, hey, lesbians!

Jack of Fables #22

More Jack adventures! Last issue was one of those breathers, telling a one-shot side-story, so I imagine this one will get back on track with the regular "Jack in Americana" story. I do enjoy this series, so I bet it'll be fun.

Local #11

Whoa, an actual issue of the Brian Wood/Ryan Kelly series! After this, there will only be one more to go. It's always good to see an issue show up, so I'm excited to see where we're going here. The series is on the home stretch, so Wood will probably be trying to wrap things up and tie everything together. And Kelly will be kicking ass on art, I expect. He's pretty good.

Order #10

The final issue of the series I regret not buying. Well, I guess I'll have a nice single-story trade to enjoy.

Thor Ages of Thunder

But Matt Fraction is still getting plenty of stuff to write over at Marvel. I read a preview PDF of this, and it's pretty good. It's a couple of mythology-styled stories about Thor, Loki, and the other Norse gods. However, it's not really a one-shot, since it's continued in another book that comes out in a couple months. But it's a fun read, with some nice art. Check it out, if you like the violent giant-killing, and that sort of thing.

Amor Y Cohetes TP

It's the final Love and Rockets collection, gathering non-"Palomar"/"Locas" material, and including some stuff by Mario Hernandez, along with his more-prolific brothers. I'm still working on the last "Locas" volume, so who knows when I'll get to this one.

Bottomless Belly Button TP

The new book by Dash Shaw, sure to be strange and surreal. It must be really long or something, because it's $30, which is kind of steep. But I would definitely like to check it out.

Complete Dick Tracy Vol. 4

Dick Tracy is another of those classic strips that would probably be great to read, but I haven't had a chance to check it out. It might be good to look for it at a library.

Complete Green Lama HC

This is one of those expensive archive collections that Dark Horse puts out, collecting some golden age comics, featuring art by Mac Raboy. Could be worth a look.

Delayed Replays

The new book from Liz Prince, who previously did Will You Still Love Me If I Wet the Bed? I never read that one, but it seemed interesting (if not overly amazing), so this one could be worth a look.

Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch HC

A new comic from Neil Gaiman and Michael Zulli. How about that? It sounds like one of Gaiman's usual fantasies, about a magical world underneath New York, or something like that. I do really like Gaiman, and Zulli is a pretty amazing artist, so yeah, I'll probably end up dropping the $13.95 for it.

Grunts

World War II fantasy silliness from Keith Giffen, Shannon Denton, and Matt Jacobs. Sounds goofy, but it could be fun.

Gunplay GN

Another book from Platinum, this time about some sort of fantasy/horror goings-on in the Old West. Probably dumb, but you never know.

Heroes Of The Negro League HC

This looks to be a collection of a trading card series from 1990, with art by Mark Chiarello. I bet it will look hella nice, and it's educational too. I wouldn't mind taking a look.

Hot Shot & Mighty Girl GN

A superhero book of some sort from Platinum, which doesn't sound exactly appealing, except it's written by Fred Van Lente (Action Philosophers), so it could be fun.

Kirby Five Oh 50 Years of King of Comics

Wow, lots of Kirby books lately. This one is from TwoMorrows, collecting a lot of material from their Jack Kirby Collector magazine. There's sure to be some great stuff in here. I wish I could afford it.

Klassic Komics Klub HC

Johnny Ryan tackles various works of great literature, adding lots of gross-out humor and plain old offensiveness. Should be great.

M HC

A collection of Jon J. Muth's debut miniseries from 1990. He's a good artist, it could be worth a look. Have I been saying that a lot? Well, there's a lot to look at this week.

Magic Pickle

Scott Morse's new kids' book. Sure to be cute.

Metronome HC

European (?) artist Veronique Tanaka's new experimental comic, published by NBM. Looks like it could be pretty cool.

MOME Vol 11 Spring 2008 TP

You know, I never read any of the MOME volumes, but I really should. Maybe I should start. This volume features French artist Killoffer and Jon Vermilyea.

Nat Turner HC
Nat Turner TP Signed by Kyle Baker

A new collection of Kyle Baker's excellent slave uprising story. One of the best comics I've read in the last few years; please, check it out if you haven't read it.

R. Crumb's Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country

Another collection of a trading card set, featuring Crumb's tribute to classic musicians. Sweet.

Alive The Final Evolution Vol 4 GN

On the manga front, I hear this is a good series. Just saying, since I doubt I'll get a chance to read it anytime soon.

Tezukas Dororo Vol 1 GN

And finally, this is probably the book I'm most excited about this week, although it will probably be a little while before I can get to it. But man, I can't wait to read it. For those who don't know, it's about a samurai who had a bunch of body parts stolen by demons, and he has to recover them. Gotta love that Tezuka craziness.
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And that's everything. Damn, it's a lot of stuff. We'll see how much I end up getting. I didn't get around to writing anything else tonight. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Gyakushu!: Revenge still ain't sweet

Hey, I've been meaning to mention it, but anybody who hasn't made their way over there yet should check out the newly-launched Act-I-Vate site, featuring online comics by the likes of Dean Haspiel, Nick Bertozzi, Mike Cavallaro, and many others. Good stuff.

Also, I only occasionally link to reviews by Vern, my favorite film critic, but he recently took a hilarious look at Enchanted, filled with tangents about cartoon-fucking and that music video where Paula Abdul did a duet with a cartoon cat. If that sounds like your sort of thing, I urge you to check it out.

Okay, on to business; I'm working on getting caught up, yes I am!

Gyakushu!, volume 2
By Dan Hipp



Man, oh man, this is a cool book. Sure, there are probably some other good adjectives you could use to describe it, like action-packed, or melodramatic, or, um, revenge-tastic, but "cool" works best. Dan Hipp's art has style, from big-eyed, emotional faces, to frenetic action, to soft-toned flashbacks that highlight the characters' tragedy, and his storytelling and dialogue are amazingly enjoyable to read, crafting a story that's exciting to follow and full of twists and surprises. In a word, cool.

So, even though this is the middle chapter in a three-volume story, Hipp doesn't fall into the trap of stretching out the story by continuing plots from the first part and setting up the trilogy-ending climax; he still delivers an excellent addition to the tale, in which we learn more about the characters and get some awesome action, while giving us a great cliffhanger that will make the wait for a conclusion very annoying. In fact, it's quite well put-together, jumping forward from the end of the last book to reveal what will happen next in our hero the thief's quest for vengeance, while also stretching flashbacks even farther into the past to reveal the reasons for the tragedy that befell him and illuminate the relationships between characters. It's a nice, intricate construction that totally works, even if one or two of the revelations (such as the identity of the evil bounty hunter) might not be too surprising.

But really, as nice as the story is, it's the art that really steals the day. Hipp does some nicely stylized characters, and when he throws them together in action scenes, it's awesomely exciting and visceral. But even though the action is chaotic, Hipp makes it easy to follow, showing us everything we need to see to follow what is happening:



And he uses some cool stylistic devices, like jagged shadows that seem to point the reader's eye right where it needs to go:



Or big, block-letter sound effects, sometimes reversing letters or flipping them upside down to highlight the chaos:



And a myriad of other cool devices. I particularly like this double-page spread, with its row of panels along the bottom that give closeups of portions of the main image:



The second one from the left is especially cool; that image wouldn't even be recognizable as anything outside of the context of that large image, but when you realize it's a look at the bloody mouth of one of the characters (who, as we saw in earlier pages, had just been snacking on human flesh), it's effectively gross and creepy.

And finally, I love the subdued greytones of the flashbacks, in which we get a hint of happier times and their horrible ends:



Overall, it's a great-looking book, and I'm stoked for the third volume, even though I'm sure it won't show up until sometime in 2009. That's going to be a long wait.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Golgo 13: Starting at the end isn't too bad here

Damn, I'm behind again. Let's try to get caught up.

Golgo 13, volume 13: Flagburner
Created by Takao Saito



I've been wanting to read some or all of this series, but the final volume is a weird place to start, isn't it? Well, I'm not too picky when it comes to books that I get sent for free. Thanks, Viz! Luckily, the entire 40-year-old series consists of done-in-one stories with little in the way of continuity, so the previous twelve volumes aren't necessary. And I've read plenty about it, especially Jog's excellent series of reviews of the series, so I have some familiarity with the regular tropes and ideas.

And that familiarity is nice, if not especially necessary here, since the main story in this volume ("The Serizawa Family Murders", from 1975) isn't a normal one of the eponymous super-assassin's jobs, but rather an origin story (although it's not the definitive one; editor Carl Horn states in his backmatter essay that this is only one of several origins that have been told over the years) that gives us a possible beginning for the character. It ends up being a pretty compelling tale, starting in post-WWII Japan when nearly all the members of a well-to-do family are murdered, leaving only a young daughter and an elderly maidservant, who leave the country soon afterward, and a young son, who was found at the murder scene. We follow two policemen over the next 30 years, as they continue to be baffled by the lack of clues. Fifteen years after the murder, when the statute of limitations has ended, the daughter reappears to confront her brother (who, in the meantime, is being raised by a marksmanship trainer), only to somehow disappear without a trace. One of the two policemen manages to leave the events behind and go on with his life, but the other becomes obsessed, quitting his job and pursuing the truth at the cost of his personal life and maybe even his sanity. He eventually presents a possible solution, in a compelling (and disgustingly descriptive) climax, believing that the boy has grown up to be Golgo 13. And then there's an awesomely ambiguous ending; will we ever know the truth about Golgo's origins (the safe money is on "no").

But while the story itself is compelling, a lot of what makes the story interesting is the moody artwork. Several chapters from the various time periods begin with realism-adding montages depicting the violence and darkness of the era. Here's one from the post-war period:



The scene-setting background art and exteriors are also appropriately dark and gloomy:



But the character art, on the other hand, is kind of rough and somewhat simplistic, only using a small range of expression:



But it actually works very well, limiting the emotions to the necessary surprise, shock, anger, grim determination, and unhappiness.

The other thing that seemed really notable about the story was how ellipsis-heavy it is. That manga trope of word or thought balloons filled only with rows of dots has always seemed to me to be a bit of Japanese language/culture that doesn't translate well to the West, and it has never before seemed so strange to me as it does here. I had always thought of it as a bit of blankness of mind, or, when spoken rather than thought, as a kind of reluctance to speak, but it gets used here near constantly, almost always in thought balloons:



I eventually settled on the meaning of the device as "this character is thinking very hard about the situation, but we're not privy to his thoughts." Once I realized that, the secretly internal nature of the story made sense, but it still seemed amusing when I came across the occasional page which consisted of almost nothing but characters thinking dots at each other. Really, I chalk it up to not being too familiar with manga from the 70s; while the device still shows up in modern manga, it's not nearly as prevalent as it used to be. Or maybe it's just a Golgo 13 thing.

But still, it's a great story, full of suspense and intrigue, and that is only increased by the knowledge of who the character being investigated might or might not become.

The second story ("Flagburner", from 2001) isn't quite as good, but it's an interesting one that I'm glad I read. It's a pretty infamous one, in which our man Golgo gets involved in the Florida election recount of 2000. That sounds goofy enough, but the story ends up being weirdly political for originating outside of the United States. It's got a mixed-up chronology and some other shenanigans, but eventually it comes down to a speech by a recently-retired White House gardener who was disgusted with Bill Clinton, believing that he was an immoral President who didn't really believe in anything and never won the Presidency by a majority of the popular vote. Compared to the previous six Presidents, all of whom were born between 1908 and 1924, he was unfit for office or something. Just look at his crimes:



That panel cracks me up. You'd think Slick Willie would have known to close the drapes. So this guy decides to take it upon himself to do what he can to insure that the Presidency won't pass to Clinton's heir, Al Gore; in an especially silly plan, he hires Golgo 13 to shoot a bundle of Gore ballots and render them uncountable. Ah, that makes about as much sense as what actually happened. It's definitely amusing to look back on it now, seeing what has happened in the eight years since. But I do like seeing a look at my own country's politics and current events from the perspective of a different culture. And it never hurts to throw a super-hitman into the mix. Good times.

So, I think I'll definitely need to check out more of these Golgo 13 volumes. This was immensely entertaining, and I want more. Bring it on, Duke Togo!

This review was based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.

Kirby, covered

In my final post about Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus, volume 2 (which isn't technically about Fourth World Panels, but whatever), I figured I would look at a few of the covers of the comics within. Oddly, I don't find many of these covers to be especially compelling, perhaps due to their strangely flat, two-toned coloring:



There are at least two other covers in this volume with a similar color scheme (and the stark black background doesn't help on this one either, although now that I look at it again, I notice that it uses an interesting reversal of perspective, with the cool blues in the front and the warmer yellows in the back). Was that something Kirby did on purpose, or was it a decision by DC editorial, or were the covers just an afterthought? Whatever the case, I don't think they do a great job of selling the awesome contents within. There are a few exceptions though, like this sweet Don Rickles piece:



That one's a classic, from the great tagline at the top to the innovative use of a photograph right in the middle, which draws your eyes directly to Rickles' smiling mug. Then there's this kick-ass Mister Miracle image:



My favorite bit: the "A-bomb" pointed right at him. It's ridiculous to think that it's supposed to be an actual atomic bomb, so I love trying to think of other meanings. Maybe "attack bomb", or "aggravation bomb", or "arsenic bomb". I dunno, I'm weird.

So that's it for the Fourth World, for now. Bring on the next volume (once I can scrape together the funds)!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Am I getting anything this week?

Wow, the list seems pretty barren this week, which is good, because I got in trouble for spending too much last week. Oh, and how about that logo I made, huh? I like it. Anyway, here's:

New comics this week (Wednesday, 4/23/08):

Boy Who Made Silence #2

It's cool to see this series get published. I read the first issue last year after purchasing it from the artist, Joshua Hagler, and I'm very interested to see what he does with the story next. It's a strange, multimedia-artwork story about a deaf boy with psychic powers, with religious symbolism and whatnot. I dig it.

Godland #22

I switched to trades on this series (which I hear is going to end with the 36th issue; bummer), but since it's a slow week, I'll note that this new issue is out, so there will only be a couple more to go before the next collection. Yay!

Helen Killer #1

This book got a bit of attention around the comics blogs when it was announced, because it's got a hilariously silly concept: Helen Keller as a secret agent, powered by technology created by Alexander Graham Bell. Well, I got to read a preview PDF of this issue a while back (I didn't review it because somebody else covered it for Comics Bulletin), and while I didn't dislike it as much as Michael Deeley did, I thought it wasn't that great. It was simultaneously too silly and too reverent, making for a confusing mix. There's a pretty cool fight scene though.

Mice Templar #4

I've stopped reading this series, but due to the slow week, I'll mention it, in case anyone else is keeping up. It's not terrible, but I decided it just wasn't floating my boat enough to continue. I'll stick with Mouse Guard for now.

Northlanders #5

Okay, I can say for certain that this is one book I'll be getting. I do enjoy the Brian Wood Vikings. It's been a pretty kick-ass series so far; don't let me down, Brian!

White Picket Fences Double Feature

I have kind of a love/hate (or, more accurately, enjoyment/disappointment) relationship with this book, but it's interesting enough to be worth reading, I guess. I already read it though; you can see my review here.

Wormwood Calamari Rising #4

Here's another series I'm waiting for the trade on, but I do really want to read it. Hell, I still have to read that second collection (sorry, Tucker). Ben Templesmith is awesome, and this series is screwed up in all the right ways.

Batman Chronicles Vol. 5

Your newest collection of golden age Batman stories. Enjoy, if you like this sort of thing.

Clouds Above GN

A new softcover version of Jordan Crane's children's story. I've never read it, but I really like Crane's style, so I should check it out.

Complete Terry & the Pirates Vol. 3

I've been wanting to read this classic Milton Caniff series, but these books are pretty pricey. Maybe I'll try to get them at a library sometime. Of course, some people say I shouldn't bother...

Dondi Vol. 1

This one's another classic strip collection, and I'm not familiar with it. Here's a page with information though. Does anybody know if it's good?

Love the way you Love Side A

I've never read this apparently sappy series by Jamie S. Rich and Marc Ellerby, but I've read some middling reviews. This book collects the first three issues. I suppose I could check it out sometime.

Johnny Delgado is Dead Vol. 1

This graphic novel from Image looks to be a Desperado-like action/revenge thing about a guy riding around the Southwest on a motorcycle and killing the guys who murdered his friend. Could be cool, could be lame. Here's the official site.

Modern Masters Vol. 16 Mike Allred

I don't usually give these TwoMorrows books more than a cursory glance, but I love me some Mike Allred, so while I probably won't go so far as to purchase it, I would definitely check it out.

Path Com.x Ed.

Amusingly, the information I find about this book trumpets that it's the first release from this Com.x company in three and a half years. I don't know if that's anything to cheer about. Anyway, it seems like an interesting graphic novel, about a rabbit and an elephant with weirdly human-like arms who have adventures together. It certainly looks nice, if nothing else. Here's the official site, with preview art and such.

Queen & Country Definitive Edition Vol. 2

Finally, we've got another volume of this collection of the renowned spy series that I've never read. Oni did send me a review copy of volume one though, so I've got to get going on that one.
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And I think that's everything, believe it or not. With only one comic that I'm sure to get, I might even skip my normal weekly trip to the shop and just wait till next week. I never thought I'd see the day. Stay tuned around these parts for more stuff soon, as long as I can get going on it. Don't let me down, me!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Griffins, basilisks, and unicorns, oh my!

For the final Fourth World Panel of volume 2, from Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #145, I chose to spotlight this awesome bit of Kirbytech:



Holy crap, that's cool, right up there with the best of Kirby's architecture. It turns out that's the "evil factory" that menaced the DNA Project back in volume 1, but, in a nice reversal on Kirby's usual gigantic scale, it's actually tiny, shrunk down to ant-like size and kept underground. Gotta love that imagination. Also in this issue, we see Superman and Dubbilex the DNAlien take on those weirdo musicians from the previous issue, the Newsboy Legion zoom around underwater fighting giant creatures, Jimmy Olsen transformed into some sort of de-evolved freak (a good Kirby spin on the old "Jimmy transforms into something" plot), and a monster menagerie:



That's only one panel of three on a double-page spread, and it's a beautifully innovative layout, with each panel acting as a separate "pen" for the creatures that the characters are viewing, with them looking into the panels like windows. The creatures are enjoyably weird too, especially those little hairballs (even though basilisk is actually a snake, isn't it?) and that fearsome-looking unicorn (it's not a peaceful, pretty horse-with-a-horn in Kirbyland!). But I especially love Flippa Dippa's crazy outfit. I need to get me some Kirby-designed clothes like that!
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And that's the last of this volume, although I'll probably do one more post to show off some of my favorite covers from this edition. And then I need to get the next one pronto. I gotta keep going until I get to that remastering of "The Hunger Dogs"!

Shojo Beat: It's not often that I have so little to say

Crap, maybe I waited too long to start writing this up, but I don't feel like I have much to say about this issue. So bear with me, I hope it doesn't get boring. In the meantime, I also have a review of Pigeons From Hell #1 up as part of Comics Bulletin's Sunday Slugfest.

Shojo Beat
May 2008



This issue's articles are all about traveling to Japan, which is kind of interesting, but fairly lightweight, as per usual for the magazine. There's some good stuff about regions to visit outside of Tokyo though. So anyway, on to the various manga content:

Hana-Kimi (bonus story)
By Hisaya Nakajo

I've never read this series about a girl who infiltrates an all-boys school to get close to the guy she likes, so this story might be more interesting to someone who has actually followed that manga. It's kind of an alternate look at the series, from the point of view of one of the minor (I think) characters. That would be Kayashima, a psychic guy who immediately identifies the protagonist as a girl, but keeps the knowledge to himself. I dunno, it's nice enough and all, but nothing that makes me want to run out and buy all the volumes of the series. If anyone has read it, is it very good? Not that I expect I'll ever get to it, but it seems like it could go either way. So, yeah, if you're a fan of the series, you might like this story. Otherwise, eh, whatever.

Crimson Hero
By Mitsuba Takanashi

Even though I generally like this series, I don't have much to say about this month's chapter. It consists of the volleyball match that began last month, but while it's nicely done, it's not as exciting as I had hoped it would be. The action is given in a sort of montage style, showing us key plays here and there, but without the exciting, moment-by-moment action that I would prefer. Of course, that approach would take several times as long to tell, and Takanashi is probably saving that sort of thing for a match with Nobara's actual team, rather than her adopted training squad. But it works okay here. There were two moments that I thought were especially well-done though. In one, Nobara's love interest Yushin, who showed up unexpectedly last issue and began to realize his feelings for her, gets overcome by feeling for her and steps out of the gym for a breather. Nobara notices, but it doesn't affect her playing, which was a nice sidestep of the cliche in which a character lets their personal life get in the way of their playing, only to recover when the boyfriend returns and offers support or whatever.

The other moment (which demonstrates how much reading all this shojo manga has increased my level of girliness) takes place during Yushin's reverie, as he realizes how much he missed Nobara:



Ah, how cute and charming! Okay, that's enough for me.

Gaba Kawa
By Rie Takada

Silly comedy seems to be the order of the day in this series. This second chapter (of only five) sees demon protagonist Rara start to follow her wannabe boyfriend Aku around like a puppy dog, trying to get in his good graces. In the most amusing bit, she hears a rumor that he's gay (and also that he was abducted by aliens, but she doesn't act on that one), so she dresses in a boy's uniform, hoping that she'll still be able to please him. There's plenty of other silliness (including the appearance of pants-wetting), but I just can't get over how ridiculous Aku looks, with his little beaded pigtail:



By the way, in that panel, he's responding to a request by a teacher to do something about his loud motorcycle. Take that, authority!

So, yeah, the series is cute, and Takada's art is pretty nice. She seems to rely on super-deformity a bit less this time around, which makes me happy; I think I might have a low tolerance level for that sort of thing. No complaints here, but no real accolades either. Three more chapters of this seems about right.

Vampire Knight
By Matsuri Hino

This is another series about which I have little to say this month. There's some intrigue about vampire politics, and what seems to be the beginning of a subplot about a vampire named Aido fleeing from the vampire dorm and taking refuge with Yuki for some reason, but none of it interests me that much. Really, the only thing of note is stuff like this, in a scene where Zero licks the blood off Yuki's finger after she cuts it on a broken plate:



It's so weird seeing such sexual imagery in a series for teens. The continued sublimated desire between these two characters is one of the more interesting aspects of the series, so it's usually what I pay attention to when the other plots bore me. Let's see more of that. Crap, am I turning into a dirty old man?

Honey and Clover
By Chica Umino

Surprisingly, I don't have much to say about this series either; that's strange, since it usually provides me with plenty to rave about. But it's "just" another nice chapter, with some good moments of our characters interacting and contemplating nature and their emotional lives and stuff like that, as they participate in trying to save the small shopping district where Ayu's family's liquor store is located, have a Christmas party, and go hang out at an amusement park together. There were a few bits that I especially liked, such as this scene in which Takemoto is helping Ayu and some others on an art project that Hagu is coordinating; he proves invaluable, since he's the only one who understands Hagu's instructions:



Or this scene between Mayama and Morita:





Ah, violence (of both the emotional and physical varieties. Classic. What makes this manga so excellent is just seeing the characters interact. They sort of fell together and formed their own family, as people often do when they embark into their adult life, and it's wonderful to watch Umino build their relationships as they simply participate in everyday activities together. The aforementioned scenes wouldn't normally be anything to write home about, but Umino has built these characters and developed their relationships to the point that there's an added layer of emotion and history to them, so that it's like spending time with friends or family as you read them. I love it; I hope this series goes on forever.

Sand Chronicles
By Hinako Ashihara

Oh, snap. I thought the days of high drama were over for this series, but with this chapter, Ashihara blindsides us with a twist involving Fuji and his sister Shika that seems obvious in retrospect. It's been a masterful bit of misdirection, and I'm eagerly awaiting/dreading the consequences. But I won't spoil it, so if you're reading the series in collections, watch for the big drama somewhere in the third volume (I think).

In other, less dramatic, events, Ann and Daigo get into a fight after he finds out that Fuji kissed her. Ah, now this seems more like the usual shojo drama. But Ashihara does such a good job with the characters, it's great to see them deal with the emotions that come from being so close to someone:



Ah, teenage love. And not to spoil anything else here, but this leads to a pretty big moment that's tenderly done, if kind of icky (in the "I'm a dirty old man" sense). It still weirds me out to read such forthright depictions of teen sexuality, but it's so well done, I can't complain. Better to acknowledge the elephant in the room than pretend it doesn't exist, right?

So, yeah, like I say every month, this is another good chapter in an excellent series. I'm not sure how long the series will continue, but I trust Ashihara to keep telling damn good stories with her characters. I know I'll keep reading them.
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I guess that's it. I hope that wasn't too boring. Maybe next month I'll be more excited. In the meantime, I should have something else up soon. I hope. God, I'm so unreliable...

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Award nominations I can actually get behind

Before I start with my interminable commentary, I'll point to two recent reviews on Comics Bulletin: White Picket Fences Double Feature and Powers Annual 2008. Woo!

Also, I wanted to link to an excerpt from the upcoming Minx book Emiko Superstar, by Mariko Tamaki and Steve Rolston. I recognize one of those two names. It certainly looks nice, so I'll probably end up getting it.
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So, now that the Eisner nominations have been released, I guess I have to talk about them. I definitely thought they did a better job this year than last year. I don't know why I obsess over these things, since I already did my own Best of 2007 list(s), and there are plenty of other, smarter people that also offered up good opinions on the subject, but maybe it's the aura of "official industry recognition" of the supposed best of the year. Plus, it's always fun to cheer when you think they got something right and complain when you disagree. So, on with the show:

Nominees, 2008, Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards
Best Short Story
“Book,” by Yuichi Yokoyama, in New Engineering (PictureBox)
“At Loose Ends,” by Lewis Trondheim, in Mome #8 (Fantagraphics)
“Mr. Wonderful,” by Dan Clowes, in New York Times Sunday Magazine (accessible online at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/16/ma...gesClowes.html)
“Town of Evening Calm,” by Fumiyo Kouno, in Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms (Last Gasp)
“Whatever Happened to Fletcher Hanks?” by Paul Karasik, in I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets! (Fantagraphics)
“Young Americans,” by Emile Bravo, in Mome #8 (Fantagraphics)
Crap, I haven't read any of these. I love the choice of something from New Engineering, since that book seems so weird and crazy. And I always hear really good things about Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms (I really need to read that one). And Daniel Clowes is awesome; I should probably just break down and read "Mr. Wonderful" online instead of waiting for a print version. So, yeah, I don't know who should win, and I can't think of anything else that should have been nominated off the top of my head. I'm off to a good start here, aren't I?
Best Single Issue (or One-Shot)
Amelia Rules! #18: “Things I Cannot Change,” by Jimmy Gownley (Renaissance)
Delilah Dirk and the Treasure of Constantinople, by Tony Cliff (self-published)
Johnny Hiro #1, by Fred Chao (AdHouse)
Justice League of America #11: “Walls,” by Brad Meltzer and Gene Ha (DC)
Sensational Spider-Man Annual: “To Have or to Hold,” by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca (Marvel)
I never read Amelia Rules!, but I hear it's good. I've never heard of Delilah Dirk. Huh. Johnny Hiro was pretty good, but I don't know if it was one of the best single issues of the year. That Justice League story was just about the only one in Brad Meltzer's run that people didn't hate, but I doubt that makes it worthy of this award. Gene Ha's art sure looked nice when I flipped through it though. And that Spider-Man annual was nice, a good celebration of Peter Parker and Mary Jane's marriage before it was wiped from existence. But I don't know, I'm sure there were better single issues than any of these last year. How about an issue of Casanova, or DMZ (#19 was pretty great), or The Spirit, or that third issue of Madman Atomic Comics?
Best Continuing Series
The Boys, by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 8, by Joss Whedon, Brian K. Vaughan, Georges Jeanty, and Andy Owens (Dark Horse)
Naoki Urasawa’s Monster, by Naoki Urasawa (Viz)
The Spirit, by Darwyn Cooke (DC)
Y: The Last Man, by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra, and Jose Marzan, Jr. (Vertigo/DC)
Whoa, The Boys? That's pretty cool that it's getting recognized. Although I don't know if I would agree with the award for 2007, it's only gotten really good in the last few months. 2007 was mostly that first arc and the bit where the Batman/Iron Man analogue was screwing everything he saw. As for the other stuff, I don't really care about Buffy, Monster is awesome, The Spirit was pretty damn good (although, again, the best issue, Darwyn Cooke's final one, didn't come out until 2008), and Y: The Last Man went out wonderfully. I would also nominate DMZ, Casanova, Criminal, and maybe All-Star Superman (although I think I liked it better than most people in 2007), but these are mostly good choices.
Best Limited Series
Atomic Robo, by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegender (Red 5 Comics)
Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born, by Peter David, Robin Furth, and Jae Lee (Marvel)
Nightly News, by Jonathan Hickman (Image)
Parade (with Fireworks), by Michael Cavallaro (Shadowline/Image)
The Umbrella Academy, by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá (Dark Horse)
Wow, I wouldn't have expected The Nightly News or Parade (With Fireworks) to get nominated, but it's awesome that they did. They were both really good. As were Atomic Robo and The Umbrella Academy. The Dark Tower was decent, but the best part was the art; I don't think it deserves the nomination. But overall, good picks. The only other addition I can think of is Gutsville, but that series is so late, it's probably fallen off most people's radar.
Best New Series
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 8, by Joss Whedon, Brian K. Vaughan, Georges Jeanty, and Andy Owens (Dark Horse)
Immortal Iron Fist, by Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, David Aja, and others (Marvel)
Johnny Hiro, by Fred Chao (AdHouse)
The Infinite Horizon, by Gerry Duggan and Phil Noto (Image)
Scalped, by Jason Aaron and R. M. Guéra (Vertigo/DC)
Man, I really need to read Scalped. Other than that one, I've already stated my ambivalence toward Buffy and my like of Johnny Hiro (although I've only read that first issue). Immortal Iron Fist is super-cool, so I'm on board for that one. But The Infinite Horizon is an odd choice. It's not that great, from what I've seen so far, and I declined to keep reading it when the most recent issue came out this week. What about Army@Love? Didn't that start last year? That series deserves more recognition. Eh, I'll go with Iron Fist. Matt Fraction!
Best Publication for Kids
Amelia Rules! and Amelia Rules! Funny Stories, by Jimmy Gownley (Renaissance)
Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures, edited by Jeremy Barlow (Dark Horse)
Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 and Mouse Guard: Winter 1152, by David Petersen (Archaia)
The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain, by Peter Sis (Frank Foster Books/Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Yotsuba&!, by Kiyohiko Azuma (ADV)
Mouse Guard! And again with Amelia Rules!. And I don't like shoving Yotsuba&! in the kids' category; I expect adults will get more out of it. Ah, whatever, I don't worry about this stuff too much. But I would also submit Andi Watson's Glister as a damn good book for the young'uns.
Best Publication for Teens
Laika, by Nick Abadzis (First Second)
The Mighty Skullboy Army, by Jacob Chabot (Dark Horse)
The Annotated Northwest Passage, by Scott Chantler (Oni)
PX! Book One: A Girl and Her Panda, by Manny Trembley and Eric A. Anderson (Shadowline/Image)
Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow, by James Sturm and Rich Tommaso (Center for Cartoon Studies/Hyperion)
PX! Awesome! I love that my buddy Manny Trembley gets some recognition. Really, everybody should check this one out (here's my review). As for the other stuff, I should really read Laika sometime (along with First in Space, to complete the "animals in space" series), and I don't know if Northwest Passage is really for teens rather than adults. It's a good book though (again, here's my review). And, hey, they put a manga in the "kids" section, but not the "teens" one?! Shouldn't Naruto or Bleach or something be here?
Best Humor Publication
Dwight T. Albatross’s The Goon Noir, edited by Matt Dryer (Dark Horse)
Johnny Hiro, by Fred Chao (AdHouse)
Lucha Libre, by Jerry Frissen, Bill, Gobi, Fabien M., Nikola Witko, Hervé Tanquelle et al. (Image)
Perry Bible Fellowship: The Trial of Colonel Sweeto and Other Stories, by Nicholas Gurewitch (Dark Horse)
Wonton Soup, by James Stokoe (Oni)
Weird, I wouldn't have thought of Wonton Soup as a humor book. If that one counts, why not King City or Scott Pilgrim? Or Empowered, that's a funny series. Eh, Wonton Soup is pretty good though. As are Lucha Libre and Perry Bible Fellowship. In fact, the latter should probably win. I've already talked about Johnny Hiro (that one's popular this year, isn't it?). The Goon Noir is an odd choice. It's not nearly as funny as the regular Goon series, but that only barely came out last year, so they couldn't really nominate it. I'm not sure what else should be nominated. Maybe Yotsuba&!; this would probably be a better category for that series.
Best Anthology
Best American Comics 2007, edited by Anne Elizabeth Moore and Chris Ware (Houghton Mifflin)
5, by Gabriel Bá, Becky Cloonan, Fabio Moon, Vasilis Lolos, and Rafael Grampa (self-published)
Mome, edited by Gary Groth and Eric Reynolds (Fantagraphics)
Postcards: True Stories That Never Happened, edited by Jason Rodriguez (Villard)
24Seven, vol. 2, edited by Ivan Brandon (Image)
I haven't read any of these, but I would love to get my hands on 5. That was just a self-published convention special by the artists; no fair for those of us who didn't go to San Diego! Eh, these are probably all good choices (except maybe Postcards; I read some middling reviews of that one), so no complaints here. The only other anthology I can think of is Popgun, but I don't remember if that one came out in 2007 or early 2008.
Best Digital Comic
The Abominable Charles Christopher, by Karl Kerschl, www.abominable.transmission-x.com
Billy Dogma, Immortal, by Dean Haspiel, www.deanhaspiel.com/immortal.html
The Process, by Joe Infurnari, www.theprocesscomic.com
PX! By Manny Trembley and Eric A. Anderson, www.pandaxpress.com
Sugarshock!, by Joss Whedon and Fabio Moon, http://www.myspace.com/darkhorsepres...m=1&storynum=2
Wow, good choices here (although I haven't read any of The Abominable Charles Christopher). Billy Dogma is awesome, the previously-mentioned PX! is tons of fun, and The Process is trippy and cool. Sugarshock! was also fun, but not too amazing (although Fabio Moon's artwork is always something to celebrate). There are probably others that could be mentioned, but the only one I can think of is Templar, Arizona. That's a series deserving of awards.
Best Reality-Based Work
Laika, by Nick Abadzis (First Second)
The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam, by Ann Marie Fleming (Riverhead Books/Penguin Group)
Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow, by James Sturm and Rich Tommaso (Center for Cartoon Studies/Hyperion)
Sentences: The Life of MF Grimm, by Percy Carey and Ronald Wimberly (Vertigo/DC)
White Rapids, by Pascal Blanchet (Drawn & Quarterly)
Crap, I haven't read any of these either. I hear they're all pretty good though. How about Alice in Sunderland; does that count? Man, did that get nominated for anything? If not, weird; it was incredible.
Best Graphic Album—New
The Arrival, by Shaun Tan (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic)
Bookhunter, by Jason Shiga (Sparkplug Books)
Essex County, vols. 1-2: Tales from the Farm/Ghost Stories, by Jeff Lemire (Top Shelf)
Exit Wounds, by Rutu Modan (Drawn & Quarterly)
Percy Gloom, by Cathy Malkasian (Fantagraphics)
Hey, more really good choices. I've gotta check out Bookhunter and Percy Gloom. But I'll be happy if either The Arrival or Exit Wounds wins, I dug both of those. I also think The Salon, Alice in Sunderland, and Chance in Hell were pretty great. But you can't nominate everything. Oh, and what about The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier? I guess people didn't like it all that much.
Best Graphic Album—Reprint
Agents of Atlas Hardcover, by Jeff Parker, Leonard Kirk, and Kris Justice (Marvel)
Gødland Celestial Edition, by Joe Casey and Tom Scioli (Image)
James Sturm’s America: God, Gold, and Golems, by James Sturm (Drawn & Quarterly)
Mouse Guard: Fall 1152, by David Petersen (Archaia)
Super Spy, by Matt Kindt (Top Shelf)
Wait, collections of series count as reprints? Huh. I haven't read James Sturm's America (but I want to), but all the others are good. Super Spy is odd for this category though; didn't it reprint some of a webcomic, but with lots of additions and a different format? Whatever; it was my favorite book of the year, so I hope it wins.
Best Archival Collection/Project—Comic Strips
(The Complete) Dream of the Rarebit Fiend, by Winsor McCay (Ulrich Merkl)
Complete Terry and the Pirates, vol. 1, by Milton Caniff (IDW)
Little Sammy Sneeze, by Winsor McCay (Sunday Press)
Popeye, vol. 2: Well Blow Me Down, by E. C. Segar (Fantagraphics)
Sundays with Walt and Skeezix, by Frank King (Sunday Press)
Man, that Rarebit Fiend book is pretty awesome. The others are all nice too; this is definitely a golden age of classic strip reprints. I've got no preference here.
Best Archival Collection/Project—Comic Books
Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus, vol. 1, by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko (Marvel)
Apollo’s Song, by Osamu Tezuka (Vertical)
The Completely MAD Don Martin, by Don Martin (Running Press)
Daredevil Omnibus, by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson (Marvel)
I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets! by Fletcher Hanks (Fantagraphics)
I don't know why the Tezuka book counts as "archival", but the others all seem like good choices, I suppose. That Don Martin book is huge, and there's good stuff in the Spider-Man and Daredevil books, but the Fletcher Hanks book will probably win, since everybody loves it. I really need to check it out one of these days.
Best U.S. Edition of International Material
The Arrival, by Shaun Tan (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic)
Aya, by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Obrerie (Drawn & Quarterly)
Garage Band, by Gipi (First Second)
I Killed Adolf Hitler, by Jason (Fantagraphics)
The Killer, by Matz and Luc Jacamon (Archaia)
Gipi! Jason! Sweet! Wait, The Arrival is "international"? I guess Australia counts, but I would prefer the nominees come from non-English-speaking countries. Of course, it's a silent book, so that doesn't really matter. Anyway, I really need to read Aya, and I've heard The Killer is good. I would say Exit Wounds should be in here, but I guess it was published in the U.S. first, so it's not "international". Ooh, I thought of another one: Town Boy!
Best U.S. Edition of International Material—Japan
The Ice Wanderer and Other Stories, by Jiro Taniguchi (Fanfare/Ponent Mon)
MW, by Osamu Tezuka (Vertical)
Naoki Urasawa’s Monster, by Naoki Urasawa (Viz)
New Engineering by Yuichi Yokoyama (PictureBox)
Tekkonkinkreet: Black & White, by Taiyo Matsumoto (Viz)
Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms, by Fumiyo Kouno (Last Gasp)
Damn, tough category. MW is good, but not great; Monster is cool, and Tekkon Kinkreet totally rocks. I do also want to read all the others as well. If I was going to add anything, it would be Nana. Maybe next year, since the explosive volume 8 came out in January. And what about Drifting Classroom? That series probably isn't to everybody's taste, but I would argue that it's one of the best manga out there. Hey, maybe it should be in the "archival collection/project" category. And also Phoenix; that's classic Tezuka!
Best Writer
Ed Brubaker, Captain America, Criminal, Daredevil, Immortal Iron Fist (Marvel)
James Sturm, Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow (Center for Cartoon Studies/Hyperion)
Brian K. Vaughan, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Dark Horse); Ex Machina (WildStorm/DC), Y: The Last Man (Vertigo/DC),
Joss Whedon, Astonishing X-Men (Marvel); Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Dark Horse)
Brian Wood, DMZ, Northlanders (Vertigo/DC); Local (Oni)
Man, the Eisners love Ed Brubaker, don't they? Myself, I would go with Brian Wood here; he had a hell of a year. But James Sturm is a weird choice to stick in the middle of these mainstream pamphlet writers. If you're going to include him, I would think people like Adrian Tomine, Daniel Clowes, and Chris Ware would be better choices. I guess they get their own category, as writer/artists. Oh, hey, how about Alan Moore? I know, nobody else but me liked that book.
Best Writer/Artist
Jeff Lemire, Essex County: Tales from the Farm/Ghost Stories (Top Shelf)
Rutu Modan, Exit Wounds (Drawn & Quarterly)
Shaun Tan, The Arrival (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic)
Chris Ware, Acme Novelty Library #18 (Acme Novelty)
Fumi Yoshinaga, Flower of Life; The Moon and Sandals (Digital Manga)
See, here's where the guys I mentioned go. Chris Ware! He should automatically win any category in which he's nominated. But the others are good too (although I haven't read any Jeff Lemire or Fumi Yoshinaga). If I had to add anybody, I would go with Bryan Talbot (Alice in Sunderland) or Nick Bertozzi (The Salon). Or Matt Kindt (Super Spy)! Or Adam Warren (Empowered)! Gilbert Hernandez (Chance in Hell, Speak of the Devil)! Eddie Campbell (The Black Diamond Detective Agency)! Bryan Lee O'Malley (Scott Pilgrim)! Okay, I'll stop now.
Best Writer/Artist—Humor
Kyle Baker, The Bakers: Babies and Kittens (Image)
Fred Chao, Johnny Hiro (AdHouse)
Brandon Graham, King City (Tokyopop); Multiple Warheads (Oni)
Eric Powell, The Goon (Dark Horse)
James Stokoe, Wonton Soup (Oni)
Hey, Brandon Graham! This is another tough category; Kyle Baker and Eric Powell are both great humorists. Maybe this is where I should have mentioned Adam Warren and Bryan Lee O'Malley. Eh, it's all good. I think I might be tiring of this; I'm making less and less sense.
Best Penciller/Inker or Penciller/Inker Team
Steve Epting/Butch Guice/Mike Perkins, Captain America (Marvel)
Pia Guerra/Jose Marzan, Jr., Y: The Last Man (Vertical/DC)
Jae Lee, Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born (Marvel)
Takeshi Obata, Death Note, Hikaru No Go (Viz)
Ethan Van Sciver, Green Lantern: Sinestro Corps (DC)
I love that Takeshi Obata got into this category. But why not Naoki Urasawa (Monster) or somebody else if you're going to include him? I'm pulling for Pia Guerra; she did some great work on those last few issues of Y. Also, no Frank Quitely? That's a pretty big oversight. Jae Lee is a weird choice too, since the coloring was such a big part of the art on that series, I don't think you can really separate out the pencils. I would also mention Fabio Moon (Casanova) and Gabriel Ba (Casanova, The Umbrella Academy), Darwyn Cooke (The Spirit), and Sean Phillips (Criminal). Maybe Jeff Smith (Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil)? Cliff Chiang (Doctor Thirteen: Architecture and Morality)? And there's always Eduardo Risso on 100 Bullets. (Sorry if I neglected to mention any inkers there).
Best Painter or Multimedia Artist (interior art)
Ann-Marie Fleming, The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam (Riverhead Books/Penguin Group)
Eric Powell, The Goon: Chinatown (Dark Horse)
Bryan Talbot, Alice in Sunderland (Dark Horse)
Ben Templesmith, Fell (Image); 30 Days of Night: Red Snow; Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse (IDW)
Ah, there's Bryan Talbot! I'm glad he got nominated somewhere. I don't know about Ann-Marie Fleming (I haven't read that book), but the other choices are quite good too. Ben Templesmith really does some awesome work.

Best Cover Artist
John Cassaday, Astonishing X-Men (Marvel); Lone Ranger (Dynamite)
James Jean, Fables (Vertigo/DC); The Umbrella Academy (Dark Horse); Process Recess 2; Superior Showcase 2 (AdHouse)
J. G. Jones, 52 (DC)
Jae Lee, Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born (Marvel)
Jim Lee, All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder (DC); World of Warcraft (WildStorm/DC)
Jim Lee? Really?! I guess if you like big 90s muscles and whatnot. Ugh. This one will probably go to James Jean again, that list of covers is hard to beat. But J.G. Jones did some really good work on 52, and John Cassaday always looks nice. Jae Lee is also pretty cool. I'm not sure about anybody else. Maybe Sean Phillips on Criminal?
Best Coloring
Jimmy Gownley, Amelia Rules! (Renaissance)
Steve Hamaker, Bone, vols. 5 and 6 (Scholastic); Shazam: Monster Society of Evil (DC)
Richard Isanove, Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born (Marvel)
Ronda Pattison, Atomic Robo (Red 5 Comics)
Dave Stewart, BPRD, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Cut, Hellboy, Lobster Johnson, The Umbrella Academy (Dark Horse); The Spirit (DC)
Alex Wald, Shaolin Cowboy (Burlyman)
I'm not sure about most of these (they're all quite nice, especially Steve Hamaker on Shazam and Ronda Pattison), but this should definitely go to Dave Stewart. He brought so much great energy to The Umbrella Academy and The Spirit, and that Hellboy series drawn by Duncan Fegredo looked amazing. He also colored Eric Powell on that Superman arc, and now he does the colors on The Goon. He's just amazing.
Best Lettering
Jared K. Fletcher, Catwoman, The Spirit (DC); Sentences: Life of MF Grimm (Vertigo/DC)
Jimmy Gownley, Amelia Rules! (Renaissance)
Todd Klein, Justice, Simon Dark (DC); Fables, Jack of Fables, Crossing Midnight (Vertigo/DC); League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier (WildStorm/DC); Nexus (Rude Dude)
Lewis Trondheim, “At Loose Ends,” Mome 7 & 8 (Fantagraphics)
Chris Ware, Acme Novelty Library #18 (Acme Novelty)
Ah, I'm sure this will just go to Todd Klein like always, but I would love if Chris Ware won. I dunno, I don't always notice lettering, so it's rare that somebody seems to be great at it. But that cursive script Ware used in Acme Novelty Library #18 was really nice, making the story intimate and readable. Yeah, he should win.
Special Recognition
Chuck BB, Black Metal (artist, Oni)
Matt Silady, The Homeless Channel (writer/artist, AiT/PlanetLar)
Jamie Tanner, The Aviary (writer/artist, AdHouse)
James Vining, First in Space (writer/artist, Oni)
Isn't this basically "best new artist"? These guys are all good, but I would go with Matt Silady. And maybe add Jonathan Hickman (The Nightly News).
Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism
Comic Art #9, edited by Todd Hignite (Buenaventura Press)
Comic Foundry, edited by Tim Leong (Comic Foundry)
The Comics Journal, edited by Gary Groth, Michael Dean, and Kristy Valenti (Fantagraphics)
The Comics Reporter, produced by Tom Spurgeon and Jordan Raphael (www.comicsreporter.com)
Newsarama, produced by Matt Brady and Michael Doran (www.newsarama.com)
Wow, one issue of Comic Foundry gets you nominated? It's cool that it sounds like I'm being nominated there for Newsarama, but that's not me. Maybe next year. I think Tom Spurgeon should win. Yup.
Best Comics-Related Book
The Art of P. Craig Russell, edited by Joe Pruett (Desperado)
The Artist Within, by Greg Preston (Dark Horse)
Manga: The Complete Guide, by Jason Thompson (Del Rey Manga)
Meanwhile . . . A Biography of Milton Caniff, by R. C. Harvey (Fantagraphics)
Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean, by Douglas Wolk (Da Capo Press)
Understanding Manga and Anime, by Robin Brenner (Libraries Unlimited/Greenwood Publishing)
Hey, what about Pulphope, Paul Pope's art book? The others are probably all good, but I would go with Jason Thompson's book. That guy is cool.
Best Publication Design
(The Complete) Dream of the Rarebit Fiend, designed by Ulrich Merkl (Ulrich Merkl)
Complete Terry and the Pirates, designed by Dean Mullaney (IDW)
Heroes, vol. 1, designed by John Roshell/Comicraft (WildStorm/DC)
Little Sammy Sneeze, designed by Philippe Ghielmetti (Sunday Press)
Process Recess 2, designed by James Jean and Chris Pitzer (AdHouse)
Sundays with Walt and Skeezix, designed by Chris Ware (Sunday Press)
I think I'm getting into the categories that I don't know anything about. But the Heroes book doesn't seem to belong; it's just a generic book of comics with a silly Alex Ross cover. I choose Chris Ware, because I said he should win every category.
Hall of Fame
Judges’ Choices: R. F. Outcault, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson

Nominees (4 will be selected by voters):
Matt Baker
John Broome
Reed Crandall
Rudolph Dirks
Arnold Drake
George Evans
Creig Flessel
Graham Ingels
Mort Meskin
Tarpe Mills
Gilbert Shelton
George Tuska
Mort Weisinger
Len Wein
Barry Windsor-Smith
Wow, I don't know about a lot of these, but I would go with Arnold Drake, Len Wein, and Barry Windsor-Smith. But they're probably all worthy choices.
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And it looks like that's all. Sorry if this was boring. Feel free to add your own opinions in the comments, or tell me I'm wrong about what I said. Debate is good!

Anyway, I'll hopefully have a review up tonight; we'll see if I can find time for it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

"Image is the thing, Houseroy! Why--I look almost--holy! I'm ready for you again--world!!"

Ladies and Gentlemen, in today's Fourth World Panel (from Mister Miracle #6), I give you Funky Flashman:



You know, if I hadn't read that he was basically meant to be Stan Lee, I probably wouldn't have caught it, but given that knowledge, the comparison is obvious. He's prone to flowery language, he's full of himself, he takes credit for others' work (in the above panel, the productivity he is speaking of consists of watching Mister Miracle perform stunts), he lives off the fortune of a relative (Stan was related to Marvel's publisher, Martin Goodman), and he's so phony, even his facial hair is fake. Damn, Kirby must have been pretty bitter at this point, so soon after he left Marvel. But even without the real-world subtext, Funky is a great character, and he fits right into Kirby's crazy world as a regular human unwittingly trying to join the Apokolips/New Genesis conflict and make a profit.

Bonus: Big Barda cheesecake!



One more issue to go in this volume. Then I'll have to spend the dough on the next one...

Monday, April 14, 2008

Gun Blaze West: Manga gunslinging = good times

Looks like I'm really getting into the shonen manga here:

Gun Blaze West, volume 1
By Nobuhiro Watsuki



So, from what I understand, there's a pretty standard formula when it comes to shonen manga:
1. A young, enthusiastically optimistic protagonist has a dream to be the best there is at something.
2. As he pursues his dream, he encounters others who share the same dream, but end up opposing him. He invariably defeats them and persuades them to join him on his quest.
3. Repeat number 2 indefinitely, until either merchandising ceases to be profitable, readers get sick of the whole thing, or the creator convinces his bosses to finally let him end the damn thing.
I really haven't read many shonen series, but Gun Blaze West certainly holds up to that formula (except maybe the second part of number 3, but that was just facetiousness related to the intimidating length of so many series). We first meet its hero, Viu Bannes, as a nine-year-old denizen of a strangely mountainous part of southern Illinois who is enthusiastic about gunslinging, planning to make his fortune in the West. After winning an awesome gun belt in an arm-wrestling contest, he meets up with the sleepy-eyed, Muppet-faced Marcus Homer, a disgraced gunslinger who has left the West in shame. But Viu's optimism (and a crush on Cissy, Viu's protective older sister) gives him encouragement to give it another try, so they decide to train together to gain the strength to go west and eventually reach the fabled Gun Blaze West, some sort of utopian place where worthy gunslingers all hang out together. Yeah, I don't get it either, but it makes for a good nebulous goal for Viu's quest.

All this would probably be boring stuff to slog through, but Nobuhiro Watsuki (who, by the way, also did Rurouni Kenshin, which I might have to read now) really designs some appealing characters and dynamic layouts, making it a fun romp that encourages lots of page-turning. Even though Viu is pretty generic personality-wise, he's so expressive and enthusiastic that I can't help but get on his side:



And the action is pretty incredible, full of wild viewing angles and exploding speed lines:



And I love this neat vibrational effect he uses to capture the moment of impact of a punch or shot:



I hadn't seen that effect before, but I like it a lot. Watsuki varies it a bit; in that example, it's limited to Viu's foot, but sometimes he increases the amount of the "vibration" or expands it to fill whole panels or pages. You can see some examples of that in the images below.

I'm also surprised by the level of violence. I'm glad that Watsuki didn't pretend that gunfighting wasn't dangerous, but it's still weird to see a little kid getting involved in shootings and fist-fights. Seeing stuff like this is just offputting:



Of course, most of the action is so over-the-top, it doesn't seem real anyway. When you've got crazy scenes like this, you don't really worry about the characters actually getting hurt:





But Watsuki doesn't back down from the consequences of the violence. A confrontation with the devious Kenbrown gang leads to a climactic faceoff with dire consequences (I'm trying not to spoil anything here), and Viu's reaction is so genuine and emotional, you can't help but root for him from that point on (if you weren't already). It's some damn effective storytelling.

After that climax, we jump forward five years to see Viu finally set out on his quest. In another example of Watsuki's skill, he does a great job of making Viu look a few years older:



His eyes and mouth are smaller, he has an actual nose, his head is more oval-shaped, and his arms and legs are a bit longer, but it's nothing so drastic that he seems like a different character. Instead, it's a subtle progression, and a nice, realistic touch to such a goofy, cartoonish series.

Anyway, this is when the real shonen formula kicks in, as we see Viu travel to St. Louis and meet another boy who dreams of traveling west. He's got a specialty in lassos, which should probably lead to some cool action when the two of them team up in the future. But right now they're busy tussling with some local toughs, which will surely lead to some enjoyable action in the next volume. I'll definitely try to read it.

So, yeah, I certainly enjoyed this book, even though it's aimed at a lower age level than the stuff I usually read. There's plenty of bodily-emission humor, and the characters are pretty broad and simplistic, but it's just so well done I can't help but like it. Maybe I just need to read more shonen manga; I've mostly ignored the genre since the formula just didn't seem appealing to me, but I'm starting to understand why it's so popular. Crap, now I've got another whole area of comics to try to catch up on.

This review was based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.