Monday, June 30, 2008

This week, I'm still playing catchup. Ketchup!

I can tell I'm going to be perpetually behind for a while. More reviews coming up, and more talk about Wizard World at some point, but for now, here's the weekly crapshoot:

New comics this week (Wednesday, 7/2/08):

American Splendor Season Two #4

And another "season" of Harvey Pekar comics comes to a close. I wish Vertigo would just make this an ongoing, and put it out bimonthly or quarterly or something if there isn't enough material to keep it going every month. As for this issue, the only artist I see listed is Darick Robertson, but I bet Dean Haspiel will be in there, among others.

Astonishing X-Men #25

Beginning the Warren Ellis/Simone Bianchi run on this title. I decided to drop the thing after the Whedon run, partly because I was only buying it to see how it turned out (verdict: pretty good, but rendered anticlimactic by the delays) and partly because I am very apathetic toward superhero comics these days. Even the venerable Ellis isn't enough to get me to read an X-Men comic. But maybe it'll be awesome (which I doubt, since not much in the way of awesomeness can be done with the X-Men these days), in which case I'll endeavor to read it in collected form.

Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam #1

Mike Kunkel (Herobear and the Kid) picks up the reins of Jeff Smith's all-ages Captain Marvel relaunch, and it certainly looks cute and fun and everything. I don't know if I'll buy it or wait for a collection, but it will probably be hard to resist (especially because it's something I can probably get my wife to read. And my daughter, in a few years!).

Boys #20

Origins and backstories, hopefully. What went down between Butcher and The Seven? More good times ahead from Garth Ennis' excellent book. Dig it!

Hellboy The Crooked Man #1

A new three-issue miniseries written by Mike Mignola and drawn by Richard Corben. Their previous story, Makoma; or, A Tale Told By a Mummy in the New York Explorers' Club on August 16, 1993 was awesome, and while I vowed to wait for the trade on the next Hellboy series, I don't think I can pass this one up. Not that I'm complaining; getting Corben art is always a treat.

High Rollers #1

A gambling/crime comic from Boom! Entertainment, written by mystery novelist Gary Phillips and drawn by Sergio Carrera (After the Cape II). Could be good. I've got a review PDF sitting on my computer, so if I read it and dig it, I'll write something up.

House of Mystery #3

The mystery continues to build, or something. I'm liking it so far. This issue features a short story with art by Bernie Wrightson. Will it be the next Swamp Thing? I dunno, how does Bill Willingham stack up against Len Wein?

Hyperkinetic #1

A miniseries from image about four female intergalactic bounty hunters who crash land on a planet and have to fight aliens and stuff. Eh, it could be good, but it also could be a lame excuse for cheesecakey art. Mike Wieringo did a variant cover though, so take a look at that, at least.

Lucha Libre #5

I decided to drop this after the last issue, not because it's bad, but because when the pocketbook is feeling the crunch, the inessentials have to go. Somebody let me know if I made a bad decision.

Northlanders #7

Brian Wood's viking thing gets closer to wrapping up the first storyline. Last issue ended with a pretty big twist, so it should be interesting to see how it plays out. Bring on the medieval violence!

Patsy Walker: Hellcat, Agent of Initiative #1

As silly as this sounds, I read a preview PDF of the issue, and it's actually pretty good. It's written by Kathryn Immonen with a fun, jaunty tone, and the art by David LaFuente Garcia is appealingly different, with kind of a manga look, or something sort of similar to Kathryn's husband Stuart Immonen. The story involves the titular character being recruited for the 50-state Initiative and sent to Alaska. Hilarity ensues. If you dig this sort of thing, check it out.

Stephen Colbert's Tek Jansen #1 (#2?)

I'm not sure if this is a reprint or a second issue, but either way, it's probably pretty funny. I should pick up that first issue sometime.

Station #1

I thought this had come out already, but it's another miniseries from Boom!, by Johanna Stokes (writer for the show Eureka; she's also done some other stuff for Boom!) and Leno Carvalho. It's about a murder on a space station, and it's described as being in the vein of Whiteout. It certainly sounds interesting, and I've got a review PDF that I need to read, so I'll let you know if it's good.

Storming Paradise #1

New Chuck Dixon WWII comics. I dunno, I like war comics, but I'm not really a fan of Dixon. I saw him at WWC, but I didn't talk to him. Maybe I should have asked him if this would be worth reading.

Cola Madnes TP

A new Gary Panter collection from Picturebox. As I've mentioned before, I totally don't get Panter's work, but if you dig him, by all means, check this out.

Coraline Graphic Novel HC

I saw this at Borders the other day, and it looked pretty nice; you can't go wrong with P. Craig Russell doing the artwork. I would probably find it somewhat disappointing though, since I really liked Neil Gaiman's original novel. So I won't go rushing out to buy it, but I could definitely pick it up at the library as an academic exercise in adaptation. So watch for that, someday.

Complete K Chronicles TP

Keith Knight! I don't know if my shop will get this, and I don't know if I have the money for it, but I do like his comics, so I would love to read it sometime. Library, perhaps?

Fantastic Four Premiere HC Lost Adventures Stan Lee HC

This collects The Last Fantastic Four Story, a recent one-shot by Stan Lee and John Romita, Jr., along with that reconstruction of what would have been Lee and Jack Kirby's final issue of Fantastic Four (here's my review of said project). Plus a couple "rare" Lee-written issues, #296 and #543. All under one cover for more money! If you're a Stan Lee completist, here you go. But I think you would do better to read some early FF instead, like the expensive Omnibus editions or the cheap Essentials.

Minister Jade GN

Some sort of superhero-style story set in ancient China. Fun? It's from Cellar Door Publishing, whom I saw at a table at WWC, but didn't really stop to look at. Now I wish I had. Anyway, you can see a preview at their site.

Nevermore A Graphic Adaptation Of Edgar Allan Poes Short Stories TP

From British publisher Self Made Hero, this features what the title says, with stories by the likes of Jamie Delano and Steve Pugh, Ian Edginton and D'israeli, Leah Moore and John Reppion, and John McCrea, among others. If it ever shows in the U.S., it might be worth a look.

Strange And Stranger The world of Steve Ditko HC

A "critical retrospective" of Ditko's career, by Blake Bell. Looks like it would be a good companion to Mark Evanier's recent Jack Kirby book.

Trial A Graphic Novel TP

Also from Self Made Man, an adaptation of the Kafka book done by French comics artist Chantal Montellier and writer David Zane Mairowitz. I never know how well Kafka will turn out in graphic form (or any adaptation, really), but it could be good. Or I could read that Kafka book that R. Crumb did...

Water Baby

I thought this already came out, but maybe not. Anyway, it's a Minx book by Ross Campbell, about a surfer girl who loses a leg. I've got a review copy sitting at home, so expect something about it from me as soon as I get to reading it.

Wondermark Beards Of Our Forefathers HC

A collection of the popular (popular enough to get printed by Dark Horse, anyway) webcomic. I don't know if I'm too keen on the strips that I've read, but I did giggle a few times at the story that creator David Malki did for Dark Horse Presents. If this book is more like that, I could see myself reading it.

COWA TP

Lots of manga this week, starting with this older Akira Toriyama book about cute monsters like vampires and ghosts trying to fend off a monstrous disease. Looks like fun, and luckily I've got a review copy sitting at home to read. So look out for something here soon!

Crayon Shinchan Vol 3 TP CMX Edition

More youthful profanity and offensiveness against humanity. I really should try to read these.

Fairy Tail Vol 3 GN

This book was the talk of the comics blog-o-tubes a while back when the first two volumes came out. Will people still be excited about it? Should I try to read it? Why not, it's not like I don't have a million other things to catch up on.

Gun Blaze West Vol 2 TP

I dug the first volume of this shonen series by Nobuhiro Watsuki, creator of Rurouni Kenshin, so I'll definitely try to check out this second installment.

NANA Vol 11 TP

And then there's this volume, which I will certainly run to the bookstore like a madman in order to acquire. By the way, if you're wondering why I haven't reviewed the latest issue of Shojo Beat, it's because I screwed up my subscription renewal and missed an issue, so I'll have to seek it out from a newsstand somewhere. Damnation!

Path Of The Assassin Vol 12 Three Foot Battle TP

I really need to read this series, along with everything else Kazuo Koike has done, ever.

Shirley TP

More maid manga from Kaoru Mori, creator of Emma. I still haven't read the earlier series, but I often hear that it is really good. Someday, someday.

Suppli Vol 3 GN

And finally, another volume of the josei series that I've fallen behind on, like almost all the manga I read. I'm sure I'll get to it eventually.
-----

And that's everything, I believe. Whew! We'll see if I can get to anything tonight, but I'll hopefully get a review written and posted. But no promises.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Wizard World Chicago: My legs hurt, year two

So my big event for the weekend was hanging out in a large room full of strange people, bizarre costumes, rampant commercialism, endless hype, and some pretty awesome art. It was fun; one of these years I'm going to have to go to San Diego and get the full experience.

Being more of an indie comics fan than a mainstream suckler at the "big two" teat, I didn't spend too much time messing around with the programming or the giant displays from Marvel and DC. I did catch the last half of a Vertigo panel featuring Brian Azzarello, and there was some interesting discussion which probably stated nothing new. Azzarello talked about his writing process, which is surprisingly non-descriptive. His least favorite part of writing is giving art directions, so the scripts have little beyond the dialogue, leaving most of the art choices up to the artists. If you ask me, that works great with a talent like Eduardo Risso, but I don't know if, say, Jim Lee would do too well working in that style. When asked about how satisfied he was with the ending of Loveless (and what would have happened if he had been able to continue the series), Azzarello said he was very comfortable with the final issue being the last issue, although he wouldn't say what would have happened next, since the possibility of a follow-up still remained. I guess that means fans should encourage people to buy copies of the trades; I know I wouldn't mind reading the remainder of the series after I stopped buying it around issue #10. Azzarello is also apparently working on a Joker book with Lee Bermejo, but I missed any discussion of it. He did say one funny thing though, when comparing artists that he has worked with. Unlike Risso, "Lee couldn't do 100 Bullets. Lee could do six bullets." I thought that was funny. Skipping some talk of Batman (it's a Vertigo panel, people), that was pretty much it. Here's a not-very-good photograph:



The other panel I attended was about digital artists, and featured discussion among (from left to right in the photo below) Adi Granov, Greg Horn, Alex Maleev, and Freddie Williams II:



It was an interesting discussion, often due to the participants' chafing at the perception of digital art as somehow "cheating". Myself, I would agree; while "digital art" might have meant rubbery characters and lots of lens flares five or six years ago, computers have become an essential tool, capable of turning out some incredible work, especially when coloring "traditional" comics artwork. Of the group, I generally like all of the artists except Greg Horn, who kind of made an ass of himself here, mostly by talking about how photoreferencing can sometimes make characters look stiff. I thought this was hilarious, since posed stiffness is kind of the name of his game. That and ridiculous sexiness, which I suddenly understood when he said that his background was in airbrush art, as in stuff painted on the side of cars. Now it all makes sense; I can totally see any of his overly sexy Elektra or White Queen covers painted on the side of a van. I'm probably being a bit hard on him, since I do think he can do good work, as in a lot of his She-Hulk covers, but he seems to focus on horniness and little else.

Anyway, there was still some interesting talk about techniques, including Maleev's troubles with trying to print colors over a scanned line drawing. I find that sort of thing fascinating, and I've seen plenty of step-by-step online tutorials on Photoshop coloring, so I know it's not like they just press a button and make some artwork, which is what they said people think they do. As Granov said, and the others agreed, it all comes down to whether the art looks good or not.

Granov and Williams were interesting participants as well. The former said he was surprised he was asked to be included, since he does about 75% of his work on paper before using a computer at all. That was a surprise, since his work has a very digital "look" to it. Williams, on the other hand, said he does almost exactly the opposite, working on the computer for most of the process before printing out the results and adding some tweaks by hand. That was also a surprise; his art doesn't look "computery" at all. All of the participants agreed that the biggest drawback of working digitally was that there was no original art, the sale of which is a good source of income. Granov's method helps in this aspect, and the others said they did try to at least do some preliminary work on paper so that they would have something to sell. Hey, you gotta pay the bills.

All in all, it was a pretty interesting panel, and I'm sure there was plenty more interesting stuff that I forgot about. And while that was fun, I was really more interested in spending time checking out the booths in Artists' Alley and talking to creators. So that's what I spent a lot of my time doing. I made some good contacts, and hopefully I'll be able to interview several of them, either here or for IndiePulp.

One thing I thought would be cool to do would be a theme sketchbook, like Sean T. Collins' David Bowie sketchbook, or Eric Reynolds' TMNT collection. I decided I would do one with a Groo theme, since Sergio Aragonés ' Groo the Wanderer is one of my all-time favorite comics. The results can be seen here, and I'm so stoked that I got so many great artists to contribute. I'll have to keep it going at any other shows I manage to attend. I think my favorite one so far is Ryan Kelly's, since I totally didn't see it coming.

The Top Shelf booth held a plethora of talent, and I spent a long time talking to Matt Kindt, creator of Super Spy, my favorite comic of 2007:



He's a cool guy (and the first to draw Groo for me!), and he seems really excited to be doing his comics. He has some follow-ups to Super Spy in the pipes, starting with Super Natural, which is set in the 50s and deals with ghosts and paranormal stuff. Then the "super" trilogy will be rounded out by Super Computer, a sci-fi-themed book set in the 60s. These books will feature recurring characters from Super Spy, and there will be kind of a throughline throughout the three of them. I can't wait to read them; they sound awesome. Kindt also autographed my copy of Super Spy and did a neat sketch inside:



And I bought a sweet page of original art from Super Spy:



Also at the Top Shelf booth, I bought the latest Owly volume for my wife. As I confessed to creator Andy Runton, I'm not really a fan, not because I think it's bad or anything, but it's just too, I don't know, cute and sweet for me. But my wife loves it. He said that's something that has actually worked out quite well for him, since he ends up at shows where guys have dragged their uninterested girlfriends, who end up finding Owly and becoming fans. Here's the sketch he did for my wife in the book:



Alex Robinson was also at the booth, and I picked up Too Cool To Be Forgotten, which I didn't realize wasn't out in stores yet. So watch for a "pre-release" review! I didn't really get a chance to talk to him much, but he did do a nice sketch in the book:



And he was giving away candy cigarettes, so I took a picture of myself "smoking" one:



Over in Artists' Alley proper, I talked to Nathan Fox, possibly my favorite new artist that I've discovered in the last couple years:



His big bit of news was the upcoming Free the Gene (that's a Flash-heavy website with noisy sound, so you might want to check out the MySpace page instead), a graphic novel written by M.K. Wilson which will be published the September issue of Heavy Metal. Looks like I'll be taking the plunge and buying my first issue of that magazine. Fox said it was uncensored, and they weren't just using that as a buzzword to get attention. I can't wait to check it out.

Next up was Christopher Mitten, artist of Wasteland:



He's a cool guy (who, it turns out, lives a couple suburbs away from me), and he had pages of original art on sale for cheap, so I picked one up for a steal. It was the one that I really liked when I reviewed the second volume, so I was pretty stoked to obtain it. Check it out:



Mitten also had some art on display from the upcoming Tori Amos anthology, Comic Book Tattoo. It was some really nice-looking work, much more soft-edged than his rough art on Wasteland and featuring some nice watercolors. It's a great departure for Mitten, one which displays the range of which he is capable.

I said hi to Joshua Hagler, creator of The Boy Who Made Silence:



That's such an incredible indie book that I try to mention it whenever I can in hopes that more people will check it out. He gave me a nice poster, which I've already hung up on my wall:



I asked him about the length of the series, and he said the first volume will be six issues, with a second volume soon to follow. It's a big story, with a lot to tell, so he is definitely going to keep working on it. I'm impressed at how regularly it has been coming out, so hopefully he will be able to keep going at a steady pace and get the work out there. It certainly deserves to be seen.

I briefly talked to Geof Darrow, who had a cute little "assistant manager" accompanying him at his booth. While I was right there, I saw him draw a dinosaur in a sketchbook for a kid and a sketch of some sort on a balloon for another. It's cool that kids like his stuff, but I don't know if I would show it to them, since it's often so violent and gory. I bought a Shaolin Cowboy print from him, and queried as to when the next issue would come out. "Soon," he said. Here's the print (already on my wall), and be sure to note the shark sketch in the lower right corner:



I made sure to talk to Chris Burnham, the artist of the Joe Casey-written graphic novel Nixon's Pals:



He's another up-and-comer, and he has a cool, lumpy art style that I dig. I'll have to try to pick up the most recent issue of Fear Agent, since he illustrated a backup story for that. And he has a story in an upcoming volume of the Popgun anthology (he thinks it will be in volume 3; volume 2 is scheduled to come out in July). I'll be watching for anything else he does too.

Zander Cannon was another great guy to talk to:



I spent a long time discussing all the cool details that he stuck in the backgrounds of the Alan Moore-written miniseries Smax. I had heard about his upcoming Top 10 series with Gene Ha, but I didn't realize it would be out so soon; he said it is scheduled to appear in September (I think). Cannon is scripting and providing layouts, with Ha doing finished art. He had some of those layout pages on display, and they looked nice, but I can't wait to see what Ha does with them.

Other artists I spoke to included Gene Ha, who confirmed that the Authority series he was doing with Grant Morrison is pretty much dead, mostly due to Morrison's unhappiness with the poor reaction the first issue received from fans. That's too bad; I was curious to see where it was going, and Ha was doing some amazing artwork.

Chuck BB said the next volume of Black Metal should be out around December. Dean Trippe expressed some annoyance that he wasn't invited to participate in the panel about superhero costume design; he is the head of Project Rooftop, after all. Carla Speed McNeil said she had no plans to do any more work with Warren Ellis, but she thinks he's put a lot of the impulses from their collaboration Frank Ironwine into Fell. I hope he continues to do so, since we haven't seen a new issue of Fell for a while. Spike said that the second print volume of Templar, AZ should be out in July (look for a review here soon!).

And that's pretty much all I have to report, for right now. I'll have another post up later this week in which I talk about some of the comics and minicomics I picked up at the con, or some of the lesser-known artists that I think deserve some attention. So stay tuned for that. In the meantime, feel free to check out my other photos from the convention, including some silly costumed people. I always find it amusing to take pictures not when the person is doing some dramatic pose, but when they're eating a hot dog or something. So that's why there are some weird pictures of flamboyantly-dressed folks just hanging around. I think my favorite is the middle-aged guy dressed as Obi-Wan Kenobi standing around and drinking a Pepsi. Enjoy!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Vacation reading: Powr Mastrs

Powr Mastrs
By CF (Chris Forgues)



I’ve never really been into the Fort Thunder style of comics; every sample I’ve seen of any of those books has really unappealing artwork, almost celebrating in its tossed-off crudity. It might be that I just don’t get it, or I need to read more of it to really understand what the creators are going for, but I haven’t felt the need to delve into them too much, if only because there’s so much other comics work out there keeping my attention. But when I found the first volume of Powr Mastrs at the library, I grabbed it. It sure got a lot of acclaim last year, and I had heard that it was an attempt to build a fantasy world and tell an actual story, so maybe it wouldn’t be too bad.

The verdict? Well, I didn’t hate it, but the art style is still kind of a turn-off; it usually looks like something decorating many a high-school Tolkien nerd’s notebook. At times, CF transcends his style and achieves some pretty cool, trippy visuals, and the occasions when he fills in the dense backgrounds of a magical forest are lovely in their lush detail, but the majority of the book is pretty uninspiring. So the remaining appeal has to come from the writing, which is interesting, but suffers from a lack of much of a plot. Maybe something will develop in future volumes, but right now all we’ve got is a collection of character vignettes introducing us to the odd beings populating CF’s world.

They’re mostly an interesting bunch, and CF does a good job of linking them Robert Altman-style in a way that demonstrates the breadth of his world. And they’re weird as all get-out, including witches, magicians, talking animals, immortal elves, wordplay-loving submariners, and (in a shockingly explicit scene which seems like it usually gets excerpted in reviews, but I can't find any examples at the moment) a jellyfish-fucking princess. Little of this makes much sense at first, but as you read, you actually start to gain an understanding of this crazy place. The problem is, without a hook to draw me back in, I don’t really feel like I have any need to come back to it.

There are some neat ideas and striking scenes though, like a “beard party”, in which immortal beings feign aging in an attempt to experience what it might be like to be old. Or a man trapped by a magician in a memory-torture hole, forced to replay his memories and learn what he did wrong (and driven insane by the experience). Or a description of Mosfet the warlock’s magical exploits, culminating in dead flesh revived as living metal. And did I mention that jellyfish-fucking scene?

So, I dunno, it’s a weird book with some interesting stuff here and there, but I’m glad I didn’t spend eighteen dollars to read it. Should I bother with the next installment? I guess I’ll keep an eye out at the library…

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Vacation reading: Billy Hazelnuts

Billy Hazelnuts
By Tony Millionaire



Man, oh man, Tony Millionaire is one weird dude. Or so it seems, judging by the comics he makes. I can barely even keep up with this one, which involves a boy (man?) who was constructed by rats out of garbage to fight the mean lady in the house they infest. They put flies in his eye sockets, which makes him especially mean. He gets taken under the wing of Becky, the lady’s science-minded daughter, and she replaces the flies with hazelnuts and christens him “Billy Hazelnuts”. Because why not? This doesn’t make any sense? Well, fuck you, says Tony Millionaire, because next thing you know, Billy and Becky are off on adventures involving a garbage dump for broken planets and some robotic bird pirates which were constructed by Becky’s shunned paramour Eugene and sent on the attack in a bat-winged ship with mechanical arms and legs. And you can imagine where it goes from there.

Okay, no, you probably can’t, and that’s what makes Millionaire so interesting. I don’t even know if he knows what’s going to happen when he starts one of these books, because it seems like stream-of-consciousness storytelling, with batshit-crazy stuff just happening, every other page or so. It’s all so ridiculously bizarre, but it works, because the characters just go along with it, like it’s all completely natural in their weird, weird world. I don’t really understand it, but goddamn if it isn’t entertaining.

That probably comes from the energy that Millionaire puts into the work, filling every page with tactile texture that makes the world seem lived-in and, well, not really realistic, but believable, in its own way. And I love the crazy dialogue, especially when Billy goes nuts and starts committing acts of violence and screaming things like “Watch out for me! I’m a rustic Dan’l Boone! I kil’t a b’ar with a booey knife!” That’s pure gold.

So, yeah, I dug the book, even though I have trouble describing it or explaining what’s so great about it. All I can say is that Tony Millionaire is awesome, and probably deranged.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Gimmick! and Rosario + Vampire: Mostly manga mediocrity

A quick diversion:

So I just watched the recent remake of Funny Games (never seen the original), and it was a pretty good movie, although I gotta say, if I hadn't heard all about how the movie was such a condemnation of violence on film, implicating the viewers as accessories to murder, I probably wouldn't have taken that away from the film. It was more of a horror-thriller with some postmodern elements. Am I just bad at interpreting this sort of thing? When Michael Pitt (who is awesome in the movie, by the way) speaks to the camera, he isn't asking viewers to cheer him on in his acts of sadism, he's gloating, even inviting sympathy for his victims. I dunno, maybe the case is just that Michael Haneke can make a hell of a thriller, even when he's trying to make it seem like a bad thing. I kind of dug it.

Okay, I've got some stuff going up that I read on vacation, but there's plenty more to cover, including these, which I finished before I left:

Gimmick!, volume 1
Written by Youzaburou Kanari
Art by Kuroko Yabuguchi



So this is one of those manga where the protagonist is impossibly skilled at some obscure (or at least seemingly non-comics-friendly) activity, which he uses to help people out and astonish competitors. In this case, it's movie makeup, prosthetics, and special effects. That's right, young Kohei can whip up amazing bits of deception using his "sacred silver spatula", that weird doohickey he's wielding on the cover. There's probably a story behind that thing, but we don't learn it in this volume; instead, we see Kohei do things like help an actress avoid her evil manager, cover up the disfiguring scar on a model who got into a car accident, or stop a disgruntled employee who is intent on ruining a horror movie-themed amusement park.

It's diverting enough, but there's nothing too exemplary about any of it. Kohei is a pretty typical hero for this sort of story, from his boundless enthusiasm, to his ability to pull tricks out of his ass at the last minute, even to his rampant horniness. The art is slick and easy-to-follow, with plenty of cheesecake to draw in the boys' interest when the story might be flagging. But I dunno, maybe I like a bit more unpredictability in my comics; when Kohei is guaranteed to come out on top no matter what, the only interest is seeing what kind of silliness he'll use to do so.

Those victories can be pretty amusing though, with other characters amazed at his skills, goggling at how he produces such lifelike effects so quickly. And being a movie buff, I like how he references movies when doing his work, complaining about how The Evil Dead ruined horror makeup, making it all about blood and gore rather than lovable monsters with personality. Or using the same effects that were used for James Caan's death scene in The Godfather. And who knows, maybe things get more interesting in future volumes; this book ends with a cliffhanger that departs from the "Kohei always wins" formula in a surprisingly striking manner.

So maybe this series might deepen, but for now it's a fairly entertaining diversion, with little to distinguish it besides an offbeat subject. But if you love makeup, by all means, go for it.
-----

Rosario + Vampire, volume 1
By Akihisa Ikeda



So here's how you know when you're reading a shonen manga (or, if I've got my categories slightly off, a manga aimed at pubescent boys): when there's a sound effect for bouncing breasts (in this case, it's "GOOSH GOOSH"). Those Japanese sure are shameless, aren't they? Anyway, the story here is that average student Tsukune fails all his high school entrance exams, but he manages to get accepted to a private school called Yokai Academy. He should have been ready for strangeness though, because that would be like going to an American school called Monster High. Sure enough, it turns out that the school is for monsters, with the goal of teaching them to live among humans unnoticed. Dangerous!

Immediately after arriving at the school, Tsukune meets up with Moka, a vampire girl who takes a liking to him because his blood is so delicious. After learning the true nature of the school, he tries to leave, but Moka likes him, so she convinces him to stay. And even in that first chapter, a formula is established, as we learn that Moka transforms into a powerful form when her cross necklace, or "rosario", is removed, and also that she can't take it off herself. So some other monster ends up threatening Tsukune, prompting him to remove her necklace so she can lay the smack down. There's your typical plot for a chapter; you shouldn't have to worry about venturing too far from that template.

There are a few other wrinkles established over the course of the volume, including the introduction of Kurumu, another girl who acts as a friend to Tsukune and a rival to Moka, and the cast joining the school newspaper club, which will probably provide starters for plenty of future plots. But for now, it's typical high school wackiness, with plenty of fan service (one chapter sees Tsukune almost join the swimming club, providing plenty of opportunities to show girls in tiny bikinis) and some decent action. It's nothing too special, but not anything terrible either. Like Gimmick!, it's divertingly entertaining, but not something I would shove into anybody's hands.

I did notice one oddity though, in that Moka, being the main love interest, has to remain kind of virginal; while she wears the same short-skirted, panty-revealing uniform as the other girls, her naughty bits are always chastely covered by her extra-long hair, or shadows, or something. And her breasts don't bounce around all over the place either. That doesn't stop Tsukune from glimpsing plenty of other girls' panties or having their breasts shoved into his face though, so you don't have to worry about his hormonal development. I dunno, maybe this is typical for female leads in this sort of manga, but I found it weird that Ikeda would go to the trouble of preserving one character's dignity while removing it from so many others.

As a post-script, while I probably wouldn't normally bother to read future volumes of the series, I just received a review copy of volume 2, so I'll let you know if anything changes past the initial installment.

These reviews were based on complimentary copies provided by the publisher.

Vacation reading: Cairo

Still working through the absentee stuff...

Cairo
Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by M.K. Perker



I never read this when it came out, first because it seemed a little pricey ($25 for a black and white hardcover, although it does seem to be a bit longer than other Vertigo graphic novels), and reviews were middling at best. And having read it, that opinion kind of holds up, although it is an interesting work, if nothing else. The story involves a diverse group of characters adventuring in the titular city. There’s a drug runner, a female Israeli soldier stuck in dangerous foreign territory, a bleeding-heart journalist, an American girl who is trying to break out of her safe and familiar environs, and a Lebanese-American boy who is planning to do something foolhardy when he gets back to his homeland. They all end up crossing paths after Ashraf, the drug runner, sells a hookah that he stole from a crime lord to Shaheed, the Lebanese kid. The hookah turns out to hold a genie (or jinn, to be more proper) who is trying to recover a magical item from Nar, the aforementioned bad guy. They end up all getting mixed up in danger after Ali, the journalist, and Kate, the American girl, get kidnapped by the bad guy until Ashraf (whose sister is in love with Ali) recovers the hookah. Meanwhile, Shams, the jinn, sees potential for greatness in Shaheed and begins training him and trying to steer him away from the choices he is about to make.

It’s all interesting enough, and there are some crazy magical adventures, but it seems especially Vertigo-ish, with fantastical stuff mixing with the mundane world in a way that is both unrealistic and too realistic. If you’ve read some of the various Sandman spinoffs, you probably know what I mean; the stuff involving the mundane world is either more interesting than the magical stuff (I found some of the political discussions and character relationships more worthy of page time than the fantastical conflict), or it drags down the magic and makes it seem boring. And while it gets tiring when stories like this are full of people reeling in disbelief at all the craziness going on, it also seems odd when they accept it too easily, which is the case for most of the story here. It’s tricky to get the balance just right, and while somebody like Neil Gaiman is an expert at that sort of thing, Wilson doesn’t quite manage here.

There’s some other decent character stuff, but there’s also some really clunky exposition to set it up. When Kate meets Ali, she realizes who he is and tells him that she reads his column, but that it’s “cynical and overwritten”. It’s a really awkward scene, but it sets up some interesting discussion later about her attitudes toward the situation in his country as a privileged American and his reluctance to move outside his area of comfort. And this all gets amplified when they are attacked by a demon who sets them against each other and causes them to despair. It’s interesting stuff, if still occasionally awkward.

Also interesting are Shaheed’s adventures with Shams. The discussion of Shaheed’s destiny is handled much more subtly than the Kate/Ali scenes, making them more poignant. And he ends up meeting some crazy creatures and doing other weird stuff; I especially liked a scene in which he was able to use magical powers to peel back the fourth wall. And there are some good, freaky creatures, like a man with snakes wrapped around him, or a demon with faces on every surface.

And then there’s the ending, in which all the characters band together to face an evil magician and rescue Shams. It’s supposed to be a big, dramatic, exciting moment, but I found it to be a bit silly. Maybe it was just too much of an action movie cliché. I also wasn’t a fan of the explanation of the mystical artifact that they saved; either Wilson didn’t explain it very well, or it’s just not a concept that really makes sense.

On the art side, M.K. Perker does draw some pretty nice pictures, although characters occasionally look kind of awkward and stiff, and faces have some odd qualities. Lips often seem to stand out in front of faces; it’s very distracting. But there is also some really nice background work, bringing the exotic setting to life, and those weird demons and monsters are rather creepy and cool. The action sometimes works; at it’s best, the gestures really come to life and look real, especially in the way clothing drapes over moving bodies. And I think Perker does manage to pull off the combination of mundane and fantastical that Wilson is going for. Whether that works as a whole will probably vary depending on reader, but Perker definitely does the job asked.

So overall, I think those middling reviews were pretty much on target. There’s certainly some good stuff in here, but other elements are awkward, and the basic premise doesn’t quite cohere over the course of the book. I’m glad I grabbed this at the library instead of shelling out some cash. But Wilson and Perker are talents to watch; perhaps their upcoming Vertigo series Air will see the refinement of their skills into something that’s not to miss. The preview that was in a recent issue of House of Mystery didn’t give me too much hope, but you never know…

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Vacation reading: Kill All Parents!

...And I'm back (although I'm actually writing this while still away. But I'll be back by the time it posts, I think). I want to thank everybody who contributed guest posts; that was a blast, getting to publish good writing by people I like to read. In fact, if any other readers want to send me something to post that would fit in around here, my email address is on the right side of the screen there.

Luckily, I managed to get plenty of stuff read while I was away, so I've got lots of material for posting here. First up is a comic that only just came out last week:

Kill All Parents
Written by Mark Andrew Smith
Art by Marcelo Di Chiara



There are two interpretations that I’ve come up with for this one-shot comic by Mark Andrew Smith and Marcelo Di Chiara, and I have no idea if either one is correct, but at least one of them is interesting. The first one is that Smith (whose work I always want to like, since he co-created The Amazing Joy Buzzards, but sometimes ends up being kind of disappointing, like Aqua Leung) came up with a unique take on superheroics while he was out drinking or something. That take being: what if all superheroes came into being because somebody orchestrated the deaths of their parents/loved ones, giving them the motivation to fight evil? Unfortunately, Smith doesn’t really do anything interesting with the idea; rather than being original, the superheroes are obvious pastiches of Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man, the most obvious superheroes with dead parental figures. Other characters show up in the story, many of them being purposeful knock-offs of other supers like the Flash, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman, but Smith doesn’t bother to come up with anything original for any of them. And while he suggests some interesting plots, he doesn’t do anything with them. The superheroes all discover the conspiracy and take vengeance on the perpetrator. The end. I would find it interesting to see how they react to this revelation (especially a sequence in which the bad guy, and evil scientist, shows them how they would have turned out if he hadn’t taken his murderous actions), or what happens after they’ve lost their primary motivation. Or how newer generations of supers would develop with a lack of tragedy. But no dice; it’s just a cute idea, with little exploration thereof.

So I’m going to be generous, and give Smith the benefit of the doubt, since there’s a second, metafictional interpretation to all of this. I always enjoy explicit metafiction in which characters confront their creators (while it’s not a very good movie, the scene in Last Action Hero where Arnold Schwarzenegger the action-movie character confronts Schwarzenegger the actor for ruining his life gives me existential chills), and this story, while not being obviously metafictional, certainly has some implicit commentary, with the characters being enraged at the tragedy that their “creator” has inflicted on them. And there’s even a subplot about a government agent (the readers) who seems to be the real instigator of the conspiracy, pushing the scientist (the writers and artists) to keep the tragedy coming. At one point, we see the Superman analogue talking to his therapist about his problems, and the doctor turns out to be the agent, who was not really paying attention, drawing doodles of superheroes punching each other while pretending to take notes. That’s the fans for you, not caring about the boring real-world emotional stuff, only wanting to see more punching.

So I don’t know if that has anything to do with what this comic is actually about, but I thought it was an interesting interpretation. It’s a fun little story at least, with some nice art by Marcelo Di Chiara (and sweet colors by Russ Lowery, who also turned in some great work on the aforementioned Aqua Leung). At 35 pages of story, there’s plenty of room for detail-filled double-page spreads, and lots of action and whatnot. So check it out, if it sounds like your sort of thing. But you might have to be like me and do some mental exercises to get the most enjoyment out of it.

Monday, June 23, 2008

This week is like three weeks for me

Almost back from vacation (the plane for home leaves today, annoyingly late, so I can have minimal sleep before work on Tuesday), so let's get back into the normal swing of things here:

New comics this week (Wednesday, 6/25/08):

Final Crisis #2
Ah, back in town just in time for more of the big Grant Morrison event. I've greatly enjoyed the online discourse about the first issue, with some saying that it was boring and little happened, while others said that was the genius behind it. And some said it was ugly and sordid, but others loved that aspect. Myself, I thought it was all right, but I'm waiting for things to ramp up and get really crazy. And bring the Morrison weirdness, although there's no need for Invisibles- or Filth-level nuttiness; I'll be happy with, I dunno, that JLA story where the angels invaded.

Immortal Iron Fist #16

Okay, it looks like this is the final issue of the Fraction/Brubaker run, although this issue is just Fraction, doing a wrap-up of their tenure, I guess. Will this stuff end up being collected so I can read it? I kind of wish I hadn't waited for the trade. Thanks for jerking me around, Marvel.

Jack of Fables #23

Crap, I don't know what's going on here anymore. Last issue was a flashback to Jack's cowboy days, right? So now are we back to more adventures in Americana? I don't even read all that many single-issue comics (compared to some), but I have trouble keeping up with the ones I do follow. Eh, I bet this will still be enjoyable.

Madame Xanadu #1

Is this a revival of a long-time DC/Vertigo character? I think so, but I don't know much of anything about her. Apparently she's some kind of medieval sorceress? Matt Wagner is writing, so that will get people's attention, and the art by newcomer Amy Reader Hadley sure looks nice. I did read the recent preview that was in Northlanders or some other Vertigo book, and wasn't too impressed, so I'll probably skip it.

No Hero #0

Shouldn't Warren Ellis and Juan Jose Ryp finish their other "superhero violence" miniseries before starting another one? Or did that last issue of Black Summer come out and I missed it? Anyway, this one is about a group of superheroes that have been around in various incarnations for 40 years, and "their luck runs out", whatever that means. It'll probably involve gore and rubble. And lots of smoking and cursing, and discussion of cool cutting-edge technology. Not that I don't plan to get it, but I've learned what to expect when reading Ellis comics. But I generally dig it, so don't let me down, Ellis!

Pigeons from Hell #3

While the first issue of this series was nice and moody, the second one jumped straight into a full-on gorefest. Yikes. Nathan Fox can draw some crazy, fucked-up stuff. I can't wait to see what he'll come up with this time around.

Programme #12

In which Peter Milligan's patriotic Americans vs. dirty Commies superhero series concludes. It's been a wild ride; I hope the finale doesn't disappoint.

Runaways #30

Whoa, this is "long-running (i.e. delayed) Joss Whedon series finally conclude" month, isn't it? This story arc has taken way too long to finish, and much like Astonishing X-Men, it's almost sure to disappoint, even if the scale of this series is much smaller. I have generally enjoyed Whedon's stint on the series, but due to the delays, the book has pretty much fallen off my radar, and that sucks, since it used to be something to look forward to each month. As it is, I'm going to drop it after this issue, and if I hear good things about the upcoming Terry Moore/Humberto Ramos run, I'll consider picking it up in trade.

Secret Invasion Runaways/Young Avengers #1

I guess the idea was to get the Runaways back to the present so they could participate in this thing, 'cause everybody's gotta be involved in the big Marvel events. I normally wouldn't be interested in this, especially since it's written by Christopher Yost, whom I have exactly zero feeling about, but the artist the Takeshi Miyazawa, and from the preview art I've seen, it's pretty nice-looking. So maybe it will be worth getting, at least for the pretty pictures.

Thor Reign of Blood

This is the second of the Matt Fraction-written mythology-style Thor one-shots, with art by Khari Evans and Patrick Zircher this time around. Sure to be enjoyable, in an epic, giant-smashing, wine-quaffing way.

Wasteland #18

Keep on fighting those Sandies, guys! The war continues, with good times had by all.

What If Fantastic Four tribute to Mike Wieringo

The late Wieringo's incomplete last work, an imaginary story about the New Fantastic Four (you know, Spidey, Wolvie, Hulkey, and, uh, Ghostey), gets finished here by an all-star lineup of artists, including Art Adams, Mike Allred, Stuart Immonen, Cully Hamner, and Barry Kitson. 48 pages for $4.99, and I doubt I'll be able to pass it up.

All Star Batman And Robin The Boy Wonder Vol. 1 HC

Here you go, you can find out what sort of Frank Miller awesomeness you've been missing! Thrill as Batman calls Robin a retard! Gasp as they fly around in the (goddamn) Batmobile for three or four issues! Cheer as Superman hits Wonder Woman and then makes out with her! Surely one of the greatest comics of all time! That seems to be the current response around the interwebs anyway, having swung from "terrible" to "enjoyable because it's so ridiculous". Or something. I still don't really care about it (I don't get why Jim Lee is so popular), and I've only read a little bit (and paid for none), but it's fun to watch the reactions to each new issue. So if you really want to find out what's the hubbub, here you go, at $25 for the first nine issues. Whoopee.

Andru And Esposito's Get Lost TP

I wasn't aware of this series, but it was apparently a Mad knock-off from back in 1953 by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. It lasted three issues before being sued out of existence by Harvey Kurtzman. Sounds interesting. This volume collects those three issues, so here it is to check out.

Barks/Rosa Collection TPB Vol 2 Donald's Atom Bomb

The Carl Barks/Don Rosa Disney duck comics are always worth a read. Reprints of them were among the first comics I collected, and I can still read them and enjoy them even more than I did back then. So here's a batch of them, ready for perusal. I'll keep saving up for that "complete works of Carl Barks" set though...

Batman Jekyll And Hyde TPB

I don't know if this is any good, but it features art by Jae Lee, so it should look nice. Unfortunately, Lee left the miniseries halfway through (I remember DC trying to market the art change as somehow reflective of Harvey Dent's split personality, which was amusing) and was replaced by Sean Phillips, who is also pretty good but not exactly the same sort of thing. Hell, the series is written by Paul Jenkins who really isn't very good, so I probably shouldn't even bother mentioning it. Sorry to waste everyone's time.

Chiggers HC

The new all-ages book by Hope Larson, about a girl at summer camp. I definitely wouldn't mind reading it.

Demo TPB

The Vertigo edition of Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan's excellent anthology series. I loved this book (and I'm really excited about the upcoming follow-up), so I heartily recommend it if you haven't read it.

Ex Machina Deluxe Edition Vol 1 HC

Another of my favorite series that I haven't read in a while (I switched from buying single issues to trades), in fancy-schmancy hardcover format for more money. This book collects the first ten issues (which seems odd, since I think that means it will end in mid-storyline) of the "superhero mayor of New York" book by Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris. I recommend it, although the softcover trades are probably a better deal.

Good Bye HC

The new collection of Yoshihiro Tatsumi short stories from Drawn and Quarterly. I think this one has to do with post-WWII Japan, which should provide plenty of fodder for angst and despair. I've only read Abandon the Old in Tokyo, and it was interesting, if not something that I loved. While I don't know if I would want to buy these books, I wouldn't mind reading them, so I'll keep an eye out for this one (and The Push Man) at the library.

Jack of Fables Vol 3 The Bad Prince TPB

Fun stuff in this volume, as Jack gets a sword (Excalibur? That doesn't really match up with the most recent volume of Fables...) stuck through his chest, learns the true story of his origins and how he relates to his black-haired look-a-like, Wicked John, and tells the story of how he stole the ice queen's powers and became Jack Frost. Good times.

MARVELS Premiere HC

Is this book still popular? It was a big deal when it first came out, back when Alex Ross was new on the scene, but do people still love it? Once I got around to reading it, I thought it was all right, but not exactly a masterpiece. I guess it's got the audience for a big, expensive ($25) reissue. Enjoy, man-children!

Umbrella Academy Apocalypse Suite TP

Hey, it's the collected version of one of the best comics of last year! This was some super-fun, kick-ass stuff, with beautiful art by Gabriel Ba, and some surprisingly good writing by that rock star guy from Fallout Boy or something like that. Read it, if you haven't already.

Apple Anthology Vol 1 GN

From UDON, it's a bunch of stories from Korean comics (manhwa?) creators. Looks nice, and it might be worth checking out.

Cat Eyed Boy Vol 2 GN

Ooh, the first (only?) two volumes of this Kazuo Umezu series came out together, and I can't wait to read them. I love Umezu, in all his demented glory, so this should be some wild and crazy stuff.

Dororo Vol 2 TP

And then there's more Osamu Tezuka awesomeness involving missing limbs and demons. I'm all over this book; it's really fucking awesome.

Gantz Vol 1 TP

And rounding out the manga for this week, Dark Horse puts out this bizarre, ultraviolent series about people trapped in some sort of war games involving aliens, weird technology, and plenty of dismemberment. I read some of it in scanlated form, and it's really crazy, with a slick art style reminiscent of MPD Psycho or some other modern manga. I'll try to buy it just to support Dark Horse's import of this sort of material.
-----

And that's everything for this week that I can see. I'll have quite the pile waiting for me at the shop on Wednesday, so maybe I'll get to lots of reviews soon. I've got a few lined up for the rest of the week, so stay tuned.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Vacation Guestblogstravaganza! Jones squeaks in under the wire

I thought I was all done with the guest posts, but I received one more, from good old Jones (one of the Jones boys). Take it away, Jonesy!
-----

No, no, you're thinking of the other guy. The name's Jones, one of the Jones boys. I'm just subbing for the hardest-working man in the comic book reviewing business. You should come over for a duck dinner some time.

You bring the ducks.

So, sorry, kids, but you'll get none of that squeeing starry-eyed heroine stuff today. Instead, have a two-fisted, rambling "review" of Jack Kirby's OMAC: One Man Army Corps.

...if you think you're ready for the world that's coming!

***

If aliens were real, what kind of comics would they read?

English readers have recently seen two very different answers to that question. The first is A.L.I.E.E.E.N. (First Second, 2006), which purports to be an actual alien comic book discovered by prolific French cartoonist Lewis Trondheim. In the foreword, Trondheim claims to have done no more than hand the book over to the publishers, but it looks suspiciously like his work, viz. surreal, cartoony and with a liberal dose of cruel black humour. Seems like aliens eat that shit up.

(Tony Millionaire? Have your people call Mars, pronto.)




Then, in 2007, Picturebox released an English language version of New Engineering, by manga-ka Yuichi Yokoyama. In some ways, New Engineering is exactly what you'd expect from a Picturebox manga -- deliberately obscure, with little to no narrative, relying entirely on unconventional visuals to do the aesthetic heavy lifting.* At the same time, it's like nothing else you've probably ever seen, either. In an interview at the end of the book, Yokoyama explains how he wants to erase "the human trace" from his work, and that's as good a description of his work as any. Yokoyama shows us page after page of puzzling scene, where peculiar agents perform baffling actions, for reasons unknown and to mysterious ends. Even more than A.L.I.E.E.E.N., New Engineering shows us that comics not designed for humans are really, really fucking weird.

But frankly, Trondheim and and Yokoyama needn't have bothered. For one cartoonist got there ahead of them -- thirty years ahead, in fact -- and already gave us a vision of alien entertainments designed for strange, unearthly eyes. I'm talking about Jack "King" Kirby and what is surely one of the oddest comic books ever made, OMAC One Man Army.



Lasting just 8 issues, OMAC came at the tail end of Kirby's second stint at DC, in the 70s, after the success of Kamandi, and the (perceived) failures of The Demon and his Fourth World saga.

With the exception of Kamandi, most of Kirby's 70s work isn't as accessible or, let's face it, as fun as his more famous collaborations with Stan Lee at Marvel. Throughout the 60s, Lee really did humanise Kirby's work, bringing it down to earth with the bickering of the Fantastic Four or the soap-operatic secret identities of Thor, Hulk, et al. These may have been god-like figures (or, in some cases, actual gods) but, as Lee scripted them, they were also all too human, and eminently relatable.

But even in the 60s, you can see Kirby straining against the human and reaching towards the inhuman, the monstrous, the alien. It's there from the start in the character design of the Fantastic Four, three sideshow freaks and one flat out monster. It emerges again, around FF # 60 or so, when Kirby seems to grow bored of the world's greatest family, and just starts drawing issue after issue focussing on the Inhumans (note the name!) or the alien Silver Surfer. And you can see it in Thor, where the mythological stuff gradually takes over and the hero is eventually revealed to be, not a man who becomes a god, but a god who has been disguised as a man.

When Kirby went solo in the 70s, then, he was free to do what he wanted. Which, for the most part, meant putting the emphasis on Superman, not Superman. The Eternals, for instance, was Chariots of the Gods on LSD, telling of alien creatures mistaken for gods, locked in a Manichaean struggle with vicious, subhuman counterparts. The Fourth World saga also told of alien creatures mistaken for gods, locked in a Manichaean struggle with vicious, subhuman counterparts - Kirby liked a good Manichaean struggle. The eponymous hero of Machine Man isn't even alive, much less human. And Devil Dinosaur, perhaps the most 70s-Kirby of all 70s-Kirby productions, is a big red dinosaur that goes around beating up other dinosaurs.

OMAC fits neatly into the overall pattern of 70s Kirby: explosive action stories with nothing remotely resembling human emotion or motivation. It tells of "the world that's coming", a science-fiction future ruled by the Global Peace Corps, a sort of uber-UN. The Global Peace Corps is "non-partisan" and "represents every nation"; accordingly (?) its agents wear identical uniforms and faceless orange masks to hide their features. Since "large armies are outlawed", the Corps relies on one man to enforce the peace -- a super-soldier who can serve as a "one-man army corps", or OMAC for short.

Although the nominal hero of the series, OMAC is barely-there as a character. He starts the series as the aptly named Buddy Blank, a weedy nebbish straight out of alter-ego central casting, transformed by "a computer hormone operation ... done by remote control!!" into the super-human OMAC. He takes this transformation in his stride and goes along with whatever missions the Corps sends him on, without asking any questions or, indeed, showing any sort of character beyond what is required to carry the action forward. The only distinctive thing about the character is his thick black mohawk.

Well, I guess his ever-lovin' sidekick, Brother Eye is pretty distinctive, too. I mean, he (?) is a computerized satellite, floating in the Earth's orbit, that looks like a giant eyeball and helps OMAC out by sending him power-boosting beams, whenever and however required by the plot.

I gather that DC recently revamped the concept of OMAC as a sinister army of cyborgs, with Brother Eye their Orwellian overlord. Truth be told, turning them into bad guys isn't much of a stretch; they already seem like bad guys, even if Kirby doesn't seem to realise it. The Global Peace Corps, OMAC's employers, look like the sort of faceless, nameless organization that Kirby created at Marvel as super-villain cannon fodder -- think of HYDRA or A.I.M.. And the Sauron-esque Brother Eye, hovering above us and seeing all, is downright creepy. Kirby's OMAC reads like the propaganda comic that Big Brother might have commissioned in 1984, to convince us that war is peace (and I say this as a fully-fledged, wants-to-take-your-guns-away, UN-loving internationalist who would probably support the Global Peace Corps in real life).

If Kirby's writing got less human in the 70s, then his art developed (some might say "degenerated") in that direction, too. More explosions! More action! In every single panel! And OMAC doesn't disappoint on that front. Kirby's figure art in the 70s was often stocky, figures drawn short and squat; with OMAC himself this tendency is exaggerated by the need to squeeze his mohawk into the panel.

Also on display is the Kirby squiggle that came to dominate his 70s style. Every surface -- organic, artificial and, above all, sartorial -- is decorated with those ubiquitous squiggly black splotches. The effect is disorienting; this isn't just the future, it's an alternate visual reality, the world through alien eyes. Just as no one in OMAC behaves like a real person, nothing in OMAC looks like the real world either. The squiggles make the world a battleground, everything, everywhere, ever-ready to burst forth in combat.**

This abstraction culminates in an amazing final two pages. The series was, apparently, cancelled abruptly, and the story certainly doesn't provide a satisfying resolution. But those last two pages are a fitting visual testament to what Kirby was doing in OMAC. Only the first two panels contain a human figure, the villainous Dr Skuba who is battling OMAC and his ally, Brother Eye. The rest, well, since I don't have a scanner, I'll have to let Kirby's own panel captions describe how he ended this strange and unworldly series. This isn't really a SPOILER as such, but the sensitive might want to skip past the bolded text:

Three powerful beams suddenly lash out into space!

Meteors and space debris are diverted in flight and flung at Brother Eye!

The huge satellite is subjected to a murderous bombardment...

Swarms of space rock gather and fly in a continuous rain!

Brother Eye has become a gigantic magnet which is attracting its own destruction!

The satellite is soon covered by crushing rock! It is blind and fighting to survive...

Suddenly, a beam of solar intensity roars out from Earth -- it heats the stones which cover Brother Eye ...

What was space rock becomes a molten, seething, fiery mass ...

It finally cools ... Brother Eye is now helpless and silent, in a prison of slag...

But below, the effort has caused an overload in Dr. Skuba's equipment. The island explodes in a gigantic fireball... ...and his very success brings destruction to the evil Skuba!

Now, that's about as pure an expression of Kirby's 70s inhumanism as you could get: rocks clash into a machine floating in space, and then there's an explosion. The end. OMAC himself, our supposed human hero, is nowhere in sight. Like the series itself, the ending is forbidding, abstract and nearly inaccessible.

In OMAC, Kirby no longer saw the world as made up of people and things, some placed here, some placed there. Instead, he saw a world of energy, savage, crackling, rippling and, above all, alien. If aliens read comic books, OMAC is the book they'd read.

As for humans? To quote the King himself: don't ask! Just buy it!

* For what it's worth, I found Yokoyama's visual style too flat and banal to really maintain my interest. But, as the Bard said, your mileage may vary.

** h/t to Craig Fischer for the phrase "Kirby squiggle". His post here first got me thinking about the inhuman in Kirby.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Vacation Guestblogstravaganza! Scott Cederlund looks at some mini-Tales

Scott Cederlund is a comics blogger that I actually know offline, so I have a face and voice to go with the stuff he writes. His blog, Wednesday's Haul, features commentary on comics and other media, along with a regular podcast. He also writes for Popsyndicate.com. His contribution makes me think I really need to check out Jeff Lemire's comics:

Tales from Mini Comics

Jeff Lemire's two Essex County graphic novels have been haunting books, showing how we can be disconnected from the very people we should love and cherish. They're powerful but ultimately depressing reads that show the gulfs that can exist between brothers or between people who should be as close as father and son. It won't be until October when we see Lemire's third part of his trilogy, The Country Nurse, but as a treat, he's recently put out two minicomics taking place in Essex County-- The Essex County Boxing Club and Eddie Elephant Ears.

Eddie Elephant Ears introduces us to Eddie, another of the many residents of Essex County. He has only four memories-- collecting beer bottles, enjoying maple leaf cookies, reading a series of choose-your-own-adventure books and going on an ice-fishing trip with his father. There are reasons it's only four but we'll avoid those spoilers for the review.



The second mini, The Essex County Boxing Club tells of the rise and fall of the club, how success was achieved and then lost, and how at the end of the day, it was more about friendship than boxing. Two life-long friends, Punchin' Patty Papineau and Ted "Thunderpunch" Diemer, started the club in 1976 as a way for manly men to have something to do with their time. It was comprised of a group of farmers who boxed at small town festivals. They even donned costumes, took on silly names and performed for a lot of people, including many of their own "beer-sogged friends, family and co-workers." Along the way, one died and the other lost his way but in the end, the boxing club survived and gave Papineau the outlet to remember and honor his friend.



These two minicomics don't tie in directly with the graphic novels but provide some enjoyable color to the background of Essex County and its citizens. Like the graphic novels, both show the distinct loss and disconnect of their main characters but they both end on an up beat as they end up being the story of the gift of memory. Eddie, facing a loss of memory and more, is able to hold onto his four memories and cherish them. Punchin' Patty's story is a similar one as memories enable Patty to continue the club and continue to box even after the loss of his dear friend.



Since Tales From The Farm, Lemire's artwork has amazed me. Maybe unfairly to an entire Canadian county, his characters have become what I imagine all Essex citizens look like in real life. From their misshapen heads to their flabby bodies, Lemire characters could only be indigenous to a farm land that's always trapped in some kind of perpetual autumn (at least, that's when I imagine most of Lemire's stories taking place.) They happen in a small little pocket of Ontario, CA where a boxing club can exist or where two brothers will fight and argue until their last days (see his Ghost Stories for that story.)



His characters all have one characteristic that they share-- their walking through life on their way to death. Through a wonderful blending of art and story, you're always aware of these characters mortality. That may sound morbid and depressing but the sense of mortality acts more as a memento mori for the readers as we see Lemire's characters fail at life in ways that, from the outside, are obvious and avoidable. But if you put yourself in the characters' place, you can understand the characters' weaknesses and blindness to the obvious pitfalls of life around them. And in these minis, more than in the graphic novels, Lemire projects memory as a good and positive thing that helps us move ahead even after tragedy.

These two minicomics aren't essential reading if you're following the Essex County series but they are fun side-tracks until we get The Country Nurse. They contain the themes and emotions of the graphic novels condensed down into 16 page minicomics. You can purchase the minicomics through Lemire's online store, http://www.jefflemire.com/store.htm.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Vacation Guestblogstravaganza! Jason Powell indulges Dave Sim

Here's another piece from Jason Powell:

Glamourpuss #1
By Dave Sim



When Paul O'Brien used to do a monthly capsule review for every issue of Cerebus during the series' last two or three years of existence, he acknowledged every so often that writer/artist Dave Sim's artistic predilections and obsessions had become so rarefied that the series was now more or less for "completists only."

Alas, the same complaint is probably true of "Glamourpuss," Dave Sim's new series, only more so. Whereas Cerebus contained -- even during some of its most opaque and impenetrable phases of existence -- on ongoing narrative that always was engaging enough to take readers over the rough spots. The sheer momentum and sweep of Sim's storytelling remained even though Cerebus' turbulent final years.

Glamourpuss doesn't have that momentum stored up; nor does it have any kind of coherent narrative. It's a hard sell, by any standard.

What it does have is 20 pages of gorgeous artwork by Dave Sim. That is probably not enough to attract most of the comics-buying audience, but I'm happy to acknowledge that it's enough for me. Sim is truly a master of comic book art. Cerebus will always stand as his masterwork, a series that -- over its 26 years of existence -- boasted innovative storytelling techniques that were so often ahead of their time.

Glamourpuss, by contrast, is more backward looking. It is less about breaking new ground and more about exploring some of the previous generation's pioneers of comics art. Since Sim himself is a pioneer of this generation (I'd even say he's on the top of the heap, the greatest visual innovator of his day), what better person to guide readers through the work of his precursors?
True, it's a little bit stream-of-consciousness in its delivery; it's somewhat scattered and unsteady as it tilts back and forth among critique and personal rumination. Sim also wraps his entire tutorial in a gloss of fashion-magazine parody. It's far from the refined, focused writing that characterized Cerebus at its peak.

Yet, at the same time, there is an attractive kind of dreamy logic to it all. "Self-indulgent" is often used as a pejorative, but certain artists are just so fascinatingly idiosyncratic that -- in my opinion -- they become more entrancing the more self-indulgent they get. Sim falls into that category. Glamourpuss is Sim indulging his own fascinations to the Nth degree -- the entire thing feels like an uncensored, undiluted, unapologetic first draft. And while it's certainly a strange amalgam (glamour magazine meets comics-art tutorial?), Sim's sense of purpose is so strong, and his artistic talents so monumental, that it hangs together quite well. There is no logical reason why it should, but it does, thanks to Sim's sheer visual genius.

Also, while his writing can be a bit fussy, I have to say I still think Sim's sense of humor has got some real chops. I recall reading a bit somewhere in which Sim lamented critics who slammed Cerebus when it "stopped being funny." Glamourpuss showcases Sim's biting sense of humor as well as some of Cerebus' best comedic moments. His "Skanko" bit at the end -- basically an advice column encouraging women to behave like sitcom caricatures -- is a fantastic send-up of pop culture's pervasively brainless gender politics. (Ironic, considering that Sim's own have come under major fire for years.)

Glamourpuss also features some extended, Andy-Kaufman-esque conceptual bits; not as biting as the "Skanko" parody, but compellingly bizarre in their own right.

The whole package is probably too bizarre to appeal to most, but I'd still encourage people to check out the first issue anyway. Many may find it incredibly inaccessible -- but a few might, in spite of themselves, become hooked. I certainly have.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Vacation Guestblogstravaganza! Caleb Mozzocco rhapsodizes bohemianly

Caleb takes care of his own introduction, so I'll just turn things over to him:

Freddie, Mike & Me

Hiya there, Warren Peace Sings the Blues readers! This is Caleb Mozzocco of Every Day Is Like Wednesday, not Matthew J. Brady. You see, Matt lost his blog to me in a poker game, so from now on, Warren Peace Sings the Blues is going to be nothing more than EDILW II.

No actually, as Matt no doubt explained already, he's going on vacation, and didn't want to leave his blog fallow, so invited some other folks to contribute while he's taking it easy. He got me to do
so simply by flattering me, and telling me I was one of his favorite comics bloggers (Now that I think about it, that actually makes me call into question all of his comics criticism; I thought he had pretty decent taste in comics, but man, if he actually thinks EDILW is a good blog, well then, maybe I have to reevaluate my esteem of his opinion).

Anyway, after I agreed to contribute a review of some sort, I wasn't quite sure how to proceed. Should I write a post of the sort that Matt himself might write, like a review of some manga series intended for little Japanese girls? Should I write the sort that I would usually do at Every Day Is Like Wednesday, like 4,000 words about why Martian Manhunter's costuming choices? Or should I mix the two approaches, and write a post about whether Nana Komatsu or Nana Osaki would be a better girlfriend for Dick Grayson?

Well, I've opted to a pretty straight review of a new graphic novel, one that's black and white and mostly set in another country, like manga, but deals with the subject of hero worship, like superhero comics.

Freddie & Me: A Coming-Of-Age (Bohemian) Rhapsody
By Mike Dawson



You might not recognize Mike Dawson's name, but you'll probably recognize his art—he's had pieces in several rather high-profile anthologies, like Alternative Comics' True Porn 2 and AdHouse's Project: Superior. At least, I didn't recognize his name, but did recognize his art, and looking at his website just now, I see he's also worked on a book called Gabagool!.

His new(-ish) book is Freddie & Me: A Coming-Of-Age (Bohemian) Rhapsody, and its title and cover seem to imply that its about a life of Queen fandom. Which, of course, it sort of is, but Queen fandom is more of a hook than the actual subject matter.

This is yet another cartoonist autobiography in graphic novel format (can we call them graphic autobiographies? Or graphic memoirs?), an understandably hot genre in the publishing industry (both prose memoirs in general and graphic novels in general have been on the ascendancy for a while) that has seen a great deal of mainstream success these past few years.

Beyond the acceptance of the current book market, there's a good creative reason for the deluge of such books, however, a reason that Dawson himself says in his book, he believes "comics are especially well suited to autobiography."

I would definitely agree with that, and its something Dawson repeatedly demonstrates. This is essentially his own life's story up until the point that this book was published, and it just so happens that Queen figures quite prominently into many of the milestone moments of his life: the earliest memories of his family, his angstier teenage moments, the maturation of his relationship with his sister, the mourning of his grandmother, his thoughts on fame, success and
mortality.

While the bulk of the book deals with his own life story in more or less linear fashion, he diverges from it a few times for a fantasized history of Wham! (his little sister loved Wham! as much as he loved Queen, to the point that they argued over whether the family cat should be named Queenie or Whammy):



And, in some of the narrative's more insightful passages, to talk about the nature of memory itself:



Here's where Dawson's assertion about the power of the medium is especially astute. Because memory is so visual, comics provide the sort of immediacy that prose can't…or at least most prose can't. The very best prose writers can make a reader see things almost as if they were looking at pictures, whereas even the worst comics artist can create visual images with which to confront the reader.

Additionally, it allows Dawson to capture himself, his friends and his families at different periods of their lives, really underscoring the wince-inducing nature of many of his memories, particularly in the passages about his youth and high school. Hearing him describe the
embarrassment he feels over certain aspects just isn't as powerful as seeing the big-nosed, huge-headed, goon-ish looking teen Dawson with his hair combed over his left eyes, wearing braces and a top hat, you know?



His life story isn't quite so dramatic or tied into major hot-button issues the way Marjane Satrapi's or Alison Bechdel's were. He, his little sister, and his older brother grew up with their parents in England, and then moved to the United States in grade school (his older brother
staying behind for a while). In high school, he became very interested in music, art and girls. He went to college. He got a job. He met a woman and married her. Pretty basic stuff, but no less dramatic because of it (It's certainly easy to relate to).

Throughout it all, there's Queen and Freddie Mercury, a constant touchstone for Dawson's mental life, the story he tells himself of himself, in the phraseology he hears in a discussion about
self on the radio while drawing comics one day.

Queen figures most prominently in the most amusing parts of the narrative—Dawsons' boyhood fantasy of meeting them backstage before a show,
his drawings of his own music videos, his fantasies of singing in the high school lunch room, a comic book adaptation of "Bohemian Rhapsody"—essentially providing context and color to the various rites of passages in his young life.



The very same way that anything that particularly dedicated fans of particular things that people are fans of—music, sports, comics—provide context and color to their own lives. Even lacking a deep knowledge or above-average affection for Queen (prior to read this, I could have counted the Queen songs I knew on one hand), I understood the experience of being a fan Dawson so beautifully communicates.



Now I think I'm going to get off Matt's blog and head to the library to look for some Queen albums. Dawson's sold me on the fact that maybe I ought to listen to some more, if only to see why he loves them so much.

If you'd like to see some of Freddie & Me, Publisher's Weekly has a ten-page preview here,
and Dawson's own site has a 12-page preview here.