Tuesday, April 30, 2013

C2E2 2013: This year, it all comes together

This past weekend, I attended the Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo, and while it looks like it's going to take the better part of a week to recover, any suffering was completely worth it, given the wealth of comics-related experiences that were had over the weekend. As ever, there was more to do and see than was humanly possible, including seeing what comics creators and publishers had to offer; discovering new talents and products; shopping for comics, toys, clothes, art, and most anything else you could think of; attending panel discussions on a variety of subjects; gawking at the eccentrically-attired (the most popular costumes this year seemed to be related to Adventure Time and Doctor Who, and I also spotted a large number of women clad in dresses patterned after Star Wars' R2D2 and Who's TARDIS), playing games of the board or video variety; or just wandering around in awe of everything that was happening. It could have lasted for several more days without exhausting all the possibilities.

Now in its fourth year, C2E2 seems to have settled into a groove, with the organizers having figured out what type of show they want to put on, with an emphasis on comics but the inclusion of nerdery from all across the pop-culture spectrum. The show floor was organized especially well this year, with prominent booths from major publishers and other entertainment companies accessible right inside the entrance, then various retailers grouped together in an intuitive manner (sellers with long-boxes full of comics and graphic novels or tables full of original art were in one section, while purveyors of toys, shirts, and other tchotchkes were in another) and sections like Artist Alley or the autograph tables not shoved too far off to the side. It didn't feel like you had to walk great distances to get from one area to another, but it wasn't overly crowded or prone to bottlenecks either, and everything had an appealing, welcoming feel. For this size of a convention, it definitely seemed like the ideal setup.

There were a couple new sub-sections of the show floor, including "The Block", which featured "lifestyle brands whose products include fashion, collectible designer toys, art and illustration, independent magazine publications, animation, tech, entertainment, and more!" In practice, this made for a more artsy version of the types of Artist Alley booths that sell flashy prints, and also a lot of t-shirts, expensive toys, and stuffed animals. Aside from the Nerd City booth, which featured artists Dave Crosland and Jim Mahfood, this wasn't really my scene, but it was interesting to see a portion of the show floor dedicated to merchandise that wasn't necessarily related to the typical nerd/geek/superhero subject matter.

More interesting, at least to me, was a section of booths dedicated to video games of the "indie" variety. Games made by small teams of developers have been a thriving scene in recent years, so making room to spotlight the endeavors of these talented creators is a great addition to the show. One definite highlight was the fighting game spoof Dive Kick, which pares the often complex mechanics of the genre down to two buttons ("dive" and "kick", of course), involves a bunch of imaginatively cartoony characters, and ends up being a highly enjoyable game to play. There were plenty of other nice-looking games on display, ranging from polished Ipad games like Le Vamp; to labors of love like Organ Trail, Delve Deeper, and Ray's the Dead; to interesting tech demos like Planet's Core. These aren't comics, but as another example of creativity and innovation, they definitely have a place in a show like this.

One definite highlight was meeting the French artist Boulet, who was only at the convention for a couple hours, signing and sketching in the autograph area of the show. He had copies of his 24 hour comic Noirness for sale, and he was happy to chat with everyone who was waiting in line. Watching him draw was a real treat; he didn't do any pencil pre-sketching, but inked directly onto the page, making for a virtuosic display of talent as the images took form. He seemed fascinated by the convention atmosphere, but not in a snooty French way; he was genuinely interested in the other celebrities who were appearing nearby, like an actor who played one of the Power Rangers, or Peter Davison, the Fifth Doctor. He even recognized the performance of the musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that was taking place on a nearby stage. Getting to meet him was a real treat, and I hope C2E2 continues to invite foreign cartoonists in future years, whether from France, Japan, or elsewhere.

As someone who likes my comics conventions to be about comics, I usually avoid celebrity appearances, but I love Patton Oswalt, the comedian, actor, and all-around nerd extraordinaire, so I was excited to attend the Q&A that he did in the convention's huge theater. He fit in well with the show's atmosphere, since he is renowned for his geeky enthusiasm, and he held forth on any number of subjects, from his much-watched scene on a recent episode of Parks and Recreation in which he played a character who filibustered a city council meeting with a description of what he thought the plot of the next Star Wars movie should be (amusingly, while he was parodying the type of pedantic nerd who obsesses over details of comics and sci-fi franchises, he still received a lot of comments correcting the details he got wrong or complaining that he said that Hawkeye wasn't a top-tier member of the Avengers), to his actual hopes that J.J. Abrams will deliver a quality Star Wars sequel. The room was packed with hundreds of people, and Oswalt had them eating out of his hand, demonstrating his shared enthusiasm toward their tastes, mocking the extreme passions that we all have toward the silly things we love, and just generally being hilarious. He was generous and warm with questions from the audience, and he occasionally stopped in mid-sentence to read tweets from fellow comedian Brian Posehn, who was in the audience sending him insulting comments like "This Kenny Baker panel sucks" and "If they add a foot, you can play Puck from Alpha Flight". I especially liked the words of encouragement which he gave the multiple people who asked for advice on how to break into stand-up comedy, acting, or filmmaking; his repeated words of wisdom were to keep doing what they want to do until they get good at it, and eventually success will come. It's inspiring to see someone who is so fiercely intelligent and funny do what he can to encourage those who share his interests. If I'm going to get star-struck by a famous personality, Oswalt is my celebrity of choice.

Of the various panels I attended, I was surprised that my favorite one was "The Chew Panel", a simple hour of chat between John Layman and Rob Guillory, creators of the Image Comics series about a government agent who gets psychic impressions from the food he eats and has adventures in a crazy world in which a bird flu epidemic has made chicken illegal, the FDA and USDA are the most powerful governmental bodies, aliens are meddling with humanity's food supply, and people with other bizarre food-based powers are causing all sorts of problems. It's a highly enjoyable series with a lot of personality, and seeing the creators talk about how it came to be and their methods of working together was not only an enlightening look behind the scenes, but also an inspiring example of a labor of love finding the success it deserves. Layman jumped right into the panel by answering the question that was sure to be asked, revealing that the rumored live action TV adaptation of the series was dead. Showtime had bought the rights to the series (although Layman repeatedly mentioned that he and Guillory never saw any actual money), thinking that it would make a good companion piece to Dexter, but the premise was altered so much by the development process, with the bird flu angle being scrapped, new characters being inserted, and lots of sex being added, that it was nearly unrecognizable. A pilot was shot, but it will probably never see the light of day, and Showtime is no longer interested in doing the series. Layman and Guillory always felt that one of the basic gags of the series, that of the main character being forced to eat disgusting things, just might not work in live action the way it does on paper, coming off as gross and unsettling rather than funny. That said, they are currently working on producing an animated adaptation that they feel would work much better.

But as interesting as an adaptation of the series might be, the comic is quite enjoyable and successful in its original incarnation, and Layman and Guillory related the story of how it came to be. It was an idea that Layman had been wanted to do for years, but it was so weird and kind of gross that he didn't think there was any way it could be successful. After years of trying to find somebody to publish it, he convinced Image to put it out, provided he could find an artist. He ended up being connected with Guillory through a mutual friend, but even then the partnership almost didn't work out due to the latter initially attempting a Vertigo style of artwork, which was darker and less funny than what Layman had in mind. Layman encouraged Guillory to draw in his own preferred style, which ended up being perfect, but even when the series finally came out, neither of them expected it to be successful. They thought that they might be able to do a single arc of five or six issues before getting cancelled, and then maybe get a chance to revive the series later on, but they were an unexpected success, which has allowed them to really do everything they wanted, building the story across more than thirty issues to date, and heading toward a planned conclusion in issue #60. It was fascinating to see how well the two creators seemed to click, with Layman quickly gaining such confidence in Guillory's work that he has become a true collaborator on the series, contributing his own ideas for characters and jokes and adding a huge number of gags and easter eggs in the background of the artwork. They're obviously very passionate about what they do, and they're having such a blast telling the stories they want to tell that one can't help but be inspired.

And, as at any convention, there was much, much more to do and see. One could wander Artist Alley for the entire show, discovering amazing artwork and comics and seeing things like, to name just one example among hundreds, Jill Thompson painting a beautiful picture of Morpheus:

You could wander through the retailer section and stumble across the most impressive collection of original comics art I've ever seen, featuring work from the likes of Jack Kirby, Chris Ware, R. Crumb, Alex Toth, Jim Woodring, Los Bros Hernandez, Johnny Ryan, Daniel Clowes, Seth, Tony Millionaire, Richard Sala, and many other great artists:

You could stumble across a full-scale replica of Speed Racer's car, the Mach 5:

Or see people dressed as Godzilla:

Or the house from Up:

You could find people who were coming up with interesting new ideas around comics and technology, like the graphic novel Anomaly, which was wowing people with an "augmented reality" app that allows one to point their Iphone or Ipad at its pages and see figures appear to jump out of the pages:

You could even see somebody dressed as Pikachu drawing an apparent self-portrait on a giant touch screen, as a promotion for something called Twistory:

There's no end of stuff to do, sights to see, and people to interact with at C2E2. I can't wait until I get to experience it all again next year.

Monday, April 29, 2013

C2E2 2013: This year's swag is overwhelming

I typically come home with a lot of stuff from each convention I attend, whether it's free giveaways, promotional posters or postcards, business cards, or comics that I purchase, but this year's C2E2 seemed to supply even more than I usually end up with. Just check out this haul:

Here's what all of that is:

Back row:
A poster for the graphic novel Anomaly.
A nice pair of Men in Black sunglasses.
A poster for Geof Darrow's Shaolin Cowboy and/or Dark Horse Presents.
A poster for The Losers, using art from the comics series but promoting the movie adaptation.
A poster for the 25th anniversary of Dark Horse manga.
A Hellboy in Hell poster.
A poster for Ryan Browne's God Hates Astronauts, with art by Paolo Rivera. Technically, this was one of the Kickstarter rewards for the book, but I picked it up from him at the convention, so it counts.

Second row:
An issue of Hero Complex magazine.
Giveaway comics from Marvel, Dark Horse, and Archaia.
A preview ashcan comic for Jeffrey Moy's Video Game Gals, promoting a Kickstarter campaign that apparently wasn't successful.
A Dick Tracy head sketch by Jim Brozman, who worked as Dick Locher's assistant when he was drawing the strip, and who also used to work at my local comic book store.
A print for Steve Horton and Michael Dialynas' Amala's Blade.
A print for the graphic novel The Fifth Beatle, by Vivek J. Tiwary, Andrew C. Robinson, and Kyle Baker.
A couple of cute Marvel prints by Skottie Young.
A "bookplate" for God Hates Astronauts, with art by Joe Quinones and Maris Wicks.
Cat Le Drivers #1, by Kevin D. Bandt.
Solution Squad #1, by Jim and Rose McClain.

Third Row:
Burning Building Comix, by Jeff Zwirek.
Wolves of Odin, by Grant Gould.
Halloween Eve, by Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder.
Hector Plasm: Totentanz, by Benito Cereno and Nate Bellegarde.
Noirness, by Boulet.
Very Near Mint, Volume One, by Justin Peterson.
Auto Correct, a minicomic by Andrew J. Rostan and Biz Knapp, published by Yeti Press.
A print for Husbands, the internet TV series and comic by Brad Bell and Jane Espenson.
An "Itty Bitty Hellboy" print by Art Baltazar and Franco.
Bird Witch, Chapter 1, by Kat Leyh, published by Yeti Press.
Manta Dad, a spinoff of the webcomic Manta Man, by Chad Sell.
Kill All Monsters, Volume 1, by Michael May and Jason Copland.

Bottom row:
Aw Yeah Comics! #1-2, by Art Baltazar and Franco.
The Curse, by Mike Norton.
Green and Bear It, a Muppets children's book by Martha T. Ottersley and Amy Mebberson.
A lanyard promoting Archaia's Hawken.
A Hellboy papercraft model featuring art by Art Baltazar and Franco.
Gertrude the Great, a children's book by Trisa Laughlin and Jill Thompson.
A lanyard promoting Dark Horse manga.
A Star Wars origami kit.
Artist Alley Comics.
A Visit to the Museum of Chinese in America and The VIP Room, both written by Amy Chu, along with a Girls Night Out paper doll.

I think that's everything in the photo, but I've also got a ton of other stuff to sort through and write about, so stay tuned for more blatherings about the stuff I saw and thought worthy of mention!

Art What I Like: One Piece Is Awesome, Example #35

In One Piece, Eiichiro Oda seems to always be walking a tightrope, somehow maintaining a balance between awesome action, silly humor, over-the-top characters and concepts, and heartfelt emotion, but he never falters, somehow always nailing the tone, selling threats and fights with massive stakes but still being goofy whenever the opportunity arises. I especially like this bit of humor in volume 38, in which Luffy ignores various characters' warnings of the danger of rushing in to rescue a captured comrade, leading to a hilariously massive plop take:

It's not exactly a traditional plop take, in which one or more characters react to something someone says by collapsing off the panel, with only their feet visible, as if the sheer unbelievability of the statement has caused them to faint, but it functions along the same lines, and the sheer number of guys freaking out about what Luffy said is hilarious, with some of them falling to their knees, collapsing  in disbelief, or even throwing themselves into the air. I love the way Oda can give us a dramatic moment like this, in which Luffy displays determination in the face of terrible danger, and undercut it with something that makes the reader laugh out loud. How he walks this fine line without error is beyond me, but I love to see him do it.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Art What I Like: One Piece Is Awesome, Example #34

Much of the appeal of Eiichiro Oda's One Piece comes from the awesome action, crazy ideas, and goofy humor, but the core of the series is the characters and their relationships, fitting into the shonen manga template of friendship and loyalty. The Water Seven arc has seen the bond between our heroes shaken a bit, with the apparent betrayal of the crew by Nico Robin hitting them especially hard. So when we learn her true motives in volume 38, Nami's reaction to the news perfectly sums up the catharsis that both she and the reader feels:

That last line is key; the power of friendship is what gives these characters their strength, and the relief that they feel when they learn that their loyalty wasn't misplaced is enough to provide strength to overcome any obstacles. Victory by our heroes is pretty much always assured, but by providing such heartfelt motivation, Oda keeps the struggles from being formulaic and obvious. I can't wait to see how they use this strength to win over the impossible odds this time.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Art What I Like: One Piece Is Awesome, Example #33

Eiichiro Oda has more on his mind in One Piece than pirate fights and the bonds of friendship, as we saw in the Skypeia storyline, which incorporated some commentary on religion, looking at its negatives and positives. He's at it again with the lengthy Water Seven arc, with the subject this time being technology and how it can be used for destruction, but also for life-changing progress. Much of the intrigue this time is based around the plans for an ancient battleship which is so powerful that it could destroy the world. Considering this comic's nation of origin, this might seem like a commentary on nuclear weapons, but some complications are added to the viewpoint in a multi-chapter flashback that describes the relationship between the characters Iceberg, Franky, and their mentor, Tom. We learn that while Tom and his company of shipwrights were spending years developing the sea train which bring about the economic recovery of Water Seven, Franky was spending all his free time building battleships that he could use to hunt sea monsters, which didn't sit so well with Iceberg:

And what's more, he gets proven right when a government agent, intent on getting his hands on the plans for the ancient weapons which Tom has been hiding, has his men steal Franky's fleet of battleship prototypes and attack the judicial ship which was there to render judgment on Tom for building a ship for the legendary pirate Gold Roger (he had been granted a stay of execution in order to build the sea train), causing untold death and destruction. When confronted with what his hand had wrought, Franky tries to renounce his creations, but he gets upbraided by Tom for it:

This speech tends toward "guns don't kill people, people kill people" rhetoric, but even if you don't agree with it, it's a thought-provoking look at the technology that people create and how it can be used for good or ill. I'm not sure I buy the idea that innovators don't bear any responsibility for their creations, but Tom has shown that he has people's best interests at heart, even if his creations can be twisted into something they weren't intended for. I expect there will be more examination of the concept to come, especially involving the condemnation that has been levied (in the "present day") upon Straw Hats crew member Nico Robin for having the ability to translate the ancient language and actually bring the legendary weapon into existence. Is there knowledge that is inherently evil? Are there concepts that humanity can't be entrusted with? That's heady stuff for a shonen manga, but Oda incorporates it into his story with flair, adding nearly unthinkable stakes to the battle that his heroes are fighting. I can't wait to see how it turns out.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Neverending Fray: Reading is fundamental

Groo the Wanderer #100
By Sergio Aragones, Mark Evanier, Stan Sakai (lettering), and Tom Luth (coloring)
Published by Epic Comics, 1993

Most mainstream comics exist in a state of stasis, with each issue beginning and ending in the same basic place, the status of the characters rarely changing from story to story. This is especially true for humor comics, and Groo is no exception, with each new story seeing him wandering into a new locale and getting up to his usual hijinx. So when a real change occurs, it's pretty notable; up until this landmark issue, the only real shake-up to the status quo was the addition of Rufferto as Groo's faithful companion. But after over 100 issues, the Groo Crew must have been itching to tweak their formula, if only slightly, so they do so here by altering one of the fundamental truths of the series, that being that the main character is very, very stupid. He's so dumb that any increase in his intelligence makes a pretty big difference, and the change that he goes through here by learning to read ends up being kind of fascinating, a real development of his character. It's a bold step, one that the creative team certainly didn't take lightly.

The story builds organically to the big event, giving Groo some motivation to increase his intelligence by having him get frustrated with his illiteracy. He has rarely been bothered by his lack of intelligence in the past, but his constant confusion is starting to get to him:

His worries are alleviated somewhat when he gets recruited into an army of fellow dimwits who are sent on a suicide mission as a ploy by a general to take over a kingdom that supposedly is hiding a vast treasure. But we learn that the king doesn't know where the treasure is either, and wouldn't you know it, Groo just happens to stumble across its hiding place:

Unfortunately, there is no way out of the cavern hiding the treasure, and Groo is stuck there, along with its decrepit guard, a fellow named Abecedario. With no place to go, the old man decides to take on the monumental task of teaching Groo to read, which gives us some enjoyable gags:

Groo can't stay trapped in the cavern forever, so following the old man's death, he actually figures out how to get out (he's gotten smarter already!), but once he's free, it seems his priorities have changed somewhat:

When he comes across a library in a nearby town, it's like a whole new world has suddenly become available to him, and much to Rufferto's chagrin, he seems less interested in his typical passions:

This contentedness cannot last, of course, or else there wouldn't be much of a comic, so events soon transpire to destroy Groo's life of tranquility. Various characters, including the aforementioned king, Taranto, and Pal and Drumm, show up looking for the hidden treasure, and they turn the town upside down. Groo's first impulse is to attack, but the librarians convince him that violence doesn't solve anything, so he tries to reason with them, to no avail. And then the real tragedy strikes, when looters set fire to the library, and when nobody is willing to help put it out, Groo has to resort to what he does best:

It's a powerful moment, a collision of Groo's new ideals with his old way of life, and watching him beat down those too ignorant to appreciate the treasure that is knowledge is both cathartic and sad, providing a realization that Groo will never be able to leave behind his life of violence (not that we would ever want him to). The issue ends with him deciding to make his way to a new land where he can belong, away from those who would judge him based on his reputation for stupidity. We'll have to see how that works out.

This issue ends up being an odd one, a bit more serious than the comic usually is, but that seems necessary when making such a big change to Groo's life. As much as he had previously seemed to enjoy his life of vagrancy and adventure, there was obviously something missing, a struggle for respect, or at least not to be hated by everyone he encountered. Is he actually going to be intelligent now? From what I recall, he does seem to have gained some minimal smarts, but he still gets up to his usual activities, jumping into frays with no warning and getting caught up in the schemes of those seeking power and wealth. It ends up being a fairly small tweak to the status quo, but one that has a lasting impact, and maybe even makes Groo a bit more sympathetic. We'll see how it goes, but I'm excited to rediscover what the Groo Crew did as they struck out into bold new territory. As always, I'm happy to be going along for the ride.

Next: "A New Land"
This issue's stats:
Recurring characters: Just about everyone. Taranto and Pal and Drumm appear in the main story (along with Minstrel, Sage, Arba and Dakarba, Arcadio, Grooella, Chakaal, and Ahax in Groo's imagination), and see some of the images below for appearances by anyone and everyone else.
Moral: No moral, surprisingly. 
Spanish words: Abecedario means "alphabet". A book in the library is called "Brujeria", which means "witchcraft". General Maton is named after the word for "bully".
Hidden message: I knew they wouldn't be able to resist putting one in the big anniversary issue. It can be seen on the spines of some of the books in this panel, reading "A hidden message in this issue? That is absurd!":

Running jokes: Groo gets called a mendicant. Groo surprises Rufferto by seeking out something to read instead of cheese dip or a fray. Drumm asks Pal to buy him a house. Somebody asks if Groo is slow of mind, and he surprisingly answers in the affirmative, and never gets around to questioning what they meant, at least not in this issue.
Intro follies: The intro page features a big gala for the landmark 100th issue, with cameos from a bunch of Groo characters, friends of the Groo Crew (I'd love to see some annotations of who's who; I'm sure there are lots of famous cartoonists in there), and even the back of Alfred E. Neuman's head:

Value-added: This issue's puzzle page is a cool ladder maze:

Also, in lieu of a back-cover Rufferto strip, this issue has an image packed with just about every notable supporting character from throughout the entire series, including Al Jaffee, Groo's wife, Groo's parents, Groo's "girlfriend", and even Lat:

Mark Evanier's job(s): Funambulist ("tightrope walker")
Letter column jokes: Mark gets some anniversary thanks to the comic's readers, editors, and creative team out of the way, then he moves on to print a letter from the infamous M. Wayne Williams, who had previously said he could only afford to buy every other issue of Groo, inspiring Mark to print his letter in every issue. He promises to buy every issue from now on, which makes Mark happy that he can stop printing his previous letter. I seem to have missed a running joke involving Brent Anderson in the last few issues; apparently Mark asked people who know who he is to write in? Kevin Cunningham provides the example for this issue, mentioning a miniseries called The Spacing Dutchman which was supposedly going to be published by DC (from what I can tell, it was eventually published by Slave Labor as part of a series called Spin World; note the name of the letterer). Mark Whiteford provides a creepy description of his duct tape fetish, and Mark says he feels the same way about his Wham-o Slip n' Slide. Chert Pellett writes in with a Grooism, telling of the time his dad was about to cut down a tree for a customer at the family Christmas tree farm, and the person stopped him to ask if the tree was fresh. He also notes that he typed "Sergio" into his spell-checker, and it suggested "sage" as a replacement. Mark says he tried the same thing, and his spell-checker suggested "Antonio Prohias". Adam Hodgin notes that he had a letter printed in issue #89 that said what "[Mark] did at the party last night was inexcusable," but wonders if a similar letter from David Schuster in issue #95 was an homage. Mark says no, he just behaves very badly at parties. In other news, Mark notes that Sergio guest-starred on an episode of the TV show Bob, along with Jack Kirby, Bob Kane, Marc Silvestri, Jim Lee, and other comics luminaries.

The Neverending Fray index

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Art What I Like: One Piece Is Awesome, Example #32

As I've mentioned before, I love the awesome character introductions that Eiichiro Oda often does in One Piece, and there's a great one in volume 37, during a flashback that details the history of Iceberg, Franky, and the city of Water Seven. The thing that ties them all together is a fellow named simply Tom, the world's greatest shipwright. Here's our first look at him, and in just a couple panels, we see how awesome he is:

Yes, he just finished assembly of a huge ship by tossing it in the air and hurling the masts into place. That's enough to make me love this guy for all time. This sort of immediate establishment of awesomeness is yet another thing that Oda excels at. Will the wonders of this series never cease?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Neverending Fray: Not a drop

Groo the Wanderer #94
By Sergio Aragones, Mark Evanier, Stan Sakai (lettering), and Tom Luth (coloring)
Published by Epic Comics, 1992

There's a bit of social commentary in this issue, regarding the way richer countries often exploit their poorer neighbors in order to acquire resources, with a bit of disgust at the decadent consumption of first world nations when those who aren't as well-off struggle to survive. That's a bit serious for Groo, of course, so it's not all that heavy-handed, but it's there, as our hero finds out about the country of Porciuncula, which has been hoarding all the water in the region so that it can enjoy luxuries like fountains and baths while people in surrounding villages are dying of thirst:

The king and people of Porciuncula are such jerks about their entitlement to whatever the please that one welcomes the idea of Groo getting involved with them, since we know he's going to screw things up for them. First, he ends up ruining a peace mission by charging into battle because he feels like it, but this actually turns out to be beneficial for Porciuncula when the potential ally surrenders to them. But the king is happy enough that he gives Groo more responsibilities:

Things don't go so well after that; first, Groo goes on a mission to bring back some icebergs, but he takes a shortcut through the desert, so the ice all melts. And for a final insult, he finds a source of water and has some workers dig a channel to deliver it to Porciuncula, but it turns out to be salt water. Wah wah wah! And so, we've got another example of why Groo should never be put in charge of anything. If only most of the people whose lives he ruined were so deserving.

The issue ends up being a decent romp, if not exactly an exceptional one, but there are some good gags, like the way the people of Porciuncula is so grossed out by Groo bathing in their fountains and baths:

And I like this little joke in which a soldier is certain that Groo will be the death of him:

There's always plenty to see and enjoy in Groo comics, and this one is no exception. I'm feeling like there needs to be some sort of big shake-up though...

Next: We skip ahead to the big anniversary issue #100, "A Little Knowledge".
This issue's stats:
Recurring characters: The Sage and Granny Groo show up in the backup strips.
Moral: "There is no solution to a problem of sheer greed."
Spanish words: The city of Porciuncula is named after either a city in Brazil or the former name for the Los Angeles River. The name of the town of Salinas spoils the issue's punchline, since it means "saltworks".
Running jokes: Groo has awful table manners, and he while he thinks "Did I err?,  he doesn't want people to think so, since it might ruin his reputation.
Intro follies: Sergio is still attempting to be a superhero, and he's still claiming this is issue number one:

Value-added: Another puzzle page that makes use of Sergio's penchant for insane amounts of detail:

Mark Evanier's job(s): Healthy Person
Letter column jokes: Mark continues the odd trend of reprinting a letter from the previous issue with Aaron Belisle's threat to watch C-Span. After a dumb letter from Josh LaClane (he apologizes for a previous letter with a question that made no sense, and says if his letter gets printed, he'll get it bronzed and make duplicates for all his friends), Mark tries to find some serious letters to print. First up is one from William Bussard that simply says "This is a serious letter" but includes a P.S. that reveals that he was kidding. Diana Nossip reveals that she discovered where Arba and Dakarba's names came from (spelling "Abra Cadabra" backwards) and acts very proud of herself. Mark replies "Gib laed". Nathan "RiffRaff" Conner suggests the following (terrible) cast for a Groo movie:
Groo: Steven Seagal
Grooella: Roseanne Arnold
Granny Groo: "The woman in 'Mama's Family' with some padding" (Vicki Lawrence?)
Little Groo: Macaulay Culkin
Rufferto: "Spuds MacKenzie with some orange paint"
Arba: Cher
Dakarba: "The old woman in Throw Momma from the Train" (Anne Ramsey)
The Sage: Peter Falk
Mulch: Benjy
Grativo: "The guy whose name I forgot who played Judge Doom in the Roger Rabbit movie" (Christopher Lloyd)
Captain Ahax: Chevy Chase
Chakaal: "The woman in Terminator 2 whose name I forget but I think is Linda Hamilton" (it is) "Or, one of the American Gladiators. (One of the female ones.)"
The Minstrel: Dudley Moore
Arcadio: "Arnie Schwarzenegger, with longer hair"
Drumm: "Sly Stallone, with a lot less hair"
Pal: Christian Slater or Joe Pesci
Taranto: "The guy from 'Married...With Children'" (Ed O'Neill)
Thaiis: Darryl Hannah
Thaiis's short, hairy friends: The Muppets, or the McDonald's French Fry Guys.
And in an actual serious letter, Tony "Hambone" Smejek, an aspiring cartoonist, writes in to ask for advice about how to get his work published, and Mark tells him to draw everything he can for everyone he can, submitting work to whatever outlets he can find, even if they aren't very glamorous, and doing his best to be prolific. That's good advice for anybody.

The Neverending Fray index

Monday, April 22, 2013

Art What I Like: One Piece Is Awesome, Example #31

It seems like I'm constantly praising the drama and emotion in Eiichiro Oda's One Piece, but he somehow manages to keep coming up with scenes that should be ridiculous, but are actually moving. The latest example can be found in volume 37, when Usopp is confronted with the reality that the crew's ship, the Merry Go, is beyond repair:

We had previously seen that Usopp was willing to fight a losing battle against Luffy and quit the crew when confronted with the possibility of scrapping the ship, but the revelation that he's aware of its doomed status turns this into a tragic love affair, one that should seem silly, but is so emotionally pure that it borders on tear-jerking. And what's more, we find out that the crew's love for the Merry Go was so strong that its spirit actually took on a physical form  in order to help the crew continue their adventures a little bit longer:

How Oda manages to make this serious and touching rather than silly is a mystery to me, but it's just one more example of how incredibly good he is at what he does. I'm continually surprised and amazed at what he comes up with, and while I never know what's coming next, I can pretty much guarantee that it's going to knock my socks off.