Saturday, January 31, 2004

 
Weekend Update -- Much to my surprise, I actually did make it over to Modern Myths in Northampton, Massachusetts yesterday. My friend Marshall came along, and we had a great time talking to owner Jim Crocker about comics, life in New England, and more. I also spent way more than I should have on comics, and impressed myself with how I dodged the question when I got home. Wife: "How much did you spend on books?" Me: "The ones I got for the kids? The book I bought Kira was six dollars." Wife: "No, altogether, how much did you spend?" Me: "Who can say with any degree of certainty?"

On the bright side, I found a Junji Ito title I haven't read yet (absolutely loved his Uzumaki), GYO, and discovered Jim Woodring's The Book of Jim among the seeming thousands of graphic novels in stock at Modern Myths. I also got the second Uncanny X-Men Masterworks volume, because I am nostalgic for the Claremont/Byrne era, and the second volume contains the beginning of their run. I look forward to re-reading those stories for the first time in decades, in some cases, and reminiscing about a time when Claremont and Byrne were both viable comics creators.

Check out Steven Grant's essay about his new title My Flesh is Cool, by the way -- it's good reading, along the lines of his Permanent Damage column. I reviewed My Flesh is Cool earlier this week, in case you missed it.

In the works for next week: Another installment of Short, Sharp Shocks and another comics creator agrees to answer Five Questions.

Friday, January 30, 2004

 



James Kochalka -- James Kochalka is one of the most unique and entertaining cartoonists I've encountered in three decades of comics reading. He's also a hell of a singer, in his frequently-hilarious rock band James Kochalka Superstar. He consented to be subjected to Five Questions.

You've been doing your daily diary strips for a few years now, what have you learned from doing it?

"A few years..." Five years and 3 months to be precise.

I've learned that the patterns of events in life are connected in very complicated ways. Even things that don't seem connected at all, often are. Life is kind of like a complicated African poly-rhythm that coheres into a unified whole.

I've also learned that drawing is just as natural as breathing, or walking or talking. It's just a part of life for me. It's just as easy (and as difficult!) as making your way through the days and years of your life.

You're about to release a large collection of your Sketchbook Diaries and there's talk of a major label record deal for your band James Kochalka Superstar. My kids have grown up with your stuff on our stereo (some of it, anyway!) and believe you're one of the biggest stars alive, but it looks like you're about to hit even bigger. How do you feel about the possibility of this increased exposure?

Scared? Really, my life is perfect the way it is right now. My wife and I make enough money to pay our bills, we have a cute little house with a beautiful view, and an amazing and dynamic little baby. More money might be nice, but I don't need it. What I am excited about is the possibility of more people discovering my comics and my music. I really can't imagine that the world at large could ever appreciate my work. I just can't imagine that my comics and music will ever actually be popular... but there's probably a few people in every town that could really love it. I'm just trying to reach those people.

The Sketchbook Diaries might be my work with the most universal appeal, even though it's also my most idiosyncratic work. The big book collecting the first five years of the diary strip will come out this summer. I don't think I'll ever draw a better book, so if this one doesn't put me on the map as a cartoonist, then nothing will.

On the musical front, yes it looks like I'm going to sign a record deal. We've been working out the details of the contract for almost a year now, I think! It's not actually signed yet though, and I don't like to count my chickens before they're hatched. I've never gone looking for a record deal. I've been pretty satisfied with self-releasing my CDs. But Jeff Rougvie from Ryko records has been a big fan of my music for a long time, and he talked me into it.

Your wife Amy and baby Eli figure prominently in your strips, as do many of your friends and acquaintences. Tell me a funny story about someone unhappy with their depiction in your strips.

Well, I don't think there's necessarily anything that funny about the people who are unhappy with their depiction in my strips. I have one friend who's really, really against being in the comic. He made me drop one strip that would've gone in Volume 3 because I drew him in it. So, the world will never see that one. You'll have to come over one day and I'll show it to you in the original sketchbook.

A lot of people beg to be drawn into the strip. I'll tell you right now, begging doesn't help you get in.

What inspired your song "Wash Your Ass?"

I have no idea! I can't remember anything about writing that one. I think that was one of the easy ones that just popped out of my mouth fully formed. Since then I've learned that there was a Redd Fox comedy album titled Wash Your Ass, but I didn't know about that before I wrote it. There's also a heavy metal influence. It's like an instructional love song, I guess. You know, if you want to get the girl, you've got to wash your ass.

You, Dan Clowes and Jeffrey Brown are all planning superhero-oriented works...What do you think is the most compelling reason people will enjoy your upcoming superhero project?

Mine is dense, colorful, wild, crazy and funny. That's why people will enjoy mine. I imagine Dan's will be very erudite and deep. I imagine Jeffrey Brown's will be loose and free flowing. I think they're all going to be great.

Visit James Kochalka's American Elf website, and while you're there be sure to order his new mini-comics Reinventing Everything (which I review here) and The Cute Manifesto.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

 
From the House of Snark -- Here's some comments (in bold) on Marvel Comics product shipping April, 2004.

DAREDEVIL: FATHER #1 (of 5 LS)

Written, illustrated & CARDSTOCK cover by JOE QUESADA
Inks by Danny Miki, color by Richard Isanove

In celebration of Daredevil's 40th Anniversary! Marvel Editor-in-Chief and acclaimed writer of NYX Joe Quesada makes his long-awaited return to the drawing board after nearly four years for a very special and very personal DD tale. For the first time writing AND illustrating, DD legend Quesada crafts a mystery set during the deadliest heat wave in NYC history. A serial killer is on the loose pushing a city already past its breaking point over the edge, and Daredevil must battle the heat and fear to keep a crumbling Hell's Kitchen together… by any means necessary!

32 PGS./MARVEL PSR…$3.50

So fifty cents gets you some cardstock, huh? I wonder why Jimmy Palmiotti isn't inking this. That seems like it would be a natural.

SPIDER-MAN #1

Written by MARK MILLAR
Covers & pencils by TERRY DODSON

Superstars Mark Millar & Terry Dodson team for SPIDER-MAN's debut in an ongoing MARVEL KNIGHTS series. This action-packed, hyper-realistic tale finds Peter Parker forced to face the cruel realities that wearing the Spider-Man mask and web-shooters brings to his personal life. Featuring a brutal confrontation between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin!

32 PGS./MARVEL PSR…$2.99

When I think "hyper-realistic" and "brutal," why do I not think of Terry Dodson?

ULTIMATES VOLUME 2 #1

Written by MARK MILLAR
Cover & pencils by BRYAN HITCH

One year has passed since the Chitauri invasion and much has changed inside the corridors of the Triskelion, leading to questions about Iron Man's health, Thor's "godhood" and the relationship between Cap and the Wasp(?)! ULTIMATES Volume 2 focuses on the global reaction to the team, and the burgeoning new super heroes and super-teams like the Ultimate Defenders and Ultimate Captain Britain popping up all over the world!

32 PGS./MARVEL PSR+…$2.99

If they can keep to a monthly schedule, I'd be willing to bet people would care again.

NEW X-MEN #155 & 156
Written by CHUCK AUSTEN
Covers & pencils by SALVADOR LARROCA

"BRIGHT NEW MOURNING" pts. 1 & 2 (of 2)
In the aftermath of Magneto's rampage upon NYC and the Xavier Institute, Cyclops & Emma find themselves at a crossroads. Should the school be rebuilt? Should they continue on as X-Men? And how will it affect their blossoming relationship?

32 PGS. (each)/MARVEL PSR…$2.25 (each)

Will there be a more dramatic drop in orders than the one from Grant Morrison's last issue to the first Chuck Austen issue? I can tell you right now that comics would be better off if every single person who orders this finds something else to do and gets the fuck out of comics. Because they're only hurting the industry.

SUPREME POWER #9

Written by J. MICHAEL STRACZYNSKI
Cover & pencils by GARY FRANK

The world is still shaking from the titanic battle of Hyperion and Dr. Spectrum. Is Earth big enough for two such powerful beings? And who is Power Princess? Find out here!

32 PGS./PARENTAL ADVISORY…$2.99

"The world is still shaking from the titanic battle of Hyperion and Dr. Spectrum." Uh, no, the world is still sleeping from the utterly torpid first six issues of this snooze-fest.

 
Trapped Like A Rat in A Cage -- I'm stuck at home today, as my Weeklong Birthday Spectacular winds toward its second and final weekend.

With snow in the forecast today, I'm having to put off a hoped-for trip to Modern Myths, a Northampton, Massachusetts comics shop that is a couple of hours from my house and one of the finest and most diverse comics stores I've ever been in. If the forecast improves for tomorrow I may make the attempt, as I really want to get over there and see what owner Jim Crocker has stocked his shelves with since the last time I was there.

Yesterday was a pretty good day as Weeklong Birthday Spectacular days go; I finally tracked down a copy of Baby Monkey, the new CD by Voodoo Child -- which is really Moby. My local Coconuts record/CD/DVD store didn't have it, but I finally tracked a copy down at Wal-Mart. I hate giving them money, but I really wanted this CD. It's all dance/techno/instrumental stuff. Moby is one of my favourite musicians, and I've listened to the CD about 10 times now. While some tracks are better than others (almost always true with Moby), almost all of them are good, and I think it holds up well in comparison to his recently released 18 B-Sides CD, which I also liked quite a bit.

My family went out to dinner last night at one of our favourite restaurants, accompanied by my friend and original Comic Book Galaxy partner Marshall O'Keefe, who my kids absolutely adore. Marshall's one of my oldest friends, going back to high school. I think we met in 1980 or '81, and have enjoyed a strong friendship cemented by compatible (although not always identical) views on life, the universe and everything. It's one of the joys of my life that my children are so fascinated by him and enjoy his company as much as I do. Normally I'm in bed by the time we got home last night, but I'm on vacation, so what the hell.

Arriving home after dinner, I occupied some time re-reading Ed Brubaker and Colin Wilson's five-issue Point Blank mini-series, which led into Sleeper, which you may remember is my favourite monthly comic right now. I'd had a brief discussion with some friends in the industry about Point Blank and its necessity or lack thereof to enjoying Sleeper, and I've come to the conclusion that you really have a greater understanding and enjoyment of Sleeper if you've carefully read Point Blank (which, like Sleeper, has been collected in trade paperback). Point Blank is a complex but rewarding mystery involving Grifter from Wildcats trying to navigate the dark and dangerous underworld of the Wildstorm Universe. Throwing in a SPOILER WARNING here, I'll just point out that in Point Blank you get to see:

The art, by Colin Wilson, is different from what Sean Phillips turns in on Sleeper, but it has a Walt Simonson kind of looseness to it that I find appealing, and it is definitely complementary to the art in Sleeper.

So that's my comics recommendation for the day -- if you haven't checked out Point Blank yet, give it a look.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

 
Weeklong Birthday Spectacular Update -- Yesterday was the Boxing Day of my Weeklong Birthday Spectacular, and since the events of the week have to be parsed out very carefully, the big event of the day was a haircut.

Yeah, well, I enjoyed it.

Today's main event is a trip to what we used to call the "record store," to pipck up the new CD by Voodoo Child, which is Moby's instrumental/ambient side project. This is the second full album he's released, and I love the one track I've already heard off it -- and the previous release is one of the CDs that spends the most time in my CD player. So it's a must-buy for me.

Hopefully you read and enjoyed today's debut of Five Questions For... (scroll down to the previous post if you don't know what I'm talking about), and if you have any suggestions for creators you'd like to see answer Five Questions, shoot me off an e-mail and any contact information, if you have it, and I'll do my best.

I should note that Augie De Blieck has posted some reviews in his new column today, notably DC: The New Frontier Augie says:

This is a beautiful book, and a high watermark for everyone else to aim for throughout the rest of this year. Cooke's art is well stage-managed. The issue reads like a storyboard to a feature film, and not just a comic book.

I recommended New Frontier in my Short, Sharp Shocks yesterday, and want to encourage you to give it a look, even if you're put off by the $6.95 price tag. At 64-ad free pages of glorious story and art, New Frontier is one of the most entertaining bargains around. Like Augie, I crave a hardcover collection, but I don't want to wait a year or more to read the rest of this terrific story.

 



Ed Brubaker -- Ed Brubaker writes some of the most involving and entertaining comics available today, including my favourite monthly title Sleeper, Gotham Central, and Catwoman. He's rumoured to be in line to write The Authority, a move which can only improve what was once the best superhero comic being published. He took the time to be the first subject of another new feature on the ADD Blog, answering Five Questions.

Your career began largely with independent, often autobiographical comics far removed from the harrowing, superpowered paranoia of Sleeper. Track the evolution of your career from then to now.

It's not that easy to do, really. I started out wanting to be a cartoonist,
and spent most of my twenties doing that, working on Lowlife, which was very
personal. During that time, though, I started writing comics for friends to
draw, as well, because I'd always been more comfortable as a writer than an
artist. I'm a very slow artist, and rarely pleased with my own work. So
being a cartoonist was sort of about finding stories I felt were worth the
time it would take me to draw them. I rarely if ever told anecdotes, like a
lot of autobio comics did, because it seemed pointless to spend six months
drawing an anecdote.

The more I wrote stories for other artists, the more ideas for stories I got
that I would never want or even be able to draw on my own. Then Eric
Shanower got me into Vertigo in the mid-90s, which was my first real paying
gig, and I had fun doing it. This led to more offers of writing work from
DC, and as I was getting into my early 30s, and getting sick of being dirt
poor, it was nice to be able to earn money doing something I was good at and
enjoyed. And this, of course, has led to some screenwriting and opened other
doors for me as a writer in other fields that I'm just beginning to explore.

Part of being able to have a career as a writer for comics and the biggest
departure from the early part of my comics career, of course, is that I no
longer dismiss genre work as automatically bad. I like a lot of crime
fiction and some sci-fi, and I think in my 20s, when I was at the height of
my art-fagginess, I felt guilty for liking stuff like that. As I got older,
I just stopped feeling that way. I love Philip K. Dick and Ross Macdonald's
writing just as much as Milan Kundera or Raymond Carver's, and sometimes
more, because they're less pretentious.

Reading some older Wildcats issues recently, I was struck by how
much the art of Sean Phillips has changed. He was an incredible artist
then but his work with you on Sleeper far transcends the high standard
he set back then. What do you feel he brings to the creative
partnership?


Sean brings a depth of understanding and subtlety to what we do. He knows
how to draw facial expressions that make you sympathize with the characters
on the page, and he knows how to establish mood. One of the hardest parts of
working in comics as a writer is finding an artist who understands what
you're trying to get across. Sean does, as do several other artists I've
worked with. And he's fast as hell, which is rare, too.

What's the best thing, for you, about your current working
relationship with DC/Wildstorm?


I guess the stability. Knowing there's paying work available to me, usually
work I enjoy. It's allowed me to buy a house and support a family. That's
pretty nice.

What's the worst?

That's a hard one. I suppose I'd like a bit more marketing support for my
work. I seem to write some of their best reviewed and most award-nominated
work, but they don't seem to push it very much sometimes. A lot of this is
changing, of course, with the success of the Sleeper TPB and how much more
mainstream mags like Wizard are writing about my work lately. Of course, as
I've said before, they will never push any of our work as much as we'd like
them to.

If you could do one thing to improve the comics industry, what would
it be?


That's easy, I'd cancel three quarters of the mainstream superhero books and
publish a lot of different genres like the publishers did in the 50s when
superhero comics stopped selling. I think we're just slicing the pie into
more pieces every year, and while there are some good superhero books out
there, there's simply too many to fit on the average comic store's shelves,
so is it any wonder a lot of good ones don't get stocked? I don't know if
this would work, because the Direct Market is such a disaster anyway, but I
think it would be nice to see a more diverse offering in stores.

Or maybe we should just make the whole market returnable. That would be
great, because then retailers wouldn't have to rely on subscriptions from
their customers and could afford to stock a wider variety of material in
their stores. I know there are economic reasons this doesn't happen, but I
think it's criminal that this is the only entertainment industry that puts
all the risk on the retailer, not the publisher.

Thanks to Ed for taking part in the first Five Questions, and remember to visit EdBrubaker.com


Monday, January 26, 2004

 
The Week in Comics -- Here's a look at some notable titles arriving in stores this Wednesday. While it's not a banner week like last week, there's still some good, solid comics being released.

COMING WEDNESDAY JANUARY 28TH

AIT/PLANETLAR

DEMO #3 (Of 12) $2.95 -- I've enjoyed the two standalone stories told in the previous issues, and Becky Cloonan's art is a genuine revelation. Whether this will continue to build into a symphony of interesting and appealing comics over the course of its 12 issues or creatively crash and burn like the similarly-formatted Global Frequency remains to be seen. One thing is certain, and that is that Cloonan is going places.

DC COMICS

WILDCATS VERSION 3.0 #18 $2.95 -- Recently caught up on Volume Two of this title, which was mostly drawn by the exquisite-even-then Sean Phillips and written by 3.0's Joe Casey. Wildcats is proof-positive that Casey can write compelling and entertaining comics over the long haul with very few stumbles. If only much of the rest of his work had this sort of hold over me.

IMAGE

WALKING DEAD #4 $2.95 -- Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore's zombiefied apocalypse story's down-to-earth focus ont he humanity of its characters made it one of the most impressive titles to debut last year. A trade is in the works, so if you think it might be up your alley, you should give the monthly or the collection a look. Good stuff.

WANTED #2 (Of 6) $2.99 -- It's Watchmen for bad guys! It's Three's Company with head wounds! It's -- it's -- it's one of the best efforts Mark Millar's put forth, with great action artwork by JG Jones. If you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you'll like.

 

Short, Sharp Shocks -- Beginning today, my hope is to bring you reviews of noteworthy comics and graphic novels every Monday. This is the first of a pair of new features to debut this week at the ADD Blog.

Mother, Come Home -- Thomas Tennant is the young boy at the heart of this story, and its greatest triumph is the way cartoonist Paul Hornschemeier uses the smallest of things -- such as a cast-off, half-finished peanut butter and jelly sandwich -- to immerse the reader fully in the world-filling pain of a seven-year-old boy whose family is disintegrating around him despite his mightiest efforts. Hornschemeier delights by comparing and contrasting visually and thematically; he has a natural gift for storytelling that justifies not only the by now worn-out Chris Ware comparisons, but seen longform here like this suggests a mind that traverses ideaspace with the same sort of curiousity and passion for expressing his personal truth through creative exploration as the master, Alan Moore. Mother, Come Home is the first essential graphic novel of the year, and an essential addition to the canon of great comics works. That it's by a cartoonist really just getting started and with enormous potential for growth makes it all the more impressive and worthy of your attention. Grade: 5/5

The Unfunnies #1 -- Artist Anthony Williams is note-perfect as he evokes the Hanna Barbara animation style to tell what writer Mark Millar says is a gothic horror story. Horrible, perverse things happen here -- don't leave this anywhere a child might find it -- but there's a solid sense (largely from the disturbing final moment) that there's a point to this that isn't apparent yet. Astonishingly perverse, astonishingly well-realized -- Millar will be crucified if there isn't an artistically valid payoff at the end of this mini-series (and maybe even if there is). I'm reserving final judgment on the series until I've read it all, because there's just not enough here to know if the story will justify itself. But The Unfunnies gets points from me for making sure the Keith Giffen cover (there's an "Offensive" variant to watch out for -- take that in whatever sense you like) isn't visually appealing to children (as the insides most certainly would be), and for advertising the fact that it isn't supposed to be funny right in the title. Grade: 4/5

My Flesh is Cool #1 -- Steven Grant's long-awaited mini-series about an assassin who can get to any target because he can place his consciousness into anyone's mind. Artist Sebastian Fiumara is new to me, but he gives as good he gets from Grant, delivering tense and dramatic images that are an improvement over the art on Grant's previous Avatar effort Mortal Souls. Fiumara's style reminded me most of Tom Raney, with maybe a little Bernie Wrightson thrown into the mix -- a good combination for a crime drama with overtones of suspense and paranoia. Grant's story is compelling and unusual, and his assassin hero gains sympathy by being surrounded by bigger scumbags then himself (readers of Sleeper will especially find the series enjoyable, although they work in different ways). Grant specializes in quality action/crime stories (as you know if you read the recent Damned trade paperback), and this looks to be another success for one of my favourite writers. You can preview the series here. Grade: 4/5

New Frontier #1 -- Let's get one thing straight -- $6.95 (USD) for each issue of this sprawling saga of the DC Universe as it never was is a bargain. This first issue blazes along with a mature, dynamic tale that takes at least a half-hour to read because it's so full of story. In 64 ad-free pages, writer/artist Darwyn Cooke proves to be a creative double-threat in the spirit of 1980s Frank Miller, John Byrne or Walt Simonson -- both writing and drawing a story so good that the wait between issues is going to be exquisitely painful. Cooke's sublimely beautiful cartooning perfectly evokes "the lost innocence of the Silver Age," (to coin a phrase), here featuring loving and respectful (but never boring) tributes to Harvey Kurtzman, Alex Toth, Jack Kirby and other true gods of comics art. When I finished this first issue, I felt as if I had just experienced a full-length graphic novel, and as another comics blogger has noted, I wouldn't blink if the pricetag on this series were ten bucks an issue. New Frontier looks to be the best superhero series of 2004, and is guaranteed to provide thrills and drama whether you care for the genre or not. Grade: 5/5

Sleeper #12 -- The "first season" of my favourite monthly series draws to a close with exactly the scene I've been waiting for since the first issue. The brilliant and scheming Tao -- virtually an alien consciousness grown in a vat here on Earth -- confronts Holden Carver with everything he knows and twists the dial way past 10 as the stakes get more desperate and the outlook ever more bleak. My only concern on this title has been whether Ed Brubaker would be able to handle the intelligence of Tao as well as the character's original creator, Alan Moore. Thankfully, this issue we see that Brubaker has fully thought out his take on Tao, giving him added motivations and layers of complexity that seem natural in retrospect. Every issue of this series has seen Holden digging himself a little deeper into the hole he fell in to, and by the time we get to the end, the entire status quo of the series has changed. Season Two can't start soon enough as far as I am concerned. (You can read Big Sunny D's take on the first trade paperback collection here). Grade: 5/5

Human Target #6 -- Peter Milligan and new artist Cliff Chiang deliver a nuanced, standalone story involving Christopher Chance protecting a beloved priest whose life is endangered. Milligan's story is sharp and focused, with more than one point to make about some important contemporary political and social questions. To say more would be to spoil what was one of the best comics of the week -- but whether you're a regular reader of Human Target or just want to sample one of the better Vertigo titles, this issue stands out as a great example of why this series works so well. Former artist Javier Pulido will be missed mightily, but Chiang maintains the deceptively simple style that suits this book so well. Grade: 4.5/5

The Rise of the Graphic Novel -- This compact, visually attractive hardcover aims to inform someone -- librarians? -- about the phenomenon of the graphic novel. Writer Stephen Weiner's text is superficial and occasionally factually dubious, and of little use to anyone interested in a comprehensive understanding of the graphic novel and its place in 21st century culture. That manga, the fastest-growing area of the industry for the past few years now, is dismissed with an empty, uninformed acknowledgement in literally the book's last couple of pages is all anyone with an understanding of industry trends really needs to know. Useless. Grade: 1/5

Fray TPB -- Joss Whedon Fray was the first noteworthy comics work by the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with Whedon and artists Karl Moline and Andy Owens working together to create a compelling character and a believable milieu for her to live in. Melaka Fray is no angel, but she's good Slayer material, and sufficiently different in character from Buffy as to not seem like a bland rehash. From the dramatic introduction to Melaka as she is tossed out of a flying car, to the tragic revelation of the true nature of her opponent, to the organic way Whedon connects Fray to Buffy, everything works here. Whedon told this story with as much style, drama and action as he put into the best of his TV scripts, and the art keeps pace. Welcome supplementary material fills out the back pages of the collection nicely. More Fray by this team would be most welcome, and a wise use of Whedon's comics-creating skills. Grade: 4.5/5

Sunday, January 25, 2004

 
Sunday Reading -- Longtime comics artist Gene Colan is the subject of an enlightening interview at Ugo.com. Link courtesy of Kevin Melrose.

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