Saturday, February 14, 2004

 
Early Saturday Morning -- Early morning is when I am at my best, relatively speaking. In the 1990s I worked overnights, and even though I've been on a closer-to-normal schedule for the past four-and-a-half years, even on my days off I find myself getting up in what most people consider the middle of the night.

This morning I was up around 3 AM. My wife and kids obviously are still sleeping, so I went out in the living room and set out their Valentine's Day gifts, grabbed a handful of Cape Cod Reduced Fat potato chips and watched saved episodes of The Daily Show and Howard Stern from the DVR. There were two episodes of the Stern Show, but only one was entertaining. As soon as I realized the second one was a dud, I deleted it and prowled the list of stuff on the DVR.

I've had Donnie Brasco on there for a few weeks, and started watching that. Good movie about an undercover special agent played by Johnny Depp. I forgot how good it is. I'll probably finish the whole thing in segments over the weekend.

I tend to find it hard to stay in one place to sit and watch an entire movie, though, so I got up and surfed the web for a bit, finding the below-linked Fantagraphics Infodump. Lots of good news on there, especially that Eightball #23 should ship this summer. There are few cartoonists that entertain and excite me more than Dan Clowes. Interesting how many of those great cartoonists are on that same page. Fantagraphics is indeed home to the world's best cartoonists, and Drawn and Quarterly seems to have a good portion of the rest of them. I'd guess that over half of the true, great living cartoonists right now are associated with one of those two companies. And it might be closer to 75 percent.

Also while online, I decided to revise my list of links over in the right-side column, as I mentioned I wanted to do yesterday. I'm still not convinced this is the perfect iteration of the ADD Blog list o' links, but it's closer. Suggestions always welcome.

Don't know how much blogging will get done this weekend. Today is Valentine's Day and I want to spend it with my wife and kids, hopefully in activities both separate and together -- and Monday is President's Day, and we haven't even bought our tree yet.

For the interested ADD Blog fan, and I know there are dozen of you, the next few weeks will include a great batch of Five Questions interviews. I also have a decent stack of comics to review, but I don't know for sure if I'll get to that today or not.

Anyway, this is my early Saturday morning. Everyone else in the house is still asleep, so I am going to go back and watch some more Donnie Brasco. Enjoy your weekend.

 
Fantagraphics Infodump -- Tons of good information on upcoming projects by some of the best cartoonists in the universe right here.

Friday, February 13, 2004

 
Mixed Emotions -- First of all, congratulations and great good luck to Dirk Deppey, who has been named the new editor of the Comics Journal, and discusses how this happened in today's hiatus-announcing iJournalista!. Dirk's nose for comics news and his insights into the industry have made his blog the first stop for just about everyone who A) Owns a computer B) Is interested in comics and C) Isn't a frigging idiot, so this hiatus is a bit panic-inducing to say the least. Given my druthers, I would love to see somebody suitable step in and temporarily fill Dirk's shoes, but I have no idea what went into the decision to just shut it down for a month. Dirk is offering up a mailing list so you can be notified when the blog resumes, however. It can't be soon enough for me.

The mixed emotions come in seeing the end of the Milo George era of the Journal, which followed a disastrous run by the previous, incompetent Anne Elizabeth Moore that nearly destroyed the magazine, in my opinion. Milo brought a great deal to the table in his time as editor, but most importantly, he made the Journal matter again. I wish him well and I hope he finds a new job that suits his intelligence and passion for journalism. He and Dirk are two of the most vital advocates for the comics artform that I have ever encountered, and I continue to respect and admire both of them more than just about anybody in the industry.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

 
Thursday Blogging -- It's the off-week for Chris Allen's Breakdowns column, so, eh. Not much to talk about today in any event. I've got a lot going on behind the scenes, including lining up the next six or so Five Questions pieces, which will include some of the most popular alternative cartoonists around and at least one person I might call "the best writer ever to work in comics," if I wasn't afraid of jinxing the whole bloody thing...

For you process junkies, please note that I have revised the right-side column to move my reviews and the Five Questions into a higher and more prominent position. I also want to revise the links to other blogs, columns and sites in the next week or two, but I keep getting distracted by more immediate concerns. If you've got a link you'd like to suggest, e-mail it to me and I'll give it some thought.

Sadly, I think that's it for today. Sorry not to have more for you, but the next few days look to be pretty full, so hopefully that will make up for it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

 
Cartoonists on Distribution -- Yesterday's Five Questions for Jason
Marcy
prompted this reponse from True Story, Swear to God creator Tom Beland:

When he's telling you about his thoughts on distributers, who is he talking about? Because, if it's Diamond, they've been COMPLETELY cooperative towards my work. And you have to realize that when I submitted TSSTG for distributing, I didn't even have the actual printing.. it was photocopied pages put together in a white binder with the name hand-written with an El Marko. They told me they looked at it and wanted to carry it and I've been with them for eight issues now, without EVER being asked to buy ad space.

The same can be said for FM International and Cold Cut Distributers. They've been amazing to work with from the get-go. FM and Cold Cut even carry my zines, which is not often done by distributers.

I think the biggest failure by indie creators is that they put all the effort into issue #1... and then issue #2 never comes out. They have to remember that Diamond is ALSO publishing and spending money in printing the catalog and in developing orders. They get orders for the first issue and the rest never come out. THAT'S what I hear from distributers at conventions. Also, and this happens with the bigger companies, but when they advertise a book in April and that issue doesn't meet deadline, why should a distributer carry that book? I've had four months in between issues, but Diamond knows that when I tell them a book will be ready that month, it'll be ready to ship that month. And the bigger companies provide more titles that bring in big bucks, so a late book won't damage them as much.

It sounds more like Marcy is going off hearsay and not on actual experience. But if it IS actual experience, he should say who he's been having difficulties with and find out if it's the industry all together or just an isolated problem.

Other than that, good interview. I'm really liking the concept.


I obviously don't have any firsthand experience with distributing comics, and no knowledge of Tom or Jason's experiences in trying to get distributed -- I can only say that I'd imagine every case is different, with a huge number of variables to be taken into consideration, not the least of which is Diamond's virtual monopoly over the direct market. That came to mind as I was writing today's review of Optic Nerve #9, a comic that is finished and printed and available for readers everywhere, except that it hasn't shipped from Diamond yet so many (most?) shops don't have it yet and won't for weeks -- and I'd imagine more than a few retailers are unaware that the book is available if they go direct to the publisher (Drawn and Quarterly) and probably through some of the smaller distributors like Cold Cut. What irritates me (and I am sure the creator and publisher in question) is knowing that the book is printed and available and that many interested readers (and I have heard customers asking when this issue was coming out, after a two-year gap since #8) aren't being clued in to the facts and will have to wait weeks to see the book. Things need to change.

Oh, and thanks to Tom for writing in -- and look for his own answers to the Five Questions in the near future. In the meantime, read this profile of Tom from The Orlando Sentinel (link courtesy of Journalista!).

 

Optic Nerve #9
By Adrian Tomine
Published by Drawn and Quarterly

An ambitious three-issue story arc begins here, as Tomine embarks on his longest single story yet -- a graphic novel about race and relationships that the text piece tells us will likely be called "White on Rice" when it's collected.

The story is an examination of the life and obsessions of Ben Tanaka, a 20-something Japanese-American who works in a movie theater ("I'm in the industry..."), has a beautiful Asian girlfriend who he takes for granted ("Maybe I'll come to bed in a little bit," he says, ignoring her obvious sexual entreaties in favour of watching DVDs by himself), and has a growing obsession with white American girls. "We can both make an effort not to let these things get out of control," he says, and we recognize that, of course, they won't.

Tomine's cartooning is as elegant and controlled as ever. He obviously spends a lot of time thinking about the design of his books and the elements of his pages and panels, and his gift for convincing detail allows me as a reader to fully immerse myself in the details of his stories and the complexities of his characters. Tomine has a gift for sketching convincing portraits of his characters with just a few key words and images, and with the narrative opened up to three issues, he has room to use this to great advantage. When we see Ben's girlfriend hopefully offering herself to an indifferent Ben, we know this isn't the first time this has happened. A relationship disintegrating from repeated slights and hurt feelings is revealed, but Tomine skillfully manages to still make Ben human, and even likable. How could you not like a guy who pretends to be his lesbian best pal's boyfriend for the sake of her convincing her parents she's straight?

I don't know how strictly autobiographical "White on Rice" is, but Tomine's setting of the story within the Asian-American community brings a welcome verisimilitude, as when he mistakenly believes his friend's parents, who are Korean-American, could be deceived into thinking he is as well ("My family would spot your Japanese ass a mile away"). Tomine and his lead character clearly share some character traits, and I find myself not really caring if the story is actually based on events from his life -- like Raymond Carver, Tomine uses moments that feel real to evoke real feelings in his readers. Like Carver, Tomine's narrative successes provoke resonance and delight.

Tomine's characters here are in their 20s and not entirely certain what they want out of life -- Tomine himself is also in his 20s, and so it's not entirely surprising that he might choose to create a story about such characters. Where he impresses me is in how masterfully he depicts the characters and their conflicts. Scenes such as the confrontation between Ben and his girlfriend over his preference for porn featuring white American chicks rings painfully true, a young man who doesn't realize how obvious his desires are, and how much they hurt those who don't live up to his apparent standards.

Ben is finding his way and exploring his options in the way that young men in their 20s often do, and as it often does, disaster seems possible but not necessarily imminent. "White on Rice" begins as a compelling character portrait backed up with interesting and unique supporting characters, and some of the strongest and most confident cartooning Tomine has yet delivered. We've waited two years for this issue of Optic Nerve, and it's been worth the wait -- Optic Nerve should be on every reader's shelf, and Tomine's confident writing and clean, compelling cartooning demand attention. This issue is highly recommended and I'm anxious to see the next chapter of Tomine's first longform story. Grade: 5/5

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

 


Jason Marcy -- I love Jason Marcy's autobiographical
comics. Like no other cartoonist I can think of, he puts his
full and uncensored id out on the line in almost every story
he does, inviting your disgust, and sometimes your admiration.
No surprise at all that he'd answer the Five Questions.


Like my other favourite web cartoonist, you recently
had a child. Tell me how your son's membership in the Marcy
Family has affected your creativity?


Well, he's certainly added a whole new angle to it!
It's become really more about finding the time to be
creative, so most of my work gets done, well, at work,
while waiting for the pasta dough to mix. He's
certainly added a little more spice to my daily
journal strip, as he's become quite active and into
everything. If nothing else though, he's made me
realize I need to be far more creative, and start
bringing in more money from the cartooning. It's now a
real job to me, in a lot of ways, adding to the
household income. Only Xander could make me see the
benefits of that!

You're currently working on your third graphic novel
collecting your Jay's Days stories. Tell me how you see your
autobiographical work developing over the years you've been
doing it.


Hmmm...I see it as far more polished over the years. I
actually handed over the pages of the main story in
Jay's Days 3 to inker Joe Meyer, and he was amazed at
how well written and drawn it all was, calling it my
"best work to date" though I never know, though I do
get a feeling it's good. I think I've really grown in
both art and story. A lot of that comes from simply
studying the works of other autobio guys, and just
plain experience at knocking the stuff out, the whole
"just get down to brass tacks" thing of telling the
tale.

It's also a more refined process, involving full
scripting, then going over it as I draw to make sure
the essentials of what happened are there. Before I'd
just start with panel one and go until whenever. Now I
wanna make sure I get it as right and as real as it
happened, so the reader can feel he or she was there!!

How would you like to see the industry change to
make it a more hospitable environment for independent and
alternative creators and publishers?


The hot button topic!! I think the industry has to
have a far more fair process to allow indie guys in. I
hear a lot of bull coming from the major distributor
when it comes to the huge support they give indies,
and in some ways it's true, yet behind the scenes
there are a lot of talented people being turned away. I
see guys putting out work of such high calibre not in
the ditributor's catalogue because they can't afford
the ad space often required to get listed.

Obviously, we need a better system of distribution,
and that means we need good old fashioned real
competition again for the creator's revenues. Back when
there was more choice, I think there was a more open
door policy to indies, because who knew if the one
distributor didn't take a project and the other did
and it made money who would have that egg on their
faces? Wouldn't someone be made to answer for failing
to take a possible money generating book? Now it's a
lot of guys becoming comic critics instead of
distributors because they're the only game in town
taken seriously, and they often make decisions on a
project without any of the comic buying public's
input, in my view the final voice on what is "good" or
"bad." I think things should be listed and then judged
based on how orders go, not with shadowy "you buy this
ad, we'll carry you" backroom garbage. And I've heard
the horror stories from enough creators to know this
is how it works.

Tell me who your five favourite cartoonists are and
a little something about each one.


1. JAMES KOCHALKA: Pure genius. Very stylized, always
able to bring magic out of things I'd never see the
same way. He simply can find joy in everything the
world offers. Amazing. Owns the daily cartoon journal
format all the kids is imitatin' these days (yep, me
too). Made me call myself a "Kochalkaholic"!! And his
music is rockin' great stuff!! I will love to meet him
one day, though I'll probably be a fanboy geek...

2. JOE SACCO: Palestine, Safe Area Gorazde and The
Fixer should be required reading in every high school
or University, or both. Brings a brilliant art style to
report on stuff in the world most people barely get a
glimpse of in the news. Never flinches or pulls his
punches in any of his awesome works. Autobio that
really matters.

3. JOHN PORCELLINO: Like Kochalka, a genius in the
field. Everything he does looks so simple, yet it has
a complexity and poignancy way beyond its appearance.
Made me cry with one sentence in an issue of King Cat
Comics #60: "Jon...she's going to leave me." Should
have more trade collections than a hundred other
guys...

4. JOE MEYER: Without his inks, a lot of my work would
not have the power it does. His own stuff continues to
amaze me as well, with his upcoming "Slammin' Bunneez"
likely going to be a masterpiece, and his daily
journal work better steadily day by day. Truly my
right arm, and my best friend.

5. STEVE "THE DUDE" RUDE: Every artist should look to
this guy simply for his professionalism even if they
don't dig his art. Saw him do three straight days at a
con meeting and greeting, left the table only once or
twice and he was the most gracious guy in the world,
no matter who you were. As an artist has few peers,
his work on Nexus unsurpassed, and I'll say firmly
he's one of the few true masters of dynamic
storytelling in the field, yet also capable of making
those heroes very human and real. There's a story that
Jack Kirby (another favorite, right beneath Rude)
could draw the Thing battling it out with some beasty
and then equally have him sipping coffee and reading
the sports page like any average joe and make it
believeable. Rude has that in spades.

You once did a story about asking your wife to check
your ass for hemorrhoids. Is there anything that you've left out
of a strip because it was too personal, disgusting or embarrassing?


God yeah. Most of the time, it's based on my wife's
request (as in, "don't show us having sex!!"), though
I plan on doing a ton of embarrassing and even
disgusting stories, because a lot of them are funny to
people. I wanted to have a few stories in the upcoming
Volume 3 that showed my male pervert side, to me an
embarrassing thing, and even then I felt like I was
passing the buck so to speak. They likely don't go far
enough. I know I'll start crossing some bizarro fences
as time passes though, and I sort of stop giving a
damn. There's been stuff in all three trades I NEVER
would've shown in my early work, so I'm already
working out my taboo stuff.

Jason Marcy's all over the web. Read his Live Journal,
weblog and daily diary strips.

Monday, February 09, 2004

 


Anthony Williams -- Leave it to Mark Millar to have comics readers who might never buy a funny animal funnybook buying The Unfunnies in droves -- and then to deliver the shock and awe of realizing it's a funny animal funnybook about pedophilia. The artist of The Unfunnies agreed to answer Five Questions for me.

Tell me about your career and how it led to The Unfunnies.

I've been drawing comics for 16 years. Everything from Barbie to Batman.
Probably the most high profile American work is the X-Men movie adaptation.
I've worked with Mark in the past for 2000 AD.

What did you think when you read the script for the first issue?

I didn't realise it was going to be autobiographical.

The first issue has clearly upset some readers and retailers, but I
found it a fully-realized nightmare vision vividly brought to life by
you and Mark Millar. What do you hope readers of the book will come
away from it with when the final issue has shipped?


A bad taste in their mouth and a feeling that the world isn't quite as pleasant as we'd perhaps like it to be.
Also, I make no claims for this comic to be high art but at least we're doing something that differs from the mainstream which comics needs.

Have any of your friends or family members expressed an opinion one
way or the other about The Unfunnies?


My wife looks at me dubiously out of the corner of her eye and I choose my words carefully when explaining it to friends.

Do you have any future comics projects in the works?

I'm about to start a new strip for 2000 AD and another for Gamesworkshop's Warhammer. Both written by Dan Abnett. Plus loads of non-comics work.

Learn more about The Unfunnies and view some of the "offensive" covers at the Avatar website, and thanks to Anthony Williams for answering The Five Questions.

 
Short, Sharp Shocks -- Brevity is the soul of wit. You know, there's got to be a quicker way to say that. Anyway, here's some compact examinations of recently printed sequential periodicals.

Coup D'Etat: Sleeper #1 (of 4) -- Despite strong reservations about the likely quality of the rest of this four-issue mini-series, the first corporate comics crossover event of '04 begins with a highly successful first chapter. Ed Brubaker's script grounds his Sleeper characters firmly in the Wildstorm universe with a story about shadowy groups triggering an interdi(accidentally?) triggering an interdimensional catastrophe that sends The Authority into action -- the first time The Authority has read like The Authority since Mark Millar and Frank Quitely's time. More to the point, the characters feel like Warren Ellis's creations without relying on the shock and yawn of the current, shark-jumping version of the title. Artist Jim Lee inks himself here, and the work is a revelation. Echoes of Neal Adams and Frank Miller make themselves known, and Lee's panel-to-panel storytelling is a vast improvement over that seen in his recent Batman gig. Honestly, it's a shame that Lee doesn't seem to have the time or discipline to truly devote himself to a monthly title, because this single story is one of the better-looking superhero comics jobs I've seen in some time, and I could truly get interested in the thought of a Brubaker/Lee Authority run. Now, this is a Sleeper story, labelled as such at any rate, and it does move Holden Carver's story forward a bit from the end of the first "season" of the title in Sleeper #12. The main concern here, though, is setting up a world-altering event that looks to be establishing a new status quo for the Wildstorm universe. The end result will depend largely on whether the powers that be at the imprint understand that writers with a firm grasp of storytelling like Ed Brubaker should be the guiding force at Wildstorm. Should all the resulting comics all be as exciting and well-crafted as Coup D'Etat: Sleeper #1, they'd really be doing something. Grade: 4.5/5

Sam and Twitch #26 -- Paul Lee is a very talented artist, capable of depicting realistic environments and subtle emotions. He's too good for the average Todd McFarlane Productions material, certainly, but as with many gifted creators before him, here he is maintaining Todd's trademarks for him. This time out it's the final issue of Sam and Twitch, and the conclusion of Todd's muddled "John Doe" storyline. Since the poor quality of McFarlane's writing is axiomatic, let's quickly look at some of the deceptively difficult things artist Paul Lee handles with confidence in this issue: A rumpled bed, an old car, guns, Twitch's house, Sam looking sad, a rose in a garbage can. In an accompanying text piece, Todd tries to make the end of the title seem like it means something -- anything -- but since it doesn't, it rings extremely hollow and kind of silly. The adventures of the titular characters will continue in Sam and Twitch: Case Files, written and drawn by other people too smart and talented to be wasting their efforts on McFarlane material. Grade: (Art) 4.5/5 (Script) 2/5

Invincible #8 -- New artist Ryan Ottley mostly succeeds in continuing the visual style established in previous issues, although his thinking seems a bit more two-dimensional. This issue features the funeral of the super-team slaughtered in last issue's shocking departure from form, and also seems more packed with story than any other issue of invincible, perhaps due in part to a welcome parade of guest stars including Superpatriot, Savage Dragon and Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen's Superstar. By now writer Robert Kirkman has fleshed out the world of Invincible enough that the nods to continuity bear some heft, and the cliffhangers leave you wanting to know what happens next. As with Brit, Cloudfall and especially The Walking Dead, this issue reminds us that Kirkman is the real deal, a compelling and inventive comic book writer who hits a home run just about every time he swings the bat. Readers of Ultimate Spider-Man, Astro City, Hellboy and Savage Dragon are strongly advised to give Invincible a look -- it fully deserves to be compared to those other quality adventure comics. Grade: 4.5/5

Fused #1 -- After four artistically -- uh, diverse issues at Image, Steve Niles relaunches at Dark Horse with new artist Josh Medors. The good news is that the plight of scientist Mark Haggerty -- trapped inside a powerful cyberetic suit that he can't escape and that may have consumed his body -- is as compelling as ever. Niles moves the story along with some interesting revelations about how his body and the suit seem to be evolving in their interaction with each other, and the cliffhanger ending is a shock and a horror. The bad news, in my opinion, is that Medors isn't really suited to the story. Original artist Paul Lee seemed perfectly in synch with Niles and his story, but none of the other artists associated with the series have managed to win me over. The writing is strong enough to bring me back for future installments, but the synergy of the earliest issues of the original series definitely seems to have gone missing. Grade: 3.5/5

Gyo Volume One -- Junji Ito first got my attention with Uzumaki, an eerie, three-volume series focusing on the Lovecraftian goings-on in a village beseiged with spirals. Ito demonstrated an amazing facility for creating chilling imagery in Uzumaki, and that skill is called upon again in the first volume of Gyo, a tale of evolution gone awry. There's nothing so disturbing in real life than the sight of an evolutionary anomoly -- human beings seem programmed to react with fear and disgust to seeing nature gone wrong. While this can lead to an irrational fear that the intellect needs to overcome, in the case of Gyo, it provides an entertaining sense of terror as we see the bizarre genetic freaks that emerge from the ocean and terrorize a young couple, and soon entire cities. Ito has come up with a pretty convincing explanation for why such horrors would begin to walk the Earth, and is quite inventive in finding new ways to horrify us as these strange creatures overwhelm humanity. This first volume ends on an extremely downbeat and horrifying cliffhanger, one that left me eager to read more Gyo as quickly as possible. Grade: 4.5/5

A Sort of Homecoming #2 -- There's a fine line between compelling story and tiresome sentiment, and I'm not sure writer Damon Hurd doesn't cross it in this issue-long rumination on a lifetime pact between friends who pledge to go to the opening night of every single Star Trek movie. Artist Pedro Camello continues to grow, easily depicting convincing city and rural environments, and his way with body language is good, too, as in the pushy, lumbering Klingon here that he gets just right. His faces sometimes need a little work -- or a little less work, as it's in close-up where he seems a little off on the details of human expression. In middle-distance shots with more simplified features, he's much better -- indicating to me that he might want to consider simplifying his style for close-up shots to give a more unified feel to his style. Camello also displays impressive confidence and skill in splashing the black ink around to indicate space, setting and mood. Hurd's tale of friendship lost is probably worth telling, but it's not a story that demands three issues -- it could and should have been done as a single issue. As with the first issue (and unfortunately probably the third, as well), the story's time shifts (often spurred by ham-handed dialogue cues) are aggravating. Not that this device can't be done well, but here, it's not. One too many U2 quotes and the bios in the back indicate talent that thinks it's arrived, when it's still really just beginning to get going. This is a huge hazard for beginning comics creators whose first work is disproportionately praised (as Hurd and Camello's My Uncle Jeff was), and the smug shot of the author and his cigar is frankly too much to take. I'm interested in seeing how these talents develop, but each new release carries with it a sense of importance and quality that is not entirely deserved yet. Sample pages can be seen here. Grade: 3.5/5

The Bristol Board Jungle -- A graphic novel by two Savannah, Georgia college professors and seven of their students, The Bristol Board Jungle was probably published by NBM for noble reasons, like their similarly mediocre Rise of the Graphic Novel. It seems likely that if you're one of the nine people involved in creating this book, you'll be riveted by the dull goings on as the class supposedly learns how to create comics and shares page after page of their (understandably) amateur efforts. Clearly well-intentioned, and as I said, probably really compelling if you were directly involved in the project, The Bristol Board Jungle reminds me of the plodding lectures of 9 of 1: A Window to the World, only with a wider variety of mostly unappealing artwork. I'd tell you the one artist whose page sort of appealed to me, but the names of the students in the story and the names of the students listed in the credits are not the same, and one of the authors apparently was responsible for the artwork in the story that was supposedly drawn by the students, leading to an aggravating confusion over who drew what. There's a preview available at the publisher's website. Grade: 1.5/5

For additional comments on The Week in Comics, check out AK's response to today's ADD Blog.

 

The Week in Comics -- Here's a rundown of some noteworthy comics arriving in shops this Wednesday.

TOP SHELF PRODUCTIONS

JAMES KOCHALKA'S SKETCHBOOK DIARIES VOL. 4 $7.95 -- Here's cause to celebrate. The Sketchbook Diaries are Kochalka's most intimate, spontaneous and revealing works, and because of the format you don't have to have read any of the previous volumes to get what's going on. It's just the life story of one of America's most fascinating cartoonists.

AVATAR

ALAN MOORE'S THE COURTYARD TP $6.95 -- A lot of Alan Moore's Avatar work is obscure, insignificant or badly drawn. Not the case in any way with The Courtyard, a creepy and surreal take on the Lovecraft style with first-rate artwork by Jacen Burrows. Highly recommended.

WARREN ELLIS SCARS TP $17.99 -- It's not often you get two excellent graphic novels in the same week from Avatar, and both with art by Jacen Burrows, who if there were any justice at all would be considered a superstar artist. In Scars he brings humanity and realism to Ellis's bleak, horrific police procedural. This is a substantial chunk of great comics, and probably Warren Ellis's best scripting outside of his work on The Authority and Planetary.

DARK HORSE

CHOSEN #1 (Of 3) $2.99 -- Mark Millar resurrects Jesus, just to make sure he's going to hell in the wake of The Unfunnies. So far the Millarworld experiment (multiple titles from the same writer published by different companies) is working creatively for me -- and I'm definitely interested in Chosen. You can read a preview at the Dark Horse website.

HELLBOY WEIRD TALES #7 $2.99 -- This anthology title doesn't always entertain from cover to cover, but there's always at least one or two stories that justify the purchase, and it's interesting to see other creators play with Mike Mignola's toys.

TALES OF THE VAMPIRES #3 $2.99 -- This surprisingly strong anthology should ditch the framing device in each issue, as it's really aggravating. Other than that, so far I've been shocked at how good each issue has been.

DC COMICS

BATMAN DEATH AND THE MAIDENS #7 (Of 9) $2.95 -- This mini-series started out with a promising setup (Batman and Ra's al Ghul vs. an old ally of the Batman villain), but has really run off the rails, with a full issue dedicated to murdering Talia again and again, and another one with an issue long chat between Bruce Wayne and his dead mother. I suppose these could be handled well, but in Death and the Maidens they just seem directionless and a bit misogynistic. Klaus Janson provides much better art than the story deserves, and that's the only reason I'm sticking with it to the end.

COUP D'ETAT STORMWATCH TEAM ACHILLES #2 $2.95 -- Loved last week's Sleeper tie-in by Ed Brubaker and Jim Lee. If they were doing the entire four issues, I would be buying it with no qualms. Unfortunately, the remaining three issues, including this one, each feature either a writer or artist whose work has disappointed in the past.

GOTHAM CENTRAL #16 $2.50 -- Thank God, the Joker story is over.

TOMORROW STORIES BOOK TWO HC $24.95 -- I've bought every ABC hardcover to date, because I love this Alan Moore-driven line of comics. Tomorrow Stories, unfortunately, is extremely hit-or-miss for me, and I'm not sure I'll be picking this one up. But hardcore Moore fans may feel there's enough good material to justify the purchase.

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