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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Into The Adirondacks -- We got up early and took the kids for a great breakfast at this gourmet place in Lake George that I had heard about...goddamn if even the breakfast wasn't awesome, everything very fresh and tasty, surprises like roasted red pepper pieces in the home fries, Lora's omelette was amazing...my instincts were good on trying this place out. The dining area was spacious and Adirondack-themed, lots of wood, but with lots of light and very clean. We also had the place to ourselves for 90 percent of the time we were there, which was nice.

A couple weird moments -- the waiter asked if we were in town for the whole weekend, and I told him we were locals -- our house is like 15 minutes up the highway from this place. But the waiter clearly had a spiel he liked to unroll on tourists, and we really flummoxed him. I was wearing a red flowered Hawaiian shirt, and he also tried to generate some chit-chat on that subject, like "that's common" where he is apparently from, but he hardly ever sees them in Lake George. Which is only really active in the summer, is one of the country's most famous water-based resort destinations, and of course has fucking Hawaiian shirts from wall to wall from May to September. So, yeah, he was a bit weird.

So, that place behind us -- and it really was a nice meal, weirdness aside -- we drove two hours into the Adirondacks to go to this place, The Adirondack Natural History Museum, I think is the official name, but it's informally called The Wild Center; driving through the Adirondacks is really awe-inspiring. You never know, when you round a bend, what you're gonna see, and often it's enormous mountains that just keep going up and up and up, spectacularly beautiful. Of course we got a bit lost on the way -- the directions from our neck of the woods were vague and possibly outright incorrect, and I think it took us an hour longer to get there than it should have. I was getting low blood sugar by the time we got to Tupper Lake (due to the length of the drive, getting lost, stressed out over that and also I forget to bring a snack, which I should have), where the museum is, so we went to the only restaurant in town and had lunch. It was this hole in the wall called The Swiss Kitchen, kind of seedy and full of bizarre locals and a couple naff tourists like us (we're so obvious with our Hawaiian shirts). I got just a BLT and chips, but Lora and I shared a peach crumble pie thing for dessert, and it was fucking amazing, homemade and certainly enough to bring my blood sugar up for the rest of the day, if not the weekend.

Finally at the Wild Center, and it was pretty far from what I was expecting. One gets the impression they opened a year too soon, as some exhibits seem undernourished and others missing entirely. There were some cool wildlife exhibits with a real otter playing in an indoor waterfall, lots of fish, frogs, newts and stuff like that. But all in all it was pretty underwhelming, considering that it cost 46 bucks for the four of us to get in...by comparison, the New York State Museum in Albany is vastly more entertaining and diverse, an hour closer to home, and, uh, FREE.

We did go on the outside nature trail, which wound down toward, I guess, Tupper Lake itself. It had a few signs noting the type of mushrooms and birch trees and whatnot, but it was a long ride for a short day at the beach, as Roger Ebert says. And a couple of the hills were really steep; when we spotted a defibrillator (honestly!) halfway down the trail, I can't honestly say I didn't think we might need it coming back up those hills.

I did feel young again, though, when my my wife and kids needed to rest on a bench on the way back up, and I just wanted to keep on going -- of course, my mind was on the air conditioning back at the museum. My four favourite things in life are probably sex, pizza, comics and air conditioning, and not in that order.


Friday, July 28, 2006

Lost Girls Signing Next Week -- If you're anywhere near Northern California next Wednesday, August 2nd, and you're 18 or over, and you love good comics, you'll be at Lee's Comics in Mountain View (here's a handy map).

Artist Melinda Gebbie will be at the Mountain View Lee's Comics, signing her massive new graphic novel Lost Girls, written by Alan Moore.

The scoop:

Meet Melinda Gebbie, artist and co-creator of the new Alan Moore Graphic Novel masterpiece "Lost Girls" in an exclusive Bay Area appearance!

Melinda will be chatting with her fans, and signing copies of Lost Girls. It's a stunning full color three volume deluxe hardcover box set that has been 16 years in the making.

Lost Girls is an erotic adult fairy tale featuring Alice, Wendy and Dorothy. It is a thoughtful, and humanistic masterpiece that is bound to become a touchstone in modern literature.

Alan Moore is considered by many to be the greatest writer in comics. His Watchmen Graphic Novel is listed as one of the top English language books by Time Magazine. His Graphic Novels have been made into movies of various quality. (His graphic novels are much better!) Now comes his newest masterpiece, Lost Girls, which he co-created with his life, partner Melinda Gebbie. It’s bound to be controversial to some and celebrated by many more. Here’s a rare chance to meet Melinda and get your copy signed.

Plan on attending! 18 or older, please.

Wednesday, Aug 2nd
6:00pm – 8:00pm

Lee's Comics
1020 N. Rengstorff Ave.
(From 101 exit Rengstorff Ave., by Costco.)
Mountain View, CA 94043
(650) 965-1800

This great book is on sale at both Lee’s Comics Locations right now. Supplies are limited, so make sure to pick up a copy for the signing event as soon as possible. To see some images from this incredible book, check out the Lee’s Comics Webpage:


Lost Girls (my review is here) is one of the most important releases of the decade, representing fifteen years of work by Moore and Gebbie, the end result being an intoxicating rumination on sex, violence, war and regret. Anyone 18 or older with an interest in comics will be stunned by what the book accomplishes, and the fantastic production values courtesy of publisher Top Shelf Productions are nothing to sneeze at, either. It's an expensive comic, but as Tom Spurgeon likes to say, "The only comics that are too expensive are shitty comics." Lost Girls is about as far away from shitty comics as you can get.

Be sure to stop into Lee's Comics, and help support a great graphic novel, a gifted artist, and a visionary comics shop.


Thursday, July 27, 2006

Thursday Afternoon Linkblogging -- Yesterday was an insane day at work, to the point I felt like I was in the engine room of The Titanic with Dixie Cup in hand to help me stem the rising tide. I also had an allergy attack late in the day that floored me for about four hours, which was probably brought on in part from the stress at work. I am a sneezing, coughing mess of a man, yes indeed, I am.

The San Diego Comicon coverage I have most enjoyed this year has been that generated by good pal Christopher Allen. If you haven't been keeping up, his threatening-to-become-an-epic multipart saga is here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5. Part 6 should wrap things up, if we're lucky, maybe tonight or tomorrow. It's personal, witty writing from one of the best minds writing about comics today, so give it a look.

There are some wonderful SDCC photos up right now at the Fantagraphics blog, and I especially enjoyed this Eric Reynolds post, which has lots of pics and also runs down Eric's favourite titles from the convention. There are a half-dozen books on that list that I'd cut off a toe for. Sure, one of your toes, but that doesn't make it any less difficult. In fact, you might even put up a struggle.

Warren Ellis isn't kidding. Ignore him at your own risk. If you decide to look, though, have a melonballer handy to scoop out your eyeballs afterward.

Oh, Comic Foundry's video coverage of San Diego was very good -- professional looking, witty and informative, plus you get to see some famous nerds walk and talk -- and in one case, chew gum. Here's the red carpet interviews, featuring a couple extremely rude jackasses interrupting the goings-on; also, a travelogue, also worth a peek.

Although his commentary on the comics industry is generally undercooked and overblown, I liked Dorian's post on gays behaving badly.

That's all for now...

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Latest Best of 2005 List Worth The Wait -- Christopher Butcher's long-promised Best of 2005 list, definitely worth a look. Butcher's taste is almost as good as these guys' (insert smily emoticon here).


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

In Stores Tomorrow -- Bluesman Book Three:

The conclusion to one of the best comics you'll read this year. Learn more at The Bluesman Project, or, if you think my taste is in my ass, there's always Christipher Butcher's comments:

"This is a smart, well-illustrated story told about an aspect of American history that's not really a part of the public consciousness. Particularly if you're a music buff as well. I really enjoyed the first part and with part three finishing up the whole thing, I think I'm going to really enjoy sitting and reading this from start to finish."

If you only buy one comic this week, make sure it's Bluesman Book Three.


Spurge's Comicon Wrap-Up -- A great summary of Tom Spurgeon's Comicon experiences, divided into easy-to-digest numbered segments.

It well and truly sucks that Tom's backpack was stolen; I'd be apopleptic if some asshole ripped off my sunglasses, because A) I love them and B) They're prescription and cost me about the same as my monthly rent payment. C'mon, you cretin -- do like the bald guy from Midnight Oil said and GIVE IT BACK.

Also: Damn, what are these two new Fantagraphics reprint projects? Enquiring minds want to know! C'mon, guys, I can keep a secret, honest!

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Sunday, July 23, 2006

UPDATED: Chris Allen's Con-Blogging -- Maybe it's because he actually lives in San Diego that I enjoy Chris's writing about the Comicon so much. He lacks the starry-eyed wonder of nerds travelling in from East Bumfuck, thrilled beyond all reason to learn who will be inking Jim Lee on some fill-in issue of Green Arrow, or whatever. Instead, he delivers the only con-gossip I'm interested in, actual con-gossip.

Update: Chris has posted part two of what looks to be his three-part look at his San Diego experiences.

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SLOTH by Gilbert Hernandez.Sloth -- Gilbert Hernandez's new graphic novel (published by Vertigo) paints a rich portrait of identity, gender and relationships, combining the graphic confidence of Hernandez's Palomar with the challenging narrative complexity of one of the better David Lynch movies -- Lost Highway, say, or maybe Mulholland Drive.

Miguel is a teenage boy who grows up in a small town, is raised by his doting grandparents, and one day wills himself into a year-long coma. A year later, he wills himself out of it and despite being a little shaky on his feet, more or less resumes his previous life, including his relationships with his best friend Romeo and his girlfriend Lita. And no, it wouldn't be entirely out of order to wonder what they're been up to over the past year, especially given the best friend's name, but I'm not telling you, you'll have to read the book and find out for yourself.

Miguel emerges into his new post-coma world a changed young man. More thoughtful, slower -- slothful, one might say. Sloth is also the name of the rock band made up of Miguel, Lita and Romeo, and Miguel's new approach to life extends into his music-making, a fact sorely at odds with the direction Romeo wants Sloth to take. Of such conflicts can be born great musical partnerships, like Lennon and McCartney, or Mick and Keith. Perhaps Sloth will rise to such heights, if they can overcome the other central conflict in their midst.

While Miguel's year-long coma and reintroduction into his own life is interesting plot material, the character that interested me the most was the girlfriend, Lita. Anyone familiar with Hernandez's work knows that he excels in creating unique, individual characters and that his women are always sharply realized, fascinating creations. Lita is pretty, but not overwhelmingly so, and her relationship with Miguel (and another guy in the story, not necessarily who you're thinking) seems drawn on reality. If the resumption of their romance (more like a friendship with sex than a fully-realized relationship, which perhaps provides a clue to the heart of the full story's ultimate resolution) is dealt with a little quickly, Lita's fascination with urban legends can be said to have filled the gap in her life while Miguel was comatose. Miguel, certainly, is drawn into the mysteries that so occupy Lita's imagination, and before long Miguel, Lita and Romeo are involved in more than one mystery, and the revelations that follow cause us to reevaluate every single thing we have seen and been told from the first moment of the story.

After the decades Gilbert Hernandez has spent as one of North America's most gifted cartoonists and premier storytellers, it's no surprise at all that Sloth is a beautiful book, told with the skill of a master. What may surprise you is how complete Sloth feels, of a piece with Hernandez's Love and Rockets work but independent of it in all but spirit. It's a single story with a definite beginning, middle and end, but with worlds created (quite literally) in its telling, Sloth will reward a second reading, and perhaps a third. It is, after all, the tale of three young people filled with hopes, desires and dreams.

Especially dreams.


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A Quiet Week -- Well, Nerd Prom always makes for a quiet week on The Comics Internet, doesn't it?

It's hotter than hell and a bit more humid here in Upstate New York, which might account for my lethargy in recent days -- I've been reading a lot, mostly Roger Ebert's I Hated, Hated HATED This Movie, and I have a few graphic novels in my stack waiting to be read, but first there's this book about Orson Welles that I want to read, and, and...the dog ate my homework.

Funny, after a torrential couple of weeks of reviewing how I slid into this past few days of quietude, it wasn't intentional, but events have conspired to keep me mostly away from the computer (there's no A/C in the living room, where the computer is, for one thing).

I have some peace and quiet scheduled for this Saturday, which I am greatly looking forward to -- wife and kids off to the county fair with cousins and such in tow, and Dad left to enjoy his air conditioner, reading stack and the family car. Anything could happen!

In the meantime, the quiet week continues.


Saturday, July 15, 2006

Bad Articles and Kneejerk Defenses -- You know, it's not that hard to be an online journalist, but it's even easier if you can do lousy work and defend it by whining about how hard it is. Christopher Butcher once again calls for minimum standards for online journalism. The usual suspects whine about their terrible lot in life.

Bonus Fallacy: The fucking idiots in Newsarama's comments section are a reliable "Wiki" that serve to self-correct shitty articles.


Thursday, July 13, 2006

Back to School -- Yesterday was a pretty unusual day for me, as I was asked to take part in a local educational initiative inspired by The Apprentice TV show. Two groups of kids between 10 and 15 are competing to create a radio advertisement for a local car dealer, and I was called in to help them tweak the scripts they came up with, then record their commercials with a portable digital recorder, and finally bring the raw digital workparts back to the radio station to produce the final commercials with music and sound effects.

Amusingly, the scene of the recording session was the local community college, not only the college I attended 20 years ago, but we were in (I'm 90 percent sure) the actual room of one of my most dreaded classes, Mass Media. The course was a bore, and was one of those two-hours twice-a-week marathon snoozefests that was never anywhere near as interesting as it should have been, but yesterday's experience working with the kids on their commercials made up for that. The two groups, with six or so kids in each, were interested, excited and fully engaged in their project. I found it a great experience to go over the work they had done and show them where and how it could be slightly better. Both scripts were fine starting points -- God knows I've been handed worse by professional agencies working out of major cities -- but each had places where they could be made better, and as I proposed each change, I made sure each of the kids understood my point and had no major disagreements.

The tweaked points ranged from the bizarre -- I removed the term "suicide doors" from one of the car ads, thinking "suicide" is not a word I would want to associate with a motor vehicle -- to the mundane, as in my suggestion that a character in a brief three-person skit be named something other than "Mrs. Smith." I tried to convey that it's good to use a more realistic name, and even conceded that there are Smith's not that far back in my family tree, but something a little more unusual but real would bring the listener that much further in the story. I suggested "Pulaski" as one possibility (thinking of Ronette, not the doctor from Star Trek: The Next Generation, but, the nerd in me thinks they might be related over the centuries, like Robin and Spock), but the kids settled on "Mrs. Loomis," and that was good enough for me.

I tried to talk as much as possible about the rationale I had for every point I brought up as we went over their scripts, and the only point where any argument came up was when I pointed out that the possessive "its" in their script mistakenly had an apostrophe in it. That led into a brief debate over the spelling of that contentious word, but I finally (gently and in good humour) put my foot down on the issue. One of the kids asked "Are you really good at English?" I kind of threw up my hands in resignation and said "Apparently so!" That got a good laugh, and we moved on.

The actual recording went very quickly with both sets of kids; there were a few fluffed lines here and there that needed re-recording (nothing us pros don't have to do every time out, too), and one brief bit that required a change of voice talent when the group agreed that the needed enthusiasm was just not coming through. In all, though, I was amazed and gratified to see how immersed these kids were in their project. There was a real sense of teamwork among both groups, and if one was a bit more competitive within its own ranks (arguing over whether Harry Potter can really be killed off, for example -- I pointed out that it happened to Sherlock Holmes and Superman, too, and did neither any real long-term harm as cultural archetypes), each member of both groups clearly worked hard to do their part and contribute to the process.

Back at the station, it took me about an hour and a half to get both commercials fully produced and burned onto CD. The kids will hear the spots at today's session, and while I won't be there, I am seeing the gentleman who oversees the project later today when he comes in to record his own weekly radio show, and I am anxious to hear what the kids think about how their commercials turned out. For me, it was an unusual application of twenty years of radio experience and a chance to share that experience with young people interested in what I had to say. Not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.

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Sunday, July 09, 2006

Monologues for the Coming Plague by Anders Nilsen, published by Fantagraphics Books.Monologues for the Coming Plague -- I'll be damned if I can tell you what to make of Anders Nilsen's comics. There are times, such as a lot of his stuff in Mome -- when I find myself staring at it incomprehendingly and flip past it hoping something "better" -- read, "more comprehensible" -- is next. I can remember standing in The Beguiling last year and being a bit stunned to hear Christopher Butcher tell me he thinks Nilsen's stuff is genius. Respecting Butcher's opinion as I did (and do), I figured I was just being dense and missing the forest for the trees, and besides, the specific book Butcher was talking about (Dogs and Water), I still have not read.

I did read the next issue of Nilsen's Big Questions that came out after that conversation, though, and if I understood not everything I read (BQ is an ongoing narrative, apparently much of it from the point of view of birds, which Nilsen seems to adore drawing), at least I came away from it with a respect for Nilsen's aesthetic sensibility -- spare, gentle, bewildering.

"Bewildering" is a good word for Monologues for the Coming Plague, which from the outside seems deliberately designed to look like something you'd be assigned to read in your sophomore Literature class. "Deliberate design" is a concept I thought about a lot while reading Monologues -- did Nilsen deliberately design the book so the spine must be cracked while reading it? A note at the end confirms Nilsen had a deliberate purpose in using two different paper stocks over the course of the book. He seems to think a lot about design and the tactile nature of reading a book, which, while common in artcomix (at least the ones I like), is always an added pleasure, given how little thought goes into the presentation and quality of most entertainment, from movies and music to comics, books and everything else.

What about the comics? Sloppy, strange, mannered, elegant, brilliant? I'm not altogether convinced you couldn't have drawn any picture in the book. And yet, you haven't, and Nilsen has, and there's an undeniable net effect akin to awe. Awe that his brain works in this way, awe that Fantagraphics finds this worth publishing, awe that I enjoyed it all the way through. Awe, perhaps, that I don't ever enjoy reading Nilsen's stuff as much I think I should, but always more than I think I will.

Nilsen raises big questions about narrative, art, philosophy ("Yeah, I have a philosophy, but I'm not sure what it is.") and existence. He doesn't seem to answer any of them in his comics, but I hope one of his punchlines here will also describe this review for you:

"Thank you, that was actually very helpful."


Saturday, July 08, 2006

IncantoIncanto -- Writer/artist Frank Santoro also drew Cold Heat #1 (both are from Picturebox Inc.), and his art on that title seemed to me deliberately rough and unfinished, but with an obvious skill and good colour sense. Incanto is in many ways a very different book, more experimental, and I think more likely to satisfy artcomix followers.

Despite having been issued from a professional (if new and mostly untested) publisher, Incanto looks and feels like a self-published mini-comic. The moments Santoro depicts are conveyed with a minimum of visual information -- sometimes what we're seeing is spelled out for us in scrawled text, such as "sky," or "reaching for lover not there," but intriguingly, usually, you'll be able to tell what it is you're looking at anyway. The technique is an arresting variation on comics being composed of words and pictures, and an effective counter-argument to the truism that the words on the page should never duplicate what the reader can see in the images.

The use of colour -- a bright orange and a shade of blue I would call "dark turquoise" (although art school grads probably have a better name for it) arrests the eye, and the four colours in evidence -- white, black, orange and that shade of blue -- create whole worlds of emotion and space on the page. One masterful sequence has two panels on the left page featuring shock and revulsion highlighted by the methodical removal of colour, only to be powerfully echoed and enforced by a wall of nothing but orange on the facing, right-side page.

By now you have a sense of whether Incanto is something you'd like or not, which is what I see as my primary job here. I can't say it's going to be for everyone -- it's experimental, non-traditional comics in the extreme -- but at the same time, it is wildly intriguing, like a beautiful dream, and there are moments and images inside that indicate Santoro is a powerful new voice in comics, and that Picturebox is, whatever Diamond thinks about them, a new comics publisher the artform needs, even if the industry seems destined to resist it at every turn.


Friday, July 07, 2006

Cold Heat #1Cold Heat #1 -- Somewhere between Chester Brown's Underwater and David Lapham's Stray Bullets lies Cold Heat, which seems to be more than the amateurish effort it wants to appear to be, and yet is so impenetrable that one is left little doubt why Diamond would not want to bother with it.

Critics of any artform have a duty to look beyond the base financial motivations of a company like Diamond, a virtual monopoly within that part of comics that is primarily concerned with selling floppy periodical adventure comics to 40-year-old men who enjoy seeing Superman and Batman's minds placed in the bodies of Power Girl and The Huntress (see? I keep up!).

In the greater, recently-expanding world of comics and graphic novels there has been new room made for stories told in comic form. In many bookstores catering to all ages and genders you can find graphic novels about growing up lesbian with a closeted gay father, or dealing with cancer, or coming to grips with what it means to have left your youth behind. These books, and the people who are finding them, out there in the world, are very likely the future of comics. Not because they don't have superheroes, but because unlike most current superhero comics, they tell human stories that resonate deeply with concerns greater than "Hulk smash." The audience is out there for great stories in comic form, and more and more it is finding them.

Cold Heat, published by Dan Nadel's Picturebox Inc., doesn't seem to me to be a great story, although it seems to want to be. The art seems unfinished, but not unaccomplished -- think of Frank Stack's work on Our Cancer Year. The colour palette is limited, but deliberately so, giving it the look of a child colouring with only two crayons, one pink and one blue. It's not an unattractive effect, and in a few places the extraordinary application of colour and art betray the simplistic style being used; the artist knows what he's doing.

I didn't like Cold Heat #1, but not because its creators aren't telling a good story. I didn't like it because I couldn't tell what story it is they are telling, which is why this review is short on plot details. There's an apparent suicide, and a gathering, a martial arts lesson and a dream, but how or why it all fits together remains a mystery (Derik Badman read it multiple times and has a better summary here).

This is a year for comics in which many great stories have been told by master storytellers, and also many superhero comics have been sold, one having nothing to do with the other. The point is that there's a wealth of comics out there right now, no matter what you're looking for. It's no surprise to me that Diamond couldn't be bothered with Cold Heat, because the superhero-fixated Direct Market isn't going to have any use for it, and casual artcomix followers might not be willing to buy twelve issues of this thing to see if it's going anywhere, or if it's just a pretty-coloured mess.

Critics of the comics artform are likely to support Cold Heat because it's different and might turn out to be extraordinary. But that's far from reason enough to recommend you invest five dollars in it. Unless you're a comics critic, or extraordinarily curious about the outer edges of alternative comics circa 2006 CE.


Thursday, July 06, 2006

John Byrneday -- As noted at The Comics Reporter, today is John Byrne's birthday. While my loathing of Byrne's public persona runs back decades, on this, his special day, I thought I would salute the enduring things about Byrne that I actually enjoy.

A good place to start, if you're interested in great John Byrne comics, is the recent Marvel hardcover Uncanny X-men Omnibus, which reprints a good chunk of the Byrne/Austin artistic era (a second volume would complete it, and is most welcome as far as I am concerned). Yes, it's $100.00 bucks, but it reprints something like 40 issues, many of which you would pay that individually for. Additionally, it's on great paper stock and includes the original letters pages, which are kind of a treat to see in print again.

Also of great historical value, if you can track it down, is the Comics Journal issue (#57) that featured a long interview with John Byrne. Byrne weighs in, among other topics, on how Bob Layton's inking made male characters look "queer," according to both Byrne and his dad. After that revelation, well over two decades ago, nothing else the guy has said can really be a surprise, can it?

A great place to track Byrne's latter-day shenanigans is the permanent John Byrne thread at The V Forum. And for biographical information, go to The John Byrne page at Wikipedia. Byrne's online discussion forum is at Byrne Robotics, but beware, only sycophantic groupthink is tolerated for any length of time.

Update: In perhaps the most beautiful coincidence ever noticed on this blog, it's also George W. Bush's birthday. What is the connection, you ask? Well, as a Canadian, Byrne will also never legally be elected President of the United States.

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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Elsewhere #2 by Gary Sullivan.Elsewhere #2 -- I wasn't expecting a second issue of Gary Sullivan's self-published mini-comic, but it certainly is welcome.

In my review of the first issue, I said "Of course the insides don't always match the expectations set up by that superb cover." Also true with this second issue, and again I have to say "So what? Sullivan uses words and images...to create a comic all about verisimilitude, and mostly it works. Disorienting, silly, lovely, unknowable." All still true, although a bit less silly and a bit less unknowable. But not a bit less intriguing.

The first issue was about Sullivan's immersion in Japanese culture; here he stays closer to home, as the Brooklyn resident uses words and images to recreate a trip up Coney Island Avenue. Under another superb cover, Sullivan uses his photo-informed style to show us a multicultural wonderland that is so joyous and chaotic that one could almost have hope that people of disparate cultures could learn to rejoice in each other's differences, not to mention their headgear and cuisine.

The comic is not perfect; the words are sometimes at odds with the images in a way that recalls the skillful juxtapositioning of an Alan Moore. At other times the words are just at odds with the images. I would have preferred it if the stream of consciousness narrative (if you are generous enough to call it that; I would) were a bit more organic and directed, but it's undeniable that Sullivan's approach evinces a convincing travel through a real place. If the lettering could be a little more accomplished, if the execution could be a little more assured, it remains nonetheless true that Elsewhere is fascinating, forward-looking comics that more or less spectacularly achieves its modest, unique goals.


CRAZY PAPERS by Jim Dougan and Danielle Corsetto.Crazy Papers -- Cartoonist Dean Haspiel is quoted on the back of this slim graphic novel as saying it "reads like the lost rawkus episode of SEX IN THE CITY." Unfortunately, I'm forced to agree (although I have no idea what "rawkus" means). It is published by Chatterbox Comix.

Writer Jim Dougan's first graphic novel is about romance, mystery and rock and roll, and yet it is not romantic, it is not mysterious, and it does not rock. The one scene in which it attempts to rock, featuring an Edward G. Robinson-lookalike belting out Bon Jovi, is an amusing sequence that doesn't quite fit in the book, although I am sure its inclusion generated some self-satisfaction on the part of the creators.

Dougan seems able to craft convincing moments for his characters, but is not able to make us care about the characters within those moments. In the hands of another artist, there might be enough here to sell the minor charms of the story, but Danielle Corsetto brings a sterile professionalism (reminiscent of the damage Haspiel did to Harvey Pekar's The Quitter, actually) to the goings-on that prevents any real immersion in either the story or its setting. Her art is slick where it should probably be organic, and over-the-top when a more subdued and naturalistic approach might have contrasted better with the would-be wackiness of the script.

The wacky aspect may be the problem, and it may not be as off-putting for you as it is for me (I think I am allergic to "wacky"). To my eyes, though, Crazy Papers plays as a subpar attempt at the "New Mainstream" comics thing, a passionless appeal to non-superhero readers via the same sort of mediocre tripe they get at in Hollywood movies or bestselling paperback novels; think of the worst title you've read from Oni or AiT/Planet Lar. Kind of like that. If that's what you're looking for, here is some more.

It's also called, on the back-cover copy, by artist Michael Lark (who really should know better, and probably does) "more like a nice, funny, low-budget indie film." Well, no. Crazy Papers is harmless and eager to please, but it's much more like an unfunny, mid-budget Hollywood flop that everyone involved with tried their best on, but that is far from the best they may someday be capable of.


I LOVE LED ZEPPELIN by Ellen Forney, published by Fantagraphics Books.I Love Led Zeppelin -- My mother went most of her adult life thinking that it was "Bud Zeppelin," and that he was a single individual; also, she thought Rolling Stone was solely about The Rolling Stones.

If you think Ellen Forney's I Love Led Zeppelin is about Led Zeppelin, you're as wrong as my mother was. Although, as Rolling Stone did cover The Rolling Stones occasionally, there is a Led Zep connection: Forney includes lyrics from the song "Dazed and Confused" in one of the sharp, funny comic strips collected herein. Also, Led Zep's most well-known style of lettering is used as the font for the chapter headings. Other than that, though, Mom, I Love Led Zeppelin is not about Led Zeppelin.

Just wanted to clear that up.

Ellen Forney is a startingly direct and communicative cartoonist, and the strips contained in I Love Led Zeppelin are therefore able to convey great amounts of information and entertainment in very compact spaces. The book's first chapter is a series of one- and two-page How-To pieces that both educate and elicit laughs. Like much of the material here, Forney works with other writers and collaborators (Ariel Bordeaux handles half the art chores on a strip about hairstyles), but her art is a unifying element that allows the diverse subjects to fit together under one cover, and the many points of view Forney communicates seem therefore mostly worldly and informed, rather than random and scattered as could have been the case with less skillful editing, or less canny choices of subject and collaborator.

Among the things I was delighted to learn more about in this section were How To Be A Fag Hag (a witty and observant piece created with Margaret Cho), How To Tip Your Server (nothing I didn't already know, but now I know I am at least as worldly as Forney in this regard, and an entertaining strip anyway), and How To Fuck A Woman With Your Hands (ditto, and shut up).

Other sections include Short Comics, and Collaborations (some with the terrific sex columnist Dan Savage) and there is black-and-white and colour throughout, seemingly chosen strictly by how the strip originally appeared, not out of budget considerations. The oversized presentation (published by Fantagraphics) allows Forney to stretch out and show a lot of different facets over the course of the 110 pages of I Love Led Zeppelin. From the informative and enlightening How Tos to engaging reportage (a piece on taking a walk with a neighborhood legend is a standout) and autobiography, the collection shows Forney as a formidable cartoonist with an unusually strong gift for speaking right to the reader, and keeping their attention no matter what the subject matter.

I Love Led Zeppelin is an extraordinarily fun collection, one you'll likely find yourself returning to from time to time while you await Forney's next work. I know I will.


Monday, July 03, 2006

The Monday Briefing (Larry King Stylee) -- It's Monday of an apparent four-day holiday weekend, and I have to go to work; how do other people remember to plan out their vacation time so well? Hey, didja notice Galaxy OG Rob Vollmar is back, with a new satellite blog called Ramble On? You may know Rob as the uber-talented writer of The Castaways and Bluesman, but he was also here on that fateful day back in 2000 when we launched Comic Book Galaxy. I'm thrilled to have him back writing about comics again, as he is one of the most thoughtful and considered commentators on the subject. You might also have seen his comics writings at Ninth Art, and in the pages of The Comics Journal. His first major piece for Ramble On is the first in a series of essays titled Rage of Angels, go take a look.

Watched Clint Eastwood's Oscar-winning Million Dollar Baby last night; it's part of my Roger Ebert Film Series, which is really just me going through Ebert's 2006 Movie Yearbook (a wondrous collection of all his critical writing fro the past 18 months or so) and picking out movies that I missed the first time around. Million Dollar Baby was very good, especially in terms of the acting and cinematography. Ebert feels, if I recall his review correctly, that it's virtually perfect with nothing that isn't needed for the film to work as it does. I might disagree a bit on that; I think the first scene with Maggie's hillybilly relatives was a little heavy-handed and could have used a rewrite, and the last half-hour (everything after the final boxing match, basically) could have been condensed, rewritten or disposed of altogether. When the fateful moment occurs, we know what the implications are, and I think we see a bit too much of the natural course of events from then on out. The movie was shot from the first draft of Paul Haggis's script, and maybe that's my problem. Seems to me it would have been wise to tighten up the last part of the story. But up until that, it is perfect, and overall is still an excellent film and well worth your time if you haven't seen it.

Also watched, on Ebert's recommendation, a kinda-sorta sci-fi film called Primer. It allegedly cost $7000.00 to make, and unlike Ebert, I think it looks that way, although that's not a criticism, just an observation -- the look totally works for the purposes of the film. What didn't totally work was the film itself; its early Bendis-like dialogue (a bunch of only semi-convincing technobabble designed to overcome the viewer's disbelief at what a certain invention can do) gives way to vague intimations of goings-on only partially discernable. It's possible I wasn't watching closely enough (although I felt I was giving the film my full attention), but it seemed to me like the film really lost track of its own timeline(s), moments and motivations. At the middle I was intrigued by the Lathe of Heaven-like possibilities, but by the end I was just glad it was over and a little exhausted from trying to keep straight a film I suspect even the director couldn't explain. That can work when the focus is on tone and feeling, but Primer is not about tone and feeling, and if it is, it is not about it very convincingly.

Oh, hey, I wrote a review over the weekend, did you see it? Better late than never, I look at Jaime Hernandez's Ghost of Hoppers, which is some damn fine comics. Read the review, more importantly, buy the book. Good stuff. Will Maggie ever not be hot?

All right, the sun's coming up and the day awaits. If you're in the US and enjoying the day off, well, enjoy your day off.

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Sunday, July 02, 2006

Spurgeon's Guide to Comicon -- Updated for 2006, Tom Spurgeon's huge list of tips for San Diego con-goers. I've never been and likely never will, but Tom's amazing, comprehensive guide makes you feel like you're there anyway. He even provides PDF and Word versions for easy printing-out and carrying-along. Also: Fun to read!

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GHOST OF HOPPERS by Jaime Hernandez. Ghost of Hoppers -- Like most right-thinking comics readers of all ages, genders and sexual orientations, I've had a crush on Maggie Chascarrillo for as far back as I can remember. We've both changed a lot over the years, but as is often the case, catching up can be a wonderous thing. Ghost of Hoppers is a wondrous thing.

As much as I love the giant slabs of collected Love and Rockets graphic novels Palomar (by Gilbert) and Locas (by Jaime, author of Ghost of Hoppers), it's good to remember just how effective the work of Los Bros can be in smaller packages. Ghost of Hoppers runs 116 pages (plus gorgeous cover gallery), and contains just one story; through the obnoxious, vivacious character Vivian, Jaime Hernandez takes Maggie on a walking and driving tour of her life. The story is, in turns, sweet, funny, sad, sexy and terrifying. Jaime even approaches the magical realism territory of his brother Gilbert, in a breathtaking sequence that sees the eras of Maggie's life touch in some mystical way, for just a moment. It's the kind of thing that most people experience at least once in their life and wonder about the rest of their days, but Hernandez makes it so organic -- and inevitable -- that we simply nod, and continue.

There's plenty of flirting and (mostly off-panel) sex here, but the heart of the story (originally serialized over many issues of the current L&R series, far more effective here under one cover), as always, is Maggie and her lifelong orbit around her soulmate Hopey. Hopey is devastating in Ghost of Hoppers, seen as that one lover that is always closest to you, even when you're involved with others; most powerfully of all, Hernandez cannily keeps her mostly off the page. She's in one or two key (and I mean key) scenes, but with Jaime's masterful control of his characters, his story, and his art, she's all the more influential for her absence from the bulk of the story. Her most important scenes are actually seen only from Maggie's point of view, as the two longtime lovers talk on the phone. Just thinking back to the pacing and depiction of those moments makes me want to read the entire book again, as they argue mightily for Jaime Hernandez as one of the best storytellers alive today on the planet. Who hasn't had their heart broken -- or their life affirmed -- by a distant utterance on a static-filled phone line?

There's so much more to tell you about Ghost of Hoppers; Izzy is back, and so are the flies, but they'e not on the ceiling this time. I want to tell you how convincingly Hernandez can create whole worlds through elegant, economical suggestion: Who could read this and not imagine an entire other twenty-year series of stories about Maggie's sister? What other creator could so easily depict the tumult of human emotion right on the page, as in the single panel that signals the end of Maggie's infatuation with Vivian -- Maggie looks agonized, resigned and relieved all in the space of a single image. We know it hurts, we know Maggie's been here before, we know Vivian's words hurt her -- but we also know Viv is no Hopey. And yet Viv and Maggie's brief flirtation felt so real, and so filled with possibility, just a little earlier. Just another moment from a life, Maggie's life; perhaps the most genuine, astonishing life ever lived entirely in the pages of a comic book. Shine on forever, Maggie. Shine on.


Saturday, July 01, 2006

Diamond's Chokehold Starts to Hurt -- I suppose I agree with Tom Spurgeon about the recent ass-fuck handed to Dan Nadel's new publishing company.

I do wonder why anyone is surprised that Diamond has no interest in pushing comics forward, though. I wrote about this nearly a year ago, and if anything the situation has worsened, with even genuinely major publishers like Pantheon and First Second having their books widely available in real bookstores weeks or more before Diamond bothers to get their "indy filth" into comic shops.

I've said it before, and I feel it in my bones more than ever: If your comic shop relies solely on Diamond for what they stock in their store, they fucking suck, they're bad for comics, and you need to find a better shop.

The comic shops that will still be here at the end of the decade are the ones that have smart people staying on top of real industry news (as opposed to the type of news you see on "comics news" sites), who know what the great works are that are coming, and who work around Diamond's virtual monopoly to make sure those books are available to their customers as early as humanly possible.

If you enjoy anything other than Marvel and DC corporate superhero comics, any retailer who only orders from Diamond and only knows what he reads in Previews does not want your money and you need to move on. The real world already has.

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