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Monday, June 30, 2008

 
The Monday Briefing -- Hello, good morning and welcome to the Monday Briefing for the last day of June, 2008. Where does the time go? I usually answer "Shushan," which is a small, small village in Washington County, New York that has a lovely little museum, a train station and not much else.

Anyways, it was a fairly busy weekend of blogging hereabouts, so if you missed it, here's what you can catch up on today:

* I reviewed Lewis Black's new book on religion and go into my thoughts on the subject.

* Coincidentally, I also reviewed the most recent run of Godland issues by Joe Casey and Tom Scioli.

* I reviewed Trains are...Mint, an autobio/travelogue sort of graphic novel from upstart Blank Slate Books. Also took a look at the same publisher's We Can Still Be Friends; two very different books, but both worth your attention. Blank Slate is one to watch.

* If you've been reading me for any length of time at all, you know I really dig the comics of Nate Powell. His latest book got reviewed here this weekend, Swallow Me Whole. It won't be out for a couple of months, so let your retailer know you WANT. Because YOU DO.

* I organized the books on the shelf over my desk yesterday, causing me to list the books on writing that I keep close to hand. Do you have any writing guides or inspirations that you find useful?

* Bonus: The best thing I read online this weekend was Tom Spurgeon's interview with cartoonist Lynda Barry. It made me want her new book a lot, but it was sold out at the closest Borders. So I bought Charles Schulz's Happiness is a Warm Puppy instead. I haven't read it since I was maybe 7 or 8 years old, but since it was Schulz's first book and is filled with (presumably) illustrations unique to the book, I thought it was worth adding to my library. I brought my son along on the trip and bought him a Spongebob-heavy Nickelodeon magazine, which he devoured in the car on the ride home.

And that's that with that, as David Paymer used to say on Line of Fire, which was a really good show.

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We Can Still Be Friends -- Is there anything more emotionally agonizing than to be a young man with a crush on someone who doesn't feel the same way? That's the focus of the entirety of We Can Still Be Friends, a graphic novel by Mawil published by Blank Slate Books.

Mawil's loose, kinetic cartooning gets across the enthusiasm for life felt by youth at large in the world, combining the spontaneity of Lewis Trondheim with the confidence and charm of Michel Rabagliati. The story is told in vignettes broken up by Trondheim-like borderless panels of the author entertaining his pals over beer, as he recounts the cute girls he liked a lot and never managed to win.

His visual style is wide and generous enough to convey both the energy of a highrise full of adolescent squatters having a beer party and the arresting elegance of youth and beauty -- some of the panels of the girls Mawil recalls are startling in their ability to convey his passion for them to the reader in just a few strokes of his pen. Especially memorable is one early panel in which he passes the girl he is smitten with as they line up to pick dance partners at school. All the characters in the panel are gray except Mawil and the girl, who is turned away from us but directly toward the author, just for a second. It's an amazing panel that will stay with you even once you're done reading the book.

There's a full-page image of Mawil and various boys and girls seen from above enjoying each other's company that plays with the reader's experience of the scene, and demonstrates pretty definitively that Mawil thinks a lot about how his pages work, what their effect is on the reader as they are experienced.

The back of the book has quotes from cartoonists Joe Matt and Jeffrey Brown, and anyone who enjoys their autobiographical comics will certainly be entranced by We Can Still Be Friends. I like Mawil's cosmopolitan flair for depicting all the places he goes and the people from various cultures that he meets in his travels. The graphic novel feels heartfelt and genuine in its emotions, and sophisticated and wise in the unfolding of the narrative. The ending isn't necessarily what you'll hope for, but it certainly feels true and real in the way it carries across how these things usually go, until they go some other way.

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

 
ADD Reviews Index Updated -- Subtitle: God damn I am a lazy bastard. For the first time since August 19th, 2007, I have updated the index page listing all my reviews. For the three of you who care, I apologize for being so damned lazy. There was a time I enjoyed webmastering as much as I enjoyed writing, but now I enjoy coding HTML about as much as I enjoy going to the dentist.

27 reviews were added to the page, a fact I am sure only I am interested in, insert smiley-face emoticon here.

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Books About Writing Found on My Desk -- In no particular order:

Roget's Super Thesaurus by Marc McCutcheon

Merriam-Webster's Manual for Writers and Editors

AP Broadcast News Handbook by Brad Kalbfeld

On Writing by Stephen King

The Elements of Editing by Arthur Plotnik

The Elements of Style (Fourth Edition) by Strunk and White

The Elements of Journalism by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel

Woe is I by Patricia T. O'Conner

I don't know if you've noticed, but I'm writing more lately, and enjoying the process a lot. I don't know what to credit it to, but it's certainly due in part to a conversation a week ago with Roger Green about his blogging process. So, thanks, Roger.

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Swallow Me Whole -- Nate Powell's longest single story to date is also his best. The creator of Walkie Talkie, Please Release and other very good comics delivers an eerie, mysterious tale of that most everyday of subject, a family and their home.

Ruth and Perry are teenagers driven by hidden demons and the living ghost of their not-quite-dead grandmother. Each lives in their own haunted world, but they care about each other and ponder over the strangeness and possible madness that surrounds and infuses them.

Despite (or because of) her troubled nature, Ruth gets a job in a museum that, far from relieving the weirdness of her life, seems to immerse her even deeper into herself and her oddly comforting torment. Events begin to spin out of control in school as Ruth defies ignorance and bigotry, and finds that the nail that sticks out, gets hammered. Or perhaps pulled out of the wood altogether, as the surreal and yet inevitable ending descends upon the proceedings.

You may or may not have heard of Nate Powell -- my first exposure was through his outstanding four-issue small press series Walkie Talkie, and he's only gotten better ever since. He started publishing through Top Shelf with Please Release, and Swallow Me Whole is further confirmation that Powell is one of our most thoughtful and boundary-expanding cartoonists. It's a lush, if shadowy world he creates for his characters to find themselves in, and for you to lose yourself in. Ultimately, Powell knows that the shadows can swallow us whole if we're not careful, and sometimes even if we are. The question this graphic novels seems to ask is, should we fight it, or surrender to the dark? I suspect there are as many answers to the question as there are people to consider it.

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Buy Swallow Me Whole from Amazon.com.

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Trains are...Mint -- For all those who dismiss autobiographical comics as trite, facile, samey, whatever the complaint -- here's the high concept of Trains are...Mint. The author, Oliver East, goes for walks from train station to train station near his home in Manchester, England. He sketches what he sees. The end.

For anyone with a little more sophisticated understanding of what is possible within the artform of comics, East's debut graphic novel is a modest, monumental achievement, a kind of British version of Jiro Taniguchi's The Walking Man.

The immediate appeal of East's book is the watercolour and pen and ink artwork with which he depicts his environment. The simplicity of his line favourably recalls John Porcellino's King-Cat Comics (as does his overall narrative tone, it should be mentioned), but every once in a while he astounds with a sharply observed brick wall or the perspective he conveys in his drawing of a fence, or a row of townhouses. His watercolour technique is subtle and lovely, with the same quiet brick-to-the-head revelatory power Frank Santoro brought to Storeyville.

Like Santoro, East experiments with the way his words interact with the images on his page. A frequent technique here is the conveyance of information through what at first appears to be a sign, or graffiti, or a poster on a wall. It's an arresting stylistic choice, one that really forces attention to what East is doing, and what he is saying. There's an almost inexplicable effect that arises from the way he utilizes this technique, something that makes an unnameable third element out of the cobination of words and pictures.

art by Oliver East from Trains are...Mint
Click to enlarge image

Alan Moore believes his hometown of Northampton is the center of the universe, and his belief likely stems from the fact that A) He is a keen observer and B) He turns his observations on his own surroundings. Oliver East does the same thing in Trains are...Mint, delivering a microcosm of the graffiti and detritus that infuse these train stations and their environs, unpacking his observations into a universal map of the land we all make our way through every day of our lives.

Trains are...Mint is the first release from UK publisher Blank Slate Books, which is run by a couple of the owners of the legendary Forbidden Planet chain of comic book stores. As you might expect with that pedigree, the book is a thing of beauty not only in what it contains but in how it is produced. It's a compact, strikingly-well-reproduced hardcover that is a tactile joy to experience. And a perfect delivery system for Oliver East's comics.

East's style evokes Porcellino, as I mentioned above. It also recalls for me a little Kevin Huizenga here, a little Lynda Barry there, and a whole lot of Eddie Cambell Alec-sized whimsy and wonder. I have no idea if he actually is influenced by any of these folks, though -- his style feels sui generis in large part, and Trains are...Mint feels fresh and new, a shot across the bow to anyone thinking whatever can be done in comics form already has been done. This is something new, something you can lose yourself in, something you'll want more of.

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Trains are...Mint is published by Blank Slate Books.

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

 
Ebert on Redemption -- I agree with a lot Roger Ebert has to say about art and storytelling, and I definitely found resonance in his thoughts on redemption. I think most of the stories that reach me most viscerally involve this theme, whether it's Spike on Buffy, or Bluesman, or even Mr. Arkadin, an Orson Welles movie I think is profoundly underrated. Anyway, go read what Ebert has to say. He's always thought-provoking and entertaining to read.

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Government Hocus-Pocus Staves Off Personal Financial Apocalypse For the Moment -- Reuters has a good analysis piece up on why the economy is going to hell in a handbasket a little slower than expected. Don't worry, though, by the fall we're all pretty much fucked.

One wonders if this is precisely why the stimulus rebate program was conceived in the first place.

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Me of Little Faith -- Comedian and actor Lewis Black's new book is not the in-your-face yockfest I was expecting. It's funny and profane in places, to be sure, and written in the unique voice I've come to expect from his always-welcome appearances on The Daily Show, but Me of Little Faith is about religion and spirituality, informed by a number of Black's own true-life experiences and containing more nuance and room for cosmic possibilities than one might expect.

Religion can be a sensitive subject -- in Comic Book Galaxy's earliest days, my arrogance and refusal to acknowledge that fact cost the site one of the best writers it ever (briefly) had, Johanna Draper Carlson. Maybe it was because of that incident that I learned to be more tolerant and a little less knee-jerky on the subject. But the fact is, I am an atheist, despite years of religious instruction at Southern Baptist schools in Florida. Or yes, perhaps because of that schooling. But that's not the whole story when it comes to me and the possibility that there's more to the cosmos than we are able to see with our immediate five senses, as I tried to explain in an essay back in 2000.

I've never linked to that piece before, and I don't really love the way it's written, but I swear every word in it is as true as I could explain at that time. And what made me think of that time, and the weird shit that seemed to be happening to me on a regular basis back then, are the extraordinary experiences Lewis Black recounts in some of the chapters of Me of Little Faith. As the book takes you on a tour of major moments of Blacks life (both as a child and as an adult), he occasionally drops a bomb on the reader about seeing what seemed to be a genuine halo around the head of a religious commune leader, or the fact that one of his best friends has what seem to be genuine psychic abilities and often calls to advise him or let him know about an important event about to happen in his life.

And skeptic I am, my initial impulse is to think Black is having some fun with his readers, or more cynically, just fuckin' with us. But the short, funny and revelatory chapters of this book build on each other until Black's comedy, sincerity and life experience come together to create a quite extraordinary explanation of one man's lifelong experience with both the utter baloney of much of organized, rote religion and the utter sublimity of first-person experience with the fact that there is much more to the universe -- and possibly beyond -- than any one of us could ever hope to understand.

And there's no question that the idea of God and the power of spirituality are attractive concepts, no matter what your beliefs. As I often tell my children, "Just because an idea isn't true doesn't mean it doesn't have power." Which has helped me to understand something as gigantic as George W. Bush's cynical manipulation of religious conservatives, or something as odd as my profound reaction to seeing Jack Kirby's astonishing portrait of Moses in the 50th issue of The Jack Kirby Collector. That picture struck others with its presence, as well; Fred Hembeck did an amazing drawing inspired by the very same picture in TJKC at the convention I met him at last weekend. Recognizing religion and mythology are seemingly hardwired into our brains, and that recognition can give enormous comfort or cause monumental disaster depending on how the ideas are delivered and for what reason. It's a complex subject, one Black seems to relish delving deep into.

Me of Little Faith offers up a lot of stories from Lewis Black's life, and the philosophy he's evolved along the way. There are funny stories about staying with hippies on a commune, and genuinely moving sections about his career and the events and people that have shaped it. Lewis Black may be an angry comedian (most of the shit he's angry about pisses me off too), but he's also a thoughtful human being, and he's a very good writer, and if you like his comedy or are interested in an unusual look at spirituality, this is a book that will get you thinking even as it gets you laughing.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

 
Gødland #19-23 -- I caught up with Joe Casey and Tom Scioli's Gødland this evening, having read the first three trade paperbacks a few months ago. It's to Casey and Scioli's credit that I could pick the story up easily (three metacosmic weirdos are destroying Las Vegas while Archer and Crashman are trapped inside the Infinity Tower by General Brigg and the government).

Scioli mentioned in a recent interview with Tom Spurgeon that he's been evolving his style, and that is wildly apparent in this run of issues; the Kirby stylings are all but gone (as even the unnamed letters-page author admits), and I missed them, but I gazed in wide wonder, to quote a phrase, at the wild leaps and bounds his visual style has made. The brutal and bizarre battle of Archer and Maxim the cosmic dog versus the three oddballs -- Ed, Supra and some joke on the word "ego" or another -- is a fantastic blend of Scioli's pop art fundamentals with what looks to me like mid-period Frank Miller Moebius pastiche, right down to what I think is an homage to a scene from Ronin. An homage that shows just how far this title has come in a visual sense.

Casey's writing continues to be a pleasing mix of comic book basics with tossed-off bits evoking Moore/Morrison detours into strange dimensions; an editor really is needed to catch the minor typos here and there, from the misuse of the apostrophe-d version of "its" to small, niggling errors that momentarily took me out of the altogether psychedelic (if not psychoactive) goings-on. But the plot and the dialogue are sterling examples of just how damned good Casey can be at his best, and the most recent issue concludes with a deliciously traditional sci-fi take on the cosmic reset button and the nagging sense that things ain't quite what they used to be.

Don't deny yourself the vast world of comics pleasure that is Gødland; you can probably enjoy any single issue about as much as any other, but taken altogether, to date the series is 23 issues of the most spectacular 21st century (if not 22nd) superhero comics storytelling you can possibly imagine. With a Journey gag that just won't quit in one issue, to boot. "Escape," indeed.

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"A Fondness for Comics." -- Thanks a lot, asshole. Just the kind of PR we need.

 
New Forum for Kunstler Readers and Listeners -- Check out the new Kunstlercast Forum, a message board to discuss the issues brought up by the writings of James Howard Kunstler. It's an outgrowth of the Kunstlercast, an excellent weekly podcast discussing the emerging Long Emergency hosted by Duncan Crary and featuring James Howard Kunstler.

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Good Star Trek Omens from AICN -- Harry Knowles at Ain't It Cool News has posted his thoughts after getting to see a few minutes of the Star Trek movie J.J. Abrams is working on for next summer, and the early word looks very good. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for this movie to be worthy of the Star Trek name, which no Trek movie really has been in quite some time.

And if you missed it, I posted a much longer piece about Star Trek earlier this week.

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Happy Birthday, Dan Jurgens -- Born on this date in 1959, Dan Jurgens created one of my favourite superhero series of the 1990s, Sensational Spider-Man.

Jurgens delivered old-style Spider-Man stories despite the fact that his lead character was Spider-Clone Ben Reilly, not the original Peter Parker. Of course, this was at the height of Marvel's clone madness, so we were told at the time that Reilly actually was the original Peter. Maybe you had to be there, but if you weren't, be grateful you missed it.

You should definitely seek out the Jurgens run on this title, though -- seven issues, including a zero issue plus #1-6. All were inked by Klaus Janson, one of the finest superhero comics inkers of all time, and he made Jurgens look great. It seemed to my eyes that Jurgens was paying homage to Ross Andru with his depiction of Spider-Man in action, and he and Janson made for a formidable artistic team comparing favourably with more widely-loved Spider-Man artists like Ditko, Kane and Romita. I'd go so far as to say Jurgens and Janson delivered a nice amalgamation of all those styles, in fact, without sacrificing their own styles.

You may have to love the series more for the art than the stories; most issues crossover with other titles in the Spider-line at that time. But the art is more than good enough for you to seek it out if you like well-drawn superhero comics.

Jurgens is often teamed with clean-line inkers who do nothing more than make his pencils ready for publication; on Sensational Spider-Man, Klaus Janson brought depth, mood and style to the art, and I'd love to see them work together again someday on a project worthy of their skills.They brought out the best in each other, and I remember these comics fondly and re-read them from time to time, amazed at how well the art holds up.

Happy birthday, Dan.

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Five Questions for Roger Green -- The one good thing to come out of Al Gore's creation of the internet is the fact that I am able to communicate online with great people like Roger Green.

I saw him almost every week back in the 1980s, when as a teenager I was buying my comics at the legendary FantaCo Enterprises on Central Avenue in Albany, New York, but I never really developed any kind of relationship with the great guys that ran that store -- I don't know why I never really chatted them up, shy, I guess, and maybe a little intimidated (hey, these guys were also comic book characters, in Smilin' Ed Comics!) but they were always professional, helpful and kind to my teenaged self, and I have fond memories of seeing Roger, Mitch Cohn, Rocco Nigro and the late and much-missed Raoul Vezina at the store on a regular basis.

You've probably seen a FantaCo publication or two (or twenty) from time to time in your comic book travels; it seems like the Chronicles series (of which there were five, plus an annual) remain pretty ubiquitous, and if the checklists are now charmingly outdated (imagine an X-Men checklist that includes only Uncanny and scattered appearances in a few other titles?), the interviews and articles remain great comics journalism that holds up well. So well, in fact, that Marvel appropriated the Frank Miller/Klaus Janson interview from The Daredevil Chronicles for The Frank Miller Daredevil Omnibus. Ain't that something?

Anyway, a few years back Roger started blogging, and we ended up in touch, bonding over our very different but very much-loved memories of FantaCo. I'm grateful beyond measure for having had the experience of being a customer at one of the greatest comic book stores ever, and even more grateful to know Roger and Rocco now, just 27 years after the first time I walked in the door at 21 Central Avenue and said to myself "Holy shit, look at all these comic books!"

And now, in the spirit of The Frank Miller Daredevil Omnibus, I present to you my appropriated Five Questions for Roger Green.

What is your favourite comic book story?

Yeesh. I must admit a fondness for the Defenders when Gerber was writing it, and I love a good origin story (Spider-Man, Hulk), but ultimately, I end up with Giant-Size Man-Thing #1.

When reading comics, do you focus on the writing over the art, the art over the writing, or both about equally?

Serviceable art will allow me to read a well-told story. The most beautiful art will not save a terrible story line. One of the comic books I hate the most has to be Spider-Man #1. The McFarlane art was tolerable at best, but the story was so gawd awful, I stopped buying the title after three or four issues. Given the fact that I LOVED-LOVED-LOVED Peter Parker/Spider-Man, it was painful, but necessary. This was NOT the Peter I knew. The Spider-Man was more like Spawn. Loathsome.

When the Pinis used to come to FantaCo to do Elfquest signings, Richard used to rail against the comic fanboys who cared about art to the exclusion of story, and I thought he was absolutely right.

That said, sometimes the art DOES move me. I was buying Sub-Mariner during Bill Everett's second run, and I loved the look.


Roger Green at the Saratoga Springs Comicon, 21 June 2008


Who do you think is the greatest comic book artist still alive today and why?

Well, besides Fred G. Hembeck, who should be considered just based on the sheer number of characters he's drawn? I'll cop out and say Art Spiegelman because he helped bring the comic form out of the comic book ghetto.

What's your happiest memory of working at FantaCo?

I almost always loved when our publications came in, but I'm going to pick something rather arcane.

There was a graphic novelization of Stephen King's Creepshow drawn by Berni Wrightson in the mid-1980s. Having connections in both the comic and horror markets we knew, both instinctively and from comic and horror film stores we dealt with that there was still a demand for this title. The publisher, we ascertained, still had many copies of the book. I wrote to the publisher- nothing. I called the publisher - I was told the book was no longer available, which I knew to be untrue. Finally, I reached someone who acknowledged that they had copies but that it was not worth it for them to send it out only to deal with a huge percentage of returns.

So I said, "What if we bought them non-returnable?" I thought the guy's teeth were going to fall out. "Non-returnable?" So, we took 100 copies of it at 70% off the $6.95 cover price, put them in the store and listed them in a Fangoria ad, and blew through them. So I called again and said, can we have another 100?" By this point other stores were clamoring for this book, so we ordered an additional 500, and sold it to these horror book stores, and a few comic book stores, at 40% non-returnable. The stores got to sell a book they could otherwise not get, we made a decent profit even wholesaling someone else's book, and we kept the Wrightson book from just being remaindered. My persistence in dealing with this publisher was, strangely, my favorite FantaCo moment.

Here's another: I just came across in the past week a letter that one of FantaCo's mail order customers sent to me. Why it should resurface now, I have no idea, since we've only been in the house since 2000. (A 1989 article about the comic book Shriek was also in the pile.) This guy worked for Ryko, and he would send me, his mail order purveyor, free music.

Roger-
Good to speak to you on the phone today (1-26-88)...I'm finding Ryko fans in the strangest places.
Hope you enjoy these guys - I chucked in a couple 3", too. The one with no writing is "They Might Be Giants", a couple of guys from Hoboken, NJ.


I like this not for the swag, but because apparently I was giving him service worthy of him sending me free stuff. Still have that unlabeled TMBG disc.

What do you think is the single best publication FantaCo released in its history?

While I have a strong affection for the Spider-Man Chronicles, which I edited, I'm going to say Gates of Eden, which Mitch Cohn edited. No, I'm NOT going to pick The Amazing Herschell Gordon Lewis and his World of Exploitation Films, no matter how much you beg, Alan.

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Gates of Eden #1 actually is my favourite FantaCo publication, too, it should be noted. It was decades ahead of its time and paved the way in part for the artcomix revolution that is still going on today. You can see Roger's version of this interview, and if you have any memories of or artwork by the late Raoul Vezina that you would like to share, please get in touch with Roger through this post.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

 
Go and Read: Spurgeon on Uncanny X-Men -- Unexpected pleasure of the week, Tom Spurgeon's longish essay on why Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne/Austin-era X-Men were popular then and well-remembered now. I particularly like the passage where Tom, off the top of his head, mentions some visual high points like Jason Wyngarde's revealing shadow, images that stick with fans from that era even today.

I do think Claremont and Byrne set up the reason why Colossus put on his Soviet gear and declared himself a hardcore commie, though, Tom -- wasn't he brainwashed? Maybe not in a way that convinces us 40ish readers decades later, but when I was 13 or 14, it seemed reason enough for him to turn on his teammates.

Reading Tom's excellent thoughts on what remains my favourite corporate superhero stories of all time reminds me: Marvel, isn't it about time for Uncanny X-Men Omnibus Volume Two?

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Does Anyone Really Care About Star Trek Anymore? -- That's the question posed by Tom Spurgeon, and although he may have asked it rhetorically, as part of his review of a new Star Trek spin-off comic book by John Byrne, my answer is yes, and I have some thoughts on the subject.

I was born in 1966, the same year Star Trek debuted on NBC; I debuted in January, the show came along in September, so in a way I am older than Captain Kirk. Of course, the show had been in the works for a couple years before it was ready for public consumption, a failed pilot being produced in 1964 with Captain Pike instead of Captain Kirk, and I've always been fascinated with the question of what the show might have been like had Jeffrey Hunter had the lead instead of William Shatner. Sure, Spock was a goof in that original pilot ("The Cage"), but Hunter's Pike was a darker and more intense character in that one episode than Kirk generally got over 40 years of episodes and movies. Even Kirk's death in 1993's Generations movie failed to muster up the sort of darkness and drama that an event like the death of James Tiberius Kirk should have inspired. Co-screenwriter and Battlestar Galactica prime mover Ron Moore even admitted as much in a recent interview.

So, I was born the same year as Star Trek, as I was saying, but obviously that means I didn't catch it in its first go-round on the tee-vee. No, it was in syndicated reruns in the early 1970s that it probably caught my eye, maybe or maybe not as a result of seeing the Saturday morning animated series, also called Star Trek. Some people don't consider the animated version canon, but you know what? If it's called Star Trek, is produced by Gene Roddenberry and stars William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan and Nichelle Nichols, it's goddamned Star Trek, goofy aliens or not.

My mom and I shared our love for Star Trek -- she had watched it from the beginning, and she definitely watched it at her end. In the early 1990s, when she was sinking into the beginning stages of Alzheimer's disease, I had a friend who worked at a video store who would sell me the then-new VHS releases of Star Trek episodes at cost, I think five or six bucks per tape. As I made my way through acquiring the series on VHS, my mom got curious about the tapes I was bringing home in stacks of three or four at a time, and she watched Star Trek again like it was something she had never seen. The disease had wiped out her memories of the show, but she was still sharp enough to appreciate its humour and sharp social commentary, and watching her watch those episodes in what I know now was the beginning of her end is one of my fondest, most bittersweet memories. Those tapes gave her endless hours of genuine pleasure, even as she slowly slipped away. If for nothing else, I'll always hold the original Star Trek in high regard for allowing her those many hours of entertainment.

When The Next Generation came along in 1987, I was dubious that Roddenberry and company could recapture lightning in a bottle. We'd had The Wrath of Khan in theaters by then, and that movie was really what recharged "the franchise" (a loathsome term) enough to justify trying another TV show a few years later. TNG's pilot was mostly uninspiring to me; I didn't care for the lack of conflict between the characters (a Roddenberry conceit), as conflict between the three leads was much of what made the original series and the best of the movies hum. Hell, the conflict between Kirk, Spock and McCoy was the best part of even the worst of the movies, The Motion Picture and The Final Frontier, the latter being Shatner's doomed-from-the-start attempt at writing and directing a Star Trek movie. You tried, but, She's dead, Jim.

The Next Generation got good after its unformed and meandering first season. Diana Muldaur replaced Gates McFadden as the ship's doctor, and she immediately added tension to the mix. A lot of people didn't care for her Doctor Pulaski, but I liked the way she mixed in with the rest of the cast. On the other hand, when she was unceremoniously ditched and Dr. Crusher came back, I was glad to see her, too. Probably for the same reason I never liked Babylon 5's first commander until he was fired after the first season then came back later and stirred everything up in some of the best episodes of the series. It's that whole Joseph Campbell thing about going out into the wilderness and coming back with the power to grant boons, I think.

But yeah, the Borg came in during season two of TNG and their Hellraiser-stylings and eerie, hive-mind coldness was too frigging cool for primetime TV. Apparently it was too cool for Star Trek, too, because after their initial appearance in the episode "Q-Who" and the amazing two-part, season bridging "Best of Both Worlds," the Borg were never again used well on The Next Generation. The were either Edward Scissorhands in the stupid episode about the li'l boy Borg, or playing second fiddle to Data's evil twin Lore. Ugh. But they started with great potential.

By the time the series folded in 1993 to make way for the TNG cast to move to movies, I was sorry to see them go off the small screen. I might even have teared up a little during "All Good Things," the series finale. The double-length episode was a powerhouse demonstration of Patrick Stewart's acting and appeal, and if the time-bending plot swallowed its own tail ultimately, Stewart and John DeLancie as Q totally sold me on it. It's one of the few TNG episodes I rewatch again with any regularity.

Here things get crazy with spin-offs and movies and action figures and all kinds of crap -- TNG on film only made it through four movies before crashing and burning. The first two, Generations and First Contact, were both okay-to-good, but the last two, Insurrection and especially the atrocious Nemesis, were not well-received. I recently re-watched Insurrection on TV and realized it would have made an acceptable episode of the TV series, but as a movie it was a failure. Just not big enough. Nemesis had a cool title and that was it. If it had been about the scientific Nemesis theory, it might have been cool. I was also disappointed that no one but me thought it would have been neat to have a Trek movie in theaters the first year of the new millennium, called, of course, Star Trek: 2001. Come on, that would have been great!

Well, probably not, but only because the people entrusted to Star Trek's stewardship after Gene Roddenberry left seemed hell-bent on botching the job the longer they had it. Despite good episodes now and then, overall in retrospect I have no use at all for Voyager or Deep Space Nine, and by the time Enterprise debuted on the short-lived UPN network it was designed to support, I had mostly given up. I don't think I watched one entire episode of Enterprise the entire four years it was on.

Which is funny, because this past February, on Valentine's Day, in fact, my family received as a gift a 42-inch HDTV. And I added some HD channels to our cable package. And on one of them, HDNet, they were showing reruns of Enterprise. And I found to my genuine shock that I mostly dug the show a whole lot.

Sure, Scott Bakula is wooden and ham-fisted as an actor, but so is William Shatner, and I found that I could accept his Captain Archer and even enjoy many of his performances. And I genuinely loved the performances of Jolene Blalock as T'Pol and Connor Trinneer as the ship's engineer. He was obviously modeled on Dr. McCoy with his southern accent and no-bullshit approach, but Blalock's T'Pol was as complex a character as Star Trek ever delivered, eventually going far, far further afield of Vulcan logic and traditions than Spock did in all the years he was on TV and in the movies. HDNet recently suspended their telecast of the series, leaving me high and dry near the end of the excellent third-season Xindi storyline, but thankfully in the internet era, as Spock was fond of saying, "there are always...possibilities." So I'll finish the show soon. My verdict is already in, though -- Enterprise was imperfect, but after the original series and TNG, its my favourite of all Star Trek series, and that kind of amazes me, but it captured the sense of mystery and adventure in outer space very well, the ship and the sets were great, and a lot of good acting (I also really liked John Billingsley and Linda Park) was to be found in many episodes.

Now we stand on the precipice of a new, next generation in Star Trek. J.J. Abrams is working on a new movie scheduled for release in May of 2009. Abrams is the producer of Lost, a show I have run hot and cold on but currently am pretty much in love with, and I am hopeful that the new movie will at the very least be one last good Star Trek movie, if not the revival of the concept in the public consciousness. I'm with whatever faction there is that wishes they'd found a place for Shatner in it, mostly because, hey, he's still around and he deserves on last shot at the chance to inspire, as Captain Kirk did for me at his best. He taught me there's no such thing as the no-win scenario, a lesson I took to heart and have believed in, at my best moments, ever since. And also because we've already lost DeForest Kelley and James Doohan, and I am blindsided to think we'll never, ever have Star Trek with them in it again. It makes me sad and makes me feel old.


So, I hope Abrams and crew turn out something great, and I think there's a better than 50/50 chance of that happening. Nimoy's Trek instincts have almost always been right on, and he's on-board for the movie and its story, and that has to be a good indicator.

Note to Tom Spurgeon: I wrote this all in one sitting, with the only research needed being how to spell "Trinneer," so I guess my answer to your question is, yes, I still care about Star Trek. Here's to hoping the people now responsible for its future do, too.

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Rebel Visions: The Underground Comix Revolution 1963-1975 -- One of my pet peeves is comic book readers of a certain age who dislike the term "comix." If you can't parse the important difference between comics and comix, then you really ought not even be trying to talk about either in public, because you're simply not qualified.

Patrick Rosenkranz, on the other hand, is supremely qualified to write about underground comix, their genesis and significance to the artform, and he does so in the gorgeously illustrated new edition of Rebel Visions. His qualifications come from having lived through the era close to the heart of the action, and in fact many of the revealing photos of key underground creators are credited to Rosenkranz.

The narrative isn't limited by the author's memories and perceptions, though. Much of the prose consists of quotes from creators like R. Crumb, Trina Robbins, and many others who founded and perpetuated the underground comix movement. The narrative occasionally jumps back and forth in time, as it moves from creator to creator in retelling their firsthand experience, oral-history-style.

It's frankly a thrilling story that Rosenkranz recounts; the coming-together of the various houses and factions of underground comix creation was almost an accident of destiny, and the resulting explosion of comix spans the spectrum from the most hackneyed of crap to some of the most sublimely brilliant and mind-expanding stories ever told.

Rosenkranz allows the cartoonists plenty of room to relive their memories and share their theories, and the oversized dimensions of the book allow the reader to be immersed in the amazingly diverse examples of art from the era.

The underground comix are a far clearer antecedent to the artcomix movement of today than most modern-day readers probably realize. Fans of Geoff Johns or Brian Michael Bendis would be hard-pressed to find stories from any underground title that would interest them in the slightest, but readers who follow creators like Joe Matt, Chester Brown, Phoebe Gloeckner, James Kochalka or Roberta Gregory would certainly find lots to love about the undergrounds, and will absolutely find much of interest in Rebel Visions, one of the greatest historical recountings ever dedicated to the artform of comics. I mean, comix.

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Rebel Visions is available from Fantagraphics Books and in better comic shops and bookstores.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

 
Alex Toth in Panels and Pictures -- Today is the 80th anniversary of the birth of cartoonist Alex Toth, one of the dozen or so true masters of comic book art to have emerged from North America in the 20th Century. Here are some images that should demonstrate why he is so well-regarded.











Alex Toth, 1928-2006

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Windows XP Gets Reprieve -- Here's some great news for Windows users (like me): Microsoft will now support the XP operating system through 2014.

I got my most recent home computer, which uses XP, in early 2004. Having heard nothing good about Vista at all since its release, and plenty of bad, I've been bending over backwards trying to bring my machine up to date in every way possible, hoping to make my XP last and last and last.

I'm glad to heard Microsoft is recognizing that XP is a superior operating system to Vista, even if they have to couch it in bullshit doubletalk so not to admit that Vista is a failure.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

 
Reinventing Collapse by Dmitry OrlovReinventing Collapse -- My wife doesn't like to hear about the forthcoming end of the world, and I have a couple of otherwise intelligent friends at work who don't like to think about the fact that the American way of life is barreling over a cliff at 90 miles an hour, either. Most of the discussions I've had with them are based on my readings of James Howard Kunstler's work. Kunstler recommended Dmitry Orlov's Reinventing Collapse on his blog recently, and now having read it, I know I probably shouldn't discuss it with my wife or my friends at work, because Orlov's detailed comparisons of the collapse of the Soviet Union with the impending collapse of the United States (the SU and the US, as he symmetrically notes) are far, far scarier than the pictures Kunstler has painted to date.

Orlov was born in the Soviet Union and witnessed its dissolution first hand. He sees both the similarities and differences in the two cultures, and in the way the SU disintegrated and the US is disintegrating. Most impressively, he details how the citizens of the former Soviet Union coped with collapse, and how Americans are likely to respond to similar exigencies: "We should definitely not expect any grand rescue plans, innovative technology programs or miracles of social cohesion," he notes, bluntly.

Orlov speaks in very plain English, with sometimes biting humour, about how the soft, entitled people of the US are unlikely to be able to adjust to a quickly-changing lifestyle. Russians were used to the privations of the Soviet regime, he notes, but most Americans will not know what to do when consumer goods are no longer available, when gasoline is largely or entirely unavailable, or when justice is something that you and your family and community will have to decide for yourselves.

Orlov's book is not meant merely to frighten readers, capture media attention and drive up sales, however. It is essentially a guide that anyone can use to figure out the best way to survive the forthcoming changes the world is facing. Orlov's advice is customizable in the sense that he urges the reader to prioritize for themselves what they need to continue to live when society has broken down and irrevocably changed. It's not a workbook and there are no forms for you to fill out, but you'll be far better prepared for The Long Emergency once you've read Reinventing Collapse. As he points out, the only true necessities in life are air, water and food. Clothing, shelter, companionship, work and other non-necessities are likely to be difficult-to-impossible to come by in the areas hit worst by the collapse of the US society and infrastructure.

And if you're a victim of, as Kunstler calls it, "the psychology of previous investment" -- that is to say, you somehow still believe that gas prices will go back down, we'll always have centrally air-conditioned shopping malls, we're winning the war against Iraq (or at least, might not lose it) and a dollar will always be worth a dollar -- well, Orlov's prose is highly readable and wildly entertaining, so there's no reason not to give Reinventing Collapse a read. If you like to read before bedtime, though, do it now, while you still have lights by which to read.

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End of the Worldwatch: Iran -- Check out this startlingly to-the-point analysis of the likely result of the US waging war against Iran, at globalresearch.ca. A sample:
If the United States attacks Iran either this summer or this fall, the American people had better be prepared for a shock that may perhaps be even greater to the national psyche (and economy) than 9/11. First of all, there will be significant U.S. casualties in the initial invasion. American jets will be shot down and the American pilots who are not killed will be taken prisoner - including female pilots. Iranian Yakhonts 26, Sunburn 22 and Exocet missiles will seek out and strike U.S. naval battle groups bottled up in the narrow waters of the Persian Gulf with very deadly results. American sailors will be killed and U.S. ships will be badly damaged and perhaps sunk. We may even witness the first attack on an American Aircraft carrier since World War II.
Ten years ago I believed the US had decades left; for the past few years I've thought it's less than a decade. Now I wonder if society as we know it will be here in a year.

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BLUESMAN in Comic Shops Tomorrow -- Just a quick note that Rob Vollmar and Pablo G. Callejo's BLUESMAN collected edition hardcover is arriving in comic book stores tomorrow from NBM Publishing.

BLUESMAN has been serialized over the course of the past few years, and is one of the best stories to be told in comics this decade. Rob and Pablo have worked very hard to come to this point, and I'm excited as hell that their work has finally come to fruition with the release of this definitive edition.

If you didn't pre-order the book from your retailer, please see The BLUESMAN Project for ordering number, artwork and additional information. Johanna Draper Carlson has also posted a very good interview with Rob Vollmar about BLUESMAN at Comics Worth Reading.

And congratulations to Rob, Pablo and NBM for making this happen.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

 
Superior Showcase #3 -- One of the year's best comics stories appears in this issue, published by AdHouse Books.

It's not Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca's Street Angel, although that story is the reason I picked up SS #3, and its horror-manga-inspired story of young Jesse struggling against evil while hospitalized (don't we all?) is a welcome return for one of my favourite comics characters. I hope we see more Street Angel soon, and I wish whatever market realities prevent an ongoing title from, well, ongoing, would set themselves straight soon.

The issue also includes an adventure of Kid Medulla by Dustin Harbin, exactly the sort of mischievous snark that my 12-year-old son lives for on Nickelodeon, as a young kid with mental powers causes a lot of farting and other embarrassments to revenge himself on a world he doesn't quite fit into. Fun stuff.


But, the story that really makes Superior Showcase #3 a must-buy for lovers of great comics is "Freaks," by Laura Park. The story starts with a violent schoolyard brawl that moves to a walk home by the victor and his older sister, who makes him a snack and tries her best to talk to her angry young brother while watching out for her family's overall needs. As the story progresses, quietly and with great narrative power, Park shows us the reasons the kids are considered "freaks," and reveals with great nuance what that means to the young people suffering under that label.

Park's artwork is stunning, from her evocation of a walk through the neighbourhood to the empathetic way she depicts the kids, to the stunning bedtime scene where the children's "powers" are revealed to the reader. "Freaks" is realistic in its handling of home life for modern-day kids, but optimistic and ultimately loving in the way the brother-sister relationship is explored. "Freaks" is about the importance of kindness and family and understanding and taking the time to just care, and it's one of the most moving comics stories I've read in a long time.

In just ten pages, Park creates a whole world and history for the brother and sister of "Freaks," one I'd love to see more of. Her bio on the inside front cover says she is working on her first book of comics (there's a little bit of info and a link to a lot of her art here). I'm definitely ready to see more. Hurry up already.

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George Carlin, Rest in Peace -- In the spirit of my 100 Things I Love About Comics, here is my tribute to George Carlin. (And my apologies to George Takei, who I think will understand that I am not casting aspersions at all, merely referencing a truth I heard him discuss once on the Howard Stern Show.)


 
L. NicholsL. Nichols Interview -- I love it when a cartoonist's work enters my consciousness and refuses to fade away. That's what happened to me when I first discovered the work of folks like Jim Rugg, Jason Marcy and Paul Hornschemeier, and now it's happened again with Brooklyn's L. Nichols.

I reviewed Jumbly Junkery #4 last week, and kept thinking about Nichols' comics, both online and the one mini I had received in the mail. So I sent off some questions, and got back some fascinating and thoughtful responses. And here they are. Click on the images accompanying the interview to see bigger versions.

I'd never heard of your work before Jumbly Junkery #4 popped up in my mailbox. Tell me about your background and how you got interested in creating comics.

I've been drawing all my life, but I feel like I got to comics somewhat late in the game. I drew my first comic back in 2001, but I didn't really start drawing comics concertedly until 2004 (when I was 20, 21 years old). I was living in Cambridge, England at the time on the Cambridge-MIT Exchange and I was so miserable from the culture shock, lack of friends, and general drudgery of Cambridge University that I finally started filling up the long-empty sketchbook I had brought with me. This is where the ragdoll character originated, as well, actually...from those sketches and doodles. I had been drawing this character in various situations...like one panel comic-type-deals...and it dawned on me that I was drawing myself and using it as a way to deal with the stress of living abroad.

As for transitioning to drawing comics from just drawing characters/places/still life/etc...I think it was a combination of finally having broken down this idea I had in my head that comics were either funny or involved superheroes. I never was the superhero type (except for my childhood love of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), and I never thought of myself as someone who could consistently tell gags, so I just kind of wrote comics off as something I thought I shouldn't do. But in high school, my friends introduced me to things like Johnny the Homicidal Maniac and Sandman and then American Splendor came out a few years later and it finally hit me that comics were a medium in their own right and didn't have to involve humor or superheroes if I didn't want them to.

When I got back to MIT, I took a class called "Understanding Comics" taught by Henry Jenkins where I really started to appreciate and explore comics. The things I was introduced to in that class really shaped the way I grew as an artist. I still think it's funny that I went to school to be a mechanical engineer and came out really wanting to draw comics. I don't know that my parents find it so funny.

It surprises me to hear MIT had a course on comics -- can you tell me a little bit about what you learned?

People often have the misconception that MIT is this nerdy place only for math and science, but it's got an incredible humanities department as well. In fact, one of the writing professors, Junot Diaz, just won the Pulitzer Prize. The comics class I took was under the Comparative Media Studies program. The goal was to explore the various different ways in which comics can be used as a medium as well as examine the broader cultural history and social impact of the medium. At least, I think this was the goal. I was notoriously bad at actually showing up to class.

Poor attendance aside, I learned a lot in the class about the history of American comics...from early newspaper comics like Hogan's Alley and Little Nemo to stuff like Sandman, Watchmen, et cetera. It was a wonderful introduction to comics for me, particularly since I hadn't read many before taking this class. One of the classes/discussions that really sticks out in my memory is when we discussed Watchmen and how it really took the superhero genre and examined it in this new light. Like how the part where the guy has his hero costume hidden in the closet makes this play on the idea of an identity being closeted, et cetera.

More generally, we talked about how the CCA really changed things for horror comics and how the underground comics movement started. We talked about how newspaper rivalries influenced the development of color comics (the yellow kid in Hogan's Alley). We talked about fan culture, about appropriating things like Disney characters and making spoofs of them. I mean...we covered so much in the class! To this day, I have revelations in my own work that come out of something we discussed. I still kick myself a bit for not going to class more regularly.

What comics were you required to read for the course, and what did you get out of your exposure to them?

There was lots of reading for the course. I can't possibly remember everything we read, but some of them were various bits from Little Nemo and Hogan's Alley. It really blew me away seeing this older stuff, seeing how experimental they were back then. Marvels. Dark Knight Returns. Daredevil, the David Mack one. Watchmen. All of them interesting takes on the superhero genre. Made me really think about the genre and how you could use various preconceptions to play with the reader. The David Mack Daredevil book also got me thinking about how art could be changed and used in new ways in comics.

Sandman. I thought it was amazing how literary the medium could be! I still love reading these. Blankets by Craig Thompson. His use of framings in the book is lovely, as well as the brush work. Hippy Bitch and Bitchy Bitch by Roberta Gregory, various Tijuana bible type things. It was great seeing some of the old underground/alternative stuff. Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan really inspired me design-wise. Understanding Comics, of course! And Comics & Sequential Art by Eisner got me thinking about comics in a more theoretical sense.

Safe Area Gorazde by Joe Sacco and Hellboy by Mike Mignola really changed the way I thought about page layout in a formal way. Fables. Something about the idea of fables in the modern world just dragged me in.

Additionally, Henry was kind enough to let me borrow comics from his personal collection. It's kind of hard to separate what I read in class from what I read out of class, because it's all this big year-long blur of "oh man I can't believe I didn't discover this sooner because it's incredible. I have to read everything now!"

Particularly, I fell in love with independent/alternative comics. After I exhausted the limits of Henry's indie comics collection, I started spending way too much of my own money on books. I still spend way too much, but it never feels like enough. At least drawing comics is easier on my bank account.

I know from our email discussions that you have a day job -- how do you fit time to create comics into your schedule?

I am obsessive when it comes to drawing, so I try to figure out ways to use every bit of spare time I possibly have to draw. For example, I live in Brooklyn and take the subway to work in Manhattan. This translates to ~1.5-2hrs/day spent on the subway. When I can get a seat on the subway, I can usually manage to pencil most of a page on the way to work and pencil most of a second page on the way home. If I'm standing, things are a bit slower going, but I still usually try to sketch out my page layouts in whatever way I can figure out. Leaning against the doors or against a pole is a good way to have both of my hands free. Since most of my work is in my moleskine sketchbooks, this is convenient.

Otherwise, my wife is just very patient with me and is willing to put up with my consistent drawing habit. If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't be anywhere near as productive as I am. She works more hours than I do, which allows me to have my part-time job(s) and leaves me more time for drawing/making art than I would otherwise have.

Do your co-workers know you are a cartoonist? If so, what do they think about it?

Yeah, my co-workers know. I don't really hide the fact that I draw from anyone. I sometimes draw during my lunch break if I have something I really want to get down on paper in the few spare lunch minutes I have. Jumbly Junkery #4 also sat under my desk at work for a few days in a box after I got it back from the copy center. I had to carry it back to Brooklyn in three separate trips, so they watched me load up my backpack when I was leaving work. I think they all find it amusing that I draw cartoons and make comics.

Are there any cartoonists you would say have been an influence on your approach to comics?

Oh man. This is a hard question! Jhonen Vasquez's Johnny the Homicidal Maniac was the first cartoon that I remember really stuck with me and is what inspired my very first comic. A few years later, I discovered Daniel Clowes. His work really resonated with me at the time. I still love the way he tells stories. Chris Ware and Paul Hornschemeier's simple lines with their choices of colors really influenced the way I thought about color in comics. Mike Mignola's overall simplicity and use of ink made me start thinking differently about how ink can be used to shape a space. Joe Sacco's use of layout to draw the eye around the page really shaped the way I think about page layout. Winsor McCay's comics really influenced the way I think about the use of panels and frames. Jason Sho Green, while not a comic artist, per se, really changed the way I thought about the use of line thickness in an ink drawing. I mean...there are a whole bunch of excellent cartoonists out there! I've learned something about making comics and drawing cartoons from every comic I read.

I've also been influenced a lot by more traditional artists like Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Marcel Duchamp, and Alexander Calder. I'm a huge fan of Futurist typography; this has somewhat shaped the way I think about type/words on a page.

Do you read any comics currently? If so, which ones do you like, and why?

I love Hellboy. Mike Mignola's art never ceases to amaze me. I'm also really into Fables, though I'm a little behind in the story. Otherwise, I just tend to buy whichever comics have art that catches my eye. I'm a total sucker for beautifully drawn comics and good design. I still try to buy all the Chris Ware stuff I can. I love Seth. The Mome anthologies are wonderful; it was the cover design that made me want to buy one in the first place. Kazimir Strzepek's The Mourning Star is one of my more recent purchases, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

What's the reader reaction been like so far to your comics?

The reaction has been better than I ever imagined. A lot of people are like "oh, I can totally relate" to the ones about depression or sexism. My friends are the ones who convinced me to make mini-comics in the first place. They would look at my sketchbooks and be like "when can I buy one of your books?" I only hope the response continues to be so good.

Are you happy creating minis or would you like to try other formats?

I love making mini-comics, but I really want to make something longer. I have this Elvis comic I've been working on as well as a collection of comics about a clown family. I also have this idea of making a series of scenes/pages that aren't bound, but rather come as a set with instructions to shuffle randomly before each reading. Sort of an experiment on randomness and piecing together a meaning from the pieces given. If comics are sequential art, then what happens when the sequence isn't fixed?

Where would you like your comics work to take you over the next few years?

I'd love to be making bigger and better things. I want to work more with color. Being in some anthologies would be incredible. Otherwise, just sticking to a quarterly publishing of mini comics; I want to develop more discipline and produce more work. I'm always pushing myself, and I hope to never stop.

You work in a lot of different styles, how do you decide what look is right for any given story?

Another hard question! It's a lot of trial and error. Sometimes it depends on what tools I have around. If I can't find one particular brush or if one pen is clogged and I don't want to take the time to find or fix it, the I just use what I have available; I'm quite impulsive when it comes to making things. Some of my style decisions are based on the subject matter of the comic. Like, if a comic deals with a rough topic, sometimes I want the art itself to look rougher, et cetera. Otherwise, I'm always experimenting trying new styles, trying to figure out what works and what doesn't. I generally go with my
impulse.

You have a short story called "Red Eye" posted online that is full-colour and gorgeous to look at. What tools do you use, and what's your approach to colour work?

I drew "Red Eye" using this weird menagerie of markers and pens -- highlighters, Tombow colored dual-tip markers, Pitt artist brush pens, Crayola markers, Micron pens, etc. Whatever I could get my hands on, really. Portability was a must for that comic, as I drew it mostly on the subway or sitting in cafes. Markers are surprisingly good for subway drawing.

I also really love to use watercolors. There's something so dynamic about them. I'm ever grateful for my fifth grade teacher teaching me how to use them.

Sometimes, though, I use stuff like xylene/acetone transfers with textures I've photo copied. I really want to do this more, actually. I love how messy and unpredictable it can be. Gouache is something I've just recently started experimenting with, and I have plans for making a comic using only gouache. It would be about a robot.

You do other sorts of art as well, from photography to that felt alligator on your website. Do you prefer one kind of art to express yourself over any others? What do you see as the benefit to you creatively in working in the different art forms?

Generally, I prefer drawing. It's what's most portable and is what I spend the majority of my time doing. My other passion is making sculptures, particularly out of wire. I give some of them gears, cranks, motors, et cetera, so they move. Sometimes it feels like the desire to work in various media is a curse rather than a blessing, as it takes away the time I could spend focusing. As much as I try, though, I can't seem to stop making stuff!! But, I don't know, maybe it's similar to working in different styles of drawing? Some things are best stated with words and pictures. Sometimes you just need a picture. Sometimes only motion works. It's just a feeling you get deep in your gut when you know something is the right way to make it. I don't know how to explain it any better than that.

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Visit L. Nichols online at http://www.dirtbetweenmytoes.com.

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

 
Saratoga Springs Comicon 2008 -- Well, the second annual Saratoga Springs, NY Comicon has come and gone (read my report from last year's Saratoga Springs Comicon here), and I had a great day there today. The majority of my day was spent hanging out with cartoonist Fred Hembeck and two of his longtime friends and former FantaCo staff, Rocco Nigro and Roger Green.

I was a customer at FantaCo in the very early 1980s and remember buying comics weekly from Roger and Rocco, sometimes comics published by FantaCo that were created by Mr. Hembeck himself. FantaCo, as I have mentioned before, was a formative experience for me in developing my ideas of what a good comic book store is, and although it's been gone now for a decade, not too many days go by that I don't fondly remember my time hanging out there and investigating the very wide world of comics that the store carried.

Two highlights of the day: Fred Hembeck sketching Iron Man for me (see below), and chatting about all sorts of comics gossip I can't repeat here; also, going out for Thai food with Roger and Rocco, and talking all things comics, the state of the world, and even a developing idea for an Albany comics event that could come together later this year if the stars line up right. More on that as (and if) it develops.

Fred was there signing copies of his new Hembeck Omnibus published by Image Comics, and of course I bought a copy and got it signed; in fact, I had the honour of being the first to buy a copy of the book. It's safe to say that folks were excited to meet Fred Hembeck, and he is every bit as nice as his blog would lead you to think. That's also true of Roger, who is a fantastic storyteller (I never get tired of his FantaCo reminiscences, and always enjoy when he writes about those days on his blog). Rocco has a lot of great ideas about comics promotion and retailing, and it was a blast to talk over theories and ideas with all of them. I can't remember a better comics-related day I've had in a long, long time.

If I had one wish for the Saratoga Springs Comicons that seem likely in the years ahead, it's that a concerted effort is made to bring both graphic novels and artcomix/alternative comics into the proceedings. The Hembeck Omnibus -- highly recommended for the many, many hours of fun it will give you, by the way -- but that's the only book I bought. I would have loved it if there was a dealer or two focusing on graphic novels of the type that have exploded into the comics market in the past decade (think Fantagraphics, Drawn and Quarterly, Pantheon, etc.), but there was none of that, and no manga to speak of, either. I realize that Saratoga Springs is a smaller market than Albany, or the bigger cities that host larger cons, but the only attraction so far, two years running, has been the chance to catch up with friends. I had plenty of money on me today, and would loved to have spent it on some comics of the type I enjoy. The organizers of this event could really take a leaf from the pages of events like MoCCA, SPX and APE. The superhero nostalgia is fine, and I don't mind it at all, but a lot of readers were not catered to at this event, two years in a row now, and that's a lot of money I haven't spent that I wish I had been able to. End of criticism.

In any case, I took lots of photos today, and here's an assortment of the very best ones. And also one of me with R2D2 taken by Fred Hembeck himself! Click on the images to see a bigger version.

I admit I have no idea what expression is appropriate for a photo of this kind. Thanks to Fred for taking it, though!


Here's the little guy all close up.


More Star Wars folks.


Apparently this really is one of the five Batmobiles from the 1960s.


A shot of the room. Seemed like a bigger crowd this year.


Fred Hembeck and the Batmobile.


Fred works on a Daredevil sketch.


Fred works on my Iron Man sketch. >HIC<


Iron Man a little further along.


Just about done!


Roger and the Batmobile.


Fred Hembeck, Roger Green, and Rocco Nigro.


Visit the Saratoga Springs Comicon blog.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

 
Saratoga Springs Comicon Show of Hands -- Who's going?

 

Jumbly Junkery #4 -- This new mini-comic is the creation of cartoonist L. Nichols. The concerns are mostly observational and confessional, which you might glean from strips titled "An Observation" and "Confessions." It's mostly autobiographical, and Nichols is a hell of an artist, so I enjoyed the issue a lot.

As they often are in autobio comics, some of the observations are minor -- the difference between waking to a new day in the winter versus the spring, for example -- the significance of such a strip lies therefore in the execution. Like Roger Ebert says, it's not what it's about that matters, but how it is about it. Nichols uses a button-eyed avatar to fill in for herself, and that took a little adjusting, but it's fair enough in this sort of work. If James Kochalka can be an elf, or Dash Shaw can present one of his characters as a frog, why not a button-eyed ragdoll?

A lot of ground is covered in the 32 pages of Jumbly Junkery #4, ranging from sexism to depression, and from a whimsical gag involving lions to a serious, three-page summation of Nichols life and developing self-image (one of the stronger pieces, it should be noted).


I liked this comic a lot, and would love to read more work by Nichols. Some random things that stand out for me:

* I love the gold overlay on the drops of rain on the minimalist cover; it's a touch you only see in quality mini-comics, and it says something about the intentions of the artist.

* I like the way Nichols draws cats, and sinks, and pens and paper.

* I like the wide variety of subjects, all held together with a single creative vision and point of view.

Jumbly Junkery is the most promising mini-comic I've read in quite some time, the sort of thing that always makes me hungry for more.

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You can purchase comics (and a felt alligator with button eyes!) by L. Nichols by clicking here.

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Rex -- Danijel Zezelj's new graphic novel, from Optimum Wound Comics, reminds me of nothing so much as it does the sort of testosterone-fueled, ultra-violent comics for grownups that Richard Corben used to create for what were then called "ground level" comics, in the 1970s and '80s. Rex

Ground level was a term created to distinguish titles like Hot Stuf', Star*Reach and others (even Cerebus, Elfquest and The First Kingdom, in their earliest days, if my memory holds true) from underground comix and superhero comics. The ground level was where you might find top-level creators like Corben, who weren't interested much in creating underground comix focused on drugs and sex (although Corben's comics certainly contained at least one, and likely both of those), but whose work was too "mature" (read: swearing and boobies) for Marvel and DC to ever (at that time) consider publishing.

Danijel Zezelj's Rex has swearing and boobies to spare, as well as a level of brutality that might not even fit in today at DC's Vertigo imprint, although it might fly with Marvel's MAX or Icon lines. Rex, the character, is a former cop on a mission of revenge in a world where everyone has seemingly done him wrong. Zezelj's artwork is dense, bold and confident in its ability to bring the hyper-reality of the story to life. The style evokes Corben in its photorealistic tendencies, and in places also reminded me of the style Cary Nord utilized on his Conan run for Dark Horse. In fact, if Nord had illustrated a comics version of the Lee Marvin movie Point Blank, we might get something very much like Rex.

Rex creates a dark, violent world for you to spend some time in, and creator Danijel Zezelj proves a surprisingly capable host for your visit. From the work I'd seen in the past for DC, it's no surprise that he draws the story exceptionally well, but it's a pleasing revelation how good a writer he is as well.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

 
If I Picked The Harveys -- The Harvey Award nominees have been named:

BALTIMORE, MD (June 18, 2008) -- The 2008 Harvey Awards Nominees have been announced with the release of the final ballot, presented by the Executive Committees of the Harvey Awards and the Baltimore Comic-Con. Named in honor of the late Harvey Kurtzman, one of the industry's most innovative talents, the Harvey Awards recognize outstanding work in comics and sequential art. They will be presented September 27, 2008 in Baltimore, MD, in conjunction with the Baltimore Comic-Con.

Nominations for the Harvey Awards are selected exclusively by creators - those who write, draw, ink, letter, color, design, edit or are otherwise involved in a creative capacity in the comics field. They are the only industry awards both nominated and selected by the full body of comic book professionals. Professionals who participate will be joining nearly 2,000 other comics professionals in honoring the outstanding comics achievements of 2007. Thank you to all that have already participated by submitting a nomination ballot.

Final ballots are due to the Harvey Awards by Friday, August 15, 2008. Full details for submission of completed ballots can be found on the final ballot. Voting is open to anyone involved in a creative capacity within the comics field. Final ballots are available for download at www.harveyawards.org. Those without Internet access may request that paper ballots be sent to them via mail or fax by calling the Baltimore Comic-Con (410-526-7410) or e-mailing baltimorecomicccon@yahoo.com.

This will be the third year for the Harvey Awards in Baltimore, MD. Our Master of Ceremonies will once again be Kyle Baker. Look for more details soon on how you can attend the Harvey Awards dinner.

This year's Baltimore Comic-Con will be held September 27-28, 2008. Convention hours are Saturday 10 AM to 6 PM and Sunday 10 AM to 5 PM. The ceremony and banquet for the 2008 Harvey Awards will be held Saturday night, September 27.


Here are the nominees, with my picks in boldface.

BEST WRITER

Ed Brubaker, Captain America, Marvel Comics
Jeff Kinney, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Amulet Books
Grant Morrison, All Star Superman, DC Comics
William Van Horn, Walt Disney's Comics and Stories, Gemstone
Brian K. Vaughan, Y: The Last Man, Vertigo/DC Comics

I am assuming the writer is nominated for the named title; Brubaker's Criminal is a better read than Morrison's excellent All-Star Superman, but ASS is better than Cap.

BEST ARTIST

Gabriel Ba, Umbrella Academy, Dark Horse Comics
John Cassaday, Astonishing X-Men, Marvel Comics
Guy Davis, BPRD, Dark Horse Comics
Frank Quitely, All Star Superman, DC Comics
William Van Horn, Walt Disney's Comics and Stories, Gemstone

Grudgingly giving this to ol' Vince. His work is hardly there these days, too much reliance on "digital inking" and colouring (probably in the interests of getting out more than three issues a year) to flesh out what used to be really substantial work. But I enjoyed it more than any of the other listed artists.

BEST CARTOONIST

Darwyn Cooke, The Spirit, DC Comics
Matt Kindt, Super Spy, Top Shelf
Jeff Kinney, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Amulet Books
Bryan Lee O'Malley, Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together, Oni Press
Vasilis Lolos, Last Call, Oni Press
William Van Horn, Walt Disney's Comics and Stories, Gemstone

Darwyn Cooke's Spirit got really good in the last issue; I wish they all had been that compelling. Pilgrim, meanwhile, remains one of the most vital and exciting titles in all of comics.

BEST GRAPHIC ALBUM - ORIGINAL

The Arrival, Scholastic Books
Donald Duck: The Case of the Missing Mummy, Gemstone
Exit Wounds, Drawn & Quarterly
Laika, First Second
Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together, Oni Press

Ditto.

BEST GRAPHIC ALBUM - PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED

The Annotated Northwest Passage, Oni Press
Antiques, Volume 1, Gemstone
Captain America Omnibus, Volume 1, Marvel Comics
Damned, Volume 1, Oni Press
Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born, Marvel Comics

Have to pass on this one. If the Cap book had had a better visual style, and not the brown murk it carries, I might feel differently.

BEST DOMESTIC REPRINT PROJECT

Complete Peanuts, Fantagraphics Books
Complete Terry and the Pirates, IDW
EC Archives, Gemstone
Popeye, Fantagraphics Books
Walt and Skeezix, Drawn & Quarterly

Possibly the best comics reprint project of all time.

BEST AMERICAN EDITION OF FOREIGN MATERIAL

Eduardo Risso's Tales of Terror, Dynamite Entertainment
Exit Wounds, Drawn & Quarterly
Manga Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet, Abrams
Moomin, Volume 2, Drawn & Quarterly
Witchblade Manga, Top Cow/Image

I'm gonna have to pass, here, too. I read all but two of these, but none of them grabbed me at all.

SPECIAL AWARD FOR HUMOR

Chris Eliopoulos, Franklin Richards series, Marvel Comics
Nicholas Gurewitch, Perry Bible Fellowship, www.pbfcomics.com
Jeff Kinney, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Amulet Books
Bryan Lee O'Malley, Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together, Oni Press
William Van Horn, Walt Disney's Comics and Stories, Gemstone

And it's O'Malley by a mile!

BEST ON-LINE COMIC

Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Jeff Kinney, www.wimpykid.com
EZ Street, Robert Tinnell and Mark Wheatley, www.comicmix.com/title/ez-street/
Penny Arcade, Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, www.penny-arcade.com
Perry Bible Fellowship, Nicholas Gurewitch, www.pbfcomics.com
Surreal Adventures of Edgar Allan Poo, Dwight L. Macpherson,
Thomas Boatwright and Thomas Mauer,
www.drunkduck.com/The_Surreal_Adventures_of_Edgar_Allan_Poo

My son loves Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

SPECIAL AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN PRESENTATION

The Annotated Northwest Passage, Scott Chantler, Oni Press
Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Jeff Kinney, Amulet Books
EC Archives, Various, edited by John Clark, Gemstone
Postcards: True Stories That Never Happened, edited by Jason Rodriguez, Villard
Super Spy, Matt Kindt, Top Shelf

Pass on this one, too. The EC archives are priced out of my range, or I'd likely go with those.

BEST SINGLE ISSUE OR STORY

Alice in Sunderland, Dark Horse Comics
All Star Superman # 8, DC Comics
Captain America # 25, Marvel Comics
Donald Duck: The Case of the Missing Mummy, Gemstone
I Killed Adolf Hitler, Fantagraphics Books
Immortal Iron Fist # 7, Marvel Comics
Stephen Colbert's Tek Jansen # 1, Oni Press

I just didn't get Alice in Sunderland at all.

BEST BIOGRAPHICAL, HISTORICAL OR JOURNALISTIC PRESENTATION

Blah Blah Blog, Tom Brevoort, http://www.marvel.com/blogs/Tom%20Brevoort/
The Comics Journal, edited by Gary Groth and Michael Dean, Fantagraphics Books
Meanwhile...Comics!, John, Jason and Scott, http://www.meanwhilecomics.com
The Naked Artist: Comic Book Legends, Bryan Talbot and Hunt Emerson,
Moonstone Books
Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, edited by J.C. Vaughn, Gemstone
Reading Comics: How Graphic Albums Work and What They Mean, Douglas Wolk,
Da Capo Press

The Comics Journal stands alone, as it always has, as the comics industry magazine of record. It's appalling to find it in the same category with Douglas Wolk's undercooked and overhyped Reading Comics.

BEST COVER ARTIST

John Cassaday, Astonishing X-Men, Marvel Comics
Marko Djurdjevic, Daredevil, Marvel Comics
James Jean, Fables, Vertigo/DC Comics
Mike Mignola, Hellboy, Dark Horse Comics
William Van Horn, Walt Disney's Comics and Stories, Gemstone

I kind of feel like Jean is wasted on Fables, although I am sure I'm in the minority on that one.

BEST LETTERER

Chris Eliopoulos, Daredevil, Marvel Comics
Jared K. Fletcher, The Spirit, DC Comics
Willie Schubert, Walt Disney's Comics and Stories, Gemstone
Douglas E. Sherwood, Local, Oni Books
Chris Ware, Acme Novelty Library, Acme Novelty

Ha ha! We're still nominating Ware for best letterer! What a hoot!

BEST COLORIST

Susan Daigle-Leach, Uncle Scrooge, Gemstone
Jamie Grant, All Star Superman, DC Comics
Matt Hollingsworth, Daredevil, Marvel Comics
Matt Kindt, Super Spy, Top Shelf
Laura Martin, Thor, Marvel Comics

Martin's one of the best in the sooperhero biz, but wasted on crap like Straczynski's Thor.

BEST INKER

Stefano Gaudiano, Daredevil, Marvel Comics
Jeff Kinney, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Amulet Books
Steve Leialoha, Fables, DC Comics
Mark Morales, Thor, Marvel Comics
Kevin Nowlan, Witchblade, Top Cow/Image

Oh, my God, is that what he does these days? I had no idea, but I'm giving it to Nowlan for far more significant work he's done elsewhere.

BEST SYNDICATED STRIP OR PANEL

Doonesbury, Garry Trudeau, Universal Press Syndicate
Get Fuzzy, Darby Conley, United Feature Syndicate
The K Chronicles, Keith Knight, Self-Syndicated
The Mighty Motor-Sapiens, Mark Wheatley, Daniel Krall, Robert Tinnell, MJ Butler,
Craig Taillerfer, Matthew Plog, and Jerry Carr, Self-Syndicated
Mutts, Patrick McDonnell, King Features Syndicate

Kinda like me some Mutts.

BEST CONTINUING OR LIMITED SERIES

All Star Superman, DC Comics
Captain America, Marvel Comics
Damned, Oni Press
Daredevil, Marvel Comics
Umbrella Academy, Dark Horse Comics
Uncle Scrooge, Gemstone Comics

I have decided Morrison's Batman was a big waste of my time and money, it should be noted. Other than those three spectacular JH Williams issues.

BEST NEW SERIES

Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Amulet Books
The Order, Marvel Comics
Resurrection, Oni Press
Thor, Marvel Comics
Umbrella Academy, Dark Horse Comics

There's another one for you, Aaron.

BEST NEW TALENT

Jeff Kinney, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Amulet Books
Jeff Lemire, Essex County, Top Shelf
Vasilis Lolos, Last Call, Oni Press
Robbi Rodriguez, Maintenance, Oni Press
Christian Slade, Korgi #1: Sprouting Wings, Top Shelf

Haven't seen the second one yet, but the first one was intriguing.

BEST ANTHOLOGY

Flight Volume 4, edited by Kazu Kibuishi, Ballantine Books
Mome Volume 8, edited by Gary Groth and Eric Reynolds, Fantagraphics Books
Popgun Volume 1, edited by Joe Keatinge and Mark Andrew Smith, Image Books
Postcards: True Stories That Never Happened, edited by Jason Rodriquez, Villard
Walt Disney's Comics and Stories, edited by John Clark, Gemstone

Mome=excellet, Flight=baloney.

For additional information about the Harvey Kurtzman and the Harvey Awards, visit www.harveyawards.org.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

 
Broke? Six Ways to Read Comics for Free! -- There's not too many people I know that are not feeling the pinch right now. Gas and food prices are on the upswing, and who knows when or if they'll ever come down? So now is a great time to explore alternative ways of reading comics. Here are six ways you can satisfy your thirst for great comics without cutting into your household budget.

* Your Local Library -- One of the fastest-growing markets for comics and graphic novels is the library. Librarians talk to each other a lot, and for the past few years they've been talking about comics. Now, a visit to your local library may or may not turn up all sorts of graphic novels; mine, for instance, has a sizable manga section as well as great works like The Castaways by Vollmar and Callejo and the entire Sandman collection by Neil Gaiman and many great artists.

But chances are, your library is not an island. Many libraries are part of regional networks that trade books and that opens up your choices to a far vaster array of books than is at first obvious on the shelves of your brick and mortar library. Go online and investigate the options your library makes available to you, or stop in and ask them if they have an interlibrary loan program. If they do, ask how you can access its listings to see what's available to you. Search for "comics," "graphic novels," and of course, run a search for the names of authors whose work you'd like to read. You'll also find prose books on the subject of comics, books on how to create your own comics, and DVDs related to the subject as well. You'll need a library card, of course, but that's one resource no thinking human being should ever be without. Once you start looking into the options at your local library, and the other libraries they allow you access to, you may never have to spend a dime on comics again!

* Online Comics -- Your options for reading comics online are limited only by your tastes and your willingness to experiment with new ways of delivering comics to your brain. Some people will never adjust to reading comics on a computer screen, while others take to the idea like it's the most natural thing in the world. Newsarama recently posted an article on the subject, and a LiveJournal writer recently posted his gigantic list of free, online comics that will take you months to investigate, even if it is far from complete. It would be wrong of me not to point out my own favourite online comic, American Elf by James Kochalka; his site has free access to the entire near-decade of his daily diary strips, as well as other features, many of which are free. And if you really dig his stuff and have a couple bucks a month to spare (or 20 bucks a year), it's all yours along with the comfort of knowing you're helping one of the internet's online comics pioneers feed his family.

* Have a Seat -- Many bookstores, from big chains like Borders and Barnes & Noble to your local independent bookstore, provide a comfy chair and a welcoming environment in which you can relax and browse their wares. This isn't entirely for the sake of charity, of course -- they know a certain percentage of browsers will succumb either to guilt or heightened interest from perusing an interesting book for a while, and those people are more likely to spend some money from time to time. It costs the stores virtually nothing and increases their bottom line. Now, don't be obnoxious about it -- browse one or two books, keep them clean and salable, and put them back where you found them when you're done. And if you can afford it now and then, definitely spend some money in these stores to show them that offering this sort of service is a wise policy that pays off in the long term.

* The Wimpy Method -- As if my previous suggestion didn't make you feel enough like a freeloader, here I go, suggesting you borrow comics from your friends. Face it, some of your friends have better taste in comics than you do, and if you promise to treat their comics right, they just might let you take home some great reading material once in a while. Of course, it's only fair that you return the favour and let them borrow a few of your comics. I know the very suggestion fills you with dread and sets a dull buzz going in the base of your skull, but come on, they're only comics. Share, already!

* Torrential Downpour -- Have you explored the comics available through BitTorrent? I don't mean illegal ones, either. Sure, there are plenty of those to be found if you know where to look, but there are also public domain and creator-approved torrents that you can download and enjoy with a clear conscience. Despite what some archaic organizations might like you to believe, BitTorrent is a great way to share files with your fellow internet users. A great program to use is uTorrent, which doesn't use much of your computer's memory and has a boatload of options you can tweak to get your BitTorrent experience the way you want it.

* Sequential Swap -- Finally, a great way to get rid of your old, unloved graphic novels and replace them with fascinating new reading material is Sequential Swap. This website puts comics readers all over the globe together and allows them easy access to the trade lists of all the participating members. I've done scores of swaps on Sequential Swap over the years, and most everyone on the site is friendly and fun to swap with. You'll have to pay shipping costs to get your books to your fellow swappers, but in the US if you send by Media Mail, the average graphic novel costs just two or three bucks to send anywhere in the country, a real savings over the 15-25 dollars you'd otherwise have to pay for the graphic novel you'll receive in return.

Believe me, I'm feeling the pain of this economic paradigm shift, too. I've tried every method on this list, and they all work. See which ones match your temperament, interests and resources, and explore the wide world of free comics. Let me know how you make out, and if you have any other tips for free comics reading, feel free to email them to me and I'll pass them along to my readers.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

 
Yam: Bite-Size Chunks -- Top Shelf is looking to give young Owly fans something else to read, and Yam is an engaging and beautifully drawn incursion into that demographic.

It's super, super , SUPER-cute stuff, but the mini-adventures the little guy gets into are visually interesting and inventive enough to hold the interest of an older reader too.

I was most impressed by the cartooning. Corey Barba's ink line is confident, crunchy and a little addictive. I couldn't stop looking at how he shades and defines the objects and creatures he depicts -- a little Rick Geary noodling here, a little Jim Woodring hatching there, it all adds up to something gorgeous to look at.

And like I say, it's fun, too. If you can't count your age using just your fingers, the stories may or may not stick with you, but Barba's art is well worth looking at for comic art fans of any age and inclination.

Yam: Bite-Size Chunks is available from Top Shelf Productions.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

 
Bottomless Belly Button -- Dash Shaw's mammoth new graphic novel is a sweeping tapestry of a family in crisis. It's sad, it's thoughtful, it's dirty and funny and hesitant and right in your face. It's about the adult children of a divorcing couple gathering at their parents' beachside home to come to grips with reality and with each other.

It's a large, heavy book that is hard to hold up but rewarding to do so, kind of like a real family, and that and other resonances make me wonder just how brilliant Dash Shaw is. Another example: Bottomless Belly Button comes with one of two covers, a mom cover and a dad cover, the divorcing mom and dad of the book. And you have to choose one.

Years ago, I said "I'd love to see how Shaw grows as a writer and artist," and I guess now I know. Bottomless Belly Button is loose but fully-formed, rambling but always aware of its destination. For every discrete moment -- Peter's awkward first date, Jill's humiliating experience with her friend's boyfriend, or dad being given a bath -- Shaw is in complete, if intangible, control of where the Loony family is going. The events at the beach house unfold with the natural rhythm of real life, with all the digressions and messes that implies.

And most gratifyingly, Shaw is content to let us learn to like all of these people. Some are weirder than others, or more uptight, or more distant, but each is human and alive and entitled to some measure of understanding, and Shaw utilizes the length of the book to give us access to the hidden corners every one of his characters possesses. My very favourite panel comes near the end, a shot of the mother in the shower; yes, she's old, "wrinkly," as she says, but the look on her face, even possibly in tears, is one of strength and determination, and also enjoying the heat of the shower. Shaw conveys pages of information in this one masterful panel.

The drawing itself is impossible to separate from the narrative -- Shaw's line is powerfully emotive and organic, simple when it needs to be but sometimes detailed and diagrammatic. Lists sometimes drop in and out of the reading, like an obsessive cataloging of types of water or sand, such as a troubled child might keep as a distraction from ongoing turmoil.

Shawn's been doing some complex, excellent work in MOME recently, and Bottomless Belly Button even further establishes his credentials as a cartoonist you should be paying attention to. You find a lot of him inside his new book, but you'll find even more of yourself.

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Bottomless Belly Button is available from Fantagraphics Books.

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Friday, June 13, 2008

 
The Friday Briefing -- A few random matters to touch on...

* The Comics Journal #291 showed up in my mail yesterday, quite a few weeks ahead of schedule and apparently by mistake, but, my thanks to whoever sent it, anyway. Look for the Tim Sale noir cover and make sure you get it for an excellent interview with cartoonist Josh Simmons, a fascinating subject to be sure. Simmons has created some of the most interesting comics of the past decade, and I am pleasantly surprised at how many of them I have reviewed: Happy #1, Happy #2, The Happy Soundtrack, Jessica Farm #1, and my favourite Simmons project, which sadly does not get mentioned in the interview, Pussies.

* A couple people have asked if I have any of the summer sale comics left over for purchase. Yes, I do.

* And Here's my Friday the 13th article at iTaggit, The Unluckiest Characters in Comics.

Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

 
Poll: Unluckiest Characters in Comics -- Who do you think are the unluckiest characters in comics? And why? Send me your opinions and I'll use some of your answers later this week...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

 
Imagine a New Street Angel Story! -- You may recall this blog was one of the early adopters of Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca's Street Angel, which was one of the more memorably entertaining comics-reading experiences I've had in my adult life. Both Jog and non-Newsarama Matt Brady point out that on Wednesday, Adhouse Books releases Superior Showcase #3, which has a new Street Angel story by Rugg and Maruca. I've sent an email off to my retailer in the hopes of snagging a copy. It says a lot about the state of the "comics news" sites that I had no idea this was coming. Thank God for Jog and Matt. Thank you, God!

Also noteworthy this week: Mike Dawson's Freddie and Me is shipping to comics shops. It's a fun, autobiographical look at his childhood obsession with Queen and Freddie Mercury, and should resonate with anyone who holds onto an obsession long after the rest of the world has moved on. Hmm, I wonder if there's any way I can tie that theme into my mention of Street Angel...?

Monday, June 09, 2008

 
Shirtlifter -- Steve MacIsaac's Shirtlifter has had two issues released so far, the first issue mostly fiction, the second issue, funded by a Xeric grant, mostly non-fiction. Both are unblinking, unapologetic looks at the lives of gay men. I'd like to say both are excellent, but #1 is only good. Shirtlifter #2 is spectacular.

I apologize for playing favourites, but I've always been upfront about my preference for well-done autobiography over any other genre in comics, and Shirtlifter #2 finds MacIsaac growing immensely over the intriguing first issue. The difference is such that, although I think discerning readers will want both issues, I can't recommend #2 strongly enough.

Be warned that MacIsaac is refreshingly frank about his sexuality. There is nudity and sex, although the thoughtful approach and the ultimately rewarding reading experience are such that Shirtlifter is about as far from pornography as one can get. Porn wants to get you off, period. In Shirtlifter #2, MacIsaac wants to tell true and revealing stories about himself and the people in his life, his lovers, family and friends. It is fascinating reading throughout the 10 stories.

MacIsaac's style lies somewhere between Harvey Pekar and Adrian Tomine, with the added bonus of a wonderfully-realized colour palette being utilized for most of #2's stories. I was sorry to see that MacIsaac plans to go back to fiction in his next efforts, but that doesn't change the fact that Shirtlifter #2 is an extraordinary accomplishment in comics, and I urge you to see for yourself.

Buy Shirtlifter#1 and Shirtlifter #2 from Amazon.com.

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

 
Kirby and Godland and Scioli and Spurgeon -- Bunch of thoughts: I bought Kirby Five-Oh! yesterday and devoured it last night. The theme is 50 things about Kirby, like his 50 best character designs, 50 best covers, etc. I don't read the magazine regularly anymore, but as someone who picked up the first issue way back when, I'm thrilled it's still going strong and I love the tabloid format.

Speaking of Kirby, Tom Spurgeon has a new interview up with GODLAND artist Tom Scioli. I'm bummed out to hear that GODLAND is coming to an end (many months from now, thankfully, as they're taking the time to wrap up the mind-blowing series), because it's one of the most entertaining superhero comics being published today, and Casey and Scioli have really created something special that, twenty years from now, will be recognized as genius in the same way the Fourth World stories are finally just now getting their full due. Good on The Spurge for giving so muchspace to Scioli to talk about his work, and if you haven't seen the GODLAND CELESTIAL EDITION, man, do pick it up. It might just change your life.

Oh, and back to Kirby Five-Oh! Man, do I ever want a print of that Moses portrait that Kirby had hanging on his wall.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

 
Summer Sale Buyer's Update -- It was a back-breaking couple of days, but every order I've received payment for -- nearly two dozen -- are packed up and ready to go out in the mail next week.

There's only a few payments that have yet to arrive; if you have any questions about the status of your order, please email me and I'll let you know where you're at.

A big THANK YOU to everyone that placed an order, everyone that linked to the sale, and everyone that's put up with the multiple posts about it. I appreciate your patience and your generosity. There are still a lot of good bargains remaining, if you haven't looked at the list, or if you haven't taken a look since I lowered the prices on the remaining items a few days ago:

The ADD Blog summer sale continues! Help pay for my wife's car repairs and our family's summer plans, and pick up some amazingly low-priced comics and graphic novels, with FREE SHIPPING. Click here now!"

Friday, June 06, 2008

 
In the Spotlight: B. Krigstein -- My latest post for iTaggit looks at the work of EC Comics genius B. Krigstein.

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The ADD Blog summer sale continues! Help pay for my wife's car repairs and our family's summer plans, and pick up some amazingly low-priced comics and graphic novels, with FREE SHIPPING. Click here now!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

 
Financial Advice to My Children -- My parents, who were of the World War II generation, were not wise with money. I inherited much of their lack of insight and foresight, but have tried as I grow older to be wiser about how I spend the money I earn. I hope that my children will be even smarter than me. Here's what I think they should do.

1. Don't accept any credit card offers, ever. As I write this in 2008 it seems unlikely that you'll ever receive one, because the credit industry has foolishly extended credit to people it knew it could never pay it back, to the extent that it threatens the economy of the entire United States, if not the world. But if that could change, and you receive offers in the mail of low interest rates or huge rewards for using this or that credit card -- be smart, and throw them away.

2. Save money from every dollar you earn, and live on the rest. If your paycheck is 300 dollars, save 30 for the future in a secure place (at the moment, in 2008, banks don't seem terribly secure to me, but do some research and use your best judgment). Live on the remaining 270 dollars, which means pay the bills you must pay (groceries, rent, phone and other utilities if they still exist), and try to save whatever else is left after that.

3. Spend as little on entertainment as you can. Get books, movies and CDs from the library and use the internet (if it still exists) for other entertainment, communication and research.

4. Don't eat out more than once a month. It will be tempting to save time by spending more money on restaurants and fast food, but that is money you will never see again and could use for far better things. As I write this, you could buy enough groceries to last you a week for the same price as a night out for two at even a decent, never mind fancy, restaurant. Save such expenses for truly special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries and other celebrations. Learn to cook, it's not as difficult as you might think, and there are few pleasures in life as rewarding as sharing a meal you created with your own hands with people you care about. Try to grow your own food if you can, and eat whole foods largely based on fruits and vegetables. It's cheaper and far better for you than the meat and fat-based "diet" that corporations convinced everyone were "tasty" and "convenient." They were neither.

5. Use mass transit, walk or bike everywhere. The world sent itself to hell largely because of the selfish overuse of the combustion engine. We'd have had oil enough to last for centuries longer if the automobile had been outlawed or better regulated, and the use of buses, trains and streetcars was mandated by law. I expect by the time you are adults driving a car for a trip to the grocery store or a day trip to a city 50 or 100 miles away will be a dimly-remembered dream, but if the average citizen still has access to gas-powered transport, save it for emergencies and learn to walk, bike or take the bus everywhere you go. If you must use a car, try never to use it for single tasks or by yourself -- carpool and do your errands in batches to save on fuel expenses. All this will save you money and help the planet recover from the damage mankind did to it in the 20th and early 21st centuries.

6. Do something you love. You might not get rich doing it, but in the long run, if you truly enjoy your job you will excel at it and hopefully will be rewarded for it. In my professional life I have been in radio since I was a teenager, and I've always enjoyed being on the radio, even if at times I haven't enjoyed being "in radio" per se. I haven't done it for over two decades because of the huge financial rewards (well, except for that brief stint in Public Radio), but because it's something I love and seem to be somewhat good at. And even my most time-consuming hobby, blogging and other writing, mostly about comics, has been done because it's something that I greatly enjoy and that is very important to me. I've been very lucky to pick up some extra cash doing that from time to time, and if you can manage to do that, earn money from doing something you love so much you would have done it without financial reward anyway, well, it's a lot like finding free money.

7. Do spend some money on yourself. Most of my disposable income -- money I can afford to spend any way I want -- has been spent over the years on comics and graphic novels. Now, a majority of that money was probably wasted, because I wasn't paying attention to what books I truly found rewarding versus what books I could just be distracted by for a few minutes. But you can't take it with you, as they say, and you will need to spend some money on something to make you happy from time to time in order not to go insane. Just try to be conscious of how you spend that money, and aim to spend it on things you'll enjoy time and again in the future. Whether it's a much-loved video game, or a book that you can lose yourself in again and again, the more times you can use and enjoy something you spend your money on, the better an investment it is. My generation and the one just before mine wasted huge amounts of money, time and energy on temporary, empty distractions, and again, this is largely how the world found itself in the dire straits it currently faces. Be good to yourself, but be aware of what things cost and whether they are truly worth it to you. Your values will ultimately have to be created and monitored by you, and if you're lucky, anyone you choose to share your life with. Know what is important to you, and never forget to live the way you feel is important, and right, and whenever you can, teach others to do the same.

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The ADD Blog summer sale continues! Help pay for my wife's car repairs and our family's summer plans, and pick up some amazingly low-priced comics and graphic novels, with FREE SHIPPING. Click here now!

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

 
Prices Slashed: Let's End the Summer Sale! -- I've cut most of the prices on the ADD Blog Summer Sale in the hopes of blowing out the remainder of what's left and closing out the sale. Please take a look at the list and let me know if you want any of the remaining bargains at their new, lower prices!

 
Gil Kane in the Spotlight -- Click on over to iTaggit to read my latest blog post there, In the Spotlight: Gil Kane.

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The ADD Blog summer sale continues! Help pay for my wife's car repairs and our family's summer plans, and pick up some amazingly low-priced comics and graphic novels, with FREE SHIPPING. Click here now!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

 
Look Out! Monsters -- This 2007 Xeric Award winner will be arriving in comic book stores in September, and if you like experimental artcomix, or even just monsters, you definitely want to give your retailer a heads-up to order this for you.

Arriving in an oversized, tabloid-sized format, Look Out! Monsters is a work of collage that celebrates comic art by remixing images from old comics, newspaper sheets and images of Frankenstein's Monster. It's kind of like creator Geoff Grogan took Brian Chippendale's Maggots, a month-old New York Times, a random issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland and an issue of Lee and Kirby's Fantastic Four, tossed them all in a blender and created a visually stunning smoothie of comics genius.

There is some storytelling at work here, and a great, witty final image, but I can't tell you what the hell it all means, other than that Grogan has a lot of love for pop culture, and a brilliant visual style. Look Out! Monsters is an amazing artifact of art and comics that invites multiple readings and interpretations, and the hope that Grogan intends to do more, and soon.

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