Author Archive

Fox Bunny Funny

September 23rd, 2008 by jason

I checked out this black and white graphic novel by Andy Hartzel from my local library.  I’ve had it out for a bit, and I don’t remember what about it caught my eye, probably the colourful geometric cover art, and maybe that it was published by Top Shelf.  Finding it in the teen section, I was expecting a cute funny animal comic good for a chuckle.  I didn’t read the inside flap, didn’t know anything about it going in.  I was quite happily surprised when I found out what it was truly about.

The fox in the title of Fox Bunny Funny could be described as funny.  As in, “You know, that guy is a little funny….you know what I mean?”  A synonym for funny used in this manner is queer, and compared to his fox friends, our hero is definitely a little queer.  Without any words, this graphic novel steps us through the young fox’s life from when he’s discovering who he really is, the tragedy of being discovered by a family that just doesn’t understand, the horrors of supressing one’s inner self, and finally a true awakening.

The art is black and white, which could definitely represent the world in which fox is growing up.  Elegantly simple in design, the characters could’ve stepped out of a Nickelodeon cartoon.  A number of times, the comic style shifts, according to the state of mind of the character.  First six square panels with white gutters, then later the same six square panels on black pages instead.  Then a dream sequence of a decidedly religious nature.  And in the final chapter we have some pages with a single panel, some full page art, even some full bleeds of some really great, very detailed scenes.

Andy has a blog on his website, with some good art, but it appears he hasn’t updated it in quite awhile.


September 22nd, 2008 by jason

Random minicomic from Lutefisk Sushi Volume B (2006).  

I opened the box, and pulled out a comic.  Much like Jack Horner’s plum, this minicomic from galideous (aka Gail Catheryn) is full of nutritional fiber, in the form of Brainy Broc, and his henchmen, the celery stalk and the carrot stick.  The villainous veggies are thwarted by the Tatorvengers!  In this episode, the Starchy Stalwarts make short work of Brainy’s plan to freeze all of kitchendom.

A fun little story, with very nice line art, clean yet detailed (check out Brainy Broc’s fingertips, and the tator tots are all nice and crinkly).  I love the female Tatorvenger with her Supergirl skirt.  I tried to find a comics website for galideous, but only found her design company.

4 October is Midwest Comic Book Association Day

September 20th, 2008 by jason

Chris Coleman, Mayor of St. Paul, issued a proclamation declaring 4 October to be Midwest Comic Book Association Day this year, to honor the 20th anniversary of FallCon.  I’ve been trying to find a link to the proclamation on either the MCBA’s site or St. Paul’s site, but it’s not up there.  I received the news via MCBA’s mailing list, which included an image of the official proclamation with the city seal and the mayor’s signature.  It’s actually pretty cool to read, with lots of information about all the good things the MCBA has done over the years, like donating food and money to organizations, and how the Twin Cities has a more than average number of comic creators here.

I’ll keep trying to find a link to the proclamation, and update this when I find one.

New Mutants #21

September 18th, 2008 by jason

This isn’t really a review of a 24 year old comic, it’s more of a reminiscence. New Mutants #21 was the first issue of New Mutants I ever read, and possibly the first Marvel comic that got added to my collection. I was 13, and living in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Prior to that, I was mostly a DC reader, and really didn’t know anything about Marvel other than random Spider-Man comics that I’d read at the barber shop. It was the cover that drew me in for this issue of New Mutants. I didn’t know who the characters were, and I didn’t even really know the X-Men at that point. Not even Wolverine.

I bought the comic and started reading it. There were all these new characters who were about my age, and they had powers. The girls were having a slumber party, and the boys had been to a ball game. It was set at some boarding school, and there were a bunch of other characters who I also didn’t know. There were references to past events that I had no idea about, like Dani being in a wheelchair.  And then the weird stuff really started happening.  Some really strange looking black and white alien robot shows up and starts acting like a vampire, draining the life from organic things.  The blond girl materializes a sword and armor and pops in and out of holes that appear in the air.  One of the girls turns into lava and another turns into a wolf.  And there was a dragon!  And I loved it.  I couldn’t wait to read the next issue and then go back and find the back issues.  I think I ended up getting a package containing the first 20 issues for Christmas that year.  I had no idea who these people were or what was going on, but that just excited me to find out more.  It was expected that I would catch on by jumping into the deep end of this book, even though I was only 13.

There is no way this comic could make it out the door today. There is no synopsis page telling the “story so far”.  It’s not a “jumping on point.”  I guess my point is this: give people, and specifically kids more credit and don’t worry so much about comics being accessible to new readers.  If the stories are good, if they’re well-written, if they’re compelling, if the characters are intriguing, readers will yearn to learn more.  You don’t have to give it all to them on the first page.  When I bought New Mutants #21, there were no trade paperbacks collecting the issues virtually as fast as they came out.  There was no wikipedia to look things up on.  I suppose you could argue that there were message boards in the form of a BBS, but not the way there is today.  There was virtually no way for me to find out who these characters were aside from learning more about them each month, and seeing if I could find the back issues someplace.  But I didn’t care!  I loved learning about them bit by bit, and filling in the missing puzzle pieces where I could.

At some point, the comics industry lost sight of this, and it seems like they now feel that the only way to sell people on comics is to make sure no one ever gets lost, no one feels like they won’t know what’s going on from the beginning.  I constantly hear people complain about continuity, and how it’s impossible to know what’s going on unless you’ve read 20 years of this or that comic.  I’d say that’s only true if the writer isn’t doing their job, and by that, I don’t mean filling the reader in on 20 years of continuity.  I mean the writer isn’t telling a good story in that issue which makes the reader more interested in finding out more about who all these characters are and their histories.  It’s so easy to find that out today, too.  It’s practically impossible to find a comic character that doesn’t have their own page someplace on the Internet.  A friend recently linked me to a website devoted to international super-heroes (he loves the Phillipino ones).  Everything you need to know to follow along with Final Crisis, or Secret Invasion, or even the latest happenings in Duckburg is all there.  Maybe along the way, we as readers got a bit lazy too, after having everything spoonfed to us.

If anything comes of this mild rant, I hope that people will go and find a random comic on the shelf, doesn’t matter what issue number and give it a chance.  Find one where you like the cover, where something speaks to you, and pick it up and read it.  Even though you’ve never heard of these characters, even though you don’t know everything that’s happened to them.  Read it.  And hopefully you’ll feel what I felt reading New Mutants #21 when I was 13.

Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E.

September 16th, 2008 by jason

I’m reading the recently published first trade paperback from the Geoff Johns series, his first comic work, according to the introduction. Collecting the first 8 issues from 1999 and 2000, it introduces the character of Courtney Whitmore, the new Star-Spangled Kid, who went on to be a member of the Justice Society, in the relaunch of JSA, also written by Johns.

My introduction to the character was in trades of JSA, and I didn’t know too much about the character, or her stepfather, the man in a tin can, Pat Dugan. DC really likes their legacy characters, at least within the last 10 to 15 years, and really likes pairing them up with younger, newer versions of their legacy characters. Pat used to be Stripesy, the sidekick to the original Star-Spangled Kid back in the Golden Age. In this series, he plays the begrudging mentor to young Courtney as she develops her super-hero persona and skills, thanks to the cosmic converter belt formerly owned by the original Kid. I say begrudgingly because he claims to not want her adventuring and that he’s doing his best to prevent it. If that’s his best, I’m surprised she didn’t start going to JSA meetings right off the bat.

I’ve only read the first few issues in the trade so far, but they’re fun. You can tell that Johns is hitting his stride, and setting things up for some wacky happening ahead. So far this is written very much in what I remember Young Justice to be like, and in fact they appear in a one-page cameo, where Robin discusses possibly recruiting her to be on the team. This, along with Young Justice and Impulse, seems to be courting a teen comic reader, and most probably teen girls. It was launched when Buffy was in full stride, and Veronica Mars was still a few years off. It’s very light-hearted, and Lee Moder and Dan Davis’s art is cartoony without seeming childish. Along with fighting super-villains, she’s dealing with being the new girl at school, getting braces, and handling her mother marrying her step-father (the latter, handling poorly).

When I started reading comics seriously at age 12 or 13, I remember my favourites being Power Pack, New Mutants and New Teen Titans, and I think that might’ve been because the characters were closer to my age. I like that Marvel and DC are trying to find younger readers with their Marvel Adventures and Johnny DC lines, but I didn’t feel like the three comics I mentioned were written for me because I was a kid. They were part of the same universes, they interconnected with big named characters, were part of crossovers, and fit into the bigger picture. I think Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. is a great comic to get younger readers, probably of the middle school age introduced to comics. It’s fun, the writing so far is great, the art is accessible, and there are cameos by other characters, without it feeling like you have to know right away who they are. It’s a taste of other corners of the DCU, kind of a sign at the amusement park telling you there are more rides in Adventureland over this way. All fourteen issues have been collected in two trades, which I found at my local library.

No Heroics

August 29th, 2008 by jason

I just saw the trailer for a new series starting in the UK in a few weeks, No Heroics.  It looks like a cross between The Office and Cheers with a little bit of Hancock thrown in.  The trailer is entertaining, but it’s long enough that they could’ve thrown in all the good stuff from the series.

Of course, having a sitcom like this, as well as movies like My Super Ex-Girlfriend, and even Hancock means that we’ve crested the wave, and now are sliding in to the time when a genre becomes a parody of itself.

It’ll start airing on ITV in the UK on 10 September, and is produced by Tiger Aspect, who have a long history of television comedy (League of Gentlemen, Dame Edna, Mr. Bean).

UPDATE: Click here to watch the trailer on YouTube.

Life Sucks

August 19th, 2008 by jason

I checked this out from the library, the new graphic novel by Jessica Abel, co-written by Gabe Soria, and drawn by Warren Pleece, after having seen it on the shelf at the comic shop.

Fortunately my loathing for Romero-esque walking dead doesn’t apply to vampires. I enjoyed this a lot, with it being kind of a cross between Buffy and Clerks, with a bit of teen dramedy thrown in. The idea of being immortal not really being a good thing, in that you might just end up being stuck in a shitty-ass dead end job for all eternity, kind of spoke to me in my current work situation. And apparently opening convenience stores is what a Central European immigrant does, whether they’re an all-powerful bloodsucker or not.

It makes for a good modern vampire story, although the goth club came across as a little too cliched for me. But I really liked all the various representations of the vampires, from the club of shop-keepers, the spoiled-brat surfer, to our hero, the vegetarian pacifist. Warren Pleece’s art also seemed very natural, and fit well with the story. It’s realistic, with a subtle feel, and makes the idea of the convenience store clerk being a closet vampire believable.

I want to check out some of Abel’s other stuff now, like La Perdida, and I have to start getting together with Mike to try some of the lessons in Drawing Words & Writing Pictures.

Read Comics Book Club

June 7th, 2008 by jason

Don’t forget, the Read Comics Book Club will be meeting this coming Wednesday, 11 June 2008, at 7:30pm. We’ll have a table in the back of the Source, near the soda machine, and we’ll be discussing Brian Wood’s Northlanders #1-6. We’ll also decide on the next discussion topic that day as well.

The Source Comics & Games
1601 West Larpenteur Ave
Falcon Heights, MN 55113

We have no idea how many people to expect, so if you think you’re going to make it, please leave a comment below!

Star Wars: A Long Time Ago… Vol. 1

June 6th, 2008 by jason

Years ago, before I got back into Doctor Who fandom, I was pretty hardcore about Star Wars. My brother and I collected the toys, the books, the comics, but my interest petered about halfway through the Jedi Acadmey trilogy and the Dark Empire II comics. I also started back with Doctor Who collecting. Meanwhile, my brother has taken the Star Wars fandom to a higher level, continuing to by the books and getting some Star Wars tattoos.

Fast forward to now, and I’m looking through the trade paperback section at the library, and I decide to not just pass over the Star Wars collections, but actually look at them this time. The one that really caught my eye is a collection of the Marvel Comics Star Wars books. The Central Library had Volumes 6 and 7, but I was able to request Vol. 1, which I started reading yesterday.

Reading the initial six comics which were the adaptation of the 1977 movie brought me back to being a new comic fan in the ’70s. The adaptation is very faithful, but adds in the missing scenes that weren’t seen until decades later, the ones with Biggs and Jabba on Tatooine. I’m really grooving on Howard Chaykin’s art, thinking about how it’s changed over the years from this to the square jaws and huge racks in his recent run on Hawkgirl. It’s more subtle here, but again faithful to how the film looked.

As far as Roy Thomas’s writing, I’m still in the original adaptation, and haven’t yet gotten to the new stories. I remember loving them as a kid, but we’ll have to see how they hold up. I look forward to revisiting this part of my youth, and then maybe checking out some of the newer Star Wars comics.

Captain America: The Death of Captain America

June 5th, 2008 by jason

I’d already read Captain America #25, the one that was in the news last year covering the death of Captain America. Maybe I should’ve put a spoiler warning there, but really, it was on all the news channels, and even in the New York Times. This hardcover opens up with issue 25, and has the subsequent five issues as well. Basically, this is Captain America without Captain America. It deals with all the aftermath of his death, the wake, how his friends, and fellow super-heroes are dealing with the tragedy. I’m currently on issue 27, with Bucky trying to reclaim a certain item being held in custody. I’ve heard that many people feel the Captain America series got a lot better after Steve Rogers died. While these stories are entertaining, and I’m intrigued with where things are going with it, I’m not interested enough to read it outside of the trades, and those when they are available by the library.

Comic book club?

May 15th, 2008 by jason

Back when we first started up, we had multiple plans for what we wanted to do with it. One of our ideas was for some of us to get together and do a book club, but with comics, trades, etc. and maybe record it for a podcast. Now that we have readers and listeners, maybe we should revisit the idea. Much like the podcast, maybe one of us just needs to pick a book, set a date and location, and go for it. So I’ll do it.

First pick will be Northlanders #1-6, by Brian Wood, a Vertigo comic, with issue 6 coming out next Wednesday. The first five are still available at various comic shops around town. We’ll meet Wednesday, June 11, at 7:30pm, location to be announced.

Power Pack tv pilot

May 10th, 2008 by jason

It seems like at one point or another, just about every super-hero has had some sort of film or television appearance.  And if it’s something that never actually aired on tv, you can bet that someone made a pilot for it that never went anywhere.  Just recently, I got the opportunity to see something I had been trying to find for years, the unaired live action Power Pack tv pilot.  Alex, Julie, Jack and Katie might’ve had their very own tv series, had this show impressed some execs just a bit more.  Judging by the style of the show, they were going for a Saturday morning, or mid-afternoon show, seeking the coveted Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers audience.  What they made, though, was a little closer to Small Wonder.  Most people might say that’s a dis, but at the time, I loved Small Wonder.  And I can see me back then, eating this up with a spoon.  However, being made in 1991, the producers missed the Small Wonder boat by a few years.  Not enough action for MMPR, too young for Saved By The Bell, I’m not sure which fan base they were really going for here.

As far as the story goes, the origin is similar.  The kids still got their powers from an alien named Whitemane, the powers are mostly the same, but they’re not super-heroes.  They don’t fight Snarks.  Their parents know about their powers.  And most of the situational plot comes from not letting the neighbours know about their powers.  They’ve just moved to a new town, and they get a lecture from Mom & Dad about how important it is that they fit in here, so no using powers in public.  Their powers are similar to what they have in the comics, with some twists.  Alex is pretty much the same, Julie is super-fast, but couldn’t fly (at least not in this episode–she does pedal a bicycle at superspeed with the rainbow trailing her), Jack appears to only be able to shrink, and Katie…well, she has some sort of energy powers, but I have no idea what they are.  What was shown in the episode was her creating a glowing globe in her hand, and releasing some sort of energy at a ghost, but not explosive energy.  Plus she doesn’t have to “charge up” by disintegrating matter.

The production quality was that of a pilot, never meant to be aired.  The producers were trying to sell the episode, so the effects are pretty dicey.  The background music during the beginning was from Beetlejuice and in one scene, the radio is playing New Kids on the Block.  I can’t say I blame the executives from giving this one a pass, but I’d like to see what could’ve been had the show been greenlit. It wasn’t unenjoyable, but it was a little bit closer to Alf or Bewitched than it was to the Marvel comic that meant so much to me as a kid.

Infinite Invasions of a World War Crisis

May 5th, 2008 by jason

On a recent sleepless night, I read the Sinestro Corps War saga that ran through the Green Lantern titles last year. At the end of it, I felt a sense of satisfaction with the story, the epic, the huge event. It felt complete, while hinting at the repercussions from the saga that will occur over the next couple of years in the DC Universe. I felt like I got a full story, which stayed exciting right up until the dramatic conclusion. I realized, at the end, that this was kind of a new experience for me: satisfaction with a “comic event storyline”. I think the closest I’ve come to that sort of satisfaction was with the conclusion of Crisis on Infinite Earths over two decades ago, but to be honest, I felt a little let down at the end of that as well. I think that’s the trend with comic book Events. Big E Events, with Earth-shattering ramifications! They’ve become the comic book equivalent of summer blockbuster season, with one event bleeding into the next event, and sequel after mega-sequel.

We’re getting ramped up into the two latest events from DC and Marvel with the upcoming Final Crisis and Secret Invasion respectively. Both of these are sequels or continuations of previous events. Both of them will cause the very foundations of their respective universes (or multiverse) to quake! And as far both of them go, I’m exhausted already. Over the past several years, we’ve experienced event after event after event. Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis, One Year Later, 52, World War III, Amazons Attack, Countdown, Disassembled, House of M, Civil War, World War Hulk, and that’s not even counting the ones that are exclusive to the X-Men titles. My god, living the life of an X-Man would be tiring. Not just from the pitched battles with your foes, but from having to take part in all these events! You don’t have time to sit down, take a breath, before you’re flung from one cataclysm to the next crisis. It’s possible now that you may be taking part in simultaneous crossovers. There won’t be room on the cover for any art, just event logos. I fully expected to see a comic with World War Hulk at the top, the Initiative listed underneath that, a quarter page of art and a flashback to the Civil War single color bottom half. Oh, with the title listed somewhere among all that.

I’m prepared for the DC events this summer, having just finished Countdown yesterday, which fizzled like a sparkler at the end of its sparkle. What started out a year ago as skyrockets, in the end was merely a punk. I was really looking forward to this series wrapping up and meaning something, but the last issue, Countdown #1 really seemed like the writers had lost their steam somewhere along the way. There were awesome moments in Countdown, like in 52, but at the end, maybe it was just too much, too quickly. And to be honest, all the action happened in the various other mini-series happening around the DC Universe, like Death of the New Gods, Countdown to Adventure, and the mini-epic going on in Batman and Action, The Resurrection of Ra’s Al Ghul and Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes, respectively. There were some very fun stories to be found in the DCU this past year, but the “spine”, as described by Dan DiDio, was suffering from a calcium deficiency.

The follow-up to Countdown, and the bridge leading into Final Crisis, is DC Universe #0, written by Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns, and illustrated by everyone and their brother. You get a little taste of everything in this issue, with vignettes featuring Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, the Trinity of the DC church, plus the second tier of character who will be having major stories happening over the next year, including Green Lantern, the Legion (or at least one of them), the Spectre, and a surprise guest (who is really no surprise if you’ve been paying attention). Countdown was a mess that couldn’t seem to tie itself together without massive Dei ex Machina leaving axle grease all over the place. The stories in DC Universe, by contrast, were gourmet hors d’œuvre, served up in a pleasing series of courses, each giving a taste of the multi-course meal coming up. That some of the courses may leave you feeling a bit gassy, bloated or unsatisfied remains to be seen.

Spirit #11

April 15th, 2008 by jason

I’m catching up on back issues, and just read Spirit #11, from last October.

Great comic, and great rendition of a gay couple….up until the end when one of the gay characters dies heroically. He saves the city, literally, but is fatally shot just beforehand. The part that bothered me, however, is that earlier in the issue, we met his partner, who was left at home, waiting for his husband to come back, not knowing that he never would. The issue ends with Denny Colt looking up and seeing Ellen, knowing that everything is going to be all right. But it isn’t going to be, not for everyone. Cooke’s writing does touch on this, in that Colt narrates the story, saying that every death caused by the villain is his own fault, since he created the villain. I guess this just adds some more blood to his hands.

I’m kind of at odds with the comic. I liked it, I enjoyed it, it had positive gay characters, including the one who saved the day, but I’m a little peeved that it seems inconsiderate in the way that so much is inconsiderate. In the literal sense of the word, it doesn’t consider that part of the story. Granted, there are only so many pages, but in the face of Denny and Ellen being happy, I can’t help but think of the offscreen grief of the husband soon to get that terrible visit from the authorities.

Graphic Adaptations of Fantasy Novels

April 4th, 2008 by jason

The Hedge Knight, TPBMy friend and fellow author on here, Mike, has been after me to read George R. R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” novels for some time now, and I haven’t shown much interest. I’ve found that I’m not really a fan of high fantasy that much, preferring the humourous fantasy novels of Pratchett. I’ll even admit that I didn’t really enjoy the Lord of the Rings movies. Much like Matt Fraction’s opinion, if you put an elf on a horse, I’m falling asleep. Oddly enough, I remember enjoying reading the Dragonlance novels as a teenager; I wonder what I would think if I picked one up now.

While doing my regular perusal of the graphic novels section at the library, I came across The Hedge Knight, co-produced by the Dabel Brothers and Marvel, along with Raymond Feist’s Magician: Apprentice Vol. 1. I figured that I’d give them a shot, and if I wasn’t into it after the first issue of the collections, I’d just return them unfinished. Colour me surprised. Both The Hedge Knight and Magician: Apprentice were very enjoyable, with the former not really having any true fantasy elements, and instead being more a tale of knights, heraldry, and tournaments. The latter was closer to what I think of as high fantasy, with wizards, firedrakes, and trolls, adding in the regency of the medieval era. Having not read the originals, I can’t speak to how well they were adapted, but the stories were compelling in their own right. There was adventure, humour (though not the broad humour of Pratchett), both were about young heroes in the making.

Mike Miller’s art in The Hedge Knight conveys broad-shouldered knights quite well, although everyone seems to have a very youthful appearance, even the older men. Brett Booth’s art for the first three issues of Magician: Apprentice also worked for me, better than his similar work for Anita Blake: Guilty Pleasures, also from Marvel and the Dabel Brothers. Booth draws pretty men. Extremely pretty men. Painfully pretty men, but likewise his representation of Anita makes her look less like an executioner and more like an ingenue. That same innocence works very well on Pug, the young student magician. The last three issues were drawn by Ryan Stegman, who is billed in the back as an “emerging artist”. I didn’t dilike his art, but the transition between the two styles was jarring, particularly since the transition took place during a cliffhanger. His character designs are so different that it’s hard to think of them as the same people. The linework is also much thicker than Booth’s making the transition that much harder.

Anita Blake Vampire Hunter: Guilty PleasuresNot exactly fantasy, but still by Marvel and the Dabels, Laurell K Hamilton’s Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter: Guilty Pleasures didn’t keep me as entertained as the other two collections, but I had read the original work years ago. It seemed pretty faithful, in that I’m still not sure if Hamilton is writing a romance, a horror, or a detective novel. Art is by Booth, as I said above, and he draws incredibly sexy male vampires. Long and lanky with cascades of hair, I’d say he’d be an ideal candidate for the Queeries category of “Best Non-Queer Artist Who Draws Awesome Male Asses”, but he generally draws more front views than rear.

After reading these collections, I’d like to think that I’m more inclined to read the original works, but I have a feeling that I’m more likely to read more graphic adaptations than check out the text only versions. Maybe if I get that Kindle, I’d load one up on it, but I can’t see myself carrying one of Martin’s tomes with me. As far as sequels to these collections, I know that the Anita Blake series is being continued, but with the Dabel Brothers being split from Marvel, I’d imagine the future of the other series is more unsure. I believe Marvel retained the rights to the licenses so I guess it’s all up to how sales figures worked for Marvel.

Big Brain Comics hosts local creators’ releases

March 31st, 2008 by jason

Saturday afternoon, I went to Big Brain Comics, the last comic shop standing in downtown Minneapolis, to attend a release event for a couple of local comic creators. Lars Martinson and Tim Sievert were both on hand, chatting with customers and signing copies of their new graphic novels. Lars had copies of his hardcover, Tonoharu: Part One, while Tim’s softcover, That Salty Air was also available.

As a release event, there wasn’t really all that much going on, no reading, no presentation, but both Lars and Tim were very approachable. I got a chance to talk to both of them, nothing really in depth, just conversational. Lars talked about the Star Tribune article, where the story the reporter recounted about the girl he met was the last thing that Lars wished he had put in there. We talked about how the Strib also screwed up the title of his book in its typesetting, both in print and on the web, and how, unfortunately neither Lars or Tim will be attending Microcon. Lars will be traveling back to Japan to study calligraphy, and Tim will be at the Stumptown Comics Fest in Oregon. I bought both of their books, and wandered about the store a bit while they signed and sketched in my books. Coming back a few minutes later, Tim handed me his book and apologized to me, saying that he was sorry, this was the first book he’d ever signed. I handed it back to him and said “Write that down in there!” Lars joked about how I could now sell it on eBay for a lot of money.

I was only there for about half an hour, and they admitted that the release was kind of thrown together somewhat spontaneously. I suppose for many graphic novels, a reading without the use of an overhead projector is a little awkward. I’ll be reading both books this week and will post reviews afterwards.

It’s all in the costume

March 13th, 2008 by jason

The New Yorker has an interesting essay by Michael Chabon, the author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. He talks about superhero costumes and what they signify, but what really got me in the essay is how many names of super-heroes he drops. This man knows his comics, which I suspected after reading Kavalier & Clay, but this goes beyond that. This tells me he can hold his own at any comic book convention he might attend. He is one of us.

Batman: City of Crime

March 10th, 2008 by jason

City of CrimeWritten and laid out by David Lapham, pencils by Ramon Bachs, inks by Nathan Massengill, colours by Jason Wright, letters by Jared K Fletcher

Collecting Detective Comics 800-808, 811-814, this 287 page tome is something to really sink your teeth into. I read this not too long after reading the War Games epic which ran across all the Bat Universe titles, and found a world of difference between the two. Lapham’s thriller is much more cohesive than the sprawling chaos of War Games, perhaps rightly so, considering it’s coming from a single writer of a single comic. While appearing in the issues shortly after Ed Brubaker’s epic, the chronological time for this story is unknown. There are no cues saying whether it took place before or after, but the previous event is never mentioned that I could find. Robin is definitely Tim Drake, Akins is the police commissioner. Beyond that, it could really take place any time.

The title is apt: this is as much a story about Gotham as it is about Batman, maybe moreso. A beautiful gothic Gotham, beautiful like the wings of insect seen close up, a stinging, poisonous insect. Ever since Tim Burton’s film, Gotham has been almost universially represented like something out of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, ironically enough, whereas Ramon Bachs give his Gotham a warmer feel. It’s the warmth of fresh blood, however, oozing from a slit throat. The first issue in the collection sets this tone, taking you on a journey through Gotham at night, a madman’s tour, pointing out the garishly painted masterpiece of a city. The price of admission is just a small bit of your soul. This is very much a prelude to the rest of the collection, lasting only 8 pages. This was originally a back up story, with the bulk of the issue having a War Games epilogue, but this collection only reprints this one.

Lapham has set the stage, and issue 811 contains the overture. Batman is seen sparingly, more hinted at, while Gotham’s residents go about their violent, unpleasant lives. Even the routine takes on a sinister cast when it occurs in Gotham. And the passing shadow in the gloom, preventing a domestic altercation with a thrown batarang, shows that Batman is there, even when not seen. He is an offspring of this city, but this parent does its best to reject its child, in much the same way as creatures in the wild attempt to consume their young. The characters start coming into play as the issue continues, lining up like a length of fuse, waiting for the spark to set them off, consuming each in turn just before the explosion that you know is coming.

The successive issues extend the plot, bringing in a few classic Batman villains, and hinting at a mastermind. There is much that is gruesome in this arc, and Lapham doesn’t shy away from the adult themes. Batman’s prime motivation in this story stems from an encounter with a Lolita-esque girl and his rejection of her advances. A run-of-the-mill tragedy in Gotham explodes into an atrocity to shake the city apart. We have an interlude in the action in issue 807 as a new act begins, and we focus on a specific neighbourhood. A magnifying glass is held up to a map of Gotham and we see this stretch of streets in detail, from the decaying dog in the gutter to the decaying crones gossiping on the stoop. Bachs’s art is glorious in its grotesquery, where we literally see all the warts. We also get to see Batman in a role that he seems so rarely used for anymore: being a detective. We see him almost as much out of costume as in it. The action ramps back up again for the rest of the arc, until the concluding battle royale.

This story worked in so many ways, compelling to me to keep reading far after I should’ve put it down for the night. It was nearly a compulsion to see what happened next, something that I haven’t found in comics as much lately. I can see where some might be frustrated with some of the convolutions that the story goes through, but it kept me riveted. I want to seek out Lapham’s other works to compare, see what he does with his own stories. The detail of the art kept me looking at panels over and over, picking up new things and little easter eggs with each new look. The muted colour palette fit in well with the noir revival setting, although it may have appeared differently in the single issues, as the trade used newsprint. I assume the single issues used the standard glossier paper, but the pulpiness of this story almost cries out for newsprint. The panels are on a black background, but a yellowing of aged newsprint wouldn’t feel out of place with these comics.

As I said, the chronology of this story isn’t pinned down, but in a real world context, Infinite Crisis is in swing, Jason Todd has reappeared as the Red Hood in the Batman comics, and One Year Later will start in just a few issues. The self-contained aspect of this story lets it exist on its own, outside of all of the continuity laden events going on in the rest of the DC Universe. No special knowledge, no real history lessons are needed here.

Fun Homes to Watch Out For

March 9th, 2008 by jason

Alison Bechdel spoke Thursday night at the University of Minnesota campus, and fortunately I found out early enough to attend, along with a nearly full auditorium of fans. Also, fortunately, I got to go with a good friend who had an awesome appreciation for her and her work. I’ve read Dykes to Watch Out For for years, while it was published in our various gay publications in Minneapolis. I don’t remember the last time it was running here, but I know that, sadly, it hasn’t run for a few years. More the pity us, who even hosted Alison for a few years in the ’80s. She spoke about how much she loved it here, working for Equal Time, and that she misses it, but that she’s very happy in Vermont. Again, the Twin Cities are that much poorer for her absence.

She started her presentation talking about her comic strip, which she’s worked on for over twenty years now. She spoke a bit about the evolution of the strip, and how when she started, it was part of an effort to change the world. That the characters weren’t part of the mainstream, and were never meant to be. Funny thing was, the mainstream changed around the characters. She talked about how gay books weren’t carried in mainstream bookstores, gay news wasn’t carried in the mainstream press, and gay characters weren’t shown realistically on television. Well, two out off three ain’t bad. She included a presentation featuring characters from the strip and how they’ve changed over the years. Projected onto a large screen, we got to see just how good her line art is. The detail that she puts in every strip amazes me. From her characters, each of whom is distinctive, to the objects and backgrounds, her panels are interesting but not cluttered. I particularly love the way she draws hair, swirling around like Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Seeing the art blown up with a hi-def projector spoils you for seeing it in any other way.

She followed this with readings from Fun Home, her graphic autobiography (as opposed to novel). I haven’t read the whole book yet, but I took the opportunity to buy a copy and get it signed. (Amazon Bookstore was there selling copies) Between the two readings, Alison showed us a video of her techniques for working on the book. She uses herself for most of the photo-reference for all of her characters, including her mother and father. Her technique starts with rough sketches, which she then places on a lightbox and uses tracing paper to get continuously more detailed, until her final inking. For Fun Home, she decided to change her normal technique of shading. In the strip, she uses crosshatching, but for the book, she took a last piece of tracing paper and used watered down ink to do her colouring. She scans in both images and combines them for the final pages.

She hosted a final Q&A at the end, where she fielded questions from her artistic influences (Norman Rockwell, Mad Magazine, Edward Gorey, and Herge) to why she left the Twin Cities (the oldest of reasons–for a girl) to how she’s getting by with the diminishing number of papers carrying gay strips (she’s still exploring that issue–but she does have a paypal button on her website). All in all, she was extremely well-spoken and entertaining. And I’m glad I read about the event in the City Pages before it was too late.


March 4th, 2008 by jason

Written and illustrated by Jeff Smith

Wow. A new comic from the creator of Bone. And it’s stunning. The artwork is beautiful. Jeff’s style is evocative of the best animators in the business. It’s a cartoon in still-life, making you want to forget that Pixar ever came into being. In an interview, he said that his primary influences have been Carl Barks, of Duckburg fame, and Walt Kelly, the creator of Pogo. You can see a definite evolution from Uncle Scrooge to Pogo to Fone Bone, and while RASL isn’t anthropomorphic animals (or Bones), that same sense of design is there.

RASL (first name? Initials?) is a thief, a cat burglar, with a taste for fine art, not so fine hooch, and cigars. He’s also good at getting out of tight spots, which he appears to have no trouble getting into in the first place. This is a noir story, where we’re coming in after a lot of the action has occurred. RASL is injured, but appears meditative, and then we’re taken back to what happened to him. Or at least a part of what happened to him. In fact, RASL and Kick-Ass both kind of start the same way. The heroes of our stories are injured, in danger, something dire has happened to them, and we start finding out what, piece by piece. This was a common trope of noir films, such as D.O.A, Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard, where we know the ultimate fate of the protagonist, and the unraveling mystery is how they got there. And how did RASL get to the desert? We’ve barely begun to find out, but what was revealed in this first issue is enough to hook me. There’s a combination of the fantastic and the mundane, a combination of noir and sci-fi, a little bit of Chinatown and a little bit of Blade Runner, with a touch of Looney Tunes thrown in for good measure.

The next issue comes out in May, according to the last page of this one. It’s going to be a tough wait.

Kick-Ass #1

March 3rd, 2008 by jason

Kick-AssWritten by Mark Millar, drawn by John Romita, Jr.

Awesome comic. Creator-owned, so not beholden to Marvel, although they do a lot of name-dropping of Marvel stuff in there, which makes sense since it’s an Icon book (Marvel’s creator-owned imprint–they publish Powers).

It’s about a teenager who decides to become a super-hero. He doesn’t have any powers, he doesn’t have any special training, he just has a costume and the balls to do it (although maybe not for much longer after the third page). The rest of the issue is a flashback of his “origin”, what there is of it.

I’m kind of surprised by how much I liked the comic. I’m not a huge fan of either Millar, or Romita Jr, but don’t really have anything against either of them. Romita Jr’s art really works here, although I keep picturing the main character as a cross between Sprite from the Eternals and Ken Connell from Starbrand. The first issue goes by really fast, but that seems to be the state of comics these days–everything seems to be written for the trade, or maybe that’s just the expectation that we give comics now. I finished it wanting to read more right away.

The story itself seemed very realistic to me in terms of what a teenager, what I as a teenager, might think of doing. That you might actually think it’s a good idea to put on a costume and go beat up bad guys, and how that might end up not working out so well for you. It’s pretty brutal, both in violence and in how teenagers get treated by each other.

Questions to be answered for the book club

February 2nd, 2007 by jason

What will we read?

Where will we meet?

How often will we meet?

How big of a group do we want?

Do we want to advertise it or keep it invite only?