Author Archive

Understanding Comics and Superheroes: Delineated

October 19th, 2008 by Stephanie

UnderstandingComics.jpgI recently read Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, which is a meaty book in graphical layout, about the history of comic books (or, perhaps, of graphical storytelling), and some of the fundamental theories surrounding art+words=story. McCloud breaks down graphic storytelling, giving a solid foundation for understanding the artistic theories as well as the underpinnings of composition.

What he doesn’t do as well in this book is discuss the story part of the comic book, the development of story arcs, and how words play a role in the telling of a comic book story. This is because, by McCloud’s own admission, a comic book needs to be sequential, but it doesn’t need to have words to tell its story.

As a writer, I would challenge that, but I know my challenge would be hollow. In the right artist’s hands, your script doesn’t need words– the art acts as the words (my own artist sends me the un-lettered version of each page, and I can always see the story, even without the words). But, also as a writer, I know that the story still exists in word, even if it’s not expressed that way in the artwork.

As a reader of comics, I find myself focusing on the words, not the pictures, for the story. I often wonder if that’s a function of not being a very practiced comic book reader (it took me a few months to get the hang of listening to audiobooks, too), or if it’s because I’m a verbal learner, rather than visual. Or if I’m just not attentive enough to the graphic novel, and need to slow down, take my time, to savor the story.

Meanwhile, over at Fractal Hall, they’re posting a meta-analysis of some of the great icons of comic book superheroes, tagging them “delineated.” So far, they’ve delineated Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, and The Flash, with great insight and introspection.

El Gorgo: 1

August 5th, 2008 by Stephanie

El_Gorgo_Issue_01_Page_01.jpgEl Gorgo by Mike McGee and Tamas Jakab

El Gorgo is published online in a standard 28-page (well, really 56, being a double digest and all) format, in PDF and Comic Book Archive formats.

And it’s…. well, I’ll be honest. I just don’t know what to make of it. Is it satire? Is it campy?

I think it’s both– it’s a campy satire about the amazing adventures of a super-ape/Mexican wrestler/millionaire/novelist time traveling superhero. Yes, really. It is that campy!

But it’s also fun! With references to H.P. Lovecraft to fill in for those needing a bit more “meat” to their storyline, there’s a definite sense of the “potluck storyline” going on here, with an almost ADD-like bouncing in place, time, and character focus. We have eldritch cults, big fancy celebrity events, a love interest, time travel, and, of course, dinosaurs.

How can you not love a Mexican wrestler in a throwdown with a Tyrannosaurus Rex?

Besides, I only need two more UPC codes before I can send in for my Deep Ones sea creatures (advertised in the back of this clever parody).

My only complaint? The PDF is laid out with 2 pages side by side, which makes it hard to read the text without scrolling both horizontally and vertically. This issue is resolved if you read it in the Comic Book Archive format.

Kill All Parents!

August 3rd, 2008 by Stephanie

killparents.jpgKill All Parents!, by Mark Andrew Smith, Marcelo Di Chiara, and Russ Lowery, published by Image.

I can’t tell if it’s a one-off or not, but this clever satire takes on the “standard superhero backstory #1: dead parents.” Featuring a set of superhero parodies you’ll easily recognize, this issue tackles not just the stereotypical backstory, but also the angst, anger, and anxiety of being a super-orphan.

The story itself is a little weak and feels like it was intended to be told in a 4-6 issue series that was then condensed down. But the artwork is very well done, and there are a few clever moments sprinkled throughout the issue. My favorite is the graveyard on Father’s Day, crowded with superheroes paying their respects to their absent dads.

The relationship between superheroes and their parents seems to need addressing in every comic series, whether it’s Superman’s adoption story, Batman’s orphaning, or the single parenting in Buffy. Although the superhero genre often reinforces the status quo, I wonder if it also portrays alternative families in a sympathetic way. Or, perhaps, it’s a reflection of the audience’s wishes and makeup.

I don’t know, but I did appreciate something poking a little fun and whimsy at the situation, and, even more, the way the superheroes respond to the revelation of the true author of their grief.

Young Avengers: Sidekicks [TPB]

July 25th, 2008 by Stephanie


Young Avengers: Sidekicks by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung.

I wasn’t a reader of the Avengers, but I understand the basic makeup of their team– Iron Man, Thor, Captain America… So when, in Young Avengers, we meet a groups of teens who seemingly model themselves after the Avengers, well, it’s hard not to see it as a combination wish-fulfillment fantasy for a bunch of fanboys and a nod to the Golden Age while forging a new story.

Maybe it’s because I’m reading too many of similar-themed comics at the same time, but Young Avengers isn’t doing it for me. I suspect that’s because, frankly, I have no reason to care about the young superheroes, or the Avengers with whom they interact almost constantly from page 2 onward. Perhaps I wouldn’t feel that way if I were already an Avengers fangirl, but, well, I’m not.

Even with the introduction of smart, sassy, capable superheroines, I still can’t bring myself to think “yeah, these guys resonate!” They’ve laid down a mystery to solve, but even over the course of the trade volume, the mystery doesn’t grab my attention and make me want to follow up.

When put beside Runaways, there’s really no comparison, which is why I can’t imagine that the crossover could be any good. I may pick it up just to see, but it would be like slowing down on a country road to watch a train wreck.

Cthulhu Tales 2

July 19th, 2008 by Stephanie

cthulhutales.jpgCthulhu Tales is exactly what fans of the Old Ones can expect from a comic dedicated to the Lovecraft mythos. It’s dark, creepy, a little funny, and it offers only glimpses into the eldritch horrors.

Cthulhu Tales 2 is told in three storylines, each written and drawn by different creators. “The Hiding Place,” by Steve Niles and Shane Oakly is the dark “reveal” story, culminating years of detective work, trying to prove that the mysterious Solomon King had, in fact, been a serial killer. The art is stark, almost noir, and is inked in black and white with only a yellow wash for highlighting, giving it that a very retro feel.

“Katrina,” written by Eric Calderon and drawn by Jon Schnepp, is a short bit with a post-Katrina cleanup crew of prison labor. One of the laborers finds a hand-written journal from the storm and reads it. As all lovers of Cthulhu tales know, one should never read mysterious hand-written journals. Ever.

The issue ends with “How to Get Ahead in the Occult,” by Christine Boylan, art by Chee. Here we have a wonderful college dorm room situation with a budding witch and her poetry-major roommate. This sweet coming of age story has it all– drunken frat parties, angst over growing up, jealousy, and of course Elder Gods from the Deep.

I can’t say unequivocally that I’ll pick up issue 1 or any future issues. I like the Cthulhu stories, but I can only take so many of them before my brain starts leaking out of my ears (and I start locking all the doors and windows in a futile attempt at escaping the horror…. oh, the horror! ahem). And one thing that always bugs me about Cthulhu: you don’t get the continuity of characters to bond with (unless you find protagonist sympathy with scaly monsters bent on eating the world). But I will say this was a great example of “hit ’em hard, hit ’em fast.” Each short story is about 8 pages long, so they get to the point, hit you with the punch, and get out of there like a band of mugging swamp things.

Omega: The Unknown

July 18th, 2008 by Stephanie

OmegaUnknown2.jpgI went into the local comic book shop in Norwood, Massachusetts and said “teenaged superheroes.” After shoving copies of Runaways and a few other interesting series in my hands, one of the customers there suggested Omega: the Unknown by Jonathan Lethem, with art by Farel Dalrymple. I’m coming in at the second issue (2 of 10), so I feel a little bit like I’ve missed some Very Important Stuff (involving robots, trauma, and a hospital bed), but I caught the gist of it about halfway through.

This poor geeky kid Alex, with the burns on his hands and the trauma in his face is having his whole life tossed upside down. Robots fight in the street outside his new home, and there’s this weird dressed-in-cape “blue guy” who keeps hovering nearby (and getting the snot kicked out of him, I might add).

Meanwhile, the local superhero legend The Mink is so full of his own celebrity, it’s impossible not to detest him a little. As soon as he starts pounding on mute guy, of course, we really hate him.

Our mute hero (who may or may not be Omega– it’s unknown!) reminds me of a borderline autistic adult. In addition to the muteness, he seems overall not to connect with other people, and he behaves in those strange ways that I recognize in folks in the spectrum. And yet, he does not seem to be a robot– after all, there are robots in this episode, and he’s not like them. He’s drawn intelligently– there’s no doubt he can put up a fight, but he is helpless in the realm of interacting with people. I like my comics to teach me something about being human, and this hero does that by the nature of his outsidedness.

In summary: robots. Autistic superheroes. Jerks we can’t stand. A very confused and traumatized teen. I realize the series is over (ha! I don’t have to wait!) and will be collected and published this October. I think I’ll go along for that ride.

Bad Rabbit: LJ/Blog in comic form

May 28th, 2008 by Stephanie

When Marty and I talked this weekend about comics and such, I mentioned I read a couple of web comics, particularly ones I can get delivered to my RSS reader. One of the ones I mentioned is Bad Rabbit.

Drawn by LiveJournal user auryanne, Bad Rabbit is not your typical webcomic. For one thing, there is no punchline. If you read this webcomic and think “I don’t get it,” then you’re thinking too hard. If you read it and think “wow, it’s like… a LiveJournal blog…. in pictures! With rabbits!” then you get it.

It’s a 3-frame autobiographical comic strip in which the “bad rabbit” (as portrayed by an anthropomorphic rabbit) goes through life, interacting with various friends and family and pets. Humans are anthropomorphic animals, but auryanne has a nice, natural style to her artwork that lends itself to a wide range of expression in her otherwise simple drawings. Pets are portrayed as animals (thank goodness, or confusion ensues!) You can learn quite a bit about auryanne’s world from 3 frames a week. But if you’re looking for story arc or superheroes… this isn’t it. This is a “reality webcomic,” like reality TV but without an annoying host or celebrities.