Monday, December 29, 2008

Best American Comics (a multifaceted rant)

The Best American Comics 2007 edited by Chris Ware and Anne Elizabeth Moore
    Just read it and although there was much to like in this collection, there was little to love and I must admit I am deeply disappointed in Ware's selections. Despite his the-lady-doth-protest-too-much introduction, it's clear he was checking boxes and felt obliged to include the Crumbs and Spiegelman and Panter and Hernandez and Barry, etc. This was the sort of plan he used when editing the excellent McSweeney's #13 and it worked there because it was that sort of anthology. But this is supposed to be the Best American Comics of a 12-month stretch, not an education in the best living comics artists, thank you very much. And I refuse to believe that forty years later, R. Crumb is still the best thing we have going, year in and year out.

    That said, even though this years issue is edited by in-crowd certified member Lynda Barry, I'm still excited to pick it up. (Which I will next time I'm at Comic Relief as I'm pissed at BnN at the moment.)

    First, I have nothing against Lynda Barry. I'm not a big fan, but I can't dismiss her with a sneer as I can, say, a Crumb. Second, she selected a Batman comic for inclusion which makes her waaay more openminded than the last two editors. (To say nothing of the guts it took to profess love for Bil Keane in her intro --- as he may well be the uncoolest guy ever.)

    This is my next rant, by the way. DC refused permission to run the Batman. Why? What the heck? Their brains? Where are they?

    First of all, that's a kind of cachet superhero comics always seem to begging for; why then reject it?

    Second, it may bring in new readers hip to the comics thing but snooty to the major players.

    Third, why deny the highbrow a sense of balance? Or humility? Or any other good thing that might have come from it?

    So I'm pretty upset at DC right now. And reading this just makes me want to strangle them. Why are they trying to keep their artists in the ghetto? What are they afraid of? Another Image or something? I just don't get it. It's like they're trying to hide the fact that they publish good work.

    (Speaking of, Mr Fob, do you have Batman Year 100 so I can read it? Which reminds me, I want to read the new Joker novel as well, if you got it.)


    Anyway. Here's to hoping for great things.

    In the future.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Schulz's Youth


This volume collects every single-panel gag and illustration Charles Schulz did for Church of God publications: their youth magazine, a youth-activity program; a book on preschoolers and the church, and another magazine. Like Li'l Folks and It's Only a Game, one thing this collection serves to prove is that Schulz was merely adequate when it came to single panels --- not the genius he was with Peanuts. But it also shows that unlike, say, Hank Ketchum or others of his generation, he wasn't willing to push an idea longer than he had the juice to run it.

As a Schulz completist, I'm loving this book. And it's fun and delightful and all good blah blah blah. My main complaint is with the craftsmanship behind the book itself. Unlike the beautiful books Fantagraphics is making for The Complete Peanuts, the pages in this book are so thin that the images from the previous page are plain and, in one case, disrupt understanding. This is bad.

Most of the gags are church based, but not all. I've picked one of each for your pleasure.

Young Pillars

Young Pillars

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Ultimate Poop-In-The-Face

I haven't been reading Ultimatum, but this pretty much sums up the situation around it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The invasion of comics into picture books, a test case: Frankenstein Takes the Cake by Adam Rex


As I'm sure you've noticed, kids books --- traditionally shaped picture books --- are incorporating more traditional comics stylings lately. I checked this one out of the library and it was good for a laugh. Parts of the book are comics, parts are faux blogs, some Poe parody of varying goodness, all sorts of fun stuff. Here's an example of the comics (although they vary) snatched from Amazon because I'm too lazy to make a scan:

the Fiancee of Frankenstein

Adam Rex --- don't know a lot about him, but with this book and an image like that below (from his website) I know enough to know I want to know more. Best I can tell, he hasn't published any straight comics, but The True Meaning of Smekday sounds awfully good for the meantime.

Adam Rex's website

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Highlights from This Week's Episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold

I was feeling all bad for myself because I don't have Cartoon Network and so I couldn't see the cool new Batman team-up show, but then I found out I can buy the new episodes on for $1.89 each--more than the cost of buying the whole season on DVD a year from now, but less than the cost of upgrading to a bigger cable package.

Anyway, the highlights of this week's episode, "Attack of the Secret Santas":
  • Red Tornado, an android attempting to get into the Christmas spirit, buys Batman a mug that says "World's Greatest Detective." Ahhhhhhh.
  • At the end of the episode Red Tornado finally experiences that tingling sensation he hears is associated with feeling the Christmas spirit... and then he blows up.
  • The look of utter horror on the children's faces when Batman saves them by punching off the evil robot Santa's head. I would have enjoyed this even more if that same look of horror had not been on my own children's faces.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Witchblade Volume I
(out last January 2008)


One of the perks of being the faculty adviser for the Comic Book Club is getting read the donated comics as they come in in preparation for our upcoming sale / fundraiser. So I've gotten to read a couple interesting SLG titles (love SLG --- did you know they'll give you free stuff?), some crappy scifi and superhero stuff, an issue of the very silly (and gross) (and oversexed) Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash, the second issue of the original Tick run (need to find a collection because I loved it) and, the sole "novel", last January's Witchblade collection.

I've been vaguely aware of Witchblade, but I knew nothing of it and, according to the writer's intro, this book is as "ground-floor [a] read as possible, wrapped around an end-of-the-world storyline." This is so.

But you know what? I'm looongsince tired of "end-of-the-world storyline"s --- I would much rather see a display of the title's alleged noir elements and police procedural stuff and the other things that are supposed to make Witchblade different.

Well, that and, of course, the fetishistic flowing metal armor. The appeal of which is obvious.

(Seriously, is anyone kidding themselves here?)

Little Replicant Witchblade

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Christmas Carol, comixized


Classical Comics is creating a collection of classic novels turned into graphic novels. This idea isn't new of course and has generally been done rather lousily. It was with a mix of trepidation and anticipation that I read this book and overall I was quite happy with it, starting with the cover: shiny black lines on a matte black background: very cool.

Christmas Carol comes in two formats, both with identical pictures, Original Text and Quick Text. The version I read was Original Text (it's the one with the cool cover and the one they sent me). The Big O (if you don't know me already from Thmusings, he's my five-year-old son) and I are rereading the original novel in a copiously illustrated version; I had considered reading this instead, but it hadn't arrived by the time I told him we'd start reading.

Anyway, reading both simultaneously means I am hyperaware of the alterations in the text. Even though this is "Original Text", it obviously won't be identical. All the tags are gone, for instance. In fact, it wasn't until Marley's ghost appeared that I remembered something from the opening paragraphs that had been cut.

What I'm getting at is that the excisions are made so smoothly that if you weren't reading the original simultaneously, you would likely never know the difference.

(I can't say the same for the Quick Text, but based on the sample panels in the back of the book, I think it's been simplified into awkwardness.)

My main beef with the book is the art. The art is of high quality, make no mistake, but (and here comes the snob in me) it's just so typical. It looks like anything you might see from a major superhero publisher. It's "dynamic" but boring. The colors and inking look straight off the shelf. And I think the book deserves more.

Jacob Marley doesn't like it when you call him a humbug.

Given the (single ) sample panels from other Classical Comics books shown in the backpages, I think Jane Eyre and Frankenstein fared much better in the art department while Henry V and Macbeth got the shaft. And one last word on the art: sometimes is been totally pixelated and looks like crap. Not often, but sometimes. What's up with that?

(Incidentally, Shakespeare, in addition to Original Text and Quick Text, comes in Plain Text --- as long as Original, but modernized. The two panels I have to judge on suggest above average competence in the modernization, but, naturally, less poetic than the original. It also reminded me how bleeding much I hate Henry V.)

So! The adaptation is borderline excellent --- one of the finest novel adaptations into comic form I've ever read. Not nearly as good as the (as yet) untouchable City of Glass, but far above every other example I can think of at the moment.

Speaking as a teacher, I would love to have some class sets of a title or two from Classical Comics. It would be an interesting experiment to teach, say, Great Expectation as a comic. Most of the brainy stuff can be done with the Original Text version and the chance to look at the artistic nuts-N-bolts of the comic form would be mahvelous.

Knowing I might think that, Classical Comics offers teachers' guides for five of their titles. When I list all their currently available titles, I'll star those ones.

Speaking of teaching, these books have some handy essays and other miscellany tucked away in the back to supplement a teaching of the novel. A Christmas Carol comes with the following: a brief Dickens bio, a brief Dickens geneology, a Dickens-themed timeline, a primer on the Vicotrian era, an essay on Christmas in the Victorian era and a making-of for the comic (as well as ads for the books I've been mentioning).

All in all, a good read and, potentially, a nice tool. I'ld love to taste others and see if the quality remains high.

    Henry V*
    Jane Eyre*
    A Christmas Carol
    Great Expectations*
    The Tempest
    Romeo And Juliet
    The Canterville Ghost
    Richard III

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Brilliance or Madness?

My latest comics review column is up at IGMS.

I've been down on Marvel lately. Can you blame me? There's the mediocrity of X-Men (except for the Joss Whedon run) and the absolute abortion of Spider-Man and the rapidly overexposureness of the Avengers in Secret Invasion after more of the same in Civil War and World War Hulk. And the idiocy Runaways has turned into. And. But there are bright lights. Well, two. Thor is one.

The other is Avengers: The Initiative, which is the best junior team comic since Marv Wolfman and George Perez made short pants kind of cool. (Ben, why was it that when Wolfman finally replaced the short pants, he did it with a high collar and a plunging neckline? Huh? That's what I thought.)

The Special, or Annual or whatever, that just came out finally resolving the Hardball storyline was a nice old school thing. Though the Secret Invasion tie-ins with Initiative are better than the others, I was getting tired of Skrulls Skrulls Skrulls. The Special finally resolved the Hardball/Hydra/Komodo thing in a rather unexpected way... though I'm not sure that I really bought that Hardball could really turn bad at the end. What real reason was there, other than being pissed off at Komodo for betraying him?

So The Initiative rules. More on Thor later.

Horror at the Comic Shop



I was under the impression that this would be an ongoing, not a miniseries. I am very upset.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Plain Janes (2007)


The Plain JanesEverything that I complained about the last Minx book I read is remedied in this beautiful book.

First of all, every cliché in this book is shattered almost before it hits your eyes. Even the evil popular girl is a fully realized human character. And her humanity reflects well upon her father who is the book's closest thing to cardboard.

Then the story, although at times it almost tastes like a typical teen empowerment tale, never succumbs to the temptations of lameness. From the first page, we are somewhere new and real and striking.

Page one: a bomb goes off.
Page fifteen: a girl rejects popularity for the weird crowd.
Page twenty-three: boy in coma.
Page seventeen: math.

And meanwhile, the art is dropping hints so subtly you don't realize you've caught them until they matter.

The Plain Janes, MainJaneSo kudos to Jim Rugg whose art this is (and forgive me, but the protagonist's face is the loveliest bit of ink I've seen in some time), and kudos to Cecil Castellucci whose words are the genesis of this terrific terrific book. This gives me great hope for the Minx imprint. Also: want to read the sequel.

(DC: contact me here)

Re-Gifters (2007)


Re-Gifted is published by Minx, DC's "graphic novel imprint designed exclusively for teenage girls." When a (male) student saw me reading it today, he told me how great it was. He's a strikingly literate 15-year-old and so I was surprised. Because the first three quarters of this book pile on cliché after cliché --- this is the work of multiple-Eisner-nominee garnerers? (Then add to that the weirdly off Koreanisms [just off enough that they are wrong, but few so wrong so's to make them obviously not mere editing errors] and you've got something I can barely stomach.) Also, I have a problem with the book's manga-derived drawing mannerisms that prevent me from determining if the protagonist is 12 or 17 --- rather an important distinction. If the words solved this riddle, fine, but they don't. And that's not all! The class the above-mentioned kid is in is currently reading the Scottish play and we talk about the purpose of every single scene. But what purpose the breakfast scene in this book? Answer: none.

But, redemption!, this book pulls itself out of the morass in the final pages. How? With the unclever application of a couple more clichés. But these clichés replace the expected clichés and somehow the final result is quite charming. So bully for the creators. Way to go, guys. [Note: they are, in fact, guys. As are most of the creators of extant Minx titles.]

I have another Minx book in my queue just now, so we'll see where that one takes us.


Re-Gifters from Minx