Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Drug War Carol


If you're looking for some holiday reefer madness, may I recommend the inadvertently hilarious Drug War Carol. It gets bogged down in history when that darn Ghost of Christmas Past shows up, but otherwise it's good for laffs.

A Drug War Carol by Susan W. Wells and Scott Bieser

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Green Monk by Brandon Dayton (2009)

(Note: I know Brandon Dayton peronally. We first met on Twitter then in person at APE. But I spent real money on this book so darnit it's getting a real review.)


The most immediately and prepetually striking thing about Green Monk is its format. The book is small, like a 4x6 card, with but one panel to a page --- two in view at any one time, as demonstrated in this photo from the artist's website:

Green Monk

I'm struck by how different a reading experience it was, as opposed to having those same panels on a larger page, say, eight in view at one time. That format would read much speedier. As is, Green Monk forces a deliberate page: panel, move eyes, panel, turn page, panel, move eyes, panel, turn page and so on for a hundred and twenty or so pages. It's slow. Which makes the physical experience of reading is justaposed with the metaphysical speed of the story, which collision plays out in interesting ways. The battle scenes feel slowmo. The contemplative scenes seem genuinely contemplative. The overall effect is thoughtful.

(I think Dayton could have made the violent and horrific elemetns much more visceral and, because of the slow, deliberate pacing, the effect would not be to the amygdalae but to the frontal lobes --- more thoughtful meditation on violence than Saturday matinee.)

Green MonkSo the question begged is this: Does Green Monk provide enough to meditate upon to justify its meditativeness?

Green Monk does take some stabs at depth. Parts reminded me of old Eastern European tales or perhaps a Bible story from Judges or Chronicles. The main character is, after all, a monk, and he does discuss religion. But while the words push us towards depth, its when we step aside and the story enters its long wordless sequences that the book is most successful both as story and in depth.

And so while the pictures could be more visceral, the words could be more restrained.

But I make this observation from a place of impression. This is Brandon Dayton's first book and it's a keeper. To kvetch about minor points like "I didn't like the sudden Disnefication of the villager" or "I didn't like the surprise lines in that one panel" miss the point, viz. how little there is to complain about for a first book.

The real comment we're most apt to make upon finishing Green Monk is this:

That was pretty good. I can't wait to see what Dayton does next.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Vertigo's Halloween Special


I should have known better.

This is the first traditionally shaped comic book I've purchased in years, and it's a compendium of advertizey shorts strung together by an advertizey frame. So in the end I've been pitched a bunch of stories to what might be great series, but the individual stories are underdeveloped and, frankly, not capable of selling me anything.

Which shouldn't surprise me at all.

But it looked cool and seemed cool and I'm trying to get Mike Allred and Amy Reeder Hadley to work with me on a project so I gave it a shot.


Shoulda just bought a copy of Madame Xanadu and I, Zombie. Lesson Learned.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Galendara's "Lest They Should See"


Comics artist Galendara participated in an 18-hour-comics event over the weekend and while I wouldn't normally post about comics made under this stress as it's just not fair to treat them like a carefully crafted work for publication, I've decided that since it was inspired in part by a story I wrote and because it turned out pretty dang cool that I would through it up here. (Note: I will, in spirit, be following my book-reading MS POLICY.)

Lest They Should See

The comic is an elegiac look at fertility and barrenness and, in my opinion, the most striking visual element is what Galen does with wombs. For instance, how they are connected to the earth:

Lest They Should See
Lest They Should See
Lest They Should See

These images are not pressed together like this in her work (click on any of them to read the whole thing), but this is their order and I love the progression from potential to growth to widespread barrenness which reminds me of Isaiah's prophesies.

Anyway. MS POLICY. It's up and you are welcome to read it for yourself.

And let's have more of these events, shall we?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Icon: A Hero's Welcome

I recently read Static Shock: Rebirth of the Cool and enjoyed it. Yesterday I read Icon: A Hero's Welcome and was blown away. This is truly revolutionary stuff, entirely deserving of the name the imprint chose for itself. On the cover of this new edition of the trade, Alan Moore is quoted as saying, "ICON is that rarest of creatures--a well-told adventure story that achieves genuine political depth." I have to agree. In the early nineties while other writers were following in Frank Miller's footsteps, making superhero comics more "mature" by adding more violence and crudity, Dwayne McDuffie was creating a superhero comic that actually approached adult themes with maturity beyond that of a hormone-charged adolescent--and managed to do so in the context of a genuinely fun story.

Icon's story starts in 1839, when an alien escape pod crashes in the deep South. The pod genetically alters its inhabitant to appear like an African-American baby, in order to fit into his surroundings. He's found by a slave and raised on a plantation, and then he proceeds to help the Underground Railroad; fight in the Civil War, World War I, and World War II; earn a law degree; and participate in the Harlem Renaissance. As his sidekick, Rocket, says of his history, "His life spans the breadth of the African-American experience." When Rocket meets him in 1993, he's an upper-middle class lawyer living in the suburbs of the fictional city Dakota. (She says upon learning his origins, "I think I just figured out how a Black man could be a conservative Republican--you're from outer space!") By setting up this centuries-spanning backstory for his title character, McDuffie takes the Superman myth, a classic tale of the American immigrant, and transforms it into something uniquely and intrinsically African-American.

My favorite chapter in this volume is from Icon #7, wherein Rocket, a fifteen-year-old girl who has recently discovered that she's pregnant, must decide whether or not to keep the baby. McDuffie sets up the story such that Rocket's ultimate choice is entirely believable for her character and he presents this choice in such a way that the reader wants to cheer for her, but he does so while demonstrating an understanding of and compassion for those women in her situation who choose otherwise. I've seen several superhero comics attempt to address such difficult themes as abortion, but none have done so as gracefully and honestly as this one.

I wish now that I had checked out the Milestone line while it was being published in the nineties. I was certainly aware of it, and somewhat intrigued, but never enough to spend a couple bucks to read an issue. I hope that DC continues to publish these collections, so I can catch up on what I missed.

The Button Every Spaceship Should Be Equipped With

(Screen capture from Batman: The Brave and the Bold, "When OMAC Attacks!")

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

My 30 minutes at APE


I barely made it to APE. I ran in en route to somewhere else just long enough to meet and chat with Brandon Dayton, whom I had to meet (had to). I knew Tom Neely was there and I wanted to buy something from him (I dreamed that night that I had), I wanted to shake Keith Knight's hand, and I just learned, just now, that Kate Beaton was there. Kate Beaton, people. And I missed the opportunity to slobber all over her hand.

I'm definitely going to avoid learning who else I missed.

I will say though that even in my brief view, APE was awesome and I want to go back. All this great indie stuff.

At least I left with a copy of Brandon's Green Monk. I'm waiting for a moment when I can savor it, and then I will report.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Two by Robert Kirkman


Okay. Robert Kirkman. How awesome is he?

I was already a bit familiar with Invincible before reading Invincible: The Ultimate Collection, Vol. 1, having read the first, shorter collection, and so I was already primed to be impressed by more nonrejectional reinvention of the superhero genre. And impressed I was. Lex Luthor seems even more rational and reasonable now than he did in February.

Anyway, brilliant, but I want to talk more about another first volume in a Kirkman book, The Walking Dead Volume 1: Days Gone Bye. Once again he's matched himself up with the perfect artist[s] and reinvented a genre while sticking completely within its understood rules. Some lines from the intro:
    I'm not trying to scare anybody. If that somehow happens as a result of reading this comic, that's great, but really... that's not what this book is about....

    ...the best zombie movies aren't the splatter fests of gore and violence.... Good zombie movies show us how messed up we are....there's always an undercurrent of social commentary and thoughtfulness.


    With THE WALKING DEAD I want to explore how people deal with extreme situations and how these events CHANGE them. I'm in this for the long haul. You guys are going to get to see Rick change and mature to the point that when you look back on this book you won't even recognize him.....


    So, if anything scares you... great, but this is not a horror book. And by that I do not mean we think we're above the genre. Far from it, we're just setting out on a different path here. This book is more about watching Rick survive than it is about watching zombies pop around the corner and scare you....


    The idea behind The Walking Dead is to stay with the character, in this case, Rick Grimes for as long as is humanly possible. I want the Walking Dead to be a chronicle of year of Rick's life. We will NEVER wonder what happens to Rick next, we will see it....
He's succeeding.

Both these books are about characters and if there's one bias I have in this life, it's toward character-based fiction.

I recommend starting both these series at the beginning. Give them a chance. You're apt to be pleased.

(Although be wary of guts and gore if that ain't you're thing. No one draws splatter like Ryan Ottley, and Tony Moore's job is to draw zombies. You get what you pay for.)

Ryan Ottley does Invincible
Tony Moore does zombies

Friday, September 18, 2009

Tales from the Bog (1997)


How have I never heard of this? I feel like a fool.

So we have the same whatever species that populates Kelly and Sim and Bone, only this time they live in the Deep Deep South.

And is it good?

It is very good. I'm sad that it's so new to me. And that it was in its heyday during the early years of the www. Because its website is defunct and there's no Wikipedia article and anyone wanted good information about the books will have to try harder than they are likely to. And that is a true shame.

But so it goes.

Marcus Lusk's only plain online presence is an underused MySpace page and it claims Bog is coming back. Sounds good. We'll see.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Mo Willems Understands


His introduction to The Complete Peanuts 1969-1970 may be the best yet. It certainly beats all the idiotic ones. Note to Fantagraphics: I would be happy to provide a replacement intro for 1965-1966.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Full Color by Mark Haven Britt

Full Color by Mark Haven Britt.

The book breaks all the normed rules of word balloons (hattip to Jason Thibault for the link) which took me a while to learn to navigate, but once I did, that element of the book's design fit in with the rest quite nicely. Proof that if you know what you're doing it will work. Major caveat: if your readers stick with the book long enough. (And they may not have. I picked up this new signed copy for a buck.)

from Full Color

As for story, this is the story of a bunch of New York youngish adults and their drug-fueled, sex-oriented, violence-prone lives. These lives are being lived in such a way that disaster becomes a necessity. Disaster is the only choice for redemption.

The protag is Boom, an exMarine. She's just broken up with her girlfriend and quit her job and she's giving herself a day to find meaning in life or it's suicide. On that path for meaning she meets crooks and spoiled richboy addicts --- some friend, some foe, none that trustworthy.

This book offers a taste of everything that can go wrong and is pretty plain about where the blame lies. I didn't expect much coming in, but this book's poetry of wasted life drew me in and pulled me along.

Recommended. Especially at a buck.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Glacial Period

by Nicolas de Crécy


Période glaciaireHorrible, isn't it? When a delightful ride ends in cliche and moralizing? And that's what we have here.

In the far future, scientists on a blizzardy expedition withe their dog/pig-hybrid companions discover the Louvre buried under ice. Good.

They try to arrange the paintings into a comic to tell the history of this lost people. Good concept, fair execution.

Omigosh! The artwork's alive! Sigh.

A bit on Nazis and pollution and global warming and obesity. What are you, French?

Jesus paintings have a chat. Funny.

A dog/pig gets all the art to make a giant--- Hold on. That would definitely be a spoiler.

I'm disappointed because most of the way through I really thought this was going to be great (and I really want to learn more about European comics) and then it went bluh on me.


House of Mystery

from Vertigo


House of MysteryIt's a Decameron sort of setup with the individual stories varying greatly in quality and ingenuity (which is a problem since inginuity is what's promised). It has a two-page prologue set in the Dreaming that is never returned to and seems pointless (particularly so if you're not familiar with the original HofM). It ends to easily, turning the entire book into a pointless prologue. It was a stupid place to end a first collection.

And yet ---

I liked it. When it worked, it worked. A bit of blood-and-guts horror and a might-well-get-interesting-someday framing story. (Not that I'm counting on the latter.)

But the talent the project is attracting is compelling on its own. Worth watching. The second collection's already out.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Portable Frank by Jim Woodring (2008)


While this black and white collection includes stories mostly (if not entirely) the same as those collected in the previous (color) Frank volume I read, Frank is always worth a second look.

Frank's world seems wholly organic, as if every structure grew as naturally as every tree. Which may help explain the weirdly sexual aspect of almost every object in Frank's world. Woodring's brand of weird here is closely related to Gary Panter's Jimbo and Brad Teare's Cypher, but is probably the greatest of its type.

One thing that makes Frank the best is its near wordlessness. No character talks and there are few words of any wort anywhere --- with the exception of "House of the Dead" (where there are content-bearing notes), this world appears to be utterly without language. And without words to tell us what to think, what we think becomes a close reflection of who I am. So when I dexcribe this book to you, be aware that your interpretation may vary, and greatly. And the distance between our interpretations may well tell us a great deal about ourselves.

The Unifactor (the name of Frank's world, though you can't find it in the comics themselves, of course) is a truly Hobbesian realm, a place where characters act on their instincts, occasionally noble, sometimes neutral, often base. It is a world of casual cruelty, where the line between human and animal is uncertain and in constant flux. A surreal world where the interior life and the exterior life have no certain boundary. This is a world utterly bizarre and all the more familiar because of it. Horrible and beautiful in equal measures.

This is Frank.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Essex County Volume 1: Tales from the Farm, by Jeff Lemire

Comic Con 2009.

Since reading the laudatory review in Entertainment Weekly (sure not this), I've been wanting to read this book. I immediately added it to my Amazon wishlist (buy me something!) where it sat until I picked it up on the cheap recently to fill out a Powell's order and get free shipping.

Sadly, I hadn't gotten around to reading it before the Con because Jeff Lemire was there with the new collected Essex County, signing and sketching in them and they were at a discount and I really really wanted to get one, but I hadn't read volume one yet and what if I hate it and then I'll be stuck?

Plus I was running on a budget of $0 (though I made an exception getting one book for the wife and one for the kids). But if I knew I liked Essex County I would have broken the rule and bought one book for the self as well.

And I do like Essex County. I like it a lot.

I've added the collected version to my wishlist.

The story is of a young orphaned boy in rural Ontario living with his uncle.

The art is marvelously melting ink.

Essex County 1 by Jeff Lemire, near the end

The sense of melancholy and the toocloseness of a small community --- both are perfectly captured.

Run don't walk.

And if you see Jeff Lemire, have him draw in it for you.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Talisman (Stephen King and Peter Straub) as adapted by Robin Furth, Tony Shasteen and Nei Ruffino)

Comic Con 2009.

I picked up Issue #0 for free my last few minutes of Comic Con and read it while homeless. I like it a little less than the one issue of the Dark Tower comics I read, but really, one issue isn't much to judge it by.

So instead let me make a general observation.

Hitchcock said he would never adapt The Brothers Karamazov to film because it was already perfect in the form it was. Instead he adapts a nothing book into Vertigo. In film form, it becomes the greatest of all time.

It's for this reason that I don't understand the recent explosion of book-into-comics adaptations. If you love the book, why not just read the book? When I read something like The Talisman, all I can think is, "Is this good enough to read the original?" If not, it's not good enough to read the adaptation either.

Friday, July 31, 2009

The Webcomics Section

Comic Con 2009.

A group of webcomics got together and published their strips on paper, Sunday Funnies-style. And I'm happy to say, most of them worked great in that format. It may be my favorite freebie of the Con.

I'm going to briefly mention all the strips that were included and give you links.

Shortpacked! by David Willis
    Unfortunately I am too lazy to scan anything and this strip doesn't seem to be on their site, which is a shame because I loved it. Loved it much more than anything I saw on their website as I was scanning around. One thing that is interesting is that they frequently feature guest artists. So that's kind of cool.

    But man, I wish I could show you that strip....


Girls with Slingshots by Danielle Corsetto
    Clever, not hilarious; scanning the site, that seems about par. Sadly, I can't find this one either. I'm wondering if the deal for this handout was original art only? Which is a shame. Because everyone loves cartoon catsnracks and I wish I could share them with you.

    This instead:

    girls with slingshots

Diesel Sweeties
    This is another superpixilated webcomic. I'm happy to say this one is better than most, imho, though still not great. Here's a reasonably apropos one I found that will give you a feel for it:

    Diesel Sweeties

by Remy "Eisu" Mokhtar and Bobby Crosby
    So this is a published graphic novel --- could've bought it if I wanted. This is the page that was in the paper, right after the popstar meets the fan she impulsively married.

    Marry Me

Eric Monster by Eric Mulligan
    This looks quite different from pretty much every other webcomic I've ever read. One example:

    Eric Monster

    I'll be interested to see more.

Templar, Arizona by Spike
    This is a story, a continuing saga, etc. It hasn't grabbed me, but I do like the sepiaish tones.

    Templar, AZ

Ellie Connelly by Indigo Kelleigh
    If this were a book, I would pick it up. But I don't like reading longform comics on the web. I have made a few exceptions, but generally, I don't like it. I like paper. I'm old fashioned that way. But still. This looks cool.

    Ellie Connelly

Least I Could Do by Ryan Sohmer and Lar deZouza
    Five minutes of looking left me bored. This look at the comics' changing look was interesting though.

Just a Bit Off by Jeff Zugale
    I really wanted to find the defragged dining room table for you, but alas. Nothing else was quite as good.

    Just a bit off

Minimum Security by Stephanie McMillan --- "20% funnier than other leading brands of anti-capitalist propaganda"

    Minimum Security

Wondermark by David Malki!y
    Everytime I read a Wondermark in an altweekly I tell myself that I need to look this strip up online. I love it. I love how he takes an old image and plays it against itself. I have pretty much loved all the ones I've read, and the one here was no exception.

    Then I went to the site and saw a wider variety of strips with a lower hit-to-miss ratio, and I'm no longer so sure how I feel.

    But there's still plenty of awesome. I didn't find any of the type that leave me laughing for hours afterwards, but these ones are cool:


Schlock Mercenary by Howard Taylor
    I read Schlock back in the old days then forgot about it, but it was just up for a Hugo, so maybe it's time to come back? Maybe? A recent one:

    Schlock Mercenary

Unshelved by Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum

Piled Higher & Deeper by Jorge Cham
    I generally require my gradschool friends to let me know when it's worth stopping by. Here's the most recent one as of this writing:


Dinosaur Comics by Ryan North
    I know this is everyone's favorite, but I've never gone for it. But the one in the paper? Friggin hilarious. Reason?

    I suspect this may be an issue of too much text for an online comic. I think that might be it.

    I'm learning a lot about myself through this write-up....

    Dinosaur Comics

Goats by Jon Rosenberg
    No comment.


    Some of these are very very funny. But some of the best are a tad off color. I didn't want to share the beating-a-dead-horse one with you, for instance.

    Also note that the comic style varies delightfully. Delightfully! The one I'm posting looks nothing like most of them.

    Bad Gods

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal by Zach Weiner
    This one's really hitandmiss, but when it hits, it can be hiLARious. Just a couple for your pleasure:


The Book of Biff by Chris Hallbeck
    The Book of Biff

Do it again next year, webcomickers!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Barnaby update from Comic Con


In case you didn't know, I love Crockett Johnson's Barnaby and I am anxious to read the entire run. I picked up a used volume one at a library sale for a quarter and that was merely enough to prime my appetite for the strip which is brilliant and funny and delightful and something I would like to share with my kids.

So I went to Kim at the Fantagraphics booth and asked him about it. And he said he would love to print them, but the Johnson family thinks they're
"sitting on a cash cow" and won't let Fantagraphics have them without $50,000 up front. Which is insane. How many people are like me and will be buying these as quickly as I'm buying Fantagraphics Complete Peanuts. Much better to just get the books published.

Dan Clowes is lined up to do the design which is a surprising but utterly satisfactory choice.

Please. If you are a close personal friend with the Johnson estate. Please tell them to let Fantagraphics bring these books out. And post their contact info here as well so I can start a letter writing campaign.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Not really a Comic Con post


Before I could get in to Comic Con I hung out at the San Diego Public Library and read these books with funny pictures:

The Juggler of Our Lady by R.O. Blechman

    Maurice Sendak loves this book. I thought it was okay. Maybe you had to be there, in 1952. I'm not so sure it holds up. Nothing about it seems particularly fresh or original today.

    Juggling for Mary

Waterwise by Joel Orff

    Beautiful, short, black&white meeting of old friends, perhaps for the last time, during a moment liminial for both, in which they merely float. Peppered with flashbacks and dreamy metaphors, this is a quite lovely book.

The Saga of the Bloody Benders by Rick Geary2

    As I suspected, The Bloody Benders is the best of Geary's Victorian Murder series that I have yet read. It ended up being an apropos choice as Geary's art graced the official Comic Con publications I would be carrying around the rest of this week.

    The Benders were a serial-killing family of which I knew nothing before reading an excerpt of the book in the most recent Best American Comics. I think my unfamiliarity with the tale added to my enjoyment, but Geary's straightforward reporting and distinctive art are always a pleasure in and of themselves.

The Left Bank Gang by Jason

    Finally! I've finally read a Jason book all the way through! And it did not disappoint. Anthropomorphic dogs named Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald spend their days making comics; and criticizing the comics of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Gertrude Stein. Finally hooking with with their bird pal James Joyce to pull a robbery.


    Jason's Left Bank Gang

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Ambiguity of Excellence: Kazu Kibuishi's Daisy Kutter


The first Daisy Kutter book, The Last Train, was pressed into my wife's hands by a good friend and I finally read it yesterday. I knew very little about the book before reading it other than the gushing praise it inspires (example).

So I liked it. Yes. How could I not? I love his art, I love Daisy --- she's beautiful and spunky and wry. I love steampunk and these are some nice robots. Timewise, it's more Cowboy Bebop than Wild Wild West, but tone wise is much more purely classic western. The first page:

Daisy Kutter

She's a gunfighter, one of the great train robbers, she is retired.

The Last Train is the story of how she gets back into the game. It's got poker and gunfights and giant mechs --- what's not to love?

But wherefore all this gushing? Don't get me wrong: I liked this book and I would be happy to read the others, but what are people finding here that makes them rank it among the greatest comics ever written? I don't see it, can't find it, don't know.

Is excellence ultimately a matter of personal taste? Or is it something more than that? Is there an objective standard to excellence? I feel there must be, but from where I stand, the sands seem purely subjective.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Questions I Was Happily Surprised to See Answered in Red Robin #1

  1. Why is Tim Drake no longer Robin?
  2. Why is Damian now Robin?
  3. Why is Tim Drake wearing the Red Robin costume most recently worn by Jason Todd, the homicidal villain of "Battle for the Cowl"?
(Because Dick views him as an equal, not a protege; because Dick thinks he's too dangerous to let out of his sight; and because Tim knows he might have to do some line-crossing things and would rather those things be connected to Jason than to Bruce or Dick.)

All in all, I was much happier with this comic than I expected to be. I'm happy to see Tim growing up, and Christopher Yost does a fine job of writing this next stage in Tim's character development. And the art's not too shabby, either. I'm anxious to see where this goes.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Art of Anticlimax

Dear DC Comics,

If you advertise a storyline called "Batman R.I.P." as revealing the final fate of Batman, at the end there should be a body. If you advertise a storyline called "Battle for the Cowl" as revealing who the new Batman will be, at the end you should show a face.


Mr. Fob

Monday, May 18, 2009

Cypher (1997)

by Brad Teare

This is currently in second place for best book I've read in 2009 and since I'll get to read it again (I own it but not The Arrival), it may be able to win this race. (Although, I must remember, the year's not yet half over.

Excuse me?Cypher is in the same family as plenty of alternative comics with their weird crap such as the work of Gary Panter. The major difference is that Cypher is a pleasure to read and for all its surrealist weirdness, it never gets boring or dull or irritating or painful or ugly or hateful or pointless or sucksucksucky. Which most do. Nearly all do. Maybe every other booklength comic of this type ever made.

So I love it and I recommend it and if you are a comics publisher I insist you contact Mr Teare and bring the ten unpublished followup volumes to light.

Do it!

(Although when you republish #1, please give it a new cover. The current one is so 1997-CG and does not do justice to Teare's scratchboards [woodcuts?].)