2.02.11 Releases

If, for some odd reason, you missed one of the best books that came out last year, here’s your chance to correct that little oversight. It’s the Daytripper TPB (DC/Vertigo) from Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon. It’s got beautiful ruminations on life, luscious pencils, and the most vibrant colors you’re likely to see in mainstream comics today. All 10 issues are yours for just $19.99. Though I can’t stand the new numbering system, The House of Ideas offers Invincible Iron Man #500.1 (Marvel), which is still probably the best mainstream superhero book being published today by The Big Two.

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"...lots of emotions squeezed out of some simple and clean lines."

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"...seems to employ a Hitchcockian sense of voyeurism and sense of suspense."

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1.26.11 Reviews

The New York Five #1 (DC/Vertigo): Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly have turned in some great performances together on a wide range of titles over the years (Local, The New York Four, DMZ, Northlanders), but this just might be their most effective collaboration yet. It’s an impressive first issue that does everything a great first issue needs to. Right from go, the first page primer captures these realistic characters that aren’t just sketches or archetypes, but seem to be imbued with real substance. They seem so complete with both positive attributes and imperfection that they seem familiar. Haven’t we all lusted after a Merissa, been annoyed by a Lona, had a friend who dated a Ren, and ended up with a Riley ourselves? Wood seems to be getting better with age, honing his ear for dialogue and alternate modes of communication. There’s a modern sensibility on display here regarding the way young people process information; it almost reminds me of what Joe Casey tried to do with The Intimates at WildStorm a few years back. Wood seems to be pushing hard here in a lot of different little ways. He throws in my favorite line from the first volume: “It awes me into silence sometimes.” He throws in a blatant fourth wall breaker just for fun with “…in the author’s opinion.” And overall, he makes this emotionally tumultuous time in every person’s life hum with the feeling that every small decision weighs heavier than the world. Ryan Kelly has really poured a lot into this thing visually too. The opening establishing shot of New York is one of the most impressive full pages I’ve seen in a while, probably the best he’s ever done. There’s an immaculate level of detail and sense of depth that instantly plunges you into the energy of the city. Those types of rich backgrounds seem to run throughout the issue, forcing you to search for the Easter Eggs, like the "Local” TV show ad slyly above a subway station. On one hand, this is an odd book for Vertigo, black and white with no ads, but I don’t really care because it puts all the right threads in motion with style and grace. Grade A+.

Uncanny X-Force #4 (Marvel): It’s everything an X-book should be, particularly as compared to Uncanny X-Men. I really like Matt Fraction and have enjoyed watching the arc of his career, but his Uncanny X-Men run has really been a noble failure. It had high aspirations that never quite connected. The ideological structure was lofty, analogizing Utopia as a Mutant State of Israel, which in turn positioned the X-Men as The Mossad. In spite of the aspirational vision, the art was always sub-par, ranging from just mediocre to downright awful. It has so many would-be interesting threads flailing around that it began to unravel, some of the threads ignored for long durations, with the threads present playing quite choppy. At times, it had gravitas and action, but at times it was also cheesy and nonsensical. As you might be able to tell, I’m invoking the comparison here because after months of threatening, I finally weaned myself off of Uncanny X-Men for the far superior Uncanny X-Force. The short version is that Rick Remender’s scripts are brisk and engaging, Jerome Opena’s art (with Dean White’s coloring) is detailed, lean, dark, and kinetic. This incarnation of X-Force honestly has it all. It’s got rousing action, compelling ideas, a visceral aesthetic, smart banter, eclectic cast, cool factor, iconic villain, straightforward plot, and is aided by, rather than bogged down by, continuity. It’s bold and irreverent, such as the scene where Deadpool is… umm… “nourishing” Archangel. Fantomex and Wolverine create their own version of the “Fastball Special,” there’s a tremendous moral dilemma, rich tension, and emotional fallout to come. Every character gets their own little journey, Psylocke shines as more than window dressing, Wolverine tests his leadership, the continuation of Archangel’s split personality, etc. If you’d told me a few years ago that Uncanny X-Force would be getting this grade, I’d have said you were as loony as Deadpool. But, it’s true, the book is basically flawless, with style. Grade A+.

This was definitely a great week for comics considering I awarded not one, but two, Grade A+ efforts, but somehow Sea Donkey managed to eff it up in his own special way. He did not get Scalped #45, which I’d also planned on buying.


Grinding It Out

And Then One Day #9: Page 4 (Elephant Eater): Panel 1: It seems like this shot is zoomed in a little tighter than usual. I’m not sure if that’s just my faulty perception or perhaps an intentional move on Ryan’s part to emphasize the personal opinion he’s stating here. I do like simple little details like the fact that Ryan’s eyes are looking to his right, our left, to indicate that Polkinhorn is on that side. It shows the care and thought that Ryan uses to stage his shots.

Panel 2: I don’t have a whole lot to comment on here in this panel, it’s simply a continuation of movement and dialogue in between the first panel and the sequence of the next couple of panels. Sometimes this happens in talking heads sequences. I almost feel it’s a bit of a stall panel so that…

Panel 3: There’s something really nice happening on this page and this is the first panel I noticed it with. The page is incredibly well balanced visually, and I think this reveals Ryan’s graphic design sensibility. In Panel 3 and Panel 4, Ryan’s figure on the page is closest to the panel gutter, while the speech balloons push out to the edge of the page, creating symmetrical reflections of each other. When you pull back and look at the whole, this happens dead center on the page. The following panels in the bottom row are also balanced visually, white space to the sides, a splash of dark ink in the center. It really lends a sense of center and focus, anchoring the reader’s eye.

Panel 4: I like something here, and I’ve been noticing this more and more in Ryan’s work. He says “Like, I…” “I think you can tell…” and this is actually a pretty brave choice. It seems like nothing when you gloss over it, but usually creators who are new to the medium will try to make their verbiage very pristine. Creators who know their stuff, and I’d count Ryan in this group, will trust in the fact that real speech is chock full of imperfection. It might not look appealing on the page or sound great in a cold script, but when you read it aloud and the audience takes it in, it brings a level of warm authenticity that perfect diction and phrasing simply don’t. This is the right choice. He even punctuates it by separating the stutter/stammer/pause into a separate little balloon.

Panel 5: Now this sequence from Panel 5 to Panel 7 really is something special. Very rarely have I seen Ryan consciously change up his art style this deliberately and this drastically. The meek figure here is thin and anemic, the wavy background lines almost force your eye to squint in reaction, and the combination gives the impression that this weak little person will just fade away into his surroundings. He tells us everything we need to know about the little guy, he tells us a story visually.

Panel 6: This version is happy, go-lucky, bold, and on the move. The heavy ink framing the figure punches up the effect with a quick, simple flair. You don’t usually find Ryan applying this much ink, particularly on a background, so it always catches my eye when he does.

Panel 7: This is really the money shot. Here’s Ryan doing the jittery, sweaty, socially inept recluse. Yeah. It’s Ryan doing Robert Crumb and it’s pretty damn good. The hunched shoulders, the stubbly facial hair, the exaggerated receding hairline, the wrinkles in the shirt, the knobby elbows, the wonky lettering, the imprecision of the circular background, and even the wavy line of the speech balloon sells the tone, and sells it hard. It’s impressive, and it would certainly be homage, but I could probably read a whole comic in this tone/style.


1.26.11 Releases

Any week that kicks off a new Brian Wood book has to be a pretty good one. It’s The New York Five #1 (DC/Vertigo). Aside from the name recognition, there’s a few things that pique my interest with this four issue series. One, who is the fifth of the five? Two, with the book moving out of the aborted YA Minx line and into the Vertigo imprint, will that change the tone? More edgy, more sexy, more swearing, more adult themes? Three, it’ll be interesting to see Ryan Kelly’s art on these characters blown up to regular comic size in stead of the prior’s digest format. Vertigo also offers up Scalped #45 (DC/Vertigo), a title that has failed to disappoint, making my best of the year list every year that it’s been available. I vowed to stop buying this title in 2011: Uncanny X-Men #532 (Marvel), in favor of the far superior: Uncanny X-Force #4 (Marvel), so let’s see if I can keep my promise! In the collected editions department, we have The Killer Volume 3: Modus Vivendi HC (Archaia). The third arc of this Franco-Belgian offering from Luc Jacamon and Matz didn’t feel quite as focused for me as the first two, but it’s still an interesting book that deserves more buzz. Stop buying The Punisher and whatever else crap you’re buying and try this instead.


Soldiers of God @ Poopsheet Foundation

“…an inspired first foray into the medium”
“…one of the new leaders of the form is Kelly Clancy”
“…an ornately crafted tapestry of culture”
“…the first Grade A+ of the year”

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1.19.11 Reviews

DMZ #61 (DC/Vertigo): “The twilight of our hallowed union.” I’m not one to succumb very easily to hyperbole, but this? This just might be the best little piece of writing this series has offered to date. If you had to condense the political ethos of DMZ into a single solitary little sound byte, then that sentence fragment there might just be the one. Damn, I’m impressed right now. When I saw the panel of an unnamed US soldier in Yemen in Brian Wood’s political fiction future, it triggered something in my mind. In the last issue, there was a throwaway line that the US had been at war for 39 straight years. Now, let’s do a little math. If you assume the start date was Gulf War I (1990), then that would place the events of DMZ some time around 2029. If you assumed the start date was later, say, The Iraq War (2003), then that puts us some time around 2042. I’m just sayin’. This issue continues the Free States Rising arc, examining how deep ideological dissonance and plain old frustration led to the FSA Movement and the Second American Civil War. America is a bubbling pot and DMZ shows what happens when it finally boils over. DMZ continues to be a book that matters, one of the most important entries into early 21st Century Fiction, in any medium. There’s so much going on in this issue, the FSA staging on The Jersey Shore and preparing to enter Manhattan. But, it’s not even Manhattan anymore, it’s just the DMZ. There’s a caption box with a strikethrough line over Manhattan, replaced by “The DMZ.” It’s a simple, but incredibly powerful little stroke. We see how a leaderless movement is susceptible to a strong personality exerting some influence. We examine the hypocrisy of war; how do revolutionaries avoid becoming the very thing they’re fighting against, ie: “the King is dead, long live the King.” Shawn Martinbrough’s pencils are an interesting choice. They’re angular and hard-edged, inked darkly, and move quite briskly. They give the right kind of energy to the danger popping off uncontrollably just below the surface of Main Street America. At one point during the Holland Tunnel sequence, the protagonist says that he becomes a convert. Yeah, me too. More than ever, I feel like I’m all in on DMZ. When most series can sort of quietly exit stage left toward the end of their runs, it’s almost as if Wood has saved the best, most compelling parts for last. At some point, DMZ stops reading like a comic and starts reading like an actual historical account of what could occur. It provides absolute suspension of disbelief and that’s the mark of a writer operating on another level of cerebral engagement. Grade A+.

Northlanders #36 (DC/Vertigo): One of the unsung heroes here is colorist Dave McCaig. Look at how crisp and frigid he renders that opening snow swept bloodletting sequence. That color palette over Becky Cloonan’s pencils is a pretty potent artistic combination. I hesitate to use the over-invoked superhero terminology “widescreen,” but it certainly applies here to the wide flat panels with the cinematic scope that we see being used in this short arc. As we expected it to play out, Jon is wrongly accused of Lara’s death, and an old man’s attempt to complete one final proper, noble task in a largely ignoble environment seems to be in vain. With one remaining piece of forensic evidence as a bartering chip, along with the guilt-ridden confession of a parent, Jon is able to find the truth and solve the mystery, but not prove his own innocence to the authorities. It’s abrupt and gut-wrenching, but it’s the only fitting denouement in this harsh environment. As an aside, this issue and DMZ above sure were rich packages this week, both coming with a preview for The New York Five, an editorial column from Brian Wood, and the re-introduction of the letters page, all for $2.99. Grade A.

Invincible Iron Man #500 (Marvel): Sigh. I’m so confused. So, I guess we’re switching the numbering schema now? But, the next issue is going to be 500.1, followed by 501, or… something? Yeah, I saw 500 covers in the back, but not 500 issues per se, it all seems kind of fluffy and hollow and serves to discredit the solid work that Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca have turned in on their 30+ issue run. The $4.99 price tag doesn’t help matters much, but ok, ok, let’s focus on the stories. The regular creative team give us Tony Stark at age 35 in present day 2011, teaming up with Peter Parker to investigate his memory lapsed super-WMD of the future. The shots with Tony and Peter expose a weakness in Larroca’s art, in that the characters, save for some facial hair and their hair color, basically look identical. Kano gives us Ginny Stark in the year 2052, at age 22, which means she was born in 2030. Ok. Nathan Fox gives us the War Machine sequence, featuring Howard Stark II, also in 2052, but at age 41, which means Tony would have had to sire him now in 2011, so I’m not real sure that math adds up, but sure, I guess it’s just another alternate future timeline or whatever. Foolish me, I actually sat down and did the math. We also see The Mandarin, with Tony at age 76. Bottom line, I think Fraction’s reach exceeded his grasp here. This was a very ambitious idea, but I’m not sure the execution really connects with much pop. There are moments of brilliance. We get a couple old-school maniac Matt Fraction lines, like Mandarin destroying the world as he utters “I’m off for one last night in the harem – I’ll mercy slaughter them at sunrise.” But for every line like that there’s a small stumble, like, oh, I don’t know, calling them “Chechnyans,” when the proper descriptor is “Chechens.” Tony’s super tech WMD of the future basically turns out just to be an RT powered James Cameron style Terminator HK sentient AI thing, which isn’t all that impressive. For a book that’s played very prescient and forward-thinking, that’s pretty derivative. I enjoyed the Spider-Man banter at the end, I hadn’t actually realized that part of Tony’s brain reboot wiped his memory of Peter Parker’s alter ego. Again, I like the concept of this self-referential closed loop story, but the execution felt like some fairly obtuse dot connecting. It just didn’t resonate all that well with me. It was meant to be this earth-shattering jumping on point, and it felt fairly inconsequential. Consider it a “noble failure” as it clocks in with a Grade B.

The Whale @ Poopsheet Foundation

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Grinding It Out

And Then One Day #9: Page 3 (Elephant Eater): Panel 1: Yeah! I love these big world building shots. In my perception, it seems like Ryan is using more and more of these shots in his recent work, where he pulls the camera way back to reveal the environment around the characters. It really provides a sense of context that typical “talking heads” shots might otherwise lack. The panel is framed from a beautiful bird’s eye view perspective, which allows Ryan to capture the skyline all the way down to small campus details which we’ve already seen up close. The palm tree in the right foreground and opposing building to the left of the visual field provide a very nice sense of depth. You’ll also notice how the line weight varies dramatically from foreground to background, thicker up front, with heavier inks, to thin and very “pencil-y” afar. Compare the palm tree to the tower in the back left and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

Panel 2: It’s interesting to me that the Charles Hatfield passage Ryan is quoting is essentially about creating context for your characters so that they’ll connect emotionally with a reading audience. In the preceding panel, Ryan has just pulled the camera out to provide an environmental context, all while the two characters discuss providing a context for autobiographical creations. It’s a brilliant little tonal match, where the art is in perfect sync with the intent of the dialogue. It’s the kind of synchronicity that you see writer/artist duos like, say, Frank Miller, Paul Pope, or Craig Thompson, do regularly, and when writers work with different artists, they strive to achieve this bliss of parity together. That top panel is probably my favorite panel so far, it’s beautiful artistically as a standalone panel, but when taken in context itself, it functions quite smartly as a singular component of the whole.

1.19.11 Releases

It’s a Brian Wood double-tap this week, starting off with DMZ #61 (DC/Vertigo). I’ve wanted to see more about how the FSA formed since day one of the series, so I’m really enjoying this short little arc that chronicles the outbreak of the movement. It’s also worth noting that this is the final year of DMZ, so get excited. DC seemed to really get behind long running series like 100 Bullets and Y: The Last Man when they were winding down, so it’d be great to see the same marketing push from them on one of my favorite Brian Wood books. Speaking of his output, we also get Northlanders #36 (DC/Vertigo), which wraps up the short two-parter “The Girl In The Ice,” along with frequent collaborator Becky Cloonan. We’re all pinching pennies, so it’s also worth a shout that these books are both still $2.99. Over at Marvel, Invincible Iron Man #500 (Marvel) is a little experiment that should still yield great results with Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca at the helm. Lastly, Nancy in Hell TPB (Image Comics) is the kind of book I’d buy, for a discount, at Amazon just to get a look at Juan Jose Ryp’s luscious art.

Der Round #2 @ Poopsheet Foundation

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Der Round #1 @ Poopsheet Foundation

“…Der Round remains a fairly compelling little package that begs to be read.”

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Outward Expression of Inner Thoughts

My Inner Thoughts #1 (Can Die Studios): Julie Hurst’s $4.50 foray into the world of comic books is a success. It’s not perfect by any means, but the positive attributes far outweigh the areas of improvement needed, and I sincerely hope she keeps at the DIY craft. For me, the cover stock is a little thin, particularly when compared to the heft of the interior pages, but the cover does possess some very vibrant and eye-catching colors which would distinguish it from other books on the rack of an indie-friendly comic shop. Probably my biggest critical gripe is the run-on sentences, letters jumping into lower case, missing punctuation, and misspellings or words mysteriously missing letters. There are a handful of these types of mistake running throughout the four short stories that the book houses. Julie simply needs an editor or trusted friend who can function as a strong proofreader.

“Getting to Know the Artist” opens the work and chronicles her childhood Little Mermaid inspiration to draw and create. Her pencils employ a compact style that’s high on detail. I like the line thickness she uses; it has a rich, warm, and full bodied quality to it. By the end, the text is a little repetitious, but it’s got honest charm, and that gets you pretty far in life. I’d rate this intro piece a Grade B.

“The Last Goodbye” is my favorite piece of the lot, and the aesthetic is of exceptional quality. Julie uses even thicker lines here, with heavier inks, and gray tones for a slight color variation in the palette. It gives the visuals a lot of depth, which match the emotional tone and gravitas of the story she’s depicting. Her figures are simply amazing here, bearing so much emotional content. It’s bold and brave for a young creator to attempt long sequences without any text, but it works. I love how Julie draws tears. Seriously, those might be the best tears I’ve ever seen(?). The story is about lost love and, though the end might play a bit inconclusive, the mood she’s able to instantly evoke is spot on. This is an easy Grade A.

“Getting Through It” sees Julie use a different art style in her range to chronicle autobiographical experiences in the world of retail/food service. The archetypes, trials, and tribulations will be eerily familiar to anyone who’s worked in those industries. She uses what looks like some ink washes here, and although the final product is less detailed than earlier efforts, we get more story content and dialogue in the trade off. Though again, by the end, the story doesn’t really go anywhere. I’m starting to see a pattern develop, in which Julie needs to work on “finishing” and be a “strong closer,” as an old soccer coach used to continually drill into us. In spite of that, she really manages to capture the camaraderie of this environment and a bit of the esprit de corps of this age/demographic. Grade B+.

“Learning How to Float” closes the collection out, and it’s a strong way to end this group of her inner musings. The art bears more visual resemblance to what I liked in the second story, and there’s a beautiful transition from the young girl to the young woman. I really enjoyed the metaphorical meaning that the protagonist takes from her physical experiences and a Grandmother’s wisdom. This effort rates a Grade A-.

This will take me a second to explain, but I recently re-watched Francis Ford Coppola’s film Apocalypse Now for about the 5th time. I’m convinced it’s one of the best movies in modern times, agree with Roger Ebert that you can flag modern cinema as either pre- or post-Apocalypse Now, and that it’s probably the best “war movie,” ever. Every time I watch it, I seem to be even more struck by how it is un-formulaically constructed, the quintessential commentary on the nature of humanity and war, the frailty of the human mind, and how intricate and brilliant some of the small details are. For example, there is one bit of analysis that indicates the three largest personalities, Captain Willard (Martin Sheen), Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore (Robert Duvall), and Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), are not only physical manifestations of man’s inner psychological make-up (each representing an aspect of the psyche in the id, ego, and superego), but even their names evoke that. Willard has the “will,” Brando’s Colonel is “cursed,” and Duvall’s Lieutenant Colonel takes pleasure in the “gore” of the “kill.”

Now, maybe this idea of the id, ego, and superego manifesting themselves in art was just really stuck in my mind, meaning I could be projecting the model here, but I swear that once you get past the intro piece of Julie Hurst’s book, you can also overlay the id, ego, and superego onto her three pieces here very nicely. I doubt that’s something that Jules, umm, can I call her Jules? I feel like I know her well after reading this book and considering it in this light… I doubt that’s something that *the creator* intended consciously, but it makes for even more powerful reading once you notice it. Overall, there are some technical glitches in My Inner Thoughts, but the spirit of the work shines through with strong intent and some instances of beautiful art. For the entire package, there’s heaps of potential here beyond the interim Grade B+.

1.12.11 Review (Singular)

Marvel Must Haves: Avengers: The Children’s Crusade #1 (Marvel): “The Search for The Scarlet Witch” collects the first three issues of this mini-series and it’s a bargain based on the price point comparison to the single issues. Each of the singles sold for a $3.99 cover price, which would total out at $12 plus tax. Here, we get the exact same content for $4.99, which is like, what, a 60% savings or something? The fourth issue also just recently came out, so it’s a great hook to get people into a series that’s still rolling. At first I thought I was just purchasing this in a desperation move because I wanted *something* to read this week, and it looked fun. But combine that savings with the fact that I like the characters, and I liked Allan Heinberg and Jimmy Cheung’s Young Avengers run, well, then it started to make a lot of sense and was a decision I could get behind. I’d also heard good things about this overlooked series, which combines a lot of Marvel U elements, including the loose crossover between the X-Men and Avengers, and the mutants that float back and forth between the two organizations.

The primary narrative thrust is about Wiccan and Speed, who both bear a resemblance to the Maximoff family, and their quest to find their (assumable) mom, Wanda Maximoff, aka: The Scarlet Witch. The book does a phenomenal job offering up a recap of the last few big events in the Marvel U, along with the Young Avengers’ role in them. It systematically introduces all of the characters, and throws in appearances from Magneto, Quicksilver, Doctor Doom, The Avengers, etc. It’s a whole lotta’ fun! Heinberg’s script balances a bunch of different plot points effectively, and only on rare occasion does it dip into exposition mode or feel like it’s too thick with characters monologuing their motivations or continually convincing someone else of a course of action simply to move the plot forward. For the most part, Heinberg’s script is swift and smart, even making some subtle but brave choices along the way. He includes a hate group referring to young homosexual hero Hulkling as a “sodomite” and then dives right into a clever gay rights debate. The action scenes are rousing, all of the characters showing off their powers organically, and he’s even able to take a couple jabs at the “Distinguished Competition” with some Flash and Shazam jokes. There’s action to be had and the story leans hard on talking heads and relationship building, but my favorite part was probably the notion of the Avengers wanting to mentor and groom Wiccan and the team for leadership roles as accepted heroes. Balance that with their desire to prove themselves and their fear/rejection/cynicism of the elder generation and there’s some interesting mechanics going on.

As good as the story is, it wouldn’t be much without Cheung's fantastic art. Every panel is crisp, clear, and dynamic, supported by the brilliant inks and colors of Mark Morales and Justin Ponsor. You can see such clarity of purpose in every stance, look of concern, or the glimmer in Cap’s shield or Ms. Marvel’s eyes. Jimmy Cheung’s pencils seem to have more life than John Romita, Jr., and more pop than guys like Mike Deodato or Ron Garney. For my money, he is “The” Marvel Artist. I can’t imagine a book I wouldn’t like to see him on. I may have found a new mini-series worth supporting. Grade A.


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“…Zombre is as entertaining as a kid-friendly book like the aforementioned Owly, but it also brings a richer sense of cultural commentary aimed at their parents…”

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Trigger #2 @ Poopsheet Foundation

“…this is already an early contender for best of the year.”

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Grinding It Out

And Then One Day #9: Page 2 (Elephant Eater): Panel 1: There are three items which catch my eye here. The first is Ryan’s continued dedication to detail in the backgrounds. So often, we find small press creators cheating their audiences and offering skimpy backgrounds as they rush through a page to meet a deadline or simply avoid the work. It’s not the case with Elephant Eater Comics. I love these acts of visual world-building; you can sense the campus extending beyond the borders of the panel based on the partial building, fountain, and students walking off panel, which seems to push the dimensions of the environment further out horizontally. I also like the gesture Ryan uses as he reaches into his backpack; it’s another solid effort at realism in the human form. The last bit that I find really engaging is the zig-zag lightning bolt effect that Ryan uses for his speech balloon. There’s a sharpness to it that’s unique visually, but also serves as a nice bit of linguistic punctuation.

Panel 2: This is a nice zoom-in onto a detail of the previous image that alters the POV slightly and adjusts the camera angle to a more eye-level plane. As they dive into conversation, we’re pulled in closer as well.

Panel 3: Ryan has been experimenting with this patterned background technique for a while now and although at first it seems pretty simple, it’s proven fairly versatile. Here, what I take from it is almost an insinuation of Ryan thinking, searching for his words to recall a memory, seeing the passage he’s referring to in his mind’s eye. It’s fairly benign, but unfortunately “arguement” is a common misspelling of “argument.” It’s something I’m sure Ryan will correct before this issue sees print.

Panel 4: I like something about this panel, but it’s more of a technical construction choice. There’s a relatively large amount of text in this panel, so Ryan makes a design selection here that results in a long horizontal panel to house the verbiage. Honestly, it’s something that I probably wouldn’t notice in a reading of the entire issue, but taken here a page at a time, I’m able to slow down and really take in the nuances of the panel layouts, what’s contained within them, and ask the “why” question more often. I like that!


1.12.11 Releases: The Sound of Crickets Chirping

I guess at some intuitive level, I always knew this day would come. There isn’t a single book coming out this week that I regularly buy, nor are there any books I’m strongly interested in. In even the most dire times, there’s always been at least one. But, I don’t see anything listed this week that will likely make it home. In fact, it’s been a chore to muster up even a single cover image that I have even passive interest in. I mean, really, look at my choices here. Dark Horse is offering up more in the endless BPRD line, which I gave up a couple years ago. At DC, it’s something something Green Lantern residual Brightest Day crossover garbage or a new issue of Wonder Girl, because, yeah, people are clamoring for a Cassie Sandsmark series. If Wonder Woman can’t even support her own series, how is Wonder Girl going to fare? Image continues their weekly Walking Dead reprints, which is cool, and Spawn hits #200, which is notable as one of the original Image books. Though I think the last issue I actually bought was, uhh, #10? Was that the one with Cerebus, around the time Dave Sim and Neil Gaiman and all those guys played with the McFarlane toys (pun intended)? Marvel continues to strip mine their successful properties, offering up an Avengers Poster Book, along with their forays into licensing, with some Orson Scott Card deal. The only real hope I can see is The Sixth Gun: Volume 1 (Oni Press), which I’ve heard some decent buzz about. Despite reading the FCBD issue and not being that wow’ed, I might check it out in utter desperation. What a ringing endorsement I am for comics this week.

Hoggetowne Runoff: Volume 1 @ Poopsheet Foundation

“Despite some minor inconsistencies, the honest nature and forthcoming attitude pervading the book created an undeniable charm.”

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Spring Break 2009: The Adventures of Vega & Leo #1 @ Poopsheet Foundation

“…any project which includes references to cultural anthropology oddities like the Puerta de Hayu Marca is wholly alright with me.”

Check out my latest full review over at Poopsheet Foundation.


1.05.11 Review (Singular)

Sweets #4 (Image): If you have only one book to buy this week, this is the one. Sweets functions as a prime lesson in how to make quality comics. It’d be easy to get lost in the beautiful amber and sepia drenched deluge of color, but that would be missing the finer points about the mechanics of visual storytelling on display. There’s so much extra effort radiating from each panel. It’s there in the stippling ink marks that give the shots their gritty texture. It’s there in the small white burst of a sound effect as the battering ram hammers a door. It’s there with a cat leaping across the porch or a medical attendant leaving just to go and get more gauze. None of these elements are required to tell the basic story, but Chamberlain includes them because he knows they’re necessary to achieve this deep level of realism. There are dead cats, dead cops, targeted kids, and keys to a bakery, and Chamberlain never lets up the multi-faceted depiction of characters as the action unfolds. For instance, I liked the portrayal of the Lieutenant here; previously he’s been depicted as t his sort of gruff old salty dog, which is entertaining, but we see another side of him in this issue. He’s a good manager who watches out for his squad and knows when to stay calm and make the difficult, unpopular, but correct decisions. Chamberlain puts protagonist Curt Delatte down at the bottom here and it’s interesting to see how he channels all the grief. He actually pours himself back into the work and goes to re-examine the crime scene. It’s subtle choices like that which aren’t overtly explained, which don’t even consciously register to the reader at first, but make all the difference in establishing human plausibility, thus suspending our fictional disbelief, allowing us to perceive this more as real people doing real things that we really care about. Chamberlain has built a pressure cooker in this series mentally and physically for the lead character. I hope that it’s just the darkest before the dawn, but I fear it might only get worse. You have to wonder about that dead cat story that’s spliced into the conversation; just who is the cat in this little analogy? I hope it’s not Curt. Grade A.


Grinding It Out

Fans of the autobiographical work of Ryan Claytor and his And Then One Day series know that he’s been posting up a page a week for his last couple issues of the series. And Then One Day #9 is the third act in a trilogy framing a conversation about autobiography in comics between Claytor himself and Dr. Harry Polkinhorn. It began posting earlier today.

I thought I’d try something a little different with the New Year upon us. I’ll be reviewing the book, one page at a time, as it sees initial publication on the web in weekly installments. Keep in mind that I won’t have long to gather and form my ideas, I want to just capture my initial reactions to the pages and see what immediate thought-blogging impulsive insight that may offer. Here’s the first in a series of such reviews:

And Then One Day #9: Page 1 (Elephant Eater): Panel 1: I remember that the last page of the last issue left off with some type of mid-story cliffhanger involving Jodorowski, but not the specifics. It’s nice to have that memory jogged. I like this first panel because it feels like an atypical Claytor effort, in that it’s not a precise square or rectangle, but the cloudy panel border and vortex of internal line work gives it something obtuse, yet more rigid than a dreamlike effect, which suits the fact that it’s a character recounting a story from memory. It’s a nice touch that, I think, yields the intended effect in a way I’ve not seen before.

Panel 2: There are two things that really jump out at me here and both are pretty subtle little nuances in the art which I enjoy. In the foreground, we see Ryan clutching the straps of his backpack with both hands, and that just looks very realistic to me. That is exactly the way that low slung posture looks in real life, you can sense the weight of the arms coming in at just the right angle. It’s a convincing bit of life drawing. The second is something that I’ve been appreciating more and more in Claytor’s recent work, and it’s the backgrounds. I like the aged look of the building with the sparse stippling marks that create texture. That, along with the details on the pathway, lends credibility to the environments. I’m really noticing all of this extra little effort that goes into making the individual shots as effective and fully realized as possible.

Panel 3: I think this panel sells the whole page. Ryan has found a way to have the character’s physical stance match thematically with the information being verbally delivered. Polkinhorn is making the point that in order to succumb to the suspension of fictional disbelief and believe something to be real, one has to cease perceiving it as art. As he makes this statement, his hands gesture wide open to pierce the panel borders and pop with a Kirby style three-dimensional affectation. That is to say, Polkinhorn’s figure makes an effort to be more realistic and less like a flat two dimensional piece of comic art, thus allowing us to perceive this as more realistic, which helps prove his original point.

If This Is Any Indication…

…then 2011 is going to be an awesome year. DC has finally decided to collect the long out of print four issue Flex Mentallo series by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. It’ll be released this fall with bonus material as a Deluxe Edition Hardcover. Rejoice.


Brain Matters

Stuff That Comes From Bobby’s Brain (Self-Published by Bobby Peters): Peters’ offers a diverse collection of short stories here that on rare occasion descends into rudimentary pencils with limited backgrounds, but it never ceases to hum along fueled by a fun energy. The narrative style is largely a conversational tone that is honest and engaging; it really is like being inside Peters’ brain for a brief span of time. The book opens with a nice use of color on the cover and hops into a fun introductory sequence which effectively pushes your eye around the page. Peters is passionately doing what he wants here and we just happen to be along for the ride. In the story of the warrior’s quest, he makes a brave journeyman’s choice to undertake a story without any dialogue whatsoever. It works in the interim in a straightforward and clear fashion, but really pops with the twist ending that immediately sets you in time, place, and tone. It’s an unexpected way to end what would otherwise be simplistic and not overtly thought-provoking. I enjoyed the surprise that functionally resets you with the title; the connection crystallizes with a satisfying “a-ha!” moment. Road Trip involves a mad dash to the beach. It’s such an identifiable experience that wins you over with pure affability. Peters’ figure work seems stronger here, particularly when the characters strip down to their bathing suits. I don’t mean that in a salacious way (though Jackee is nice to look at!), only that you can see more detail and thought behind the shapes and forms when the clothes aren’t acting as a visual filter. This story really drives home the point that sometimes fleeting experiences can be worthwhile and should be undertaken merely for the sake of themselves and the memories they create. The tale of Littletown is probably my favorite of the foursome. Peters captures a mysterious vibe occurring post-meteor strike. Tonally, the pieces moves from the enigmatic feel of a lost Twilight Zone episode in the beginning, to the type of ethereal wonderment in the end that you’d expect from a Jordan Crane project like The Clouds Above. The big full page reveal of the angry meteor is a bold aesthetic with a distinct visual style. With Peters’ emotive style, big iconic shots, and vibrant personalities on display in this piece, you can almost see him illustrating a children’s book or some other type of farcical tale that captures young minds effortlessly. Grade B+.

1.05.11 Releases

Now, this is the way to start the new year off right. I’m looking forward to Sweets #4 (Image) by Kody Chamberlain. As you’ll recall, this was one of my favorites of 2010, so I’m excited to see it through to the finish line and stick with whatever is next on deck for the innovative creator. It’ll be interesting to see if Robert Kirkman’s novel marketing idea pays off with The Walking Dead Weekly #1 (Image), which begins reprinting the series in full at a brisk $2.99 pace. I’m sure it’s an appealing price point for the throngs of TV fans now jumping on board, but I wonder if an ancillary effect will be slicing into the trade sales. I was excited for a second to see the solicit, thinking it might be a new issue, but alas it’s Captain Swing #2: Chicago Con Edition (Avatar Press) and this is the way to start the new year off wrong. Yeah, don’t print the next issue or anything, just keep milking those reprints and variant editions like it's 1991 and Jim Lee is launching X-Men #1. With a quick check of the web, you can find no less than 7 iterations of the first issue with all of the Auxiliary Editions, Convention Editions, Penny Dreadful Editions, and Wraparound Cover Editions available. There are 6 versions of the second issue, and at least 4 versions planned for the third and fourth issue. I like Warren Ellis too, but is anyone really collecting these with that completist mentality? That’s like 21 different covers for a four issue mini-series, not counting eventual collected editions, probably a softcover and hardcover both. Isn’t this a joke? While I could find all of that information, I wasn’t able to find when the next issue might be out. The first issue was February 2010, while the second didn’t come out until five months later in July 2010. I don’t even remember if the third ever came out, and I was unable to confirm that since every web-site I found indicated that the third and fourth issues would be out in May or June of 2010, curiously wrong when the second issue wasn’t out until July, and Avatar’s site was woefully absent any useful information whatsoever. Weak.

Venturing Hypotheses

Hypotheses (Time Enough For Lunch Comics): If you accept the title as definition for the contents, then this is Virginia Heinen undertaking a series of experiments in the world of comics. She fashions herself a scientist, but “managed to infiltrate” the artistic world of self-published autobiographical mini-comics. The experiment yields dramatic results. I review many comics in general, many mini-comics specifically, and one of the most common pitfalls is a lack of polish in terms of creating a commercial looking product. This is the trick; creating something that’s still accessible to an audience, without losing its DIY spirit. Hypotheses has lavish production values, from the lovingly hand-assembled cardstock cover, down to small details in the entertaining table of contents, clear contact information, and a sense of self-effacing humor found in the extra little flourishes throughout. It’s clear that Heinen poured some thought into the project. It makes me smile when I consider that Heinen doesn’t really fancy herself a mini-comics artist, but a scientist first. The conventional wisdom is that life tends to push us toward binary choices, either a scientist or an artist, either a scientist who dabbles in comics or an artist with an interest in science. I tell younger people that there’s room for it all. Why succumb to this false choice? Why not be both?

Artistically, perhaps one of the best compliments I can pay is that the pencils are consistent. In the autiobio shots of herself, it’s evident that change is afoot. The wisps of hair change placement on her head as they naturally would, but despite the subtle shifts, she is still quite recognizable. That is to say, Heinen’s pencils have organic life to them. Moving out, her panels have a great sense of balance, they’re packed with details and a slight manga influence to the facial characteristics. It’s there in the proportion of the eyes, and the wrinkle lines adorning them underneath. Her figure work is soft yet still detailed, usually you see artists adopting a style that captures one or the other. Again, we see Heinen contending with ostensibly exclusive choices. But no, she captures both the soft lines and the hard details. I think it emphasizes that science and art are not necessarily diametrically opposed paradigms; they’re both necessary parts of life. I appreciate how Heinen’s approach to life is full of participation; she’s not content to simply like comics or music, but must make them. Heinen suggests that comics offer her a way of systematically organizing her thoughts in life like no other media can. One great example is the sequence involving the lost tray in the swamp. She and a colleague attempt to recover them through trial and error, and the depicted tries are like scientific experimentation being catalogued. It’s a system, but an entertaining one too. Toward the middle of the book, during the Frog Catcher sequence, the individual pencils look a little more simplified and slightly smaller in scale, almost as if they were being done faster, but still bear nice transitions for storytelling. I found First Date interesting, about the dangers of living in your own head. It reminded me of the character Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter franchise and her ability to see “nargils.” There’s a surprise at the end, an inventive 7 pages of gatefold that drape out across the desk, tracking different threads in a symphony. It’s like the different paths in life than intersect and coalesce, just like the different interests we can all possess that combine to form our identity, like scientist and artist within one being. Grade A.