2.23.11 Reviews (Part 2)

Scalped #46 (DC/Vertigo): At times, this issue does feel like “just” a middle issue in a larger arc, however there are some pretty major plot developments trotting around, so umm, Spoiler Alert, I guess? Not only does Officer Falls Down get an actual confession out of Catcher for the murder of Gina Bad Horse, but even better, Chief Red Crow visits Lawrence Belcourt in prison and with some quick inductive reasoning, they also piece together that Catcher is responsible for her death. This shit is going to get ugly. I have a small quibble with Falls Down’s use of the term blood “splatter,” which you usually hear from laymen, but from a member of the law enforcement community, you’d expect him to use the correct forensic term, which is blood “spatter.” That petty gripe aside, the heavy dose of mysticism at the end of the book, in the Falls Down denouement, leads to a nice parallel story with Belcourt in prison. They’re both faced with impending danger, but through sheer force of belief, some unseen force seems to be watching out for them as they escape initial peril in an unexpected fashion, and in the interim, the audience feels all sorts of gruesome tension. By the end, Bad Horse is caught up in the middle of it all and being led in the wrong direction. We’ll see if he succumbs and his emotions get the best of him. Scalped portrays the complicated moral system of a society imploding on itself. Guera’s pencils are pure visceral intensity; this is really what “grim and gritty” should have been associated with, not that crap that came out in the 90’s. Aaron is still juggling so many plot threads so effortlessly; they never drop, they’re never predictable, they’re never boring, and they never fail to surprise, titillate, and delight the senses. Scalped is absolutely one of the finest books being published today. Grade A.

Kill Shakespeare: Hundred Penny Press Edition #1 (IDW): I think this book came out a couple weeks ago, but it mysteriously showed up en masse at Sea Donkey’s Underwater Lair this week. On the one hand, I didn’t really want to reward his illogical ordering practices any more than I have to. On the other hand, it’s only $1 and I have heard some decent things about the book, so what the hell? It’s written by Conor McCreery (which sounds like a 007 character played by Sean Bean, or some kind of Highlander or something) and Anthony Del Col, with illustration credit going to Andy Belanger. Anyway, the art is a little like David Petersen up front, with some thick ink and bold line weight, but then quickly descends into being less appealing. The book seems to take the literary infusion of a title like Fables, by way of Neil Gaiman’s imaginative blend of sources on Sandman, and voila, the pitch almost writes itself. Unfortunately, it’s flat and stiff in spots, and that critique can apply to both the art and the dialogue. Blah blah The Shadow King, and the premise seems to finally reveal itself toward the end of the book. We shift attention to the familiar Hamlet plot involving Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and then turn to include Richard III, and the power of Will’s quill. I will say that Kill Shakespeare appears ambitious in scope, but the plot lacks any engaging pizzazz, and the art lacks the dynamism necessary to achieve what it all set out to achieve. My lord, ‘twas a grand pitch that dost lack in level execution! Aye, good sir, a most noble failure. And thus, I bid you adieu. Grade B-.

2.23.11 Reviews (Part 1)

The New York Five #2 (DC/Vertigo): I think Ryan Kelly is reaching an all new high with this series. His art was always a cut above the competition, but it’s clear that he’s really pushing himself here and the results are astounding. There’s so much extra effort and nuance in the way a piece of clothing falls against a figure, the contour of a set of lips, or the emotion filled gestures that all of the characters seem to reverberate with. The backgrounds in the full page panels and even some of the half page shots are just gorgeous, so luscious with depth and detail. They’re like the real world, with an almost endless level of detail for the mind’s eye to focus on. Brian Wood continues to push the characters in unexpected directions as their identity journeys forge ahead. Nothing is clean, we see that Riley can do what she absolutely knows is wrong, because, well, the heart wants what the heart wants, and everyone’s ego is capable of succumbing to the flattery of being wanted. We see that there are multiple sides and psychological drivers to everyone, even ice queen Merissa, who has initially come off as fairly one dimensional and shallow. Ren is all over the map, hitting manic-depressive highs and lows, while Lona continues to surprise us with her ability to justify her mysterious actions. I like the introduction of Olive, though it’s difficult for me not to think of Olive Yassin, and try to link her up to another section of Brian Wood’s work. It’s true that The New York Five can function as an entertaining coming-of-age story for just about any demographic, but for a select demographic it’s a unique view into the complex minds of women this age, who can be brave, sometimes contradictory, and always evolving. Grade A.

The Invincible Iron Man #501 (Marvel): Fraction moves a new player onto Iron Man’s board with a deftly handled bit of retconning, and the result is pretty entertaining and unexpected. Octavius can’t seem to match Tony in sheer brainpower, but seems to do ok with underhanded guile. Fraction continues to do his best channeling of Warren Ellis on this title, dropping techcentric futurism and fun industrial lingo with “God Numbers,” Asgardian Sci-Fi, branding conventions, and several jabs at the TV media circuit. It might all be a little Dennis Hopper in Speed What Do You Do Hotshot? but with a sometimes humbled Tony Stark, a cast of compelling supporting characters, and Larroca’s mostly believable art (save a few flat spots), it’s more than the sum of its parts. He’s faltered on other titles, but with Iron Man, Fraction’s figured out how to manipulate the medium, and continues to deliver serialized melodrama in the form of mainstream superheroics better than most writers working today. Grade A-.

Echo #28 (Abstract Studio): Yeah, despite retailers getting their books shipped AN ENTIRE DAY EARLY, Sea Donkey still didn’t have this book on the shelves, even though he’d received it AN ENTIRE DAY PRIOR, even though I stood around for 15 minutes watching him perform his Retarded Sea Donkey Dance™, still sweating to the oldies and pulling books out of boxes and trying to get them on the shelves while he was simultaneously opening the store, answering the phone, and working the register. Lame.


Grinding It Out

And Then One Day #9: Page 8 (Elephant Eater): Panel 1-3: This top tier of panels shows good artistic variation of the body language in what is essentially a talking heads sequence. The straightforward pencils allow us to focus on the actual ideological dynamic being discussed, and it’s a fairly significant one. For years, and certainly during the course of this book already, Ryan has been making the point that autobiography lies on a continuum of truth and fiction, with various factors pushing any given work toward one of the opposing poles on the spectrum. Here, via his conversation with Dr. Polkinhorn, we also learn that even the external critical view isn’t entirely objective. The critic himself brings in their own biases, consciously or otherwise, when they begin to appraise a given work. This is a fascinating area of conversation, because I think that grounded consumers must take this into account when they read critical reviews of pop culture. What is the relationship of the reviewer to the piece of work, to the artist, what personality traits do their demographic, general lifestyle, individual tastes, and range of experiences bring to the critical discourse? But, I digress.

Panel 4: Here we are again with this small scale figure work, where Ryan pulls the camera back. It’s an approach that has quickly become my new favorite scale that he works at in recent memory. The line weight of the two primary figures draws your eye right to them amid the other scattered figures in the panel. The intricate lines of the tree, the grass, and the walkway are all reminders of the amazing transformation taking place. If you look at Ryan’s work from, say, 3 or 4 years ago, it was good, but it just didn’t have this level of detail and fully rendered environments inhabiting the panels. It’s really exciting to see the continual evolution of the artist. There’s a rise in the level of technical ability and confidence taking place that you don’t often see so clearly in more mainstream offerings.

Panel 5: The camera pans around and zooms in a little tighter here, which really punches up the point that Polkinhorn is making, about external factors influencing the objectivity of the information being relayed in any medium. One of my favorite dialogue bits is how Ryan has transcribed the conversations with Polkinhorn exactly as they occurred, so that natural pauses and stammers remain in the final text. Things like a stray “um” or “uh,” or here the way Polkinhorn catches himself and calls into question “the fact,” play like the work of popular comics scribes Bendis or Brubaker, who were influenced by screenwriters like Aaron Sorkin and David Mamet. The ultimate effect is that the dialogue sounds absolutely realistic to our ear.


2.23.11 Releases

If you’ve got the money to spend, here’s what’s deserving of the hard earned green this week: The New York Five #2 (DC/Vertigo), Scalped #46 (DC/Vertigo), Invincible Iron Man #501 (Marvel), Echo #28 (Abstract Studio), and Scalped TPB Volume 7: Rez Blues (DC/Vertigo).


2.16.11 Reviews

DMZ #62 (DC/Vertigo): [DMZ Countdown Clock™: 10 Issues Remaining] Riccardo Burchielli joins Brian Wood again as they shift the focus back to Matthew Roth and the primary narrative thrust of this epic tale. It opens with a night drop and just as Wood promised us in a conversation with Wilson a few months ago, we’re starting to see those Bradleys appearing on every street corner. Brian Wood has been careful to lace DMZ with modern political allegory, but here he kicks it old-school by using the iconic Vietnam War era demonstration chant “the whole world’s watching.” I like the way that the constant media spin is present, here with attempts at branding the name of the big final push to secure Manhattan. Matty is once again a truly embedded reporter, meeting up with a surprisingly sympathetic Commander of US Forces in Manhattan. Of course Matty is sitting on some valuable intel, but is determined to get back in observer mode and maintain some professional distance. There’s so many interesting little bits being thrown out, from the Wilson news, to the mention of Black Hawks paving the way for armored columns (eerily reminiscent of Mogadishu), and the whole time Burchielli’s pencils are driving it home. There’s a great shot of Matty mostly in silhouette with white text contained within the outline of his body. Burchielli’s pencils have a gritty realism to them and are so honest emotionally. I tell you, that surprise appearance at the end and his last line made me laugh. It wasn’t funny though, it was nervous laughter. Grade A.

Uncanny X-Force #5 (Marvel): Esad Ribic fills in for Jerome Opena and joins Rick Remender for the start of the second arc entitled Deathlok Nation, but apes Opena’s style pretty convincingly. It’s less sinewy and detailed, with a little more blocky Mignola influence, and not inked quite as dark, but otherwise provides a decent fill in. Remender begins to address the emotional fallout of Fantomex killing young Apocalypse. We see Fantomex in a mysterious lab dealing with zombified super-soldiers of the future. It’s a solemn monologue about the nature of tampering with evolution and creationism. Deadpool is surprisingly trying to be the reasonable one in the group, addressing his feelings about killing a child head on and not sublimating them. He proves he’s not just the “merc with a mouth.” Yeah, we do get some action with the zombified assassin versions of Cap, Cyke, Thing, Elektra, Spidey, and Hawkeye, but Remender provides the type of character development for these two loose cannons that’s largely missing from the machinations of the X-universe. Uncanny X-Force continues to surprise and entertain. Grade B +.


Grinding It Out

And Then One Day #9: Page 7 (Elephant Eater): Panel 1: There’s not a whole lot happening in this panel, but I do like the way that the characters are facing to their left, our right, because it pushes your eye right toward the next panel. It’s a very subtle reminder that nothing is really left to chance with Ryan’s style, every panel is filled with deliberate choices that work to service the story functionally or dramatically. Taking a look at the whole page, you can see how balanced it is. The relatively simpler panels are top left/bottom right, with the more lavishly rendered panels opposite, at the top right/bottom left positions. Also notice that every panel is a slightly different size/shape, with no two panels being exactly the same proportions, all in an effort to achieve that visual balance.

Panel 2: This is another extremely solid panel in terms of achieving depth. That obelisk on the right side of the panel is in the hard foreground with a very thick line weight. The main figures are in the mid-ground anchoring the reader’s eye in the panel, there’s a row of trees in the first level background, and then an even deeper background with a building in the far distance. Most artists might offer two layers of depth; typically some figures in the foreground which are the main focus, and then some paltry background details. However, Ryan being the extremely generous artist that he is, offers us not the standard two, but four layers.

Panel 3: While this panel is another that is intricately rendered with multiple layers of depth, it’s actually not the first thing I noticed. The first thing that caught my eye was that I don’t think I’ve ever seen this specific camera angle before. It made me realize that Ryan has been doing an admirable job of varying the camera placement and angles of the shots in order to keep things lively since this is largely a talking heads issue. The variety keeps engaging the reader’s eye, who, if it’s anything like mine, might be largely conditioned for more action-oriented stories. It’s a nice move.

Panel 4: I like the text in this last panel because it keeps calling into question the nature of truth, that nothing can be truly objective. Even empirical fact can be skewed by who is relaying the information and what medium is being used to convey the information presented. Everything is subject to influence, whether intentional or unintended.

Cheetahs Never Win! #3 @ Poopsheet Foundation

"There’s a very high contrast of visual and thematic elements that’s surprisingly engaging."

Check out my latest full review over at Poopsheet Foundation.


2.16.11 Releases

According to the DMZ Countdown Clock™ we have just 10 issues of the series to go after this week’s DMZ #62 (DC/Vertigo), which continues the Free States Rising arc. For fans of the series wanting to upgrade their singles or for the trade-waiters who were, umm... waiting for the trade, there’s also DMZ Volume 9: M.I.A. (DC/Vertigo), which collects issues 50-54, and let’s not forget that issue 50 was the awesome “Notes From The Underground” special, with pieces by such luminaries as Jim Lee, Fabio Moon, Eduardo Risso, and Dave Gibbons. Over at The House of Ideas, we have the always entertaining Uncanny X-Force #5 (Marvel) by Rick Remender and Jerome Opena, along with the visual treat that is SHIELD #6 (Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver. I’ve heard good things about this book, so I might also try Kill Shakespeare #1: 100 Penny Press Edition (IDW), which is only $1.

Chase! #11 @ Poopsheet Foundation

“…honestly I stopped reading by page 9 and skimmed the remainder.”

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Ditkomania #79 @ Poopsheet Foundation

“Ditkomania clearly remains a labor of love… certainly deserving of the title ‘best fanzine.’”

Check out my latest full review over at Poopsheet Foundation.


Candy or Medicine: Volume Twelve @ Poopsheet Foundation

“This is perhaps not the strongest issue of Candy or Medicine to date, but it’s always a welcome addition to my reading pile, and Blair is slowly assembling an impressive body of contributions to the medium.”

Check out my latest full review over at Poopsheet Foundation.


Major Mishap Pushes The Panic Button! @ Poopsheet Foundation

“…the whole effort leaves readers in the weeds.”

Check out my latest full review over at Poopsheet Foundation.


2.09.11 Reviews

Northlanders #37 (DC/Vertigo): If you’re reading this review on this web-site, then you’re probably aware of the fact that the primary draw for me on Northlanders is the fact that it’s written by Brian Wood. And while there’s no doubt that this three issue arc, The Siege of Paris, is based on a compelling historical tidbit that’s the type of illuminating story most of us were never taught in school, a large part of the success of this particular issue is also the amazing art of Simon Gane. If you were to take the sheer level of miniscule detail and panel density of someone like Geoff Darrow and then match that with the gritty line weight of a couple of Wood collaborators like Vasilis Lolos or Becky Cloonan, you’d be somewhere near the aesthetic of what Gane is achieving. There’s an immersive sense to the scale that is perhaps best exemplified by the full title page. Back to Wood, once again there’s grandeur to be found in the text. There’s a purity to the writing that is blunt and direct, it’s not flowery, yet is still poetic. Like Hemingway’s short crisp declarative sentences, it contains no equivocation. There are small personal moments, such as Abbo the monk navigating the political climate, right alongside a study in tactics and the act of leadership during war that are on par with Warren Ellis’ Crecy. With 30,000 Vikings sacking Paris and being held at bay by 200 Frenchmen, The Siege of Paris contains the promise of being as epic as Frank Miller’s 300. Grade A.

Wasteland #30 (Oni Press): After a long wait, Antony Johnston, Christopher Mitten, and Remington Veteto attempt to get the story rolling again. Immediately my eye is drawn to Veteto’s artistic style and I start noticing some differences. Most of these style issues are neither positive or negative as compared to Mitten’s style, they’re merely different. In general, it seems that Veteto is laying down much more ink on the page. There’s more use of black swaths of negative space, and what seems like more affectation in the art, more shading, more cross-hatching, etc. The majority of the time the different art style services the story, but on isolated occasions it becomes a distraction. Those bouts of affectation, the use of dense shadow and cross-hatching, particularly on some of the facial characteristics, look a bit “muddy” and random, not tied to a particular light source or specific intent, and thus become a minor distraction. The backgrounds are occasionally a bit sparse as well, and it generally makes me think that Veteto was rushing the work in order to get the title back on track, which is what all of the fans want. It’s a tough conundrum to be in for the creative team. Moving along, the story itself is still gripping. The Big Wet Universe is presumably at some point at least 100 years into our post-apocalyptic future, yet we see the same endemic struggles that all societies contend with. There’s religious strife, talk of Civil War, and the universal desire to abolish all forms of slavery. If master scribe Johnston hadn’t been born in the UK, had he been born in the US, I think he’d have been born in New Hampshire. “Live Free or Die” kept ringing in my ears while reading this issue. There’s something timeless about Wasteland. The character machinations remain, Jakob gains knowledge of Abi’s quest, the dueling demands of Golden Voice and Marcus hum, right along with the reveal of the elaborate ruse involving Golden Voice. Johnston proves he’s still got a way with the language as well, lines like “the narrower our enemy’s focus, the easier we may out-flank him!” have a cunning wisdom to them that’s hard not to like. I’m also sensing that something big is about to be revealed regarding the fabled land of A-REE-YASS-I, so stay tuned. Grade B+.


Grinding It Out

And Then One Day #9: Page 6 (Elephant Eater): Panel 1: This panel is extremely balanced and has quite a few specific touches that I appreciate. Let’s talk about the balance. Ryan frames this shot around the clock tower on campus that’s in the background. The tails of both word balloons curve their way around it, and the larger of the two balloons sits up top, so it corrals your focus in the center of the page. Because the clock tower is in the background, once your eye is focused there, it also pulls you deep into the panel. You can almost feel it pulling you in if you stop and linger on it. I feel like you sort of lunge forward, in and down, toward the two figures walking and talking. That’s the first impression, a lot of control, mastery of guiding the reader’s eye around the page. One of the touches that I first noticed was the line weight of the lamp post in the immediate foreground. In recent conversations with Ryan, I’ve heard him mention variable line weight as one of those go-to tools to achieve depth. It’s a great technique to master, yet you’d be surprised how often it’s lacking in a lot of “professional” comic art. It’s extremely thick on the lamp post and it seems Kirby-esque to my eye, like it makes the image pop out from the panel’s 2D plane. The underbellies of the clouds have texture, the stone walkway is beautifully imperfect, and for some reason I just really like that drinking cup with the straw sticking out of it. This panel is all about depth, texture, and an impressive sense of environment.

Panel 2: In this tighter shot, I find myself focusing more on the dialogue than the construction of the panel. I like that as Ryan and Professor Polkinhorn discuss a “pulled-back” camera shot in the first panel, that’s what the reader experiences, and as they continue their conversation to discuss the illusion of the objectivity that creates, it goes away and is the exact opposite in this panel. I think one of the key words they’re talking around here is “context.” With the pulled back camera shot, there’s more environment readily apparent, which adds context to the proceedings, which in turn may add greater objectivity to the information being presented. When the shot is extremely close up, you lose context, and can even lose any semblance of meaning for that panel if it’s too tight of a zoom. Anyway. This is going to be nitpicky as hell, but let’s talk about the informal colloquial substitution for the word “yes” that’s being used. In most of Ryan’s work he uses the “yah” variant, which is completely acceptable and correct grammatically. You can argue word derivation back and forth from upper-class British, to Egyptian, to Hebrew syllables for Yahweh, and inherent subtleties in meaning, but me? I always prefer “yeah” as my go-to substitution. To my ear, “yah” sounds more like “yaw,” so I shy away from it because when I see it, it pushes me out. I want to reiterate that this is totally personal preference and either is grammatically correct, it’s just my weird sensibility. Let’s move on, shall we?

Panel 3: It’s a tighter zoom here that fits in tonally with the discussion, and once again we see the “controversial(!)” crystalline background pattern technique adorning the top. But, more than anything I want to discuss Polkinhorn’s point. This gets back to one of the original philosophical underpinnings of the conversation – that the way information is presented is on a continuum. The fact that the shot, any shot, appears in a comic book, means that it is an illusion. It may be a relatively accurate illusion or an intentionally misleading illusion, but it’s an illusion all the same. It ties back to one of Ryan’s own Graduate Thesis investigations about the nature of autobiography, in that it is probably some mixture of truth and fiction, presented by the narrator with certain inherent characteristics that may be more or less truthful depending on a wide variety of factors that affect its presentation. Bottom line, another great page from another great book.

Skully Flower #3 @ Poopsheet Foundation

“By the end, they’re investigating the presence of a ghost with Frank the Necromancer, but the lead up of talking heads bits does dip its toe into tedious waters.”

Check out my latest full review over at Poopsheet Foundation.


2.09.11 Releases

There are new installments of two great series due out this week. The first is Northlanders #37 (DC/Vertigo), from Brian Wood and artist Simon Gane. This is the first issue in The Siege of Paris arc, and with Gane’s gorgeous art, it’s as good a time as any to hop on for what’s sure to be a wild ride. Next up is Antony Johnston’s post-apocalyptic epic Wasteland #30 (Oni Press). There’s been some delay and a shift in creative duties, but I think I have it all sorted and hopefully this will be the first of many issues cranked out this year. It appears that artist Remington Veteto will finish out this arc (to #33), and then artist Justin Greenwood will provide interior art for the next arc. Original series artist Christopher Mitten will be taking over cover duties for Ben Templesmith with issue #33 as well. Templesmith has provided covers and a stunning aesthetic for the series to date, but I really am excited to see more of Mitten’s work in color, and it’s a nice way to keep him involved with the series he helped launch. Johnston has also posted that he’s plotted the series out to a final installment with issue #60, which even at a brisk probably-not-monthly pace, means we've got, at the very least, two and a half years of Wasteland left to look forward to on the horizon.

Orkideakeikka @ Poopsheet Foundation

“…every once in a while something is indeed lost in translation…”

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Batuman #1 @ Poopsheet Foundation

“This is a VERY low budget Dark Knight, that takes the familiar tropes of chummy partnership, playboy flirtation, enigmatic hero, and maniacal villain, and subtly upends every single one of them to reveal a brilliant examination of a 70 year old character.”

Check out my latest full review over at Poopsheet Foundation.


2.02.11 Reviews

Invincible Iron Man #500.1 (Marvel): If you’re going to judge the success of this issue by whether or not it makes me want to jump on board and buy the next one, then I think it fails pretty miserably. That’s not my idea mind you, these are the terms that Marvel has laid out for their own, ahem, “Point One Initiative,” that it’s this brilliant demarcation for a lay jumping on point. The problem is, there isn’t any tease here for any semblance of what comes next in the story. There’s no continuation whatsoever. It’s totally self-contained. To make matters worse, Marvel feigns a consumer nod by holding the price at $2.99, but then only offers 20 pages of story content, with it feeling like every other page is a house ad. I just don’t see why this “filler” issue couldn’t be worked into the regular numbering system, make it issue 32 (or whatever would have been next) or even issue 500 if you’re really intent on it being some pause/jumping on point. Anyway, if we shift gears and look at the content itself, and not the sloppy marketing approach, it’s actually done quite well. Fraction and Larroca offer up a deep dive examination of the psychology driving Tony Stark. It’s interesting to observe that most ambitious, intelligent, confident people are fueled by their own inner demons and social insecurities. Fraction uses a mild “untrustworthy narrator” bit that isn’t as intense as say, Keyser Soze, but it allows Tony’s expositional tale to be framed in such a way that he’s truly telling his cathartic story, but so vague that he doesn’t out himself as Iron Man. It’s a bit of a revisionist history for the industrialist’s origins. The exploits of most of his life have been little more than a system he’s created to manage his feelings of powerlessness. Larroca’s art is mostly on point, but occasionally slips into a really flat 2D look that doesn’t do much to make the talking heads and flashbacks pop. The high points on art are probably his rendition of the Avengers and the personification of the “Demon in a Bottle” years. I enjoyed the clever way Tony confesses he got a girl’s digits in the AA meeting by calling her out, but I’m not sure Larroca lands her reaction very clearly visually. The book makes a strong case for Tony’s adaptability and willingness to reinvent himself. It seems there is power to be found through the process, that if he trusts himself and trusts the process, he can actually regain some of that power. Though, as we see in the end, old habits do die hard. Heh. Grade A-.

Daytripper TPB (DC/Vertigo): Yeah, I already own all of the single issues, but I’ll tell you what. This book is worth buying all over again, even at $19.99, just for that single page Craig Thompson introduction. Somehow he manages to condense the magic of Daytripper into a single page of graphic design wonderment, full of comics, free floating text, part biography, part review of the book, yet part commentary on its development, all while aping Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba’s style, yet somehow still making it distinctly Craig Thompson – all at once! I just keep staring at it. It really is a startling piece of work. It’s certainly the most original take on an “introduction” that I’ve ever seen in the medium. Critics never agree, but if there’s a book that was more universally praised as contender for Best of 2010, I have yet to see it mentioned. For 10 issues, this is just $2 per issue, plus the Craig Thompson piece, plus a couple pages of bonus sketches. It’s not likely to be offered in any other format, so now is your chance to snap this up at a great price, though I suspect DC will be keeping it in print for years to come.

Orc Stain: Volume 1 TPB (Image): I haven’t read it yet, but it’s clear just by thumbing through that James Stokoe is like the Geoff Darrow of his generation. This thing is packed with detail and has received nearly universal critical buzz from the indie crowd all the way up to repeated ramblings at Warren Ellis’ web-site.


Window #14 @ Poopsheet Foundation

“…a clean and detailed effort with distinct figures that’s well suited for autobio work.”

Check out my latest full review over at Poopsheet Foundation.


Grinding It Out

And Then One Day #9: Page 5 (Elephant Eater): Panel 1: The critic in me wants to argue with Ryan’s statement about this being one of his more technically proficient pages, but I’m inclined to agree. There’s a lot happening here that is either extremely well done, or a successful attempt by Ryan to stretch his artistic muscles, or both. First off, all of the panels are wide and flat. I hesitate to use the term “widescreen” because of the superhero connotations it dredges up, but it does indeed apply. There’s something sleek about it visually, but from a world-building standpoint it also gives the illusion that the environment we’re being invited into extends in a 360 degree panorama all around us. This first panel has a lot of depth, trees and figures on the same plane in the foreground, with another tree (to the left) and a building in the “mid-ground,” and yet another layer of shrubbery and students milling around in the background. It’s not often you see artists devote this much time to “throwaway” components in the distance that aren’t considered key to the main story or more closely connected to the protagonists.

Panel 2: Sheesh, it’s hard not to love this panel. If you thought that first panel had depth, then this panel is amazing. The texture and sense of depth literally extend all the way to the vanishing point on the horizon. Ryan has carefully dotted the scene with 4 figures that recede into the background, all at different sizes and point in space. There’s his set of hands, the seated figure to the right, a third figure, and then a fourth figure in the background. Ryan also shifts the camera angle drastically to his point of view to emphasize the point he’s making about what readers might be missing when alternate perspectives are used. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him use this camera angle, so we might be witnessing a first. It’s beautiful. It’s shots like these, illustrating thoughts like these, that have always made me think Ryan is the Scott McCloud of his generation. The ability to use comics in order to explain how comics function as an artistic medium is a rare niche that is fun and important.

Panel 3: Yet again, Ryan matches up the dialogue with the visual in perfect sync. As he pulls the camera angle out to provide a wider and more distant shot, the text suggests that by doing so, it helps the artist with introspection and self-analysis. Seeing the characters, literally and figuratively, in context with the surroundings of their life assists the creator and a prospective audience in understanding more about the person. It’s an attempt at a sort of self-imposed critical objectivity. One other thing I’ve really been noticing with this issue of ATOD is the way Ryan is managing word balloons. This one also has that trick lightning bolt effect, which zig-zags across the page. In addition to just being engaging visually, it gives the sense that the characters are moving from left to right, and pulls your eye from the visual over to the text. It’s a very subtle, but very nice and very effective bit of craftsmanship. You get the sense that every single pencil stroke is rendered with thought and purpose. These are thinking man’s comics.

Panel 4: Honestly, I haven’t been a huge fan of this textured background pattern that Ryan’s been using periodically. At first it seemed pretty simple to my eye and the crystalline texture left me questioning its presence. Despite that initial reaction, I find that I can always figure out a way to “make it work” in my mind when I stop to consider it, and perhaps that’s what Ryan has intended all along. Here, I feel like it’s an empty canvas that is more subscriptive than prescriptive. What I mean is that a prescriptive approach would be Ryan drawing something more specific that told his audience how to feel about this panel. Instead, the patterned texture is subscriptive, in that it allows the reader to bring their own sense of meaning to it. For me, I use that canvas to consider my own “flaws, habits, and what have you.” I populate it with my own meaning in that relatively empty space. It induces thought and creates a more interactive experience.