Grinding It Out

And Then One Day #9: Page 20 (Elephant Eater): Panel 1: Oh, I like this page a lot. This first panel places the audience atop Ryan’s shoulder so that we grasp his POV as he composes his email to Dr. Pokinhorn. The angle is unique and the shot has a slight fisheye effect to it (convex? concave? I’ve always confused those two…) that I think is meant to emphasize his POV and our very close proximity to the screen. I’ll age myself here, but if this were done in color, I’d expect Ryan to make his flashing cursor and the text that cruddy old Apple IIe green so that it would look like he was Doogie Howser, M.D. typing away at the end of an episode.

Panel 2: There are a couple of reasons I likes this tight zoom shot of Ryan’s mug. First, it is an extreme close-up, and for as much as I go on and on about Ryan working at a smaller figure scale, I like the fact that he’s willing to work in the opposite direction. I don’t think I’ve seen him work at this close a range before. This close-up emphasizes the focus he’s demonstrating and underscores the fact that he has been thinking hard on the subject he’s describing to Polkinhorn. Lastly, this panel is a great example of how to balance a page across the diagonal axis. The weight of this face is balance by the size and density of the furniture and household objects in panel 3.

Panel 3: In addition to the balancing nature of this panel with the previous, I also think it’s nice to see Ryan change up the lettering to mimic the font he’s typing with. I can’t tell from the fuzzy resolution on my screen at work if that lettering is actually computer generated or if he hand-lettered a font that merely mimic’s what’s in his email application. Knowing Ryan, I’d say he probably hand-lettered it to ape the automated style. This angle in Ryan’s apartment is also pretty fun, a reverse of all we’ve seen before, which reveals the archway in the background and some of his furniture. It gives the space life. I think lesser artists would probably zoom tighter on the protagonist or offer up a camera position that took a more “square” approach to the shot. Ryan skews the camera sideways and, as we’ve come to learn, isn’t one to skimp on background detail or a sense of depth.

Panel 4: It’d be easy to understand why this panel will be some people’s favorite. Ryan pokes fun at some of the feedback he must have received in the past from family, friends, and audience members. It is definitely a funny moment the way that he nails the tone, visually with his hands splayed the way they are, and also with a visual cue to the tone of his speech, with the musical notes delivering a sing-song quality to his dialogue. While all of that delights the funny bone, I actually like this panel for a more cerebral reason. It’s intellectually honest. It would have been easier not to proactively address this type of feedback, but since Ryan is more interested in giving a fair and balanced examination of autobiography and the component of ego involved, he includes it. You know what it’s called when you do the right thing, even if it’s not the easy thing? Integrity.

Panel 5: This panel works in a way that isn’t as flamboyant artistically as the couple that have preceded it. The look Ryan has on his face is more contemplative, as if he’s really considering the way that those accusations have made him recoil and as if he’s thinking through what he wants to say next and anticipating (hoping?) that Polkinhorn will have some words of wisdom to share about his query. One other stray observation I have is that when Ryan depicts the lines that he’s typing, they’re done without speech balloon borders, as free floating text that is superimposed on the pictures, almost as if it appears out of the ether or as if it’s being read aloud to us by an omniscient third party narrator, or, better yet, as if we’re listening voyeuristically inside Ryan’s mind as he speaks the words to himself while simultaneously typing them.

20th Century Boys: 09

There’s certainly a part of me that feels like the “new wave” of characters in this book are going to form a new group for their own generation to carry on Kenji’s fight. I’m talking about characters like Kanna (Kenji’s niece), Kakuta (manga artist, Shogun’s partner), and Koizumi (student being re-educated @ Friend Land, Yoshitsune’s partner). This volume is split into two basic “chunks” like the previous couple of volumes have been. The first section focuses on Yoshitsune trying to prevent Koizumi from seeing the face of (maybe) Friend under the Teru Teru Bozu within the Bonus Stage of the virtual world at Friend Land. It looks like some interesting foreshadowing with the masked individuals supposedly sending signals to space aliens from the rooftops. On the roof we see another masked character along with Friend. It seems clear that Koizumi sees Friend’s face before Yoshitsune force-quits the program elsewhere, but we’ve been told repeatedly that ending the session in this manner will result in brain damage, so who knows if Koizumi will be able to recall what she saw. From there, we cut away to the second chunk of the book which sees Kanna, Chono (cop), and Mariah (transvestite prostitute) fleeing The Cop With The Mole Friend Agent, and her engaging her precognitive telekinetic powers of luck. I love the Rabbit Nabokov sequence in the organized crime casino, where Kanna plays a very dangerous card game. If you lose, well basically you owe such an exorbitant amount of money that you get killed when you can’t pay up, and it culminates with a crazy Mexican standoff. In the end, she’s able to literally buy an army with her winnings and then cement their support with her powers of influence. Along with a sympathetic Yakuza member turned Catholic priest (great character), they set up an unlikely force comprised of Thai Mafia, Chinese Mafia, and homeless people in order to prevent The Pope’s assassination. At the same time, Mon-Chan reveals the existence of The New Book of Prophecy, which essentially tells of Kanna doing all of this at the church, right as we see it occurring. It’s a great culmination of story threads, as Kanna and her group, Yukiji and her group, Shogun and his group, Friend Agents, the mobsters, the homeless, and the cops, all descend on the church at once. It’s absolutely an intense scene, something this sprawling epic does well, making individual threads that have been building for some time all coalesce in such an intense fashion. Visually, Naoki Urasawa uses very quick cuts and nice panel editing to make the attempt on Kanna’s life very disturbing. I won’t spoil the specifics, but I wasn’t expecting #13 to show up, or the suggested re-entry of Kanna’s mom. As usual, there are plenty of twists and turns that keep the audience guessing. 20th Century Boys is mentally challenging, visually arresting, and a supremely entertaining tale. It’s an interesting side note that while the eponymous title revolves around a group of boys, the figures driving so much of the plot right now are women. Kanna (Kenji’s niece) is the final hope, her protector is Yukiji (the only girl in the childhood group), Koizumi is now a central figure tightly wound in events with Yoshitsune right at Friend Land, and we’ve just been teased with the entry of Kanna’s mom. It’s an interesting bit of traditional gender roles in a mystery/action/adventure being subverted.

6.01.11 Releases

I’m not sure what’s going on, it must be the racks being hijacked by all of the Fear Itself Flashpoint Crossover Nonsense, but the last couple of weeks have been total duds for me, and this week doesn’t appear to be much different. It’s one of those weeks where I ask myself why I’m still reading comics, where I get more enjoyment out of just re-watching the latest episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones than trudging down to the LCS and trying to find something suitably entertaining that I can justify plunking down money on. I suppose I’ll check out Uncanny X-Force #11 (Marvel), even though I can’t muster much enthusiasm for any issue that doesn’t feature Jerome Opena’s art. This time out, it’s Mark Brooks (?), with Rick Remender writing an editorially mandated crossover-y type arc. If the company and creative team could just sustain the energy and aesthetic they had on the first four issue arc, this would be hands down the best X-Men book being published and probably one of the best books period being published today. Alas, there was a serious drop in quality beginning with issue five. SHIELD #1 (Marvel) is also coming out, with Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver diving into their second arc with a new first issue. Not sure why we they can’t just stick to sequential numbering, and I’m not even sure I’ll be picking it up in any case. Weaver’s art is usually beautiful, but I couldn’t really make heads or tales of the script in the first few issues of the last arc. If I have to make a graphic novel recommendation, I’d probably go with the softcover release of Howard Cruse’s Stuck Rubber Baby (DC/Vertigo) for $17.99. What looks good to you?


White Out: Engaging Heart & Mind

White Out is an amazing foray into self-published mini-comics by Leslie J. Anderson, one which will be impossible for me to forget. It’s that rare breed of creator output which engages both sides of my brain, occupying both sides of commercial viability – it offers entertainment and artistic expression. Most creators fall prey to this false dichotomy and only end up offering one of the two modes of creativity. Because White Out contains two short stories, it allows Anderson to explore both sides of her admitted duality, feeling that she is “half way between art and literature.” Overall, White Out begs your attention with a stark cover, integrity in the production values, and the type of professional packaging which is so often lacking in the world of self-publishing.

The first tale is The Napping Deeps, which centers on Cthulhu’s quest for his missing Teddy Bear. Who would have thought that a cute Cthulhu for kids would actually work? But, Anderson pulls it off quite convincingly. The art technique she uses compliments the turbulent environment and thematic tone of the story perfectly. What lazy audience members would probably dismiss as a muddled composition actually pulls you in subtly in an effort to navigate the mysterious world that’s been created. Anderson’s playful panel direction, clear panel to panel storytelling ability, and the variety of her shot selection (zooming in and out to alter the figure scale at will), along with her distinct characterization all make for an engaging experience. Cthulhu’s search for “Grand Inquisitor Cuddles Von Fuzzington” might not be quite as ethereal as something like Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s classic The Little Prince, but it does possess the type of wonderment you’d find from a creator like Jordan Crane (I’m thinking of his book The Clouds Above specifically), along with the Earth-bound pragmatism of the Hemingway motifs in Sammy Harkham’s Poor Sailor. Yeah. There’s a lot going on in what is ostensibly a story aimed at kids. The full page physical manifestation of the moon is an iconic and enduring image. Anderson could probably be selling large prints of this online or at Comic-Con and do some real business.

The second tale is titled White Horses on the back cover, but Gray Horses on the interior intro page. I’m not sure if that’s actually an oversight or intentional given the nature of some of the early dialogue concerning horses’ coloring. The story is an autobiographical depiction of animal abuse and lessons learned as a child. The art style is adapted here to be a little more clear and a little less abstract. The lettering is also crisper and the end result is that Anderson is able to effectively capture the way a child perceives the world. It’s full of mystery and exaggeration, with oversized doors looming, and inanimate objects capable of haunting our thoughts, as the magical can turn into the foreboding on a dime. There’s one small typo that somehow snuck in, “transgression” spelled as “transgretion.” That aside, Anderson has created a story that is deeply psychologically engaging, almost horror-inspired in the manner that Jodie Foster’s recounting of her childhood experiences with lambs haunted The Silence of the Lambs on screen. In fact, this story is the type you might see in a horror/mystery anthology or even produced as a short film itself. Anderson has found a brilliant way to take real events and make them feel fantastical without breaking the audience’s suspension of disbelief. In the end, I think it proves that kids are capable of processing and understanding more complex events and emotions than we probably give them credit for. I review a lot of mini-comics thanks to my regular writing gig at Poopsheet Foundation and I can easily say that White Out is a mid-year contender for my annual list of the Best Mini-Comics & Small Press Titles. For more information, get yourself over to http://www.lesliejanderson.com/ Grade A.

20th Century Boys: 08

When Kenji discovers that the menacing “robot” has been cobbled together with a balloon, cables, and some tank treads in a rather low tech fashion, he blurts out “This thing is not the future we envisioned! Not even close.” I think in some ways that line could be emblematic of the entire series. The story of 20th Century Boys is really that of a post-WWII generation trying to reconcile their nostalgic dreams with their perceived reality. That’s the book in a nutshell. In psychological terms, Friend, Manjome Inshu, and the FDP are engaged in one large act of Hero Syndrome, wherein they’ve fabricated a crisis that only they can resolve, seeking recognition and political manipulation. There’s an interesting bit of parallel story threading, as Friend supposedly sacrifices himself on Bloody New Year’s Eve and Kenji is last seen in a big explosion supposedly doing the same, making you think that Kenji is potentially Friend, or, something I’ve long questioned, is the FDP really a grown up version of “The Kenji Faction?” Anyway, the guy with the mask shows up again and there’s a glorious double page spread of the robot facing off with the monument, strange mirror images of each other, the dread of the futuristic robot with the Expo 1970’s hope of the future, Friend opposed to Kenji, and then… BOOM. We can’t help but think of Kenji’s song “Night Falls On Planet Earth.” That’s the first act of this volume, the realization that the robot is staged as much of the Bloody New Year’s Eve action is finally filled in with dual flashbacks by Kamisama/Koizumi and Otcho/Kakuta. The second act involved Koizumi being shipped off to “Friend Land” for showing interest in “The Kenji Faction.” It’s a wonderful bit of Orwellian intrigue that reminded me of Patrick McGoohan’s time on The Island during The Prisoner. It’s all about government suppression of the truth, fabrication of their “official story” into the culture, and no contact with the outside world. I enjoyed the Dream Navigator acting as Thought Police as the kids enter their virtual worlds, able to travel back to the 1971 Kenji Faction and investigate Kanda Hari and Haunted Hill. Koizumi’s devotion to Elloim Essaim and one of their songs acting as an anchor during her virtual experiences once again exhibits the power of music to the group. In fine 20th Century Boys cliffhanger fashion, we cut away and fade to black as Koizumi is (maybe) about to see Friend’s face. To some extent, I’m growing tired of the constant teases regarding the identity of Friend, but since it fuels so much of the narrative, we just have to surrender to it and enjoy the ride.


5.25.11 Reviews

Xombi #3 (DC): I vaguely remember this as a Milestone property and think I might have even bought the original #1 waaay back in the day. I've heard great things about the book and since this week turned out to be such a dud, I thought I'd give it a spin. It opens with some incredibly dense exposition that totally obliterates the "show don't tell" rule. There was such a sea of text on the page that my eyes were glazing over and I was starting to count the panels which had all expository text boxes (98%) vs. the panels that had any semblance of actual dialogue (2%) so that I could make some snarky observation, but then even got bored doing that. Frazer Irving's art is stunning as usual, all drenched in amber and sepia tones, but without it being attached to a story I can access, I'm not sure what good it does. Something something something monster slaying and setting traps and twisty plans, but beyond a visually interesting character named Maranatha, I couldn't tell you what was happening. I actually got more enjoyment out of the Super 8 insert. The art sort of had a John Paul Leon thing going on, all steeped in the gravitas of post-WWII Cold War era tension vis-a-vis an alien threat and the US/USSR space programs. It's not like anyone interested in pop culture isn't already planning on checking out this JJ Abrams/Steven Spielberg collabo, but hey, a nice comic tie-in can't hurt. As for Xombi, the strength of the art saves it from a worse rating than Grade C.

Ugh. This was not a very inspiring week in the world of comic books. Two weeks ago, I picked up Batman Incorporated #6, which I really enjoyed. The script was suprisingly coherent for Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham's art was seriously on par with Frank Quitely and/or George Perez. I actually thought it could be a small little gateway back into the DCU. I almost went back to my LCS and picked up the whole run, but (thankfully) decided to cautiously just grab issues 4 and 5 to test it out this week. Issue 4 was also a Burnham issue that had him aping a bunch of different art styles, and while issue 5 was back to regular series artist Yanick Paquette (who I haven't really enjoyed since he did a single issue of Uncanny X-Men with Matt Fraction), it did feature Batwoman prominently, which is ok with me. Anyway, both of the issues kind of sucked. It was back to incoherent Morrisonian continuity porn and the art was just mediocre, so I'm out on Batman Inc. just as quickly as it seemed to enthrall me. I suppose there's a chance that if issue 7 were to feature Burnham and continue anything resembling what I liked in issue 6, I could conceivably follow it, but I'm not holding out hope based on the inconsistency I've seen so far. There's just nothing like picking up a random issue of a series, liking it, and then realizing it happened to be a totally anomalous issue.

Another book I was interested in this week was Strange Adventures #1, also from DC, though now it's not clear if this is just a one-shot or there will actually ever be a second issue. It had a decent Paul Pope cover, but thumbing through it I realized that I was basically going to only be interested in the Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso preview of Spaceman, but, sorry, I'm not going to pay $7.99 for like 8-10 pages of a story.

The other book that I thought I was going to purchase was Butcher Baker Righteous Maker #3 from Image Comics. I bought the first two issues, but haven't been loving it. I read Joe Casey's back matter standing in the store and then realized that I had no desire to read the actual comic, so that was instantly off the pull list.

Lastly, I was probably going to pick up the collected edition of DV8: Gods & Monsters (WildStorm) from Brian Wood & Rebekah Isaacs, but of course, the most reliable comic for me this week was something that Sea Donkey decided not to order in all his infinite undersea wisdom.

Monty Comix Trifecta

After reviewing Monty Comix #2 at Poopsheet Foundation, creator Kayla Escobedo tracked me down and was kind enough to send in issues 1, 3, and 4 of her ongoing mini-comic publication for review. It’s interesting to have a group of issues in front of me and chart the evolution of the work from issue to issue. The first issue begins in slightly out of focus black and white, though the cover is in color and is absolutely eye catching. It’s got a nice graphic design sense about it, in the manner of those old produce crate labels that yuppies now use to decorate their kitchens. Escobedo’s anthropomorphic ciphers tell supposedly “true stories” as the cover indicates. The best part of these figures is that their facial caricatures depict their personalities very well, whether timid or intimidating, the facial characteristics convey the right tone. High School Train Blues involves an incident with strong arm robbery for lunch money, while the cipher character, an interesting amphibian looking whale, appears naked and exposed while navigating this seedy world. The fact that in her recollection she’s naked is revealing, it’s symbolic of her being unable to defend herself, much less help others around her avoid the same type of plight. The violence found in this issue makes the protagonist afraid to engage with the world around them, positioning this issue as thematically consistent with the idea that Escobedo’s characters are constantly struggling to find their place in the world. The first issue ends with a two page spread that captures the more whimsical elements I find appealing in her work.

The third issue of Monty Comix focuses on stories about Whale Girl, and immediately there’s an evident jump in production quality. Escobedo has utilized better paper stock, crisper printing, and more lush inks. Not only do we see the anthropomorphic Whale Girl, but also some of her plump nondescript “gingerbread folk” (my description, not hers). There’s also something I like to see, which is better marketing and self-promotion, via Facebook and an eventual publisher with the next issue in the form of Dexter Cockburn’s The Comix Company. This issue is more sophisticated all around, not only in execution, but in the manner it addresses its subject matter. We find Whale Girl growing up and doing more ostensibly grown up things, but she’s not really feeling anything. In fact, she has to step on glass to feel, because she’d probably rather hurt than feel nothing at all. She spends time with a Fox who isn’t really engaged in the relationship, and the theme of finding her place in the world emerges yet again. Whale Girl has an incredibly awkward self-image and there seems to be a void existing existentially for her, to the point that she holds on to her pets after death, because it’s one of the only relationships to hold any meaning. Whale Girl seems to seek escapism from this mess, and maybe that’s one of the truths that drives the more autobiographical elements of the work. As with the second issue I previously reviewed at PF, the back pages seem to be reserved for closing commentary on female objectification and how that’s pervaded society in subtle ways.

If I’m not mistaken, the fourth issue is the first full color issue inside and out. It begins with an impressive wrap around cover that possesses the kind of fine inky detail that calls to mind South American artists like Rafael Grampa or Juan Jose Ryp. This issue contains more Whale Girl adventures and Escobedo’s artistry has now grown leaps and bound in the space of just four issues, if you compare the first issue to this one. Take a look at that first page with the stinky dead cat in a bag and you’ll see more fine art technique seeping in than traditional made-copies-at-Kinko’s mini-comics penciling. The story The Sleepover seems to boil things down to their essential components required for the audience to grasp meaning. For example, a stray bag of chips is simply labeled “Salty Chips.” That direct singular approach is very refreshing to me in the sometimes obtuse world of mini-comics. Whale Girl seems to be trying hard to transcend her ghettoized origins by hanging with the “cool crowd,” and even watching some porn at a sleepover, because that’s the kids’ perception of what grown ups or cool kids actually do. They’re obsessed with society’s perception of them, and this issue seems to send a clear message to the youth of America that when you seek such external things to make yourself cool, you’ll never truly find them, and if you do attain that coveted “thing,” it will ring hollow when you do finally obtain it. It’s almost as if we’re learning and growing with Escobedo in this oddball coming of age story which highlights the pitfalls of vain personality characteristics. In short, just be yourself and that internal uniqueness will make you cool, not chasing whatever fad is perceived as cool by homogenous society at large. I’m constantly struggling to make a name-drop comparison only to show how great Escobedo’s work has risen to become. In that way, this notion of finding your own quirky personality subtly reminds me of Josh Cotter’s work in Skyscrapers of The Midwest, and the tiny panel strips at the end of Monty Comix seem very Chris Ware-ian in their execution. Kayla Escobedo is certainly one to watch, and I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the future, a larger publishing house such as Sparkplug Comic Books or AdHouse Books became interested in distributing her work. For more information, check out www.kaylascomix.com Grade A.

20th Century Boys: 07

This volume centers mainly on manga artist Kakuta and Shogun/Otcho breaking out of Umihotaro Prison in the New Tokyo of 2014. The self-referential bits of this series are really entertaining, for example during the breakout, Kakuta stop and notices that the scene they’re in would be “good material for a manga.” It’s also become something of a predictable pattern where flashbacks can now be counted on to inform current events, such as the dangerous game Kenji and Otcho play in the pool as kids. It all leads up to the principle Otcho remembers of “his belief that he was right was stronger than his fear.” The juxtaposition of the 1970 World Expo the gang ate up as kids and their innocent dreams of the 21st century now being dashed is a really nice mismatch of nostalgia and reality. I enjoyed seeing that Kamisama was still around, and as the richest person in Japan no less, complete with space flight. We finally get to see some details of the actions during Bloody New Year’s Eve on 12/31/2000 as Kamisama informs new character Koizumi for her research paper on The Kenji Faction, and Shogun fills in Kakuta during their prison escape. As The Kenji Faction enters FDP HQ while the robot rampages, the shot of Otcho discharging a round in the control room is an arresting visual. Kenji hesitates and Fukube surprisingly steps up to take charge, in the end managing only to confirm that Friend is not Sadakiyo and sacrificing himself in the process. It’s interesting to note how pervasive the disinformation campaign is at the hands of the conspiratorial FDP; for an entire generation, kids are being taught the reverse of what The Kenji Faction and The Friends actually did. Unless it’s all an elusive red herring, and the two groups are just one and the same. In any case, I’m continually moved by Kenji’s group and how they all inspire each other with friendship, fried rice, music appreciation, their inclusive nature, healthy competition, humor, or bravery. What a great group of friends. The cliffhanger here is solid. We see the Prime Minister in an Operations Center contending with the ultimate spectre of radioactivity right as the truck full of dynamite is about to detonate under the belly of the beast, and we cut away to the next volume!


Grinding It Out

And Then One Day #9: Page 19 (Elephant Eater): Panel 1: One of the random things I’ve been noticing is Ryan’s panel size choices. It’s interesting, to me at least, that most of the time his panels in this issue are never precise half or quarter pages. They’re not in easily recognizable “chunks.” For example, this first panel isn’t quite a half page, but it’s more than a third page, somewhere in between. I wonder if this is a deliberate choice for some reason, or if Ryan is simply following his gut and selecting what looks appropriate in his artist mind’s eye. This is a great establishing shot that reminds us we’re in Ryan’s abode, picking up right from where we left off last time. Ryan continues his morning ritual and I really like the angle he’s chosen here, to show us as much of the room and furniture as possible. It’s a unique angle that’s balanced nicely, with him on the left, countered by the hefty cabinet on the right.

Panel 2, 3, 4: This sequence of tight zooms comes at a staccato pace, which quickly draws us in to Ryan’s POV as he launches an application and starts up an email. Not much to add here other than the crystal clarity of the action and the close-up of his face, centered on the page, which again underscores that what’s about to follow is from his POV.

Panel 5: Probably the most interesting thing about this panel is its atypical size and shape. I’m wondering if it’s purely a functional conceit, that in order for us to be able to recognize and understand the “to” line in the email app, and the intended addressee, that we needed a long, flat, wide panel that allows us to get that close to the information in order to be able to read it. In any case, I like it because it’s more evidence, as the whole page is, that Ryan is very comfortable with panel to panel storytelling mechanics in lieu of any expository dialogue.

Panel 6, 7, 8, 9: I like the way that we’re flipping back and forth between big shots which pause our attention, and quick bursts of panels in rapid fire succession. This is probably my favorite on the page, because while the whole string of panels tells us what’s going on clearly, we also see that each individual shot is a slightly different emotional moment. In panel 6, we see Ryan pause in thought as he’s about to begin. In panel 7, we see him dive in and commence confidently. In panel 8, we see him stop dead in his tracks and redact the too-formal salutation. This shot is probably my favorite for the way Ryan captures the quick “delete, delete, delete” as be backspaces furiously on the keyboard in the manner we’re all so familiar with. Finally, in panel 9, we see pleased reconciliation as Ryan settles on the greeting he feels is appropriate given the relationship he has with Dr. Harry Polkinhorn.


"On The Internet, Everyone Is Famous For 15 People"

It’s a small little bit of news that marks nothing more than a personal milestone, but this is the 1,000th post at 13 Minutes.

5.25.11 Releases

Man, what a thin week. Perhaps the most interesting “high risk, high reward” proposition is Strange Adventures #1 (DC), which promises sci-fi contributions by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, Jeff Lemire, and a cover by Paul Pope, but for $7.99, even at 80 pages, it really needs to bring the thunder. The Big Two seem to be really pushing the anthology-with-indie-contributors paradigm lately, so hopefully this one pays off. Joe Casey and Mike Huddleston offer up the next installment of Butcher Baker Righteous Maker #3 (Image), and while I’ve enjoyed it fairly passively, it doesn’t seem to be blowing me away. It had better get somewhere fast, or I’ll start feeling like the tongue-in-cheek-egotism-or-is-it? back matter by Casey will be the only real interesting draw. This could be a make or break issue for the series and my continued support. Finally, on the collected edition front, we have the stunning DV8: Gods & Monsters TPB (DC/WildStorm) by Brian Wood and Rebekah Isaacs. Not to get all hyperbolic, but I’m pretty sure I said “this is Brian Wood’s Watchmen” on more than one occasion, because, while it tells a mysterious tale in flashback during debrief, it also deconstructs the super powered being paradigm in the process.


20th Century Boys: 06

It’s interesting that the jump from the turn of the century to 2014 is now referred to as “Bloody New Year’s Eve” without any explanation to date. It’s such a fantastically intriguing hook. All of the scenes in Chin Po Ro Chinese Restaurant are highly entertaining thanks to Kanna’s crazy boss, you can almost imagine someone like Ken Jeong playing him in that high-pitched screaming style. This volume essentially breaks down into two tracks, the first involves Kanna and a do-gooder young detective named Chono looking for a cross-dressing prostitute named Britney, who may have something to do with uncovering a plot to assassinate the Pope! Chono wishes to rise to the level of his legendary cop grandfather Cho-San, and ends up encountering some familiar faces of corruption. The second track concerns the Orwellian arrest of a young manga artist and his induction into Umihotaru Prison, which is a Riker’s Island style environment in the middle of Tokyo Bay. He’s unceremoniously marched in, probed anally, sent to solitary, and meets up with a prisoner initially known only as “the monster.” Urasawa really seems fascinated with the notion of dual identities, in a reflexive bit of exposition, the young manga artist reveals that in his book about a plot to take over the world and its savior (the reason he was arrested), the savior actually is revealed to be the bad guy plotting. This only fuels the suspicion that Kenji (who we know now is missing, not dead necessarily) might be Friend. It reminds me of the protagonist’s portrayal in Urasawa’s own book Monster, suggesting that perhaps the serial killer and the doctor hunting him are split personalities of the same person. Definitely seems to be a theme that Naoki Urasawa is fascinated with. In a nice reveal, we learn that the “monster” prisoner is none other than “Shogun,”’ aka: Otcho. His view is that Kanna is the last hope, and he and the young manga artist must escape the prison at all costs to save her. There are a lot of twists and turns in this issue, and it gave me a vibe like I felt in Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects, that some unseen force is manipulating events, pulling strings, to get people like this even in the same room as each other. Another thematic thread, like the dual identity concept, that keeps popping up is one of anti-authoritarianism. It seems that anyone in a position of authority can’t be trusted, whether they’re cops, low-level bureaucrats, or even elected officials, corruption and hidden agendas run rampant, all the way to the top. Even young detective Chono seems trustworthy, yet he is so naïve and gullible, that makes him a liability, so he also can’t be trusted. Overall, the anti-establishment ideals suggest, once again, that Naoki Urasawa is deeply fascinated by self-determination and a generation of Japanese youngsters who must learn to make their own future and be in charge of their own destiny without reliance on external influences. People are now getting introduced and killed in very little turn around time, there’s plenty of betrayal, mystery, action, and humor, all escalating… proving that the series has it all and plays it well. And of course, who is “Number 13?”


5.18.11 Reviews

DMZ #65 (DC/Vertigo): [DMZ Countdown Clock™: 7 Issues Remaining] The opening shot of the USA forces forcibly reclaiming 75% of Manhattan is an attention grabber, in part because of the visual callback it pulls to the very first page of the very first issue of the entire series, with the map of Manhattan drawn as the DMZ. There's some eerie parity with the photo of the FSA Commander being released, when out here in the real world (prologue to DMZ?) the controversy over releasing the photos of Bin Laden has been swirling. It’s just another angle to demonstrate how timely, prescient, and relevant the series has always been. As the 10 year (!) Second American Civil War seems to be in its final death pangs, Brian Wood asks the question, after the ferocity of this final push, what will be left? There’s a nice trick in the voice over narration here, where the feed we’ve grown accustomed to as Liberty News actually turns out to be series protagonist Matthew Roth speaking in a story he’s reporting. The end of the Free States Rising arc takes us into a military tribunal for Parco Delgado. While the guy had some strange bedfellows with the FSA, and reveals definitively what we’ve long expected actually happened with the nuke, shit, the poor guy, all Parco ever really wanted to do was take care of the city in his own way, and he gets labeled an insurgent traitor for it. I can’t help but think after Matty learned of what happened with Wilson, he didn’t want to see the same fate for Parco. His testimony is nail-biting, his omission protects Matty, and as Matty asks the pertinent question “What would Zee do?” we see that the question he’s faced with is a matter of integrity. His choices are to do the right thing or to do the easy thing. If he tells the full truth, it will likely cost more lives. If he lies, maybe it saves lives. It’s the question Wood has been asking all of his protagonists to make as they grow into adults, the right thing vs. the easy thing, the right thing vs. the easy thing - it’s a like a mantra that must be answered in order for their identity quests to resolve. Remarkably, Matty is able to create his own unique path in this mess by telling a “good lie” of rich moral complexity in order to save some lives and hopefully expedite the end of the war in the process. If this holds, this dude really is a hero and has redeemed himself in the process. The type of hero that rings so much more true and meaningful than anything a superhero ever did. Even the living city of New York seems to respond with hope, notice how the graffiti scrawls in the background have gone from saying “God Hates NYC” and “Every Day is 9/11” to “We Love NYC.” There’s a part of me that wants to end this review right there, but I’d be remiss in not remarking on the art of Riccardo Burchielli. At some point when I saw the USA troops taking stray FSA troops into custody, I thought damn, not only is this art great, but it’s so much more polished and accomplished than Burchielli’s strong pencils appeared years ago. The guy has grown from being a rising star into a rightful superstar level of talent. If you’re not dedicating a portion of your spending power to DMZ, you’re really missing out on something special. Please join us for more at LIVE FROM THE DMZ. Grade A+.

Invincible Iron Man #504 (Marvel): I’ve been feeling like this title lost its way a bit some time around the switch to the 500 numbering schema and the arc involving Doc Ock, but this seems to be getting back on track a bit. Fraction seems to be managing a nice balance between the Iron Man-centric story needs and the needs of the Fear Itself crossover (I guess it helps that he’s writing both). As usual, Fraction is mining history by bringing both The Grey Gargoyle and Bethany Cabe onto the board. Essentially, this issue examines how the events of Fear Itself are impacting Stark Resilient, when there’s nothing left to rebuild in the wake of Asgard’s departure from Midgard. Blah, blah, seven Asgardian objects falling from the sky and our group has to investigate. It’s not a bad issue, but it’s also not chock full of the things that made it so successful in the first place. I did like the line “mayday - - Avengers - -“ though, and in spite of it all, it’s still one of the, if not “the,” best straight up superhero things happening at the moment. Grade A-.

Uncanny X-Force #10 (Marvel): This title is getting frustrating because in the space of just a couple of off issues, it’s gone from being “great” to merely “good.” So, the Shadow King wants to discredit both the X-Men and the Avengers by outing the hit squad through negative PR. That’s smart and creative. Archangel attempts to respond to the thing in the way only he can, and Logan has finally had enough and must stop him. There’s less of the entertaining Remender machinations here, less of his trademark humor, and seemingly more attention paid to setting up yet another X-Men crossover. Instead of the examination of morality we like on this title, it’s now Dark Beast and a sweep off to the Age of Apocalypse to save Warren from being the Heir of Apocalypse with some Celestials doodad. Yawn. On the art front, it’s just all over the place. There’s no consistency whatsoever from Tan. His first issue saw him very convincingly trying to ape Jerome Opena (probably thanks to some great inks and colors), to a second issue that was a large departure, looking like his scratchy older stuff, to something now in this third issue that looks like a passive swipe at Jim Lee (see Wolverine’s break through the window). This could have been the best X-Men book on the stands (those first 4 issues still live up), but now it’s slipping toward being just another in the flood of X-books. This issue also contains a full length bonus book, Iron Man 2.0 #3, which I enjoyed. I’m not going to go out and buy it or anything, but I didn’t hate it. Grade B.


Grinding It Out

And Then One Day #9: Page 18 (Elephant Eater): Panel 1, 2, 3, 4: Did you ever hear film critic Roger Ebert say that “a good movie is not about what it’s about, but about *how* it’s about what it’s about?” Yeah, that’s what I’m thinking about right now. This page is a prime example of this phenomenon. If you just coldly explain to someone what this page is about, all it really amounts to is “Ryan wakes up.” But when you critically look at how he relays that information visually, how it’s compressed into so few panels, how he controls the passage of time, how the panel transitions link from one to the next, it’s a pretty impressive display of artistry that's more about the “how” that’s happening than the “what” that’s happening. In the night sequences, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Ryan ink this dark before and it’s a treat to see his ability with shadows, negative space, silhouettes, and light-sourcing. It’s kind of cracking me up, but you could probably go back through the review archives and count the numerous times during this issue I’ve said “I don’t think I’ve ever seen Ryan do BLANK like this before…” In addition to the smaller figure scale that I’ve been enjoying so much, I love how this panoramic widescreen shot is divided into four panels visually and then broken down a step further between day and night. The panel(s) control your eye, they control the passage of time, and guide you through a sequence that relays a lot of information without any dialogue. Sheesh. This is absolutely Grade A+ work, on par with someone like Frank Miller, and I’m talking old Daredevil and Batman Frank Miller, not that drunken buffoon I saw a couple of years ago at the Eisner Awards that’s been schlocking out movies.

Panel 5: What’s cool about this panel is not only that is appeals to the voyeur in me as we peek through Ryan’s bedroom window as he slumbers, but that the way the shot is framed allows us to know exactly where we’re at outside. The window is set in between the large palm tree to the left and another tree to the right, so we’re sure that we’ve zoomed into the right side of the building, probably to the 3rd floor. It’s just so… precise and well thought out. Nothing is left to chance, it’s an exact recreation of events, which brings us back to the core premise of this issue (the entire series really) of examining the relationship of autobiographical content to the influence of the “teller” of the information and where it lies on the truth vs. fiction continuum.

Panel 6: As astounding as the first sequence is, this is probably my favorite single panel on this page, for two very different reasons. One, it’s placed in the center of the page so that your eye really settles there first. It’s fitting because this is the “money shot” of Ryan waking up, which is the primary narrative element of the entire page. You can look at this one single panel (though why would you want to ignore everything else?) and be informed about everything you need to know to understand the story. The second reason I love it is because it’s an angle we’ve never seen before, shooting the figure laying down from an interesting angle, and we get to see Ryan’s bed-head, his visage without glasses, his squinty eyes as he wakes, and the wonderful “blink blink” bubbly-pop that perfectly captures the begrudging ennui of waking up. If you’re anything like me (read: not a morning person), then you can certainly identify with this effect.

Panel 7: Ryan swings the camera around the room and captures himself from the opposite angle, and through the process of closure, we grasp that he’s sat up and is pulling his t-shirt down over his head. There’s nothing extremely notable here; it’s drawn well and I like the way that he’s not afraid to tackle odd poses and motions. I mean, how many artists can draw someone pulling a t-shirt over their head convincingly? Not to denigrate another genre or anything, but I think this pose is much harder than drawing a muscle bound Superman posing over some banged up robots or whatever. This is real life, people, and basic anatomical figure drawing is becoming more and more of a lost art.

Panel 8, 9, 10: I like the quiet nature of this morning routine, it really nails the mood that we’ve all experienced. Ryan is dutifully going about his morning, still half asleep, hair still all jacked up, and pouring that cereal. Maybe it’s a little odd that the cereal box doesn’t have any product information on it since Ryan has been so absolutely generous with detail, but I’m totally nitpicking here. If nothing else, he missed out on a great product placement opportunity! Sell that ad space to Cheerios or Fruity Booty or “13 Min-Oats” or whatever! The last panel is a great little zoom shot as Ryan fires up his computer. I really enjoy the embedded sound effects and the fact that you can hear the “WHIRRRRR” of the disc drive really lets you know how quiet this entire scene has been.

20th Century Boys: 04 & 05

I read these together, like back to back, so I thought I’d just cram my thoughts together too. Nobody really cares, right? I mean, I’m the one catching up here, presumably anyone interested enough to read reviews of 20CB has already made themselves current and is on like Volume 14 anyway, right? So, Naoki Urasawa moves the plot forward significantly in these volumes. We learn than Shogun is really Otcho, who was thought long lost abroad. I’m really digging his character, clearly he knows more about what’s going on in the world than he seems to be revealing to the group. Yukiji (probably my favorite character) has left her role as a Customs Offcier, Kenji has officially been labeled as a terrorist (the “Kenji Faction”) by the government, people have actually seen the prophesized Giant Robot, and the FDP political party is now in power, with enigmatic Manjome Inshu having infiltrated the government at a very high level.

I love seeing Yukiji begin to exert influence over the group, because as a woman, that really subverts the traditional gender roles in a story like this. With her addition, the group stands at 7, but according to the Book of Prophecy, there are 9 warriors. Because of that, Kenji directs the attempted recruitment of Yanbo and Mabo, their childhood tormentors, who have apparently become shrewd but compassionate businessmen in the tech sector, but appear to be in collaboration with Manjome Inshu! Urasawa balances so many plot threads and characters that it’s nice to have him loop in these quick flashbacks to refresh your understanding of who Yanbo and Mabo are. Kenji and his niece are living an interesting existence, busking on the streets in disguise, sort of hiding in plain sight as they eat steamed pork buns in the sewers, until he decides to leave her with his mom. There’s an interesting pause before the Giant Robot attack, multiple global terrorist events, and panic ensues, in which the group considers quitting just before 12/31/2000 since there haven’t been any incidents for 3 years. One of the things that makes Kenji a compelling character is that he’s so compassionate toward his fellow members, repeatedly giving them chances to opt out of participation, which culminates with the solemn line “please… don’t any of you die tonight.” We learn why “Eyeball Otcho” designed the symbol the way he did, and what role manga, specifically Shonen Sunday played in the design.

In a MAJOR narrative jump, Urasawa flashes us forward 14 years to 2014, and I’m dying to know if this is going to stick, or we’re going to flip back to around the 2000 time frame. We see Kanna grown to age 17, contending with a hilarious head chef boss, and herself quite adept at martial arts, shooting techniques, speaking multiple languages, and resolving neighborhood organized crime disputes prior to a papal visit, all while apparently immune to bullets! Her dedication to ramen is an interesting note about the importance of cuisine to any culture, and this thread culminates in a sad sweet tribute to her Uncle Kenji. Urasawa continues his ear for amazing dialogue, blowing me away in one sequence with his ability to mimic accents. We see Yukiji attempting to live up to Kenji’s wish that she look after Kanna, and these exquisite self-referential touches to manga with her landlords who, rather than focusing on romance comics, should be telling a “gripping drama about men who save the world from annihilation.” There’s a mysterious feeling to this whole thing, but 20th Century Boys also has such incredible heart, and it all makes me think about how it relates to what Urasawa is ultimately saying about his country and its future destiny.

Artistically, there’s so many little touches that I appreciate so deeply. One small example is that when Otcho mentions he was able to buy a couple of Tokarevs, a Colt Trooper, and a Beretta off the street, the illustrations of the guns are dead ringers for the actual objects. I was able to identify the Tokarevs as such before I even read the line of dialogue. Maybe it’s because I worked in law enforcement or whatever, but one of the most annoying little things is when artists can’t draw guns realistically, much less as identical examples of their real world counterparts. Urasawa’s cityscapes and backgrounds continue to impress me, packed with so much realistic detail that I find myself wondering if this is photo-referencing, and to what degree. One of the most telling ways you can tell the creator has such a masterful handle on his craft is the way panels are arranged on the page. For example, in the horrific action sequences with the global terror attacks, the panel gutters are all skewed and the panels themselves are sharp parallelograms that emphasize the movement and sense of energy to the action. I also have been noticing that the panel gutters are thin when traversing horizontally from right to left, but then they get wider as you skid down the page vertically. This is a subtle thing, but it keeps your eye on track and tells you where to go next almost at a subconscious level. It’s actually quite brilliant and is something that most American comics just don’t do.

It's A Fanzine #51 @ Poopsheet Foundation

Check out my latest review over at Poopsheet Foundation.

Monty Comix #2 @ Poopsheet Foundation

Check out my latest mini-comic review over at Poopsheet Foundation.


Grinding It Out

And Then One Day #9: Page 17 (Elephant Eater): Panel 1: Man, there’s so much going on in this page, as it appears that Ryan is returning home from his meeting with Dr. Polkinhorn at SDSU. I like the first panel because it seems to add so much context to the action taking place. Ryan appears as just one player in a much larger world of activity. There are cars, other people, and a bustling atmosphere. I really do enjoy this diminutive figure scale and the detail he’s able to cram in.

Panel 2: If you thought the first panel was a smaller scale that possessed high detail, then this panel ups the ante even further. We pull out to reveal the larger cityscape, clouds vanishing on the horizon as far as the eye can see, a busy intersection as we track Ryan’s tiny path through the chaos, and the entire vibe is one of contemplation, pause, or introspection as Ryan, and his audience by extension, can now reflect on the copious amount of information we absorbed through the first dozen pages or so. It seems like I keep repeating myself, but perhaps *this* panel is the smallest figure scale I’ve seen Ryan work at? The panel size is already relatively small, less than a 1/4th page, not quite a 1/9th size, and the detail is just staggering, receding into oblivion.

Panel 3, 4, 5, 6: This grouping of panels is a quick sequence that is very efficient because it gets several actions across, but doesn’t waste a lot of precious page real estate doing so. It’s also a rapid fire reminder of what an effective storyteller Ryan is from a sheer panel to panel perspective. These transitions are so tight, and so connected, that it almost spoils the reader because we don’t have to do a lot of work providing closure in the gutters.

Panel 7: There’s been a “raging debate” over Ryan’s automobile illustrations brewing across the interwebs during this issue of ATOD. Here, it’s very clear to me that Ryan is using photoreference of actual distinct makes and models, as he pointed out last time, and not simply drawing generic cars. You can clearly make out specific trucks, SUVs, and other types of vehicles. If I could offer just one further tiny little suggestion, it would be for Ryan to increase the relative size of the wheels and tires so that the wheel wells were filled in a little more and the space they occupy would be a larger proportion of the overall size of the vehicle. Since I live in San Diego, where this story is set, I’m always trying to make out backgrounds, and I wonder if Ryan intended this to be a specific street/block in SD. It’s also interesting that Ryan goes “widescreen” in the middle of the page. You’d think you’re eye would naturally be drawn to this panel, and it is briefly, but then it’s actually drawn down to the weight of the next panel. When I consciously track what my eye does across this page, it seems to work in three layers. One, I’m pulled immediately over to the cluster of panels 3, 4, 5, 6. I take that in, pause, and then two, dive into the widescreen of this panel. Three, my eye gets pulled down to panel 8. It’s a nice visual throughline of attention that traverses a diagonal line from top right to bottom left. I’m not sure if that’s significant or not, but I’m always interested in noting my own, almost involuntary, reactions to stuff like this.

Panel 8: Ryan does another Family Circus homage with the dotted line pathway trailing behind the protagonist. At first, I thought this was just a little flourish that he was doing for style points. Then, I realized that it’s a pretty good tool to use in order to save space. Were he to attempt this another way, he could either A) do the same panel, but without the dotted line, which wouldn’t really emphasize any motion, or B) split the action over (at least) two panels, with the first showing him riding down the sidewalk, and then the second showing him going up or already atop the incline. As is, he’s able to really show at least two panels worth of activity and direction all in one, with style points as a bonus. Cool.

Panel 9: Not a lot to say in this last panel, other than I like the camera placement, because it’s much lower than eye level, shooting up the side of the building and toward the sky. You don’t get this angle a lot in comics. That’s that, and I’m still very curious to see where this goes next!

5.18.11 Releases

There’s lots of odds and ends this week, but by far I’m most anticipating DMZ #65 (DC/Vertigo), which wraps up the Free States Rising arc and will officially mean that there are only 7 issues of the series remaining. Rocketeer Adventures #1 (IDW) looks like it could be interesting, a four issue mini-series featuring original stories by Alex Ross, John Cassaday, Kurt Busiek, Michael Kaluta, etc. To complement the offering, IDW also has Rocketeer #1: Hundred Penny Edition, which is a classic for just $1. It seems that Image Comics is jumping on the $1 bandwagon, also offering Image Firsts: Jack Staff #1 and Image Firsts: Orc Stain #1, among others, all for only $1. Between Invincible Iron Man #504 (Marvel) and Uncanny X-Force #10 (Marvel), it looks like I’ll be getting my superhero fix in. The House of Ideas is also offering Alpha Flight #0.1 (Marvel), which actually stands a decent chance of making it home. I think this is also the first time a Point One issue is landing prior to the official start of the series, so that could be interesting. I don’t know how it happened, but for some reason I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Alpha Flight, despite numerous atrocious relaunches. On the graphic novel front, Paying For It HC (Drawn & Quarterly) by Chester Brown is finally out, chronicling his adventures in the world of prostitution in high sociological fashion. It promises to be “the most talked about graphic novel of 2011,” and I’d sure like to validate that claim.

Modern Pirates Debut

Modern Pirates (Sixty Seven Ideas): Bobby Peters’ second venture into the world of self-published mini-comics is an improvement from his strong first attempt, in that we now get a feature length tale rather than a collection of shorts. There’s something vaguely “Tony Millionaire” about his sophomore aesthetic. It’s there in the content, the way the objects lay on the page with various line weights here and there. In fact, the entire adventure operates with the same type of whimsical earnest that you might find in Millionaire’s more recent works like Billy Hazelnuts. The story revolves around Caribbean pirates landing in modern day Miami Beach, trying to “find someone with a beard,” which supposedly indicates a person of some authority, while they attempt to find a place to bury their loot and bumble a bank robbery in the process. The humor does fall a little flat in spots, but you can see the high concept Peters is working with, it’s a solid one, and it’s something akin to the Scurvy Dogs comics that Ryan Yount put out a few years ago. Peters takes standard pirate tropes and lays them over a modern setting to create humor from the kooky mismatch. For more from Bobby Peters, check out www.sixtysevenideas.com Grade B+.

Second Installment of PLFR

Pretty Ladies Fighting Robots #2 is the continuation of Chris Schneider’s web-comic wonder. I still long for a print version or a dedicated web-site for this new talent, but maybe Schneider will consider one day plunging into the world of print when more installments of this story are in the can and can be collected. The art is strong enough and the story is entertaining enough for it to be commercially viable in my mind. If I had to create a capsule pitch for this property, I’d say that it takes the self-aware humor of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and pairs it with Danger Girl style action. It’s fun cute girls with guns! The style of humor is present in the team introductions, the anticipation of one-liners from fellow team members, and the way that scene direction is embedded in the background sound effects. The way that the well intentioned, but misguided, efforts of the pretty ladies fly around the page makes me think of Tabitha (aka: Boom Boom) in Warren Ellis’ Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. send-up. The silent beat panels allow the humor to function breathlessly. Visually, the colors are brilliant and make the pages pop. There are also some forced perspective shots that make the silent transition panels really hum with life. Unlike the first installment, which was largely set-up, we get pretty ladies actually fighting robots this time, and it’s a treat. Schneider runs through the panels with swift plotting and renders action (I liked the smoking rubble bits myself) as well as he does the quips or the talking heads sequences. Chet is an interesting character because he’s the relatively weakest person on screen and continually suggests an anti-violence approach, while the girls are hell bent on revenge. This really inverts the stereotypical gender roles and that’s energy which I enjoy. This might not be quite as LOL funny as the first installment, but it’s still a lot of fun, with engaging art, and I’m anxiously awaiting Chet’s revenge on Robo-Friend, and hope, hope, maybe a print version some day. More information can be found at: http://scoogle.deviantart.com/gallery/#/d3g2kes
Grade A-.

Looting A Dead Corpse: 04 (Final Edition)

I actually didn't plan on going back, but at their request, I met up with some family late on Friday afternoon for a final sortie into the Borders Wasteland. Stock on hand had probably dwindled by 50% since I'd been in the the last two days, and mobs of people were now systematically combing the aisles getting their maximum savings on everything under the sun. Minimum discount was 75%, and that ran up to 90% on some select items. It was kind of all over the map in terms of what we ended up buying. I picked up a couple kids books for 75% off, cookbooks for 75% off, and I also grabbed the last copy of one of the Philip Roth books I mentioned before, called THE HUMBLING for 80% off. This rendered a $22 book just over $4. I picked up Koren Zailckas’ second novel FURY. I really enjoyed her first book SMASHED, and she’s one of the most exciting young writers to enter the scene for me in the last 5 years.

On the manga and graphic novel front, it was up to 80% off, so I just couldn’t refuse grabbing THE MURDER OF KING TUT in hardcover for $6, featuring some Chris Mitten art, PENDRAGON, featuring Carla Speed McNeil art, for $2, THE LITTLE PRINCE adapted by Joann Sfar in hardcover for a mere $5, THE CHILL for $4, which is one of those little Vertigo Crime hardcovers, and volumes 2, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14 of Naoki Urasawa’s MONSTER for just $2 each. As I’ve said before, it’s not my favorite work of his, but for $2 it’s just too ridiculous not to buy. I can’t resist a good deal. When you spend only $80 on a massive stack of books and your receipt says that you saved nearly $250 at the bottom, yeah, that’s a good deal.

Farewell, Borders Carmel Mountain. Borders Gaslamp has also closed downtown, but there’s still Borders Mission Valley and a couple more out in the South and East County, so I’ll keep my eye out for their possible demise. It’s kind of amazing to me how expensive books are to begin with and what the mark-up entails, not to mention the obviously bloated overhead of stores like this. They’re burning millions of dollars on staff, lighting, fixtures, etc., before you even consider the inventory cost. It’s been an interesting socioeconomic experience to observe this little slice of capitalism crumble.

Blogger Go Boom

As I’ve been reporting over the weekend, during “routine maintenance” (famous last words), Blogger took a major cloud fart in the latter part of last week, which caused them to revert to an old version, which meant they backed up until Wednesday, which meant that I lost all posts and comments that had been created for the two days following. From what I can tell, this means that I only actually lost 5 posts. It’s definitely annoying. At first, I was very hopeful because the Blogger team appeared to be communicating fairly promptly and quite transparently to their vast army of users. Some time around Friday night though, they claimed nearly everything was restored, though only a single one of my posts had been restored, and of course it was one of the least important ones. And then all went dark for the weekend. At this point, the final update has been made and there’s nothing further to wait on, my content is lost. My sympathies to anyone who lost even more content to the ether, or worse yet, some form of revenue. I really don’t have the energy to recreate the 2 meatier posts. In any case, here’s basically what you missed;

Reviews @ Poopsheet Foundation: I posted my usual links to my mini-comics and small press reviews over at the Poopsmith Foundry, which included THE GREATEST STORY EVERY TOLD by Rey King, SIGH FI TALES #1 by Macedonio, and OWE APOSTROPHE by O’Shell. Luckily, this content exists over at PF. I can’t honestly wholeheartedly recommend any one of these books, but if I had to choose one for the sake of solidarity, I would definitely go with OWE APOSTROPHE for it’s sparse art style that kinda’ goes a little Ivan Brunetti at times, while highlighting the universal generational gap between father and son. Check them out if you’re so inclined.

Weekly Reviews @ 13 Minutes: I reviewed 3 books for 5/11/11, which included NORTHLANDERS #40 (DC/Vertigo) by Brian Wood and Matthew Woodson, BATMAN INCORPORATED #6 (DC) by Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham, and THE LONE RANGER #25 (Dynamite Entertainment) by Brett Matthews, John Cassaday, and Sergio Cariello. NORTHLANDERS was a terrific one-shot issue focusing on a hunter contemplating his own identity and purpose in life as he tracked an elusive deer. Woodson’s art was breathtaking and I rated it a Grade A. BATMAN INCORPORATED surprised me with a coherent Morrison script that paired Silver Age glee with a robust Bat Family as Bruce begins to franchise globally. That’s a nice hook and I might be tracking down the back issues. Burnham’s art was a delicious blend of Frank Quitely sinew and George Perez detail, and this also received a Grade A. THE LONE RANGER was actually the final issue of the series, which delivered solid action, but wasn’t quite as contemplative as previous issues. The art was strong, Cariello was channeling his usual 1960’s Joe Kubert vibe, but it did stumble in clarity just a pinch. Overall, the series is quite a success, but the last issue only landed a Grade B+.

Third Trip @ Borders Apocalypse Now Sale: I’ve been chronicling my adventures to the Borders nearest my house, which is shutting down. My third trip saw me taking advantage of the progressive discount sale with 70% off a three volume sampler of Naoki Urasawa’s MONSTER. I like elements of it, but it’s not my favorite Urasawa book, as compared to PLUTO: URASAWA X TEZUKA or the epic 20TH CENTURY BOYS. There are some interesting criminal profiling notes in MONSTER that appeal to the law enforcement guy in me, but the retro robot affection present in PLUTO captures my heart, while the pop political statements influenced by post-WWII reconstructionism in Japan permeating 20TH CENTURY BOYS captures my mind. Here’s a teaser, expect a fourth (and final) post regarding yet another (my last, I promise!) trip to Borders, which occurred late on Friday. It was crazy.


Blogger Status Update

I really appreciate transparent communication. In case you're wondering where the recent posts have gone, the Blogger team explains recent technical difficulties. We should be back to normal shortly with no loss of fidelity.

UPDATE: By "shortly," I guess I meant a few hours. From what I can recall with my feeble human brain, we're missing just 4 posts, and one of them has now returned.

UPDATE 2: I've been perusing the Blogger message boards and people are *really* pissed off. Sure, it's very frustrating. This *shouldn't* happen when content-on-the-cloud is supposedly a business' core competency and all. It *is* scary to think about potentially losing content, which I didn't save elsewhere, and I'm sure some people are missing dozens of posts and comments, hopefully temporarily, and it's not like I rely on this service to generate revenue or for a livelihood or anything. But... I do have to say that, for me personally, I post a lot, daily, and this is only the second time in 6 years that I've had any problems with a FREE service. So, big picture and all, I'm just saying...

UPDATE 3: Hrmmm... as of 7:46pm PST, Blogger is saying that "nearly all posts have been restored," yet as it turns out I'm still missing half a dozen or so. That sucks. Oh well, they're saying that they'll continue restoring removed content through the weekend, so I'll keep my fingers crossed, but I don't have a good feeling about this. If I lose the content, I'll do a quick summary post recapping what was lost. Sucks.

UPDATE 4: Uhh... yeah... I guess everyone at Blogger (Google) went home for the weekend, because nothing has changed since the last update over 12 hours ago. I don't think I'll be getting my lost content back. Dumb. I really tried to give them the benefit of the doubt and believe that all will be resolved, but if you say "nearly all posts have been restored" and I only have 20% restored, then I say "Mountan View, we have a problem." At this point, I don't even want to mess with it. I'll give it until Monday morning and if all is lost, I'll attempt the summary post to recap what was lost. It's not like the content lost will be irreplaceable or anything, I'm just kinda' bummed at disrupting my streak. I've been doing weekly reviews without missing a single week for almost 6 years, and this loss of fidelity will now be the only gap. Blogger Go Boom.

UPDATE 5: Well, the last update fom Blogger says that all work has been completed and if you're still missing posts to check your drafts area because the posts might be saved as drafts and need to be re-published. No such luck for me, I don't see anything saved as a draft, so without any other recourse, I'm going to call the posts losts and charge ahead. I understand that the vast majority of users had their content retrieved, but for me personally, this operation was a fail. Time to upgrade to Wordpress or another service as many friends have urged?


Sigh Fi Tales #1 @ Poopsheet Foundation

Check out my latest mini-comic review over at Poopsheet Foundation.



DMZ VOLUME 02: BODY OF A JOURNALIST is now broadcasting LIVE FROM THE DMZ. For those who might have missed it, LIVE FROM THE DMZ is my site dedicated to Brian Wood’s Vertigo classic about a not-too-distant-future America plunged into the Second American Civil War. The site takes a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the series, volume by volume, with interviews, never-before-seen concept art, and more, as we count down to final issue #72 in December. There’s nothing else quite like it out there and it’s done with the full cooperation of Brian Wood.


Black Eye Only Funny South of the Border

Black Eye #1: Graphic Transmissions To Cause Ocular Hypertension (Rotland Press): Editor Ryan Standfest follows up last year’s robust Funny (not funny) with a continued exploration of black humor, both its function and its historical context. The $14.95 anthology contains pieces by such luminaries in the field as Danny Hellman, Paul Hornschemeier, Ivan Brunetti, Lilli Carre, Jon Vermilyea, Michael Kupperman, Tom Neely, R. Sikoryak, Jeet Heer, and Brecht Evens, just to name a few notables and personal favorites.

Ryan Standfest emailed me with the generous offer of a review copy around the time that an interesting travel anecdote, nah, let’s call it what it is, a censorship story, was making the rounds on the web. The story has since been picked up by The Beat, The Comics Reporter, and the mighty CBLDF, as several self-respecting blogs write about it, and many creators have been all a-Twitter. It’s somewhat heartening to learn that Canadian Customs officials acted professionally and without brinksmanship when they seized copies of the book from Tom Neely, as he attempted to courier them to TCAF this past weekend. If nothing else, at least the people involved made the best out of a bad situation. They claimed that the material was “obscene,” and it’s not likely that it will be returned once it’s been properly reviewed by relevant authorities.

I’ve read the book, and while there are a few isolated panels, we’re talking less than 1% of the book here in terms of sheer page count, which sure do contain some images of fairly bloody violence and nudity, I don’t feel like it’s anything you wouldn’t see in a hard-edged R-rated movie. It also helps the case, in my mind, that the book is helmed under the guise of parody and satire, and the supposedly objectionable images are standing shoulder to shoulder with several scholarly essays. I wonder if the Canadian importation policies take into account the pervasive nature of the “offensive” content, the authorial intent of the pieces, or the surrounding context of the material? While the lawyers and academics can chew on these debate-worthy topics, let’s charge ahead and actually review the damn thing, which is something I’ve yet to see amid the deserved public outcry.

Standfest’s introduction lets you know exactly what you’re getting into with a healthy dose of tongue-in-cheek sarcasm. It’s almost as if some part of his brain anticipated backlash because he casually mentions that you shouldn’t take offense at the content, the creators are, after all, only responding to the culture of “death camp tourism” they reside in. In short, deep down you know you want it, so please don’t insult anyone by feigning shock. The pieces themselves are quite varied, ranging from still images filled with irony (a man sinking in his canoe and wishing he’d bought canoe insurance, but who knew?!), to a May desktop calendar chronicling potential life threatening injuries and noting the inherent risk in the world – so don’t be overly concerned, to faux period ads for beauty creams, correspondence courses, your very own Spear of Destiny, or animal groinologues (“elephant clit” or “camel box” or, well, “beaver beaver”), all done in such earnest that they’re rendered funny because the tropes all by themselves, with no affectation, are so outdated, to real honest to goodness comic strips. Yes, the strips. Like Onsmith’s single panels for example, which, I guess, are the panels in question that stopped Canadian officials in their tracks and triggered them to enforce their policies. Yes, there is a shocking level of honesty with which these two pages, all two of them, converge sex and violence. I don’t know what I can say other than that. I liked the pieces. I wasn’t offended. They rightfully function with the level of irony and dark humor the book purports to discuss. I thought, if anything, they actually poked fun and satirized the type of individual who would so callously dismiss this type of violence or depravity. Yeah, context is everything. I think it’s also worth noting that Onsmith’s strips are part of the very few which actually depict anything graphic. The vast majority of the pieces merely suggest it visually or describe it with words.

Moving along, I enjoyed the thick inky lines of David Paleo, who also handles Nazis later in the anthology with sharp aplomb. Roland Topor, who most people will recognize from his involvement with the film Fantastic Planet, offers up the coup entitled 100 Good Reasons to Kill Myself Right Now. In Memory of Brecht Evens’ Wife sees the titular creator (responsible for the recent critical darling Night Animals) touch on love and loss, the only “funny” thing about it being the depth of its emotional swing. In just two pages, he’s able to contribute perhaps the most beautiful prose and haunting imagery in the entire book. Ivan Brunetti’s sporadic shorts all operate with subversive intent, perhaps the most emblematic being the Popeye shot which completely subverts the familiarity of the character with a domestic abuse riff. Tom Neely delivers as he always does, sublimely melding his love of Gottfredson era Disney with the disturbing; here it’s the infamous Van Gogh ear story. The Guedin Brothers jointly entertain with styles that bounce from an almost Lynd Ward woodcut aesthetic and a South American kineticism reminiscent of the bulbous and dangerous art of Rafael Grampa. Martin Rowson examines the lost art of clown comedy in a piece that a certain Arkham Asylum inmate would appreciate, in a visual style on par with someone like Steve Parkhouse, who I last saw working with Joe Casey on The Milkman Murders. There’s the audacity of food rationing in FEMA Funnies, and Robert Goodin’s take on The Zombie Apocalypse, which slyly reduces it to nothing serious, just the dutiful sensibility of video game style killing.

Bob Levin contributes the first essay, on the writing of Michael O’Donoghue. While it’s true, we get knee deep into a discussion of 12 foot lizard rape, the utility of scantily clad women, and heroines being spanked, raped, and having their pubic hairs plucked out by renegade gypsies, it’s all telling and no showing. I’m still not offended. Along with Frank Springer’s aping of Steve Ditko’s style, the essay actually makes the point that these creators were engaged in comic mockery of the sexism, Cold War espionage, backyard cookouts, and bowling alley men’s club shenanigans of their day. Their unordered scripts and unrelenting pencils were so over-the-top that they sought to satirize the perils of the early 1960’s. This piece ends with a wise connection that shows the impact these guys had on the rise of underground comics.

Ryan Standfest writes an essay about the EC Comics convergence of humor and horror under the hand of Al Feldstein in the creation of Panic, which was the counterpart to MAD Magazine. Tom Neely illustrates the title page for the piece, and the duo make a very potent team. Standfest highlights the paranoia born of 1950’s culture and its impact to the publishing world. It seems the true enemy was the unseen enemy within, with sometimes irrational fears revealing people’s own insecurities. EC seemed to use an unsentimental sense of humor, with emotional detachment, and no respect for authority. Nothing was sacred, as the creators proved that horror, titillation, and gore were just as valid forms of escapism as humor or superheroics. In a story regarding a failed attempted prosecution, we see the emergence of the faux distinction between high culture and low culture, the drama having nothing to do with obscenity, but more of a class issue. It makes for an eerie parallel to the border crossing incident and I found myself muttering, “have we learned nothing about censorship in the last 60 years?” Standfest actually interviews Feldstein too, including a great footnote regarding a pro-censorship writer who went on to write tomes associated with domestic terrorist Tim McVeigh, itself bitter irony about any policy’s effectiveness in terms of just who it protects from what specifically.

Jeet Heer tackles the legacy of S. Clay Wilson and the clash of abstract impressionist notes with Pop Art. It proves that once reviled, now revered, artists are really a contemporary art hallmark that’s inclusive of the comics medium. It’s a cyclical paradigm shift, where once avant-garde artists must wait for the rest of society and their sensibilities to catch up. There’s a Steve Ditko essay that would make Rob Imes (Editor of the long-running Ditkomania Fanzine) very proud, with its discussion of this enigmatic and iconoclast creator and his Objectivist worldview.

Perhaps the biggest mystery to me is not whether the anthology crosses the boundaries of utterly subjective good taste, but just who the hell are “Rotwang Stumpholden” and “Steadman Flyfast?!” I’m guessing these are pseudonyms of Ryan Standfest, and if that’s the case, I can certainly sympathize with a fellow traveler blessed with a weird name that everyone must continually butcher. The creator(s) of Little Head Injuries and the 8-panel quarter page strips that are sprinkled throughout the work are among my favorites. They’re rampant with irony and a distinct line style that I love, just watch those oglers get sniped! You’ll know it when you see it. Man, I could use an entire book of just these pieces.

Black Eye certainly isn’t as linear or structured as its Funny (not funny) predecessor, but it’s just as potent and effective. It seems to me that in this volume, Standfest truly took on the role of Editor/Contributor more than the curatorial role that he occupied in Funny (not funny), and I think the work is more sophisticated because of it. Rather than being a guide, or the MC as he must have been in a publication that began life in a gallery setting, here he is merely an instigator, merely a gatekeeper who invites the reader in to absorb the disparate pieces for themselves and create their own timeline, their own lineage, their own mental connections, and sense of order. In the face of such an unbridled assumption that an intelligent audience will take away a rich, educational, and entertaining experience about a vital piece of artistic tapestry, it’s only natural that others might take away a more puerile intent, thinking that the creators are hitting hot button issues and using sex or violence merely for the sake of itself. What a shame. Grade A.


20th Century Boys: 03

The first thing I typed in my notes when reading this volume was that if I was in the story and began recognizing the pattern of San Francisco, London, and the other occurrences duplicating the childhood story, I’d be assembling the group to try and predict what action would come next. So, it was nice to see Kenji try (albeit unsuccessfully) to do just that a few pages later, and then to see Yukiji successfully pull this off in his stead by the end of the book. That’s the type of realism we often complain about two dimensional characters lacking.

I seem to always be struck by Urasawa’s clever use of language. Kenji tells this divergent anecdote about playing The Beatles one night on his guitar. He says “What’s that got to do with anything? Nothing, I guess I just remembered that it happened.” This passage is really sly because it tricks us into believing that Kenji is recounting a real story, where some of the details don’t exist to advance the plot mechanics as they must in fictional stories, they only exist because they’re the type of peripheral detail that inhabits real life.

Visually, Urasawa shows off some more of his range. I particularly liked the way that the members of the band at the Friend Concert even possessed a Western look. Urasawa’s style here came off something more like Terry Moore, as he depicted the subversive influence of Western style rock n’ roll. I also really enjoyed the simplicity of Kenji cooking fried rice and flipping the rice against the edge of the wok to mix it. The speed lines are just right, the wok has texture, and we instantly understand the motion. It’s a nothing sequence, but it was so rich with realism.

There are examples of continued mystery, big and small, all over this volume. Kenji’s niece Kanna is now standing, the identity of her father moves onto the board, and in a larger sense, Urasawa seems to be analyzing the role that music represents to his tale. I did wonder why Kenji didn’t simply attempt to tear off the mask of Friend at the concert, but by avoiding it, we’re able to draw out the mystery and introduce the theory of Friend’s identity potentially being Sadakiyo. Of course, it doesn’t prove anything definitively, only that whoever Friend is was aware that Sadakiyo wore such a mask as a child.

Fukube is introduced at the class reunion as another new classmate, and I feel like that starts to push things into a predictable pattern. Childhood friends are introduced as possibly being Friend, and then each new theory is dismissed as it’s disproven. We thought maybe it was Donkey (who could have faked his death to become Friend), but then learn he was killed, we then think it’s perhaps Otcho (who disappeared and could have assumed the visage), but then learn he was seen in India, in comes Sadakiyo, Fukube, etc. While the pattern runs the risk of being rote, it does lend a real sense of paranoia that the actual Friend might be still among the dwindling group of friends. The mystery now possesses the added twist of the “spoon bending incident,” and I was certainly moved by the attempted kidnapping of Kanna. The Friend Agents are attacking in swarms like brainwashed zombies in a chilling sequence.

It’s almost as if you see some of the characters now exhibiting psychological manifestations of survivor’s guilt, which I enjoy as a cultural stand-in for survivor’s guilt from the nuclear holocaust that punctuated the end of WWII. That thread also makes me wonder if Urasawa’s influence of post WWII reconstructionism not only causes the theme of free will vs. pre-determined fate, but also sends an inherent anti-war message as well. That’s certainly an additional theme I got from another of his works, Pluto: Urasawa X Tezuka, but I’m digressing. But, yes, I am already spreading out to begin reading another Urasawa book, the 8 volumes of Pluto that essentially retell and re-contextualize the famous story of Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy. End digression. For now! You’ll probably see me reviewing Pluto when I’m finally done with 20th Century Boys.

With the end of the world a couple of years away supposedly, the consequences of actions seems to be heating up. It’s interesting to view this through the lense of the debate between a pre-determined destiny or fate and man’s own free will. In other words, will there be strict adherence to The Book of Prophecy or will the kids manage to make their own future? There are cliffhangers, airport bombs, cities in danger, Yukiji providing a crash pad, and the rapid introduction of Shogun. There’s an exponential increase to the cast, pace, and stakes, which makes for one hell of a ride.