March 24, 2017

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Making Up a Mess of Fun

Previously on Panel Patter

Cover of the Next Week

Banana Splits/Suicide Squad by Ben Caldwell

Four banana three banana two banana one
All bananas playing in the bright warm sun
Flipping like a pancake popping like a cork
Fleagle Bingo Drooper and Snork

Greatest.  Comic.  Ever.  

The Banana Splits/Suicide Squad Special #1 features a cover and interior artwork by Ben Caldwell.


Royal City by Jeff Lemire

** Jeff Lemire on the Auto Factories, Indie Rock and Mystery of Royal City (Paste Magazine)-- Tobias Carroll interviews Jeff Lemire about his newest series out of Image Comics.  One of the things that really bugged me about the first issue was the cliched author with writer's block but Lemire talks a bit about that character.
Lemire: I just thought it would be fun to base one of the characters on myself, as I’ve never done that before. But instead of him just being me, he is me if I had made all the wrong decision in my life. He is me if I had really screwed up and made bad creative choices, bad life choices, etc. It’s sort of fun to self-destruct on the page so I don’t have to in real life.
Don't know if I like this character any more or less but it's an interesting approach to a character that's similar to the author.

This and That

Scout by Tim Truman

** Dystopic Homesick Blues: Scout: The Four Monsters by Tim Truman (Loser City)-- Tim Truman's Scout is one of my favorite series of all time so I appreciate Nick Hanover's survey of the first major storyline from this series.
In a conversation about some of the themes I saw in Scout, indigenous media critic James Leask told me that in the online indigenous community there is talk of “the idea that native peoples actually ARE living in a post-apocalyptic world, given the ongoing genocide against them that fundamentally changed their societies. In the view of the contemporary indigenous world as a post-apocalyptic one, there can be pain and pride in the survival of it, and wry observation of settlers discussing it as something new or forthcoming.”

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

** The Best We Could Do (The Comics Journal)-- Panel Patter alum Rob Kirby reviews Thi Bui's book at TCJ.
In her early twenties, Bui traveled back to Vietnam to meet her extended family. It was shortly afterward that she began to record the family’s history, hoping that “if I bridged the gap between past and present… I could fill the void between my parents and me.” Her narrative flashes back and forth in time, illustrating how larger events (war, dictatorship, immigration) shaped the family’s lives. She records her father’s traumatic, uprooted childhood in the 1950s (she calls him “Bố,” or “daddy”) and how he endured periods of living as a refugee with his abusive, philandering father in a country wracked with sociopolitical turmoil and poverty. Meanwhile, Bui’s mother (“Má”) grew up in privilege as a child of a civil engineer, shielded for many years from the dire conditions of much of the country. After marrying Bố, Má gives birth to multiple children, usually under extremely difficult conditions, including her daughter, Bích, right before the Tet Offensive in 1968; a stillborn child, Thảo, in Saigon in 1974; and her son Tâm in a UN refugee camp in Malaysia in 1978.

Altcomics from 2dcloud

** Minnesota Publisher 2dcloud is Gaining Ground in U.S. Alt-comics (AIGO)-- 2dcloud's comics are some of the best comics just to look at.  Their detail in packaging, from stapled zines to nicely produced books, perfectly fits the spirit of every book that they publish.  
The best way to start an alt-comics publishing company is by just doing so. Start with an anthology; seeing how difficult it is to get work from artists with little to no financial incentives makes it hard, but it’s also realistic. It can also be thrilling to get people whose work you have long admired involved, or to pay someone their very first check (even if it is an embarrassingly small amount)—it feels incredible, and is encouraging.
2dcloud is currently running a Kickstarter campaign for their Spring line of books.   You need these books.

** Quick Guide to Frank Santoro’s Grid Theories (Comic Workbook)-- Frank Santoro's concept of the grid just fascinates me.  I even ended up buying his school's handbook just to try to figure it out.  I'm putting this here just to link to a lot of his writing about how the comic page works.

Current Mood

March 22, 2017

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The Very Model of a Modern Man- a review of Joe Ollmann's The Abominable Mr. Seabrook

The Abominable Mr. Seabrook by Joe Ollmann
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

William Seabrook was a man who believed in experience. Whether that was learning about voodoo, eating with cannibals or tying women up, the man was ravenous for that next thrill. And as well as living all of those experiences, he wanted you to know that he had done all of that. His strange quest to eat human flesh, to say that he had dined with the cannibals, is the most sensationalistic portion of Joe Ollmann’s book The Abominable Mr. Seabrook but it shows so much of Seabrook’s obsession to be the man who was known to have done that. And it continued to define him even after he had published his accounts but he had started to realize that his experiences weren’t quite as authentic as even he thought they were. Even if Seabrook wanted to be known as the man who tried cannibalism, there’s also the strange desire to be authentic to his public persona.

That cannibalism is only one of the many colorful aspects of Seabrook’s life. Ollmann’s biography shows a man from a conservative upbringing who refused to conform to polite society. It’s not even that he was rebelling against his upbringing but more that Seabrook just was never satisfied. Whether it was the women in his life, the opportunities that he had to travel and to share his adventures or the self-destructive alcoholism that took over his later life, the story of Seabrook’s life is about a man who was looking for fulfillment. And near the closing days of Seabrook’s life, Ollmann hilariously reveals the possible reasons for Seabrook’s drive and it’s a reason that makes Seabrook very human far more ordinary than his adventurous pursuits would lead you to believe that he was. 

Tackling Seabrook as his subject, Ollmann’s almost deadpan humor gives you a bit of room to view Seabrook as something less than awful. It's Ollmann's straight-forward delivery that makes Seabrook's ugly actions somewhat palatable. Building his story on a tightly constructed 9-panel frame, Ollmann’s cartooning has a strong sense of forward momentum. And at first, that momentum is fueled by Seabrook’s own desires and hungers. But that momentum eventually turns from forward drive to an uncontrollable and directionless march toward drunken entropy as Seabrook loses himself in his bottles and demons.

From a distance, Seabrook really is a bit of a monster. O.k. He is actually a really big monster but Ollmann’s depiction of the man is also oddly charming. In trying to fulfill his many appetites, Seabrook leaves a trail of devastated women behind him. A contemporary of the Lost Generation of writers post World War I, Seabrook frames his desires and his actions around explore and expand not just his mind but America’s minds. As much as he was a journalist, Seabrook also believed that he was an explorer of new frontiers and it was his responsibility go where we couldn’t back in the 1920s and 1930s. As Ollmann writes and draws him, Seabrook is a man who believes in his own hype even as he knows that he can’t live up to it. 

Today, we would probably call Seabrook an adventure junkie, a guy who gets as drunk off of the thought of subjecting a woman to bondage as he does by drinking bottle after bottle of whatever alcohol he can get his hands on. But for all of his horrible qualities, Ollmann also captures the parts about Seabrook that appealed to and attracted lovers and friends. The cartoonist depicts that early-20th-century-male swagger in Seabrook, the man as comfortably at home entertaining high society over polite drinks as he was at being carried on a litter through the jungles of Africa. Seabrook isn’t any kind of he-man but he’s a charming man about town, ready to regale you with his voodoo and cannibalistic adventures.

In the grand scheme of history, William Seabrook has become a minor character but Joe Ollmann’s biography of Seabrook shows us a man who is as much a man of his times as he is of our times. In The Abominable Mr. Seabrook, we see a man who lives to satisfy his own needs and desires, something that’s as much of a transgression in the 1930s as it is in 2017. In that way, Seabrook is a modern man. For the most part, Ollmann is able to sidestep any obvious signifiers of time so that Seabrook’s story isn’t tied into the early 20th century anymore or less than it could be tied into the present day. Seabrook’s story is not merely history thanks to how Ollmann tells the story; it’s simply the story of a man who was never truly happy within the constraints of his own life.

March 19, 2017


"Horror to me is... a spot of blood on his shoe"-- Bernie Wrightson (1948-2017)

Whenever I think about Bernie Wrightson, I think about this clip from Masters of Comic Book Art, a fantastic 1980s era VHS video profiling some of the greatest artists of comics.

Best known for his work on Swamp Thing and his illustrations for Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, I don't know if you could say that there are a lot of artists following in Wrightson's footsteps (with the exception of Kelly Jones probably) because the worldview that Wrightson portrayed on the page was almost such a naturalistic p.o.v. but twisted just enough to make you wonder about the reality of what you were seeing.

For as much as Wrightson could affect the way that we see the world of Swamp Thing, Batman or Frankenstein, it was Wrightson's definition of horror (starting around the 5:00-minute mark of the embedded clip) that has always stuck with me and influenced the ways that I look at his work and even horror as a genre.

"... horror to me is the image of a well-dressed man, standing on a corner waiting for a bus and everything about him is absolutely perfect except there's a spot of blood on his shoe."

Thanks for Bernie, this has been what horror has been to me as well for the past 30 years.

From Wrightson's Frankenstein illustrations

March 16, 2017

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Quick Hits Reviews: Image has some Issues (Extremity & Royal City)

The two issues I look at below couldn't be more different. But they're both the work of talented writer-artists, and so each really reflects an artist's unified vision. Both look like the beginnings of excellent series.
Extremity #1

Extremity #1
Created, Written and Illustrated by Daniel Warren Johnson
Colors by Mike Spicer
Letters by Rus Wooton
Published by Image Comics/Skybound
Extremity is a tale of tragedy, loss and revenge, and is one of the strongest, most ambitious debut comic issues that I have read in a while. It covers a lot of ground and it does so quite successfully, and unlike most single issue comics these days, Extremity is a satisfying and complete story in its own right. It's about loss and pain and purpose and the limits of revenge, and even over the course of a single issue we come to care for the characters and get a sense of who they are as people. Writer–artist Daniel Warren Johnson is someone with whom I was not familiar, but reading this issue makes me want to seek out his earlier work. 

There's a lot of world-building for a single issue of a comic. The story focuses on one clan of (what appear to be) humans known as the Roto, whose enemy the Paznina attacked them years before, killing many, including the mother of Thea and Rollo, whose father Jerome is the leader of the Roto. They also brutally chopped off Thea's right hand, a particularly cruel act given that Thea was the most talented artist among the Roto. The majority of the first issue is focused on the counterattack by the Roto on the Paznina years later, and the ultimate bloody revenge achieved by the Roto and by Thea in particular.There's world-building going on, but it's more character focused and less focused on making sure the reader understands all aspects of this world.

Extremity #1

Johnson does fantastic, intricate, detailed, imaginative work in this first issue. It's an action-packed, visceral comic, not for the faint of heart. The art in this comic brings to mind Mad Max: Fury Road (both for some of specific costuming and for the relentless pacing). In the kinetic style and constant forward motion of the action, it feels like Johnson has a strong manga influence, and I'm reminded a little bit of other highly talented visual, visceral artists such as Raphael Grampá, James Stokoe and Felipe Sobreiro. There's a lot of really interesting, original and striking design in this issue, from the battering ram warship to the frightening mask that Jerome wears into battle, to the tattoos (paint?) on the characters' faces. It's sort of a mix of floating medieval times meets biker gangs meets post apocalyptic. It's all very engaging and highly detailed.

Johnson has a terrific artistic partner in colorist Mike Spicer. Spicer is an excellent, versatile colorist (whose work I've really enjoyed in books like Black Science and Head Lopper) and he really helps bring Johnson's illustrations to life. From the warm hearth of Thea's old home, to the gray industrial feel of the warship, Spicer's colors really pop and add a lot of richness to the story. This comic also has some of the very best sound effects lettering that I've seen in a very long time. It's big and bold and really feels like part of the art. Speaking of lettering, Rus Wooton does his usual excellent professional work in lettering the comic with a slightly more analog, hand drawn style. 

As you can probably tell, I highly recommend you pick up Extremity. It's a great, promising debut with a lot to offer.

Royal City #1

Royal City #1
Created, Written and Illustrated by Jeff Lemire
Letters by Steve Wands
Published by Image Comics

I just finished telling you what a great first issue Extremity was; that was a comic that succeeded in part because it was relentless, non-stop action and violence over the course of 24 pages. Well, what's wonderful about comics is that there are so many ways to successfully tell a story. Royal City is a completely different, but equally successful first issue. Writer-artist Jeff Lemire returns to the world of a family-based, ostensibly realistic piece of fiction such as his early (and much-loved) series Essex CountyRoyal City is an emotional, sprawling and spacious first issue that gives every character and every moment a chance to breathe, as members of family are brought together as a result of a family emergency. 

The feeling I got reading Royal City was that it reminded me of an excellent TV drama, that deliberately (this is a well-paced issue) introduces the disparate characters, coming together for a purpose. In this case, the family patriarch Peter Pike has suffered a stroke, and we see this affecting his wife Patti and their children. There's Tara, the real estate broker and budding entrepreneur whose plans for the Royal City Manufacturing plant don't line up with the wishes of her family or the town itself. There's Pat, the novelist who's hit something of a dead end on his current project. There's Richie, who's less interested in working at the Royal City Manufacturing plant and more interested in drinking himself into oblivion. And there's Tommy, who - well, I don't want to say too much about Tommy. As I've discussed previously, Lemire is someone who's interested in exploring themes of loneliness and alienation; people for who the world as it is doesn't quite fit. I'm glad that Lemire has chosen to tell this as an episodic story; this expansive, oversized first issue* gives him a real chance to introduce the main cast of characters and start to explore those themes of loneliness and feeling adrift.
Royal City #1

Lemire is second to none as a sequential storyteller, and all that skill is on display here. He's got a unique visual style that reveals fundamental truths about human emotion in a way that a more traditional artistic style doesn't necessarily accomplish. I also think Royal City has some of Lemire's best, most accessible artwork. His work can venture into the realm of trippy and dreamlike (such as in works like Trillium, The Underwater Welder or After Death), which perfectly suits those stories. However, in Royal City, Lemire is using a slightly more conventional panel layout and his characters feel slightly more realistic in their design. Lemire still brings his unique, distinctive, angular style to Royal City. I'm a huge fan of his art style and while I think he's justly praised for his beautiful, hauntng and sad work, I think he might be underappreciated when it comes to facial acting and body language. There are a lot of great, small moments of personal interaction in Royal City and Lemire does terrific, precise work in portraying emotion through facial expression, whether it's the turn of a head, the crook of an eyebrow, or someone's posture.

Lemire also does a terrific job in establishing a sense of place for the characters. Royal City (the place) really comes to life as a small town (with a name seems that like a vast overstatement, a nice little joke) whose best days are behind it, and Lemire does a great job showing us the specific, industrial architecture and geography of this place. I'm also impressed with Lemire's coloring choices in Royal City. It's would have been easy and more obvious to choose gray, washed out colors and make this a gloomy-looking book. But instead of that, Lemire chooses a warmer, prettier color palate but gives them a somewhat faded look. Very much a metaphor for the town and the people in it; maybe their best days are fading, but they seem like people doing the best they can with their lives; people are still living and loving and working and struggling.

Royal City is a relatable, fundamentally human story which looks like it should have some fascinating twists, and I highly recommend it. 

* I'm a huge fan of the oversized first issue by the way, I think is a great way to start off your story and to make a first issue more than just a preview of the series.

March 14, 2017

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Quick Hits Reviews: Image has some Issues (The Old Guard & The Few)

The Old Guard #1

The Old Guard #1
Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Leandro Fernandez
Colors by Daniela Miwa
Letters by Jodi Wynne
Design by Eric Trautmann
Edited by Alejandro Arbona
Published by Image Comics

Greg Rucka is writer who's great at a lot of things. He writes complex, interesting female protagonists. He's skillful at establishing fully realized worlds in a way that's user-friendly without spoon-feeding the reader. He's a master at epic tales of war, combat and the supernatural. And, he's great at partnering with terrific artists and getting out of their way (in this case, the terrific Leandro Fernendez and Daniela Miwa on colors). It's good news then that The Old Guard brings together all of these different skills. The Old Guard is a story of mercenaries/soldiers who appear to be effectively immortal, and at least in some cases have been active for thousands of years. This is a great, engaging concept - sort of a meets a military adventure book, if your team was comprised of Vandal Savage, The Eternal Warrior and Forever from Lazarus (which, as it turns out, would also be a great name for this book). The camaraderie of this group comes across nicely, even as they're threatening and messing with one another. They've clearly been working together for a very long time.

What's also evident from the first few pages of the comic (from both the words and Fernandez and Miwa's gorgeous, thoughtful illustration) is that our lead character (a woman named Andy) is someone who's lived and loved and fought and slept her way through multiple lifetimes and just wants to be done with the endless cycle of it all. Rucka’s spare narration tells us this, but the strength of the art in The Old Guard is that Even without Rucka’s words, we see this though the repetition of sex and war and combat, all things Andy had experienced again and again. Fernandez's art in this sequence reminds me (in spirit, more than with regards to the specific art style) of an ancient Greek or Egyptian wall painting. In very few panels we see the passage of centuries and a long life lived. It's very effective work. In particular, Miwa does striking work with shadow and color contrasts that illustrates sadness, loneliness and fatigue.

The Old Guard #1
Fernandez's art style reminds me a little bit of the work of Gabriel Ba, Fabio Moon and Michael Oeming (in his playful, stylized exaggeration of the human body) but while characters' features are exaggerated, this is controlled, realistic, grounded work. Fernandez’s art is emotionally honest, dynamic, and just generally inviting to look at. He's got a great sense of pacing, and the panel layouts are always interesting and guide the eye in a way that it it's always telling a story. As mentioned above, Miwa does great, varied work throughout the issue, from the sun-dappled streets of Barcelona, to the warm light of Paris at Midnight, to arid warzones; the colors are stylized rather than strictly realistic, but they convey the emotion and really set the mood for each scene.

The Old Guard doesn't seem like a story that's interested in why these people are immortal; that they are is taken as a given. What it is interested in establishing is that their status quo (in which they operate discreetly in the shadows) is about to be upset, both by forces acting against them and by the realization that they aren't the only immortals out there. The Old Guard is looking like another great series, and I highly recommend it.

The Few #1

The Few #1-2
Written by Sean Lewis
Art by Hayden Sherman
Published by Image Comics

I wasn’t sure that right now I wanted to be reading a comic about a dystopian, post-America landscape, but after 2 issues of The Few I’m hooked. It’s a story about the conflict between what’s left after the fall of the American government, and rebels on the other side, and a woman who’s caught in between. Through the first 2 issues, we have a basic picture of the collapse of America and the conflict between what's left of the government (known as The Castle) and various rebels and fiefdoms who've staked out control of different areas (this story takes place in what was Montana). Writer Sean Lewis is building a world from the ground up, where for the most part we're learning based on what the characters themselves know, rather than from some sort of high-level omniscient party (more Brian K. Vaughan, less Jonathan Hickman). The protagonist is named Hale, and she's a soldier on a mission, one that becomes much more complicated in the course of the first issue. Through two issues I think The Few does a nice job in establishing her as a complex character with secrets and motivations that aren't yet clear; we definitely want to see where this is going.

The Few #1

The world that Lewis is writing is one that feels cold and harsh and spare. It's portrayed very effectively, and that wouldn't be possible without Lewis' storytelling partner, artist Hayden Sherman (who’s working on this and a comic at Dynamite while still in college - much more ambitious than I was at that age). Sherman’s art is a real revelation. Sherman has a style that reminds me of Ronin-era Frank Miller (spare, angular) that I find incredibly appealing in this book. As seen in the above panels, there's something elemental about Sherman's art; his forest scenes almost call to mind Japanese wood-cuttings. The books is minimalist and striking (there are only occasional splashes of color, all used very effectively to show blood or something else elemental), and in addition to setting a great, lonely, cold mood, Sherman is equally effective at character design (it's a weird, ramshackle world) and at portraying intense movement and action. The tension during chase sequences really comes across, as Sherman has a nice sense of pacing.

I'm impressed with the first two issues of The Few; it helped me overcome my skepticism at a post-collapse story and I think it's got something original and interesting to say.

March 10, 2017

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Trade Talk: I see the Eclipse on the Horizon

This week I'm taking a look at two engaging science fiction collections from Image Comics imprints. Both do what strong science fiction should do, which is to use fantastical concepts to pose questions that make us ask about ourselves and how we are living right now.

Horizon Vol. 1

Horizon Vol. 1
Written by Brandon Thomas
Illustrated by Juan Gedeon
Colored by Frank Martin
Lettered by Rus Wooton
Published by Image Comics/Skybound

An elite military team has infiltrated a hostile, dying alien world, in order to prevent that aggressive alien species from invading and taking over the military team's home world.  The catch is, that dying world is Earth and the aggressive aliens are humans. That's the hook behind the engaging series Horizon, from Image Comics/Skybound. Horizon is written by Brandon Thomas, and illustrated by Juan Gedeon, with colors from Frank Martin. Volume 1 (collecting issues 1-6) is currently available in paperback.

Zhia Malen is from the planet Valius which has been targeted by Earth as a future home for humanity (we've wrecked this place and we need somewhere else to go - not a good look for humanity).  Malen is a dedicated agent who has been called upon to sacrifice herself (and years of her own life) in order to modify/upgrade her as a soldier who can help infiltrate Earth and prevent humanity from ever being able to leave. She's got help from other agents from the planet Valius who are here working undercover under her command. This first arc of Horizon is really an introductory story; it establishes the team, the threats against them, and their ultimate mission.

Horizon Vol. 1

Horizon was an entertaining, action-packed read. It took me a little while to get into the story, but I feel like that is in fact by design. This is fundamentally a story about aliens on Earth, and while there are humans in the story they are secondary characters. Horizon sees human beings the way we would typically see an alien threat in a typical, human-centric story. So, while humans are present throughout the story, we don't really see their humanity. We see human beings as the visitors from Valius see them - as hostile, as savage, as people that are trying to capture, torture or kill them.

So, this is a fundamentally alien story. And, since we're not visitors from another planet (well, I'm not, I don't want to speak for you), what the creative team does here is start the story with a sense of (for lack of a better word) alienation, as we begin the story by seeing Earth from the eyes of a visitor from Valius. The first few pages there isn't much of any dialogue or recognizable language at all. We hear English being spoken the way that an alien might hear it - sounds that approximate the sound of English but without the real meaning. If you don't know a language, it would just sound like gibberish, and the story (with effective lettering from the always excellent Rus Wooton) does an excellent job of portraying that confusion until Zhia Malen is able to get her translator to work.

This is a fast-paced, action packed series, and that is brought to life by the rough and kinetic illustration of Juan Gedeon. Gedeon does an excellent job portraying the speed and power at which the visitors from Valius can move (particularly Zhia - do not mess with her). He also portrays the way she can move from compassionate to extremely fearsome. Gedeon's linework in this story is loose, spare, straight and sometimes a little jagged where it needs to be. Action sequences are very effectively drawn, as Gedeon has a great sense of motion and the interaction between characters in a combat sequences. Those sequences are often drawn with a very minimal, impressionistic line. It's not hyper-detailed, but it works pretty well as your mind fills in some of the character details. The jagged effect (when one character kicks another, the lines around the person being kicked have sort of a zig-zag effect) is something I haven't seen before, and it's an effective and nonstandard way to convey physical impact.
Horizon #2

Frank Martin does great, complementary work with Gedeon in coloring this series. As a huge fan of Martin's work in East of West, I was already predisposed to like this book, and Martin delivers distinctive but similarly excellent work in Horizon. From a dramatic underwater sequence (in which the characters are illustrated only in shadow, to the grimy earth tones of the near-future Earth in which the characters live, to the bright colors of the alien visitors, Martin's colors are an integral part of the storytelling. There are a lot of fun, engaging effects in this series, such as the digital zigzag effects that convey sudden motion, colorful, old-school sound effects lettering, lightning and crackle (not exactly Kirby crackle, but similar) to show a character's visual transformation, and pixellation to focus the reader's attention on a particular panel or image. It's engaging, kinetic visual work all around.

This is a story that doesn't explain everything that's going on. As the agents from Valius are new to this world, so are we. We see glimpses of the near-future in which this takes place (both through visuals of croded, dirty cities, and audio from news reports), and the creators paint a somewhat bleak picture. This isn't a dramatically apocalyptic world, more like we're slouching towards oblivion. There are also parts of the Valius alien society and structure that aren't yet explained, but the alien invaders are given a lot of space that you can really begin to see who they are as people. A story can be accessible without telling you everything, and Horizon strikes that balance well.

It took me a little while to get used to the storytelling style in this book but I'm really interested to read more. If you're looking for thoughtful and action-packed sci-fi with a strong hook, Horizon is a great place to start.

Eclipse Vol. 1

Eclipse Vol. 1
Written by Zack Kaplan
Illustrated by Giovanni Timpano
Colored by Chris Northrop
Lettered by Troy Peteri
 Published by Image Comics/Top Cow

Sure, life is pretty rough these days. There's a lot of uncertainty. least the sun won't burn you to a crisp within seconds of being outside. How would we adapt to life living underground, when instead of being something that nourishes us, the sun becomes our greatest enemy?  That's the premise behind Eclipse, written by Zack Kaplan (no relation) and illustrated by Giovanni Timpano, with colors from Chris Northrop. It's a great premise, but what makes Eclipse a compelling story is not just the premise, but the murder mystery and personal drama that unfolds in this new, catastrophic world. Volume 1 (collecting issues 1-6) is currently available in paperback.

Ten years before there was a horrific solar flare event, which killed billions of people and forced the remainder of humanity underground.  It's a nocturnal society now, as folks can only go above ground during the nighttime. Bax is a maintenance worker in this new, changed version of society. He's regarded as a hero for his actions on the day of the flare (he was a firefighter who saved the Mayor), and he's an expert now on the suits that anyone must wear in order to survive being above ground during the day time. This expertise, and Bax's knowledge become crucial when there's a series of murders that take place above ground, which themselves lead to bigger and stranger mysteries.

Eclipse Vol. 1
I really enjoyed this first volume. Kaplan has a great idea in this story; seeing humanity adapt to changed circumstances often makes for excellent storytelling, and this is an interesting hook and way to explore humanity's adaptability to a problem that wasn't necessarily the one we were expecting would doom humanity. In some ways, the idea that the surface of the Earth becomes uninhabitable because of a solar flare lets humanity off the hook for its own damage to the environment. However, what the setting does do is give Kaplan and his co-creators a chance to explore a world in the near future where people have to adapt very quickly to a very changed situation. What would having to live underground during the daytime do to our psychology? What would the radical change in sleep patterns do to human functioning? While this story isn't primarily about those things, the interesting questions that are raised in Eclipse make for fascinating background in which to have the main story take place. The character of Bax is an interesting window into this story. He's a reluctant hero, but an interesting one, and his skepticism helps ground the storytelling.

Kaplan has strong storytelling partners in Timpano and Northrop. Timpano brings a realistic, gritty, and strong line to the proceedings. Such as in the below panel, Timpano pulls off a nice trick in showing a weird and different Times Square that's absolutely recognizable and realistic, but done in an "analog" way that doesn't feel like photo-reference.  Both in the above ground scenes in New York, and in the scenes underground, Timpano provides a lot of background detail, and a weathered quality, that gives Eclipse an authentic sense of place. This really does feel like what New York City might look like ten years after a natural disaster, and the new, makeshift, underground world has a lived-in quality that really sells it as a realistic future.  Timpano does a lot of good, precise character work throughout the story. Bax is a believably gruff, damaged hero, and he and all of the other characters are nicely portrayed with some precise work around facial acting and body expressions. The emotional work is strong in this book, and the sense of detail that was applied to the backgrounds is also extended to the specific choices in character design and clothing. 

Eclipse Vol. 1

I can't say enough good things about the great work Northrop does in coloring this book. As shown in the above page and throughout the series, Northrop gives the sun a quality I've never really seen in a comic before. The sun is a killer now, something terrifying, to be avoided at all costs, and Northrop does great work in showing the oppressive nature of sunlight throughout this story, including in scenes where the sun is used as a weapon. In the scenes of nighttime and underground, Northrop does similarly precise and effective work; the fluorescent light that pervades their world gives everything a little too much unnatural light. Northrop extends this great color detail generally throughout the series. Troy Peteri also extends the "post-fall of society" feel to the hand-drawn style lettering that's quite effective in this series.

This is an interesting, fun, accessible read. If you're looking for an enjoyable sci-fi comic, I definitely recommend Eclipse.

March 9, 2017

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Reliving Jaime Hernandez's "The Death of Speedy" 30 Years Later

Just another gang banger and another senseless death.

In 2017, that’s one possible reading of Jaime Hernandez’s 1986 “The Death of Speedy,” which appeared in the first volume of Love and Rockets. In 2017's Chicago, where our shootings and deaths are now a part of our local and national news, Hernandez’s story looks almost quaint now, a more romantic view of innocent love, young turks and the many rivalries that are caused when those lovers and turks collide. Sooner or later, everyone falls in love with Maggie, the center of Hernandez’s comic world. In “The Death of Speedy,” we see the early hesitant steps of one love affair and the tragic end of another.

When you look at all of the stories that Hernandez has done since “The Death of Speedy,” you can see how pivotal those moments were in Maggie’s life even as she avoids dealing with her pain from it except for in her most vulnerable moments. This story takes place when Hopey, the turbulent rock of Maggie’s life, is missing. As one of the great love stories in all of comics, the tales of Maggie and Hopey ends up being more about that love when the two are separated both geographically and emotionally. Strangely, Maggie and Hopey’s stories are never about the absence of love but about the distance of it. So at this point in their stories, Maggie is at home in southern California, surrounded by the remnants of her childhood which includes a rebellious younger sister, while Hopey is off on a cross-country tour with the soon-to-be-broken-up band The Jerusalem Crickets.

This Hopey sized hole in Maggie’s life leaves a vacuum for the past to fill. Trying to fill that void are two young men from her childhood growing up in Hoppers, Ray Dominguez, and Speedy Ortiz. And like everyone else, both are in love with Maggie in their own ways. Ray is the prodigal son of Hoppers, having returned to his childhood home and friends after being away at art school. Speedy is a pretty much a boy, the brother of one of Maggie’s best friends, who is caught in the middle of a percolating gang war with Dairytown where Esther, Maggie’s sister, is visiting from. So here’s Maggie without the love her life, caught between two very different men, one who views her as a link to his past while the other thinks her love will be his salvation.

Maggie’s relationship with Ray D. will be a long one that ends up being a series of missed opportunities culminating in near tragedy in Hernandez’s 2014 The Love Bunglers. But Speedy’s story is a quick flash, about 70 or so pages buried in the decades of comics that Hernandez has produced. And the title of this sequence of his Locas stories is probably a pretty big spoiler but it’s actually a subtitle. The full title is “Vida Loca: The Death of Speedy.” Years later, thanks to Ricky Martin, we’d be singing about living the “Vida Loca” to a pop Latin beat but for Hernandez, the vida loca is not something to be celebrated in song.

Hernandez tries to show that no matter how much these young men and women may think they are older and responsible, they’re all really just kids pretending at being adults. Esther thinks she can juggle lovers on both sides of the gangs without any repercussions. Ray believes that he’s above the gang rivalries that his friends have never been able to escape. Speedy, like Esther, thinks that he can fool around with a number of women’s hearts without creating any of his own fields of war. Even Maggie thinks that as long as she keeps her head down and her heart pure that she can’t get hurt. If she’s going to be either Ray or Speedy’s refuge, her own refuge Hopey is out there somewhere, waiting for her.

The final pages of this story are some of the most heart-wrenching and surprisingly redemptive moments in Love and Rockets or in any other comics for that matter. As the war escalates between Dairytown and Hoppers, the cost for Hopper escalates as well. These men and women that are barely more than boys and girls have been treating life as if it was nothing more than child’s play. Breaking hearts and shooting guns are their ways to hang on to their youth. It all comes crashing down as Esther’s Dairytown boyfriend’s gang escalates the fighting, shooting one of Ray and Speedy’s friends. Outside of the hospital, Speedy breaks down in front of Maggie, asking for her love as some kind of redemption for all of his actions. It’s more than Maggie can or is willing to offer to Speedy and she pushes him away.

After being rebuffed by Maggie, Speedy’s final fate is up to some debate and Hernandez within the story never provides any clear answers. He’s found by a couple of cops, dead in his car. Suicide or murder? Maybe it’s up to you as you read it to decide for yourself the cause of death. For all of the noise and melodrama that swirls around every page and every life touched by this story, Speedy’s death is quietly underplayed with the exact events kept as a secret from the reader. Even as Hernandez has been building his story up until this point, he keeps its climax private and personal. Speedy Ortiz’s death isn’t an event. It’s a moment that happens in the space between two panels and yet sends shockwaves through the next 25 years of Jaime Hernandez’s stories. And all of that happens on the third to the last page of "Vida Loca: The Death of Speedy.:

On the next page, Hernandez shows three characters being visited by a vision or a ghost. With one hand, Esther clutches at her bed covers even as she grabs the vision’s hand. ‘Litos, Speedy’s friend who was shot, lies in a hospital bed, visited by the ghost. And Izzy, Maggie’s good friend and Speedy’s sister, was asleep on her couch as she saw or dreamed Speedy standing over her. “I just wanted to tell you that everything’s going to be all right from now on. And not to worry about me…” And when she turns on a light to get a better view of her brother, she’s alone in her living room. Izzy’s grip on reality was always tenuous at best but the death of her brother is something that she’s never quite recovered from. It’s wonderful how these three people, all with their own unique relation to Speedy (lover, brother-in-arms, and sister) are visited by this reassuring presence.

The final page is an oddball unofficial epilogue to the whole affair, flashing back to a Hopper’s wedding, where Ray and ‘Litos serve as groomsman, Maggie and a friend flirt with the boys, and Speedy is still just a kid, getting underfoot as he tries to scam some beer off of the older guys. It’s such a simpler and more innocent time where we see these characters as the kids that they are. Even though we’ve now seen how their lives unfold as they get older, there’s a strong sense that they haven’t grown up since this wedding. The way it’s added onto the end of this story, showing a much more carefree time in these people’s lives, leaves us maybe with a better image of these characters than the story itself does. For all of the tragedy that happens in the final pages of this story, Hernandez gives his audience this moment of happiness and levity as if he’s wanting to remind us that these characters aren’t just the gangs and fighters that we’ve just seen. There are dimensions to their lives and this final page gives the reader a new light to see these characters in.

So much has happened in Maggie’s life since the death of Speedy. She found Hopey again but their love has become something different, maybe purer but not as bright or burning. Ray has been in and out of her life and had so much change because of Maggie, and not always for the better. Maggie and Ray’s love for each other is just as pure as Maggie and Hopey’s but has a whole different essence to it. Ultimately, Speedy was a moment in Maggie’s life but it’s shaped the character that she’s become over the past 30 years. From mechanic to punk to apartment manager and back to mechanic, the great thing about Jaime Hernandez’s portion of Love and Rockets is that we’ve gotten to see these women and men grow up, make mistakes and learn lessons (some of them the right ones and many of them the wrong ones.) And we, the readers, get to how these moments like the death of Speed alter the trajectory of these characters lives.

Note: The Death of Speedy is currently collected in Fantagraphics Love and Rockets Locas Book 2: The Girls from H.O.P.P.E.R.S.

March 5, 2017

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Of Monsters and Mages (Weekend Pattering for March 5rd, 2017)

Previously on Panel Patter

Cover of the Next Week

I'm not really too sure what's going on in this variant cover for the new issue of The Wicked + The Divine by Alison Sampson but it's maybe my favorite cover of the series.  As Jamie McKelvie has been doing different visual themes for each arc of this series, some of the variant covers have really just been mindblowing.  "The Imperial Phase (1)" has really rewritten the path of this book, particularly the last issue, and the series is starting to get really uncertain and exciting that way.

Sampson's cover reflects the uncertainty of recent events and the roles that these various "gods" are going to play in whatever the big battle is going to be.  It's becoming more and more evident that the first few arcs have been a lot of setup and misdirection.  With this cover, while recent events may be focusing the story, it's not too clear what that picture is going to be once it's focused.  


** Bleeding Cool Talks To Matt Wagner About Mage: The Hero Denied, The Final Chapter, Announced By Image Comics At ECCC 2017 (Bleeding Cool)--  So many thoughts about this.  
THE HERO DISCOVERED was authored while I was actually experiencing that particular stage of my life. And then progressing maturity meant that I needed a bit of distance in regards to the next stage…I was five years or so past certain life events when I did THE HERO DEFINED. Now, for THE HERO DENIED, I found that I really needed a bit more time to see how other aspects of my life were gonna fully play out before being able to translate them into MAGE. I know it can be frustrating from a reader’s end of things…but that’s just the way it had to work out. I couldn’t really rush the process and still keep it true to the ideals that made MAGE special in the first place. But, c’mon…hate my fans? I fucking LOVE that my readers have stuck with me for this long. I owe it to them to make sure this final part of the trilogy is both genuine and unexpected.
When can I get a new shirt and can I buy a case of them?

What color will magic be this time?

With this done, any chance that Wagner may revisit The Aerialist next?  (Doubt it.)

In some ways, I don't want this story to end.  I'm one of those people who has been waiting around 30 years for this and I don't know if I'm ready for the end of Kevin Matchstick's story.  In all of the writing I've done, I've never really delved into a lot of Wagner except for a few Grendel stories here and there.  The second Mage series was over and done with years before I started doing a lot of this stuff.

That said, Wagner's Mage is an important book to me.  Mage: The Hero Discovered #14 is probably one of my favorite single issues.  The end of Wagner's Mage is going to be the end of something for me but I'm really not even too sure what yet.

But I'll be there, reading every issue.

** Teenage Alienation: Castellucci And Zarcone On Where ‘Shade, The Changing Girl’ Fits In (Comics Alliance)-- The jury is still out on DC's Young Animal line but Shade, The Changing Girl has been one of the most fascinating looking books that they've put out lately.  Zarcone's thin line does a great job of portraying the alienness of otherworldly creatures as well as the alienness of teenage life.

MZ: Personality has an incredible influence on a person’s physical appearance, so I depend heavily on facial expressions and body language to differentiate the two. Megan is confident, cruel, and she can be petulant when things aren’t working in her favor, whereas Loma Shade is an inquisitive, wide-eyed, outsider, steadily going through a stream of unfamiliar hormonal responses. Even if they had identical hair and clothing, I think the divide would be very apparent.

** TAMRA BONVILLAIN: THE DIFFERENCE A COLORIST MAKES (Book Riot)-- Speaking of Young Animals, I'm not too familiar yet with Tamra Bonvillain other than her work on Gerard Way's Doom Patrol but she's easily demonstrated there that she's a colorist to keep an eye on.

Just in this image above, you’ll notice that the use of color, specifically the orange in the lower half panel layout emphasizes the trauma of a recollection. In other cases, you might find that certain colors kind of “signal” places or settings. Tamra confirms this is part of her process: “I try to make locations and specific scenes stand out from one another by making certain colors dominant, or by modifying the coloring approach some way. Ideally, it should be instantly recognizable by color alone. This works better on projects where I can go more stylized, so I can really push the colors, making the differences more pronounced. Even when colors are more down to Earth, I try to signal differences, just more subtly. ”

** First, Emil Ferris Was Paralyzed. Then Her Book Got Lost at Sea. (The New York Times)-- I've barely cracked my copy of Emil Ferris' My Favorite Thing Is Monsters but pretty much every page has been amazing.
And monsters are more than a metaphor for Ms. Ferris. “I still do love monsters,” she said. “And when I was a kid, they were really important to me. I couldn’t wait for Saturday night.” Because Saturdays meant the local creature double-feature and fright-fests like “Carnival of Souls” and “The Pit and the Pendulum.” 
Ms. Ferris says those film terrors provided a crucial counterpoint to her own life: “This was the ’60s. I watched protests being broken up by the police. I saw bigotry. It made me think about our own inner monstrousness.”

Current Mood

March 3, 2017

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25 Great Image Comics on their 25th Anniversary

I've been thinking about the Image Comics 25th anniversary and what it actually means to me as a comics reader.  To start, I wasn't reading comics 25 years ago.  I stopped reading comics in the late 1980's and didn't really pick them up again in earnest until 2007 or so.  So Image Comics and the "Image Revolution" meant very little to me, and when people joked about "90's comics" I didn't really know what they meant (I get it now - pouches, cybernetic arms, bikinis, etc.).  While those books didn't (and still don't) particularly appeal to me, respect must be given. What the Image founders did was a game-changer for the comics industry (for a history of Image Comics, read David Harper's great article here) that goes so far beyond any particular comic that they published.

By the time I came back to reading comics, it was a very different comics world than the high-flying days of 1992.  I did a ton of catching up on comics I'd missed in my years away and was also on the lookout for new things.  A few books by Robert Kirkman (Invincible and The Walking Dead, you might have heard of them) caught my eye and had me on the lookout for more interesting books that weren't just the usual Marvel/DC superhero books.  While I don't read Invincible or The Walking Dead anymore, I very much enjoyed them as I was getting back into comics. I appreciate them and the incredibly important role that Kirkman himself has played as a modern trailblazer in making the statement that if you want to tell your story, the story you're dying to tell, Image Comics is the place to do it.

For me, Image has been an incredibly important part of getting me back into comics and reading all kinds of stories.  With that in mind, I wanted to highlight 25 Image Comics books (series, miniseries, etc.) that are meaningful to me, and I think are worth a look.  Some of them are very well known (have you heard of this "Saga" book?), others less so, but they're all books I love that are worth a look.  Note that this is NOT (I repeat, NOT) intended to be some sort of "best of Image" list, these are just books I love.

Alex + Ada Vol. 1 

Alex + Ada 
Written by Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn
Illustrated by Jonathan Luna

Alex + Ada is a science fiction story set in a near future where artificial intelligence is a reality, but a controversial one.  Alex + Ada tells a compelling story of love in the age of androids.  As written by Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn (and illustrated by Luna), this is a recognizable world, where Luna's clean style of artwork suits the story perfectly.  It's something of a "slow-burn" of a book (to use an overused phrase), but while the plot of the story is very engaging, it's the characters that really stay with you. Everyone in the story is drawn with such compassion, and such humanity, you can't help but care for them. Jonathan Luna does double duty here as artist (with an appealing, clean style) and as co-writer with Sarah Vaughn.  Alex + Ada does what great science fiction does (and ought to do), which is to use futuristic ideas to shine a light on the present while telling an interesting, believable story. Everything the characters experience regarding futuristic technology is an astute commentary on the technology we have now, the ways people lose themselves in it, and the (perhaps unrealistic) expectations we have about the way technology (and material possessions generally) can make us happy. If you like movies such as "Her" or "Gattaca", then this book is definitely worth a look.

March 2, 2017

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Horrors in the Night in Gabriel Hardman's The Belfry


For Gabriel Hardman, his artwork lives to perform for his stories. From books like his and Corinna Bechko’s Invisible Republic, Planet of the Apes and Star Wars Legacy to his own solo project Kinski (reviewed by Rob here), Hardman’s art does what required of it to really tell the stories he’s working on. Whether it’s the high fantasy of his PotA or Star Wars books or the gritty, grounded realism of Invisible Republic or even the naturalistic swagger of Kinski, Hardman shifts his visual approach to storytelling to fit and even to create unique tones and beats to his stories. The Belfry, his newest one-shot horror story from Image Comics, presents these dark images of a world eternally cloaked in shadow and darkness that’s broken up by these bold, white gutters. Those large gutters frame this story as these horrific moments where the world we know gets ripped away and gutted in front of our eyes.

The story feels like old-fashioned comic book horror, full of injury-to-the-eye images and monstrous body transformation. After a plane crashes in some kind of jungle or forest, the survivors are attacked and captured by vampiric creatures. Hardman’s writing is tense and focused. There’s not a lot of development here of any of the characters because his story is more about the happenings and not about who they’re happening to. By being so driven by its plot progression, The Belfry is a creepy tale of a monstrous night.

One of Hardman’s greatest strengths as an image maker has been his ability to craft both light and shadow. Existing almost purely in the shadows, The Belfry’s art places the reader in the same level of understanding as the characters. We don’t know anything more about what’s happening than the downed planes’ survivors do. Hardman’s drawings reveal just enough about what’s happening in the here-and-now of The Belfry without ever really explaining the whys and wherefores of the story. The art’s focus on the present moment forges our connection to the horror that Hardman is forming out of those shadows.

The Belfry is a nearly perfect little horror gem of a comic.

February 27, 2017

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Graphic Nonfiction: Warner and Goldstein Animate Mars Talk

Andy Warner is one of my favorite creators working in the nonfiction comics field, as long-time Panel Patter readers now.

Sophie Goldstein is one of the best at creating comics that use animation to tell their story.

Together, working at the ever amazing Nib, the two put together an awesome article on the plans to go to Mars, expressing both optimism and caution. As usual, it's extremely well researched, with quotes from people who work within the field and details on attempts to simulate what it might be like to be on a 500 day trip to the red planet.

Here's a snippet, but again, to see the full effect, you need to go and read the whole thing:

What makes this particular article stand out for me so much is the way in which Warner and Goldstein use the animation to insert jokes into the otherwise serious narrative, like having "Martians" say "There goes the neighborhood" or having various spaceships trash talk each other.

Perhaps the best use of the animation, however, is when we get a serious talk about just how bad the psychological impacts of long-term space travel might be. Using the same basic figures in space suits, Warner and Goldstein show visually what's being discussed in the text, slowing progressing from happy figures to ones that aren't doing well, complete with variations on the same themes that started the series of images. It's absolutely brilliant, but that's no surprise, coming from Goldstein.

I've always said I wanted to be a volunteer on a Mars expedition, but when you see it in stark terms like this, that enthusiasm starts waning. If, like me, you think space is the place, make sure you stop by The Nib's site and read this pair's great work together. Warner and Goldstein's full comic is here.

February 26, 2017

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Ley Lines Subscription Delivers Comics To Your Door

While things might be terrible otherwise, it's good to know that comic publishers like Kevin Czapiewski and L. Nichols are there to provide us with excellent reading material. But if you want to be one of the first to read the 2017 edition of Ley Lines, you're running out of time--the pre-orders are only being taken for a few more days, ending on February 28th.

Ironically, the subscription cost is also $28, which probably has more to do with shipping and production costs, but I'll pretend it's to match the deadline. Each issue is 24 pages, roughly half-sized, if you know your zines, and has great production value.

What is Ley Lines? Here's the co-publisher's description: 

Ley Lines is a quarterly publication dedicated to exploring the intersection of comics and the various fields of art & culture that inspire us. Each issue features a different artist's take on a different subject matter taken from the larger context of art making, past and present.
And here's the lineup for 2017:

  • Tommi Parrish on William Blake/Lydia Lunch (Ley Lines 10 - February 2017)
  • Eric Kostiuk Williams on Kylie Minogue (Ley Lines 11 - May 2017)
  • Shreyas R Krishnan on Abida Parveen (Ley Lines 12 - August 2017)
  • Evan Dahm on the Surrealists (Ley Lines 13 - November 2017
Here are a few sample images:

Evan Dahm

Eric Kostiuk Williams

Shreyas R Krishnan

Tommi Parrish

I really enjoy the work of Evan Dahm. I profiled him before SPX in 2013.  Dahm's fantasy comics are a real joy to read, so seeing him take on the artistic collective who specialized in warping reality should be a blast.

While I am not familiar with the other names on the list, I trust Kevin and L's judgment, as I've known them both for quite awhile now, even if I don't see them much due to moving out to the west coast. 

I've also picked up a few of the other Ley Lines, and they're very high quality. I really dig the idea of a creator looking at other creatives and examining their work through the mirror of their own illustrations. It's a great concept.

You can order a subscription to 2017's Ley Lines (along with others from past years) here. If you're a fan of my features on non-fiction comics, this is a must-purchase as we move from winter to spring. But remember--the deadline is February 28th, so don't delay!