Friday, June 24, 2016

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Weekend Pattering for June 24th, 2016-- It's a Sean Phillips World

** So, how's your summer going?  Here's a bit about the panels we've been pattering about.

** From the Desk of Ed Brubaker (Ed Brubaker's new newsletter)-- So, I guess that part of the news here is that Ed Brubaker has a new newsletter.  Newsletters seem to be becoming the new blogs/websites for comic creators.  If you're interested in such things, you can subscribe to it here.

There have been two newsletters so far but the most interesting thing in them is from the first one where Brubaker shares a preview of his upcoming new Brubaker/Phillips joint Kill or Be Killed and if you've been a fan of this team for a long time as I've been, maybe you notice something exciting about the pages in this preview.

From Kill or Be Killed (Image Comics)

The construction of the page in the new book goes back to an early collaboration of these two creators, Wildstorm's Sleeper.  In that old series, Phillips constructed his pages so that there was a main, full page image and then insert panels that continued the story.

From Sleeper (DC/Wildstorm)

Now it looks like in the preview pages for Kill or Be Killed, Phillips is going back to playing with a main image in the page that really establishes the the story beat (or maybe as in the first page shown, story beats) and then moving through the story to the next story beat through the insert panels.

It's interesting to see Phillips go back to this page structure after 10 years of the very controlled and steady storytelling of Criminal, Incognito, Fatale, and The Fade Out.  In Criminal, Phillips has worked mostly with a three-tiered structure where each tier could almost be separated from the page to construct a classic newspaper comic strip.

From Criminal: Lawless (Marvel/Icon)

For over 10 years, Sean Phillips has been one of the most exciting storytellers working in comics.  Particularly in his partnership with Brubaker.  It's not because his drawings are excellent (they are.)  It's not because the stories he's drawing are fantastic (again, they are.)  But it's because of his approach to storyetlling.  You can look at his pages and miss so much of what he's doing because when you look at only one page at a time, it's challenging to see the greater scope of the choices he's making.  But spend time with his books and look at how he develops the visual architecture of the book and the choices he makes during the story progression.  

** Matt Kindt's 10 Rules (10 Rulles for Drawing Comics)-- I love the wisdom that this site dispences.  Here's Panel Patter favorite Matt Kindt's rules:
3. Stop trying to perfect it. It won’t be perfect. You’ll be able to draw or write it even better ten minutes from now, tomorrow, a year from now. Forever. What you create in this moment is just an artifact of who you were at that moment in time. Don’t hate your old work because it’s bad. Love it as proof that you’re improving. You’re better now than you were then.
** See you next week, everyone.  Be safe out there.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

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Graphic Nonfiction Special: A Look at UK's EU Vote by Tom Humberstone

Normally, we run graphic nonfiction on the weekend, but given the historic vote taking place in the UK tomorrow, I've decided to run this today. Courtesy of one of my favorite sources of nonfiction comics, The Nib, Tom Humberstone takes an extensive look at the troubled history of the UK and the EU, as well as the pros and cons of being part of the EU.

Unlike knee-jerk reactions that may appear elsewhere, Humberstone doesn't pretend that it's all jerks who want the UK to remove itself from the continent (though that side seems to be where the hateful people are congregating, due to those who are anti-immigration thinking leaving the EU will make it easier to be bigots), pointing out some of the EU's flaws.

But he also brings up the things that make the EU essential to the UK's progress into a better 21st Century, eventually coming down on the side of union--with the promise of doing more to make the EU better together, rather than separately.

Obviously, it's very complex, and I won't pretend to understand it. Hell, I have enough trouble with the mine field of politics here in the United States. But I am appreciative of Humberstone's explanation.

Here's a few panels as an exception. You should read the piece in full here.

 Visually, Humberstone resembles Panel Pal Andy Warner's structure: A lot of rectangular panels, carefully researched facts, extensive use of historical figures, and key visuals that work in harmony with the text, but never competing with it. In a few cases, the text overwhelms the panels, which Warner eschews, but overall, this feels like a nonfiction comic, and not just an illustrated article.*

Humberstone's color choices are primarily a dull pink and various shades of blue, which stand out against the monitor screen, and aren't necessarily meant to be realistic. His likenesses are strong, and the illustrations flow across each panel. They aren't stiff or still--even standing figures move slightly.

It's a great combination, and an informative one. So whether or not you're in the UK, this is one to look up, as a starting point if nothing else. No matter what, the UK is about to make a huge decision--one that will impact more than just its residents. We can only hope everyone, regardless of how they vote, will be as thoughtful as Humberstone.

*There's nothing wrong with illustrated articles, but they aren't a comic.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

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All-Ages or Small-Ages #12 (Adventure Time Volume 1 by Ryan North, Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb)

See all of the past entries of All-Ages or Small-Ages here.

There are a wide array of all-ages comics out there from the classic Archie comics, through the  Sonic the Hedgehog and Disney, all the way to the original properties such as Lumberjanes. You might look at one of these books and think that, as an adult, it doesn’t have much to offer you. As someone who has discovered a deep fondness for titles such as this, I’ve been surprised by how rich and complex the stories can be. All-Ages or Small-Ages? is a feature that takes a look at the books that fall under this banner and attempts to analyse whether or not their assigned label is apt; is it a book that you can read along with your children?

The TV series called Adventure Time is unquestionably all-ages. It’s gathered a dedicated and extended following of people that range from its intended young audience to the older crowd who adore its wackiness. As I personally have not seen an episode of the television show, this discussion will be purely about the first volume of the eponymously named Boom! Studios ongoing series from 2012. For the very few of you who don’t know, Adventure Time is a series that follows the human Finn and his stretchy canine companion, Jake. Travelling through the land of Ooo, they encounter a cast of strange and delightful characters that draw them into having to embark on, as the title suggests, an adventure.

As protagonists, Finn and Jake are unquestionably relateable and interesting for younger readers. They’re boisterous, bull-headed and full of self belief; they’re everything that children wish they could be. Standing up against the tyranny of whomever is attacking them, they retort back with a snarky quip and carry on with their day. For me, as a 24 year old, their attitudes began to grate from the very beginning. I applaud the decision to focus the story on the strength of their unconditional friendship, but it wasn’t enough to carry me through.

However, it's worth mentioning that the supporting cast of the series are infinitely more fascinating to me. Ranging from the prim and proper, yet scrappy, Princess Bubblegum all the way through to the dastardly Ice King, there’s so many people here to fall in love with. They have a far greater complexity to them that doesn’t have much chance to be explored in this admittedly short story. With a large range of spin-off miniseries from Boom! Studios that tie into this universe, it looks as though that could be where my focus should fall next. 

The humour in this title is of a very specific and established type. Every joke is explained to exhaustive lengths and any of the fun that originates in subtlety is subsequently sucked out of it. It speaks to the age of the intended audience as North consistently feels the need to ensure that you get the play on words or the reference that they’re making. As a result, a large proportion of the dialogue comes off as either stiff or forced. This may play out far better in the animation, and I do get the impression that it very well might, but it’s something that comes across relatively poorly as written text.

However, there is one aspect of the humour that repeatedly hit the spot for me. Scattered sporadically throughout this volume, there are sometimes mini comic strips or brief samples of text at the bottom of a page. More often than not, they make some form of self-aware joke that shows that these characters are aware of their current state in a comic. For example, one of the supporting characters, Princess Marceline, chides you for turning the page and leaving her alone to confront the Big Bad of the arc. It’s a simple styling of humour, but it’s a layer that would only really land with an older audience.

The art itself is as bright and colourful as you would expect. There are little touches here and there that never let you forget that this is a concept that originated in a children’s cartoon. The bright colours stand out from the page and maintain a distinct stylisation for each main character and extends into the supporting cast in the background. The body language that the lines manage to portray give each member of the cast their own unique stance and posture, selling this as a world that has existed previously and will continue to exist after we leave. 

Throughout the series, there’s an undeniable dynamic nature to both Finn and Jake that works very well at showing off how much this series is grounded in its wackiness. Although Finn is described as human, there’s a definite otherworldly quality to the stretchiness of his arms and flexibility of his body that ensures that you never once question the fantastical nature of this series. Despite the mixed feelings that I have to this collection of issues as a whole, I really did adore how rich and strange this world felt from beginning to end.

The content of the ongoing plot itself was somewhat lacking. It honestly wasn’t trying to be anything but a fun and weird romp through a magical land, so it’s difficult to mark it down for that too harshly. However, at the end of the day, while it succeeded at being sufficiently strange, I honestly wouldn’t say that there’s too much excitement and enjoyment to be had. It teases a bunch of potentially interesting concepts and power sets, but then doesn’t get a chance to delve too far into them before moving on to something else. It ultimately consistently gets trapped by its dedication to the relatively uninteresting Finn and Jake.

I can see why lots of adults have latched onto this series; there’s nothing else like it and it’s unrepentant about its oddness. It doesn’t achieve narrative brilliance, but it’s not trying to. For a series that aligns far more with style than substance, it needs to put far more focus on the characters and the concepts that have far more potential for exploration; a boy and his dog are a good grounding, but it needs to go further than that. I might return to this franchise in the future by venturing into one of the aforementioned character-focused mini-series, but, as it stands, I don’t plan on seeing more of this central series and I honestly don’t recommend that you do either.
Let me know if there's a comic that you think I should be checking out. I'm always on the look-out for some more hidden All-Ages gold. Contact me at or head over to for a daily dose of comic reviews, interviews and more!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

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All-Ages or Small-Ages #11 (Plants vs. Zombies Lawnmageddon)

See all of the past entries of All-Ages or Small-Ages here.

There are a wide array of all-ages comics out there from the classic Archie comics, through the  Sonic the Hedgehog and Disney, all the way to the original properties such as Lumberjanes. You might look at one of these books and think that, as an adult, it doesn’t have much to offer you. As someone who has discovered a deep fondness for titles such as this, I’ve been surprised by how rich and complex the stories can be. All-Ages or Small-Ages? is a feature that takes a look at the books that fall under this banner and attempts to analyse whether or not their assigned label is apt; is it a book that you can read along with your children?

If you owned a computer in the late 2000s, you played a version of Plants vs. Zombies. At some point during that playthrough, you thought something along the lines of: “I wonder what the actual narrative is here”. Don’t lie. I know you did. What do you mean you didn’t? Well, honestly, neither did anybody else. However, if this first volume from the supremely talented writer Paul Tobin and artist Ron Chan is any indication of the rest of the series, then maybe we should have been worrying about it. If you’ve not got any experience with this franchise, you shouldn’t worry about jumping in here. Everything that you need to know about the base concept is in the name: plants are there and so are zombies; they fight each other.

As it wouldn't be easy to extract a hard-hitting narrative from what is essentially a tower defence game, Tobin instead does something incredibly astute. Steering into the skid, he takes the light-hearted tone that you remember from the game and extrapolates it out into an unapologetically insane story. Although it does progress through a few noticeable story beats, all of the enjoyment of this series can be found in the moments in between. A significant portion of wackier narratives with a younger inflection have the same trappings: a grating protagonist and a lack of cohesion. Fortunately, while this is an unquestionably strange volume, it holds together extraordinarily well.

Tobin’s comedic stylings stand out against his most famous work, the horrific (in the best way) Colder and all of its subsequent sequels. If you come into this expecting something akin to that series, but honestly why would you with the subject matter, you’ll be extremely disconcerted. The sense of humour in this book is something special and delightfully strange. Jokes aren’t shaped around needless pratfalls or forced misunderstandings, but instead come from a place of, for lack of a better word, spontaneity. When you, as a reader, start to get drawn in to the narrative progression, the book will effortlessly, but drastically, shift sideways.

Nowhere is this humour more clear than in the most recognisable piece of continuity from the games: Crazy Dave. Maintaining his incoherent rambling and grunting, he remains the only person who sufficiently prepared for the eventuality of a swarm of zombies attacking the town. With his niece, Patrice, serving as a translator, there are multiple bait-and-switch moments in their conversations where, as you think a spectacular plan is about to emerge, it’s instead about something completely inane. As much as I’d like to say that it's a trick that only worked on me the first time, it’s a shrewd comedic beat that repeatedly and consistently landed.

As previously mentioned, there’s a basic underlying plot that drives the characters forwards along their adventure: zombies attack the town of Neighborville and the protagonists are attempting to destroy them. It honestly doesn’t get any more complicated than that, but it doesn't need to. If you enter into this story expecting a series of hijinks and incredulity, then you’ll have a far greater chance of enjoying it as a self-contained story. For the majority of the volume, this mindset will serve you well. As the humour started to drop out and the story took the main focus, the shallowness of the actual narrative did become abundantly clear.

It would be remiss to complete a review of this series without mentioning the fantastically tonally appropriate art from Ron Chan. Tying into an already established property means that you need to match the stylings of the original work, as a general rule, to ensure that you can instantly look at it and recognise it as part of the world. All of the most famous plants and zombies make an appearance and it’s surprisingly fun to pick out all of the little details that he puts into the background. 

Crowd shots make up a significant portion of the panels in this story and it’s amazing how consistently Chan is able to make each shot feel different. With books like this, where you’re required to convey both scale and the personal weight of the story, it would have been easy to fall back on tracing and endless repetition. It never felt like this was art getting churned out by rote so, if there are instances of this, then they’re so insignificant and unnoticeable. From the beginning until the very end, everything feels alive, vibrant and exciting.

With the two children created for this story serving as point-of-entry characters, both the writing and the art flesh them out as very distinct and interesting people. Nate initially seems like he’s going to serve as the sole male protagonist, like a lot of younger cartoons seem to, but this is a far better series than that. Bringing in Patrice to serve as a counterbalance, there’s something here for every child to enjoy and relate to. Both of them are as capable as children can be and they get an equal chance to demonstrate just how much they can do. They speak with a contagious confidence that sometimes makes you forget their inexperience; however, there’s an ignorance to them that prevents them from becoming an archetypal arrogant child.

In spite of how much I found myself laughing out loud when reading this volume and how much I enjoyed it as a whole, I’m struggling to decide whether or not I would recognise it as fully all-ages. There’s an innate and conscious ridiculousness to it that tickled me, but there were also moments where the lack of a substantial narrative driving force jumps out at you; it starts, if only very slightly, to become a slog. You’ll come away from this series not knowing what the hell you just read, but for some reason you know that you want to read more. I’m more split about this decision that any of the previous entries but, from a standard of how much I liked it, I have to say that this is all-ages.
Let me know if there's a comic that you think I should be checking out. I'm always on the look-out for some more hidden All-Ages gold. Contact me at or head over to for a daily dose of comic reviews, interviews and more!

Friday, June 10, 2016

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Requiem-- a review of Hellboy in Hell #10

Hellboy in Hell #10
Written and Drawn by Mike Mignola
Colored by Dave Stewart
Lettered by Clem Robins
Published by Dark Horse Comics

Reading Hellboy in Hell has been reading the story of a ghost. For the past nine issues, Hellboy has walked across Hell as if it was a purgatory for his own personal unfinished purposes. After having killed him going around five years ago now, Hellboy in Hell has functioned as a mourning period for creator Mike Mignola and his audience, refusing to give up on the character while finally figuring out it was time to let go. Hellboy in Hell #10 is that letting go, the chance for character, creator and audience find peace in a fictional character’s life that was often overshadowed by an otherworldly fate.

What’s stunning in Hellboy in Hell #10 is just how silent Mignola’s story is. As he spins his tale about giant demons fighting for the fate of Hell, Mignola, and colorist Dave Stewart pull back from the banter and repartee (even though both are present in unique sidebars) and tell Hellboy’s final story through the power of the images. Paring his drawings down to abstract Kirby krackle, shadows, and his minimalistic-yet-evocative designs, words aren’t needed to get to the heart of Mignola's story. As Hellboy confronts big concepts like destiny and fate, it’s important that Mignola doesn’t explain a lot. After 20+ years of story, Mignola shows us the final story without a clear explanation of the meaning of the final actions of the character.  He leaves a lot of the meaning and symbolism of his story up to the reader's own interpretation.

Dave Stewart’s coloring in these final issues is a clear demonstration of why Stewart is one of the best colorists in comics. The flat colors of Hell still manage to develop depth to the artwork as his choices of reds, grays, greens and yellows creates stark contrasts between the layers of MIgnola’s artwork. But the flat colors also don’t create a lot of visual noise. Mignola’s minimalistic drawings combined with Stewart’s stark coloring rely on the history of the characters and the legendary images to create the Sturm und Drang of the narrative.
Hellboy’s story has always been a story about fate. In Hellboy, (and Abe Sapien and Liz Sherman in other Mignolaverse books,) we’ve seen Mignola’s fascination with characters fighting what they believe are their predestined roles in this world. Looking like a huge demon, Hellboy has always fought for life and even here, he’s fighting for the promise of freedom and self-determination for himself and the demons of Hell. In that way, Hellboy in Hell #10 is the ultimate Hellboy story delving into the themes that Mignola has been exploring since 1995. The silence of these final battles adds to the legend of the Hellboy story that Mignola has created.

With this final, modern-aged Hellboy story (there are chances for more 1950s-era stories written and drawn by others,) Mignola answers questions about Hellboy’s nature, his purpose, and his fate that only he knows. Mignola’s guarding of these questions just adds to the mystery of what actually happens to Hellboy in this issue but the ending feels like the ending the character has been searching for and longing after for years. Since the character died and descended into Hell (and let’s not get into all of the implications of that statement,) this series has searched for peace for the character and Mignola and Hellboy seems to finally found it in Hellboy In Hell #10.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

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Sucked Up Into His Mind- a review of Casanova: Acedia #5

Casanova: Acedia #5
Written by Matt Fraction and Michael Chabon
Drawn and Colored by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Bá
Lettered by Dustin K. Harbin
Published by Image Comics

Who is Casanova Quinn? The answer to that  question feels like it’s something that we should already know because we have lived with Matt Fraction, Gabriel Bá and Fabio Moon’s character for going on ten years now. But an amnesiac Casanova lost on some parallel world that may be our own, having built a new life for himself and now finding out that the foundation of that life may be lies just raises the question again of who is Casanova Quinn? Is he a spaceman? A secret agent? A majordomo? Or a double agent about to betray the man who has given him everything in this new life? Whoever Quinn may be, Fraction and Moon invade Casanova’s constructed life with truths, demons and bookstore truths that make this world seem about as logical and steady as an M.C. Escher print.

The world of Casanova doesn’t make sense. As truths are revealed to be lies, and maybe some of the lies are also truths, Fraction and Moon seem to be searching for an artistic truth as well. At one point, a character who is an alternate version of a character we’ve known throughout the course of the story is given a copy of Casanova Volume 2: Gula, the book where the question of who Casanova Quinn is was the central conceit of the volume. This is the first example of Fraction and team employing circular storytelling in this issue with a level of meta-commentary buried in this issue. Who is Casanova if he isn’t just a comic book character who, on some level, is functioning as a fiction suit for his creators?

This issue even doubles Báck on itself in many different ways. The opening of Fraction and Moon’s story “Mutineer” goes Báck to the beginning of the Acedia storyline, shortly after Casanova arrives on this earth, disoriented and rushing for the safety of an aBándoned house with a long aBándoned recording studio. Shedding his clothes as he runs to the house, the metaphorical nakedness and loneliness of the character echoes throughout the issue and through the Metanauts backup by Michael Chabon and Gabriel Bá, which ends in the moments before the Fraction/Moon story begins, with a man about to commit suicide just as Casanova invades this world.

Fraction’s writing here in Casanova: Acedia #5 mirrors Cass’s state of mind; confused and disoriented. While there’s an everything-you-know-is-wrong aspect to the story, there’s also an everything-you-know-maybe-isn’t-what-you-think-it-is aspect as well. This series has taken place in a different alternate reality than what’s previously come in the book so characters look and sound like characters we and Casanova know but Casanova (and by extension, the audience) has to struggle against assuming that everyone is who he knows them to be. As one character is given a copy of Casanova Volume 2, Casanova’s own story is absent in this reality and in its place is an uncertainty of the world and its foundation.

The first three volumes of Casanova were a manic race as Fraction, Bá and Moon did everything they could to get their story down on paper. Casanova: Acedia has pulled back on that pace, feeling like a whole new introduction into the mindscape of Casanova. Fraction and Moon place the reader on the same unsteady ground that the characters are on while Chabon and Bá carry on that energetic chaos of the previous volumes of this title. Casanova: Acedia #5 pulls back even more as its circular meta-narrative is both contemplative and mysterious.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

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All-Ages or Small-Ages #10 (Love: The Fox by Frédéric Brrémaud and Frederico Bertolucci)

See all of the past entries of All-Ages or Small-Ages here.

There are a wide array of all-ages comics out there from the classic Archie comics, through the  Sonic the Hedgehog and Disney, all the way to the original properties such as Lumberjanes. You might look at one of these books and think that, as an adult, it doesn’t have much to offer you. As someone who has discovered a deep fondness for titles such as this, I’ve been surprised by how rich and complex the stories can be. All-Ages or Small-Ages? is a feature that takes a look at the books that fall under this banner and attempts to analyse whether or not their assigned label is apt; is it a book that you can read along with your children?

Comics are inherently a visual medium and far too many regular readers forget this. For them, the story comes first and, provided that the art is good enough to follow the sequencing, it falls under the radar. With the industry itself going back and forth on the most important aspect of a comic, sometimes its nice to see how effective and capable the visuals can be on their own. Love: The Fox is part of a thematically connected series of books with the Love branding from independent publisher Magnetic Press; each follows a day in the life of a different species, providing a glimpse into a significant day in the life of a single animal.

It's easy to see how a book of this kind can appeal to the younger demographic. Not only does the story follow the titular fox, but it flits around to show the other animals that live on and around this location. However, you can look at these animals living in their natural habit, even as an adult, and enjoy watching them go about their day-to-day life; there's a reason why David Attenborough documentaries are famous worldwide. Whether peaceful or caught up in drama, there's something both soothing and intriguing about watching how a simple-minded animal reacts to and interacts with its surroundings.

As you read through the first portion of the book, you admire the inherent beauty of the art, but you do start to wonder how it's going to maintain momentum for another 70 pages; saying that it throws a wrench into their lives is an understatement. The instigating event for our dive into this world is the erupting volcano shown in the picture above. It kicks off a series of dominoes that, as the book progresses, start to come together in fascinating ways. There's a layer of complexity and narrative progression that you might not expect from a series like this.

However, it's worth noting that this book doesn't presume to give these animals defined personalities or characteristics; these are animals trying to survive and that's really all there is to them. Far too many all-ages books feel the need to anthropomorphise every creature. I understand the motivation behind it, but it can keep away older readers who don't want to feel like they're watching a Saturday morning cartoon. There's a quote on one of the first pages of the book that sets the tone of the book perfectly: "In the animal kingdom, animals neither love nor hate each other". Knowing this from the beginning prevents the sense of a foregone conclusion when reading; you don't know which animals are going to survive as there isn't always a clear protagonist.

You might think that, with the title of the book as it is, the entirety of the book is spent following a singular fox through their experience with the volcano. However, there's a scattering of parallel threads that wind in and out of each other. showing how so many other animals deal with the crisis; they come close to feeling invasive, but instead flesh out the wider world. One important thing to remember when reading this issue is that you need to throw all narrative expectation out of the window. You won't get a thematically satisfying conclusion or a allegorical commentary on anything; this is nature in its truest form and the progression doesn't matter.

Telling this kind of story requires an artist so in tune with the nuance and complexities of animal behaviour that you start to forget that you aren't watching these events in real time. Bertolucci handles the small details so adeptly and faultlessly that every animal feels both realistic and unique. Pieces of media like The Jungle Book and My Little Pony are allowed to steal little tics from human facial expressions, but that's thankfully something that Bertolucci avoids. These are unquestionably animals and he understands the importance of that.

The sequencing of a wordless story is understandably one of the most critical components. With an astute range of layouts, you're never under any doubt that this is a world that is constantly changing. Switching from intimate shots of an eagle eating its prey to to wide splash of a herd of rams climbing up a mountain, each page and each single panel feels significant and contributes to the establishment of a wider universe. It's a testament to the skill of both creators that they're able to create such a vibrant and established world over such a short space of time.

A review of this series would be incomplete without a discussion of the intricate detail in the art itself. It prevents the book from feeling like a quick display of animals for children and pushes it unquestionably into the upper echelons of quality. This isn't art that's been created for the sole intention of showing you pretty pictures; there are ancillary details that allow you to keep coming back for more. noticing instigating moments for later, more significant, events. Everything feels like it's been put into this book for a reason and spotting and connecting all of the little dots is part and parcel of the experience.

For example, the first time you read through, you might not notice the beginnings of the eruption can be seen far beyond when it explicitly appears. Little cracks in the ocean floor start to split and spread in the background of a panel and, as the focus is on something else at the time, it's only when you know to look for it can you start to appreciate the degree of forethought. I can't emphasise enough how much I'm looking forward to continuing to go through this and notice more and more of this superb attention to detail.

Something that might be written off at first glance as a children's picture book is in fact so much more. Books like this are the core reason why this column sparked into life. There's so much out there that appears to be a shallow ploy to draw in children, but in fact possesses that depth that keeps everyone of all ages coming back for more. I have no doubt that this series was created as a simple demonstration of the peculiarities of the lives of animals, but it's become something far greater. This is a series that hasn't come close to getting the attention that it deserves; these are two immensely gifted creators and you need to be buying their work. Everything about this screams talent and you need to get yourself on board.

You can find Love: The Fox on Comixology here. Check it out and you won't regret it. 

Let me know if there's a comic that you think I should be checking out. I'm always on the look-out for some more hidden All-Ages gold. Contact me at or head over to for a daily dose of comic reviews, interviews and more!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

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Graphic Nonfiction: Eleri Mai Harris Monetizes the Week

While it's not quite the same as before, I'm always happy when I get a new e-mail in from The Nib, which still offers comics from a rotating set of creators.

Because I am a fan of all things statistical (I even subscribe to daily digests from 538), this little comic showing some of the interesting money-related numbers from a given week caught my eye. It's from Eleri Mai Harris, someone I admit I'm unfamiliar with.

You can find the original here, which features the stat-and-picture below, along with four others.

This is not the most art-heavy piece I've chosen for graphic nonfiction, but I think it's pretty cool that Harris finds a way to pick just the right image to go along with the statistic. I also like the roughness here. There's no attempt to make the lettering perfect (note the "R" above, for example, or how the "I" is smaller than the other letters).

It reminds me of those little one-page things you'd find in Newsweek or as part of a sidebar in National Geographic. Sometimes words and pictures can be equal partners in a comic, and that's the case here.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to see if anyone wants the old keyboard I never use. Maybe I can get $3.34?

Friday, June 3, 2016

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Strange Attractors #1 (of 5)

Strange Attractors #1
Written by Charles Soule
Illustrated by Greg Scott and Soo Lee
Colored by Art Lyon, Matthew Patz and Felipe Sobreiro
Lettered by Thomas Mauer and Ed Dukeshire
Published by Boom! Studios

Cities are incredibly complex organisms. The constant movement of people from place to place, along with cars and other vehicles, trains, the water, the sewers, electricity, all the commerce flowing in and out of the city.  New York City in particular, as a non-New Yorker, has always felt like a chaotic place to me. The crowds, the traffic, etc. For the most part though, it works as intended. Why is that?  

Well, one answer might be that there are secret forces working constantly behind the scenes to prevent New York from descending rapidly into chaos and anarchy.  That's the hook behind the strong first issue of Strange Attractors from Charles Soule and some very talented artists, first released as a graphic novel from Archaia and now being released as a miniseries from Boom! Studios. Strange Attractors feels sort of like a low-rent The Adjustment Bureau meets Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, with some interesting twists. 

The story begins with a graduate student addressing a college class with the idea of chaos and New York City, and the number of actions that somehow take place in an orderly fashion without the whole city breaking down, and how tenuous this order is. Things don't work out for this student, but the action moves to the encounter between the elderly professor Spencer Brownfield and nervous graduate student Heller Wilson.  Heller approaches Professor Brownfield to talk complexity theory; the professor is blunt and idiosyncratic, to say the least, but he's interested in Heller and they might just be able to help each other with their work.  As the issue ends we start to see what the disgraced former Columbia faculty member has been up to for many years (including some very complex maps, illustrated by Robert Saywitz). The issue concludes with an additional short vignette about another mathematician taking an unusual approach in attempting to positively impact the City. 

The art in Strange Attractors really sells the story. The tone that's set here is a fairly realistic one, except  at the outset where we see the world as the initial mathematician sees it. In some of those moments we see the weirdness and complexity and equations of societal interactions that he sees. They're blindingly colorful and pretty overwhelming (sort of like when John Nash sees equations in A Beautiful Mind but in a overwhelming, harmful way).  These bursts of color and geometry make a nice contrast to the rest of the issue, which is told with a strong sense of realism and a great sense of place. 

Greg Scott has a moody style that captures effectively every day moments. His line work makes me think of a slightly scratchier Gabriel Hardman or Paul Azaceta. Scott really captures the weariness and frustration and other emotions of the characters, particularly Brownfield and Heller when they're together at a diner and we see them closeup.  In the first part of the story, Art Lyon and Matthew Patz do great work in coloring the story. They bring a lot of those moody, slightly dark, slightly off-kilter feelings of the story to life. The color work feels very precise here; while it's generally what one might think of as "realistic" coloring, there's great work (such as below) in changing the color of background objects to bring focus to Heller and the Professor. In the below page where the waitress interrupts the two at their table, the background is a single bright color; they've been talking intently and her sudden appearance signals a change in focus. I really appreciate when color is used in this way to help convey mood (or a change in focus) and advance the storytelling.

The end of the issue has a vignette called "Antithesis" and it's ably illustrated by Soo Lee, with colors from Felipe Sobreiro. Lee focuses her panels primarily around the World Trade Center circa 1981, giving the setting immediate poignancy. She's got a cleaner but less realistic style than Scott (at least when it comes to depictions of people) so it makes for an interesting contrast; her facial work reminds me a little of a slightly more manga-influenced Aaron Kuder. But she shows the cityscape and the characters in it with great precision. Felipe Sobreiro colors this sequence and this work feels similarly grounded like the rest of the book, but with a little bit lighter and more hopeful of a feel to it.  

Strange Attractors is a comic chock-full of ideas. It's a little narrative and exposition-heavy, but given the academic setting of the story and the heady subject matter there's a narrative reason for that. Plus, New Yorkers love to talk. The fundamental idea that Soule is exploring here is a fascinating one. The idea of systems, why they work, how they work, and why they do or don't break down; I can imagine someone coming to New York or any other large city for the first time, looking around, and wondering "how the hell does this not fall apart?"*  The inference that the story is that Professor Brownfield has been napping the complexity of New York City for over 30 years, and not only mapping the city but influencing the city in subtle ways as well. There's been a lot of stories over the years about secret organizations influencing and controlling society, such as the relatively recent movie The Adjustment Bureau which played with this idea that our lives are controlled in this way by a sinister group that moves chess pieces from the shadows. 

What I really like about Strange Attractors is that it takes a more standard idea and flips it on its head. The work of influencing the City isn't being undertaken by a powerful cabal; it's being done by a single disgraced former Math Professor living on the Upper West Side.  There's also the distinct possibility that he's just an old man suffering from mental illness, or a person with non-neurotypical thinking who just makes weird maps and charts and who takes random actions because he believes he's somehow influencing the city as well. The story leaves that possibility open, and we're left wondering about Professor Brownfield just as Heller is wondering what he's gotten himself into. 
There's a lot to enjoy in Strange Attractors.  This is a smart comic (really, I feel smarter for having read this book) with a lot of interesting ideas, and characters that are compelling enough to make me want to see where it goes.

* True story, when I was 5 or so we were stuck at the top of the Empire State Building because the elevators weren't working, and when I was maybe 14 we got stuck in a NYC subway car for an hour or so because there was a big Con Ed explosion in the Bronx that was causing delays in all sorts of trains.  I wish there were weird mathematicians running around at the time trying to fix those problems!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

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The Revisionist #1

The Revisionist #1
Written by Frank Barbiere
Illustrated by Garry Brown
Colored by Lauren Affe
Lettered by Dave Sharpe
Published by AfterShock Comics

Time travel. If time travel was, is, or ever will be possible, then it's almost a certainty that there are a constant stream of people attempting to make changes to the timeline. Reality might have changed just now, and we'd have no idea (I'd know, I'm not sure about you though). It's a comforting idea to think that there's someone working to preserve reality and the timeline as we know it. Well, it's comforting so long as their idea of what the timeline should be matches our own. What if it isn't?   

That's the hook behind the strong new series The Revisionist, from writer Frank Barbiere and artist Garry Brown. It's an engaging first issue with a hook that feels like an introspective Timecop meets Looper. While this first issue feels like more of an introduction, it provides a strong sense of the main character and his background, and begins to show the incredibly high stakes involved. 

We first meet Martin Monroe as he's attempting to infiltrate a futuristic high-rise and take out a target, as he tells us about the lies we accept in our lives, his role in those lies, and the cost he has incurred as a protector of those lies and of the comfortable ignorance in which we live. There's quite a transition as we jump back in time to see Monroe as he's in his last day of prison. Scheduled to be released early on account of providing valuable information, things very much don't go his way. The story brings in more sci-fi elements that show how Martin is already connected to a much larger world, and by the end of the issue he's taking a literal leap of faith into that larger world. 

I first became aware of Barbiere's work on the terrific Image series Five Ghosts. I loved the pulpy, old-fashioned adventure of that book, a tale of a classic adventurer and thief, but also a story that showed a larger world full of magic and mythology.  I've also enjoyed Barbiere's work in other series, and I admire his ability to tell an engaging story and create relatable, profoundly human protagonists in diverse situations (pulpy anti-heroes, mob assassins, scientists mourning the departure of their family).

That strong sense of humanity continues here, as Monroe is a pretty compelling character after only a single issue. Someone who swore he'd never kill again, and is now what appears to be a time-traveling assassin who works to protect the time stream? That's a great hook. It's possible sometimes in a story involving a cool concept to get a little too involved in the mechanics of the idea, to spend too much time discussing physics or techno-babble. Thankfully Barbiere doesn't do any of that here, he keeps the focus squarely on the characters (where it belongs), while simultaneously showing a man who discovers a much larger, weirder world that's been hidden from him. In this way, Barbiere continues to explore a theme that he tackled in Five Ghosts; that is, exploration of a larger world that is unknown to most people. In that series, the main character's sister was in some way a casualty of his exploration of dark magic and power. Here, it's strongly hinted that Monroe has given up much (and had much taken from him) as a result of the effort to preserve our timeline. The theme of consequences is a strong one, and I'm very interested to see where Barbiere takes that here.

Brown and colorist Lauren Affe do terrific artistic work in telling the story of The Revisionist. I've been an admirer of Brown's work in books such as The Massive and Iron Patriot; he's got a diverse skill set and  is a really solid visual storyteller.  The sequential storytelling is pretty straightforward here but in interesting ways, as Brown lays out the initial scene of a page in a large panel and overlays the initial panel with smaller panels showing the subsequent action. It works well, as it keeps the eye moving. The first number of pages in the story are mostly narration as opposed to dialogue, and Brown does great work in demonstrating dramatic action that nicely complements the narration. Brown brings a pretty rough, scratchy line to the storytelling here. He's got a style that feels something like a rougher, more impressionistic Sean Murphy, and also a little like the work of artist Chris Mooneyham on Five Ghosts. All have a strong, rough line and do terrific work in conveying two-fisted action and dynamic movement. 

Brown is aided tremendously by the color work of Lauren Affe. Affe worked with Mooneyham on Five Ghosts with Barbiere, and I appreciate the continuity here. In the initial pages set in the future, Affe provides a less-than-gleaming, somewhat muted and grounded color palate that provides a strong sense of darkness and atmosphere to the pages. This is a story which begins in what's ostensibly a gleaming future, but it's a story about a dark man who has to do dark things in order to protect the world as we know it. Some individual panels don't have much background, but in those instances Affe provides atmospheric coloring that often fits the mood, such as brighter, more intense colors for more intense scenes in the story. Overall the coloring has a more analog, old-school feel to it that suits the story well, as does the lettering from Dave Sharpe. The sound effects lettering in the issue has a great, hand-drawn quality to it that also made it feel like part of the story rather than an afterthought. 

I've been looking forward to seeing the next big creator-owned story that Barbiere would take on, and I've been intrigued by the interesting, varied work that's being published by AfterShock Comics. Having very much enjoyed the first issue of The Revisionist, I think there's a lot of promise on both fronts.