September 27, 2016

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All-Ages or Small-Ages #26 (The Boy and The Dragon by Isaac J. Crawford)

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 Boy and the Dragon has a very heartwarming origin described in its summary, giving a rhyme and reason to its structure and narrative content. Its sole creator, Isaac J Crawford, told this as a bedtime story to his son before eventually putting pen to paper and finally creating this comic. It follows the story of a young boy who forms an unlikely friendship with a dragon only to have it cruelly ripped from him. Years later, the boy heads out in the hope of finding it again.

As the context of the comic's origin might imply, this is a very surface-level story about a young boy's first foray into the world of fantasy. Granted, it's a very touching story with a few very poignant moments, but it's clear that this is something that evolved over the course of each telling, gradually adding more and more details to it with each telling. Framing the narrative with caption boxes to this effect highlights this in a way that, depending on what you're trying to get from this comic, will either peak or halt your interest.

Saying that, there are a few moments in this story that, even as someone with more experience with fiction, still hit pretty hard. The boy's journey later in life into the world, trying to track down a lost part of his youth is a strong metaphor for aging that I don't think will ever fully lose its effect for people of any age. Despite the bittersweet nature of the adventure, it's something that you find yourself rooting for throughout the story.

Despite the simple nature of the narrative, there's a deliberate feel to it that reveals some of Crawford's storytelling prowess. Although it draws very heavily from other fantasy properties such as Eragon, whether deliberately or not, it's a coherent and skillful depiction of what might otherwise be a complex situation. There are also fractal echoes that ripple throughout the boy's life, specifically the repetition of a certain phrase, that show how coherent this issue is.

Crawford's art has a freehand feel to it, reminiscent of both Ramon Villalobos and Iain Laurie, that gives both the humans and creatures a more natural and grounded feel to them. In a story where the main focus is on both mythical creatures and the boy's reaction to his situation, this is an important quality to have. The colours have a detail and a beautiful gradient to them that brings this remarkable world to life; they're realistic while also being very clearly influenced other fantastical sources.

My only real criticism of this comic is its simplicity and its length. Everything else about this comic is something that I really do adore. It has has a story with the richness and depth that you need to take a story to that next level, but it all unfortunately ends a little bit too quickly; you'll be able to read this issue from start to finish in less than five minutes. However, you most definitely should read this comic to your child, regardless of gender, at night; it has adventure, heartbreak and tragedy all in one beautiful package.

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 check out the podcast that I co-host You Know What I Like...? on SoundCloud.

September 25, 2016

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Graphic Nonfiction: Matt Bors Tears Down Trump's Wall Plan

With the first debate set for tomorrow evening, it seemed like a good time to run my favorite piece that Matt Bors has written since he started The Nib, a pitch-perfect visual takedown of the hateful, bigoted, misguided, and flat out stupid plan to build a wall across the US-Mexico border. Even Trump knows it's never going to happen, but it sounds great to the shit-head racists who plan to vote for him in November.

Matt starts off with a great visual of Trump, looming over the rest of the visual article like a gargoyle, which is of course, appropriate:

That's an actual quote, of course, and SPOILER ALERT! The Orange One is full of shit, as usual. Using a mixture of researched facts, sarcasm, and real interviews, Bors shows just how expensive--and next-to-impossible--the wall would be. There's ecological issues along with the moral ones, too, as this interview shows. Look at the way Bors gets the text in while still giving us a great look at the person behind the words:

And then there's my second-favorite panel, where Bors shows us the very thing he's talking about, in this case, the Hoover Dam:

Note that here, Bors not only gives us the visual--the dam itself--but also uses it to guide the reader's eye through a dense section of text. There's really a lot to read in Bors' article, which originally appeared in the Pacific Standard before he re-pubbed it on The Nib.

But hey! I mentioned my favorite panel--where it is? Well, you'll have to read the whole thing to find it for yourself. Let's just say that it sinks Trump's wall plan once and for all. If only sinking his whole campaign were so easy. We'll just have to hope America does the right thing in November, and knocks him on his ass back to the two-bit tabloid world he came from.

September 23, 2016

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Single-Minded for 9/21/16: Black Hammer #3 and Seven to Eternity #1

This week I wanted to talk about two comics that are very different, but are similar in that they're both examples of writers returning to themes that are clearly very important to them.

Black Hammer #1-3
Script by Jeff Lemire
Art by Dean Ormston
Colors by Dave Stewart
Letters by Todd Klein
Published by Dark Horse Comics

Jeff Lemire, widely known and respected for his independent, written and illustrated work (Sweet Tooth, Underwater Welder, Trillium) has also been significantly branching out in recent years. He's currently working primarily as a writer, with books at Marvel (Moon Knight and Old Man Logan), Valiant (Bloodshot: Reborn), and creator-owned projects illustrated by other talented artists including Descender and Plutona (at Image) and Black Hammer (at Dark Horse). My favorite of these recent books might just be Black Hammer, as I think it brings together a number of ideas that Lemire has been exploring and synthesizes them in an engaging, mysterious and unsettling way.

Black Hammer tells the story of a unusual group of people living together on a farm in a small town. They all used to be superheroes but they've been trapped, living in exile for the last ten years. It's been fascinating to see, over the first three issues, how the different characters are dealing (or not dealing) with being stranded. They can't leave - they don't know anything about what's happening outside the town, and any attempt they make to leave it, or to send a probe out of the town, is unsuccessful. As we learn throughout the series, each of them used to be superheroes, and has adapted (or not adapted) in different ways. Issue 3 primarily highlights the struggle and loneliness of Mark Markz, otherwise known as Barbalien (a clear analogue for J'onn J'onnz, the Martian Manhunter). He was an outcast from his people, along with being an alien in hiding once he landed on Earth. The issue also makes clear that he has felt alienated in other ways as well.

I wasn't familiar with Dean Ormston's comic book work previously, but he does stunning, detailed, insightful work in Black Hammer. The book feels like it has a dark cloud over it, not in an obvious way, but in a moody, existential, lonely sad way. Ormston has a terrifically engaging style, somewhat reminiscent of Lemire's own line work though maybe slightly more realistic as to human form, kind of like Lemire crossed with the strong, angular line work of Mike Mignola (some excellent company to be in), but interestingly enough, there's an attractive ugliness in the characters that also reminds me just a little of Daniel Clowes. Needless to say, it's a distinctive style. It helps to have a master like Dave Stewart on colors. Stewart has an incredible ability to convey that sort of cold sense of existential loneliness through colors; looking at several pages of this book makes me want to get on a jacket and a scarf. Stewart also smartly varies the color scheme when showing flashbacks, but not in a blunt way. It would be more obvious to make the "old days" incredibly bright and pristine and the current times bleak and gray; there's a clear difference but it's much more subtle.

What particularly interests me here (and this is probably worth my exploring and a longer essay at some point) is that Lemire has consistently explored themes of loneliness and alienation, along with the related but distinct themes of existential displacement and confusion (characters trapped in a world that just seems wrong). His current Moon Knight run is all about a character who doesn't know what's real and seems to be trapped in one delusion or another, and books like Sweet Tooth and Trillium are all about the themes of loneliness and found families and a sense of people trying come together to overcome something that's very wrong with the world or even reality itself. Plutona is also an exploration of a group of lonely people in a world full of superheroes.

Black Hammer is a comic that synthesizes many of these ideas; it's about a group of people who are thrust out of the world they knew into a strange situation, where all they have is each other, however as the creative team has effectively shown through the first three issues, each of them is profoundly alone and lonely in their own ways, looking for meaning and a way to make sense of their circumstances. They're (at least some of them) also trying to solve the mystery of where they actually are and why they're cut off from the rest of the world, along with being (to varying degrees) nostalgic to their former glory days of super-heroism. It's a fantastic story with a lot of layers, and I encourage you to pick it up.

Seven to Eternity #1
Written by Rick Remender
Drawn by Jerome Opeña
Colored by Matt Hollingsworth
Lettered by Rus Wooton
Edited by Sebastian Girner
Published by Image Comics

Over the last few years, Rick Remender has written some of the best, most interesting independent comics being published, working primarily in the science fiction genre. Deadly Class, Black Science and Low are each among my favorite books, and I appreciated Tokyo Ghost even if it wasn't my cup of tea. In each of those instances, Remender has collaborated with some of the very best artists working today (Matteo Scalera, Sean Murphy, Wes Craig and Greg Tocchini). In his latest comic independent comic Seven to Eternity, Remender (with art from Jerome Opeña and colors from Matt Hollingsworth) keeps up that strong trend, with a story that feels very relevant, set in a lush fantasy-western world. Remender also continues to explore themes that seem important to him.

Adam Osidis is a member of a family living in exile on the world of Zhal. The Mud King, or "God of Whispers" has taken over the kingdom, and rules through fear and spies, rumors and gossip. This so-called god seems to have the power to make people turn towards him and away from one another. Without having a standing army, he can make people destroy each other from within. Most everyone in the kingdom (or maybe the whole world) has succumbed to the will of the Mud King, and within each family are those who are spies for him (creating an atmosphere of distrust and decay). Adam Osidis' father moved their family away from the kingdom and have attempted to live independently, but the Mud King's servants make this impossible. As the first issue ends, Osidis does the only thing he can think to do which is to go before the God of Whispers. Adam's father's last words were a warning, not to hear the Mud King's offer, but it's not at all clear whether Adam will heed this warning.

At the outset you need to know that this is an absolutely gorgeous comic book. This may be some of the best, most intricate, detailed work I've seen yet from Jerome Opeña (a frequent Remender collaborator, including on books such as Fear Agent, Uncanny X-Force and several Avengers titles). He's created a unique, genuinely interesting-looking fantasy world which combines together elements of lush greenery, the western plains, and fantastical alien cities. As you might expect from a skilled artist such as Opeña, this is a story of both big action and small emotional moments and he excels at both. When Adam leaves his family behind in order to go face the Mud King, the pain and anger and resentment and love on his and his family's face is palpable. Opeña has an excellent artistic collaborator in Matt Hollingsworth on colors. There are some genuinely stunning color effects in this comic book, from the eerie, luminescent glow of fairy-type creatures, to the frightening, almost overpowering light of a burning blaze, to the Kirby-esque crackle of magic effects, to the fading glory of a gigantic red sunset – Hollingsworth's detail and bright colors help bring this fantastical world to life.

Remender begins this first issue with a page of the Diary of Adam Osidis; Adam's father led them away from the kingdom and the corrupt rule of the Mud King because he believed that "the rotting of all principles began with the placing of a single foot on the road to compromise", and that's the larger theme that seems to be under exploration in the story, and it's also an idea that Remender has explored throughout many of his series. He seems to be really interested in exploring the idea of the lone great and principled person who takes a stand against evil or mediocrity, or in favor of scientific exploration and growth, and always against compromise. You can see this theme in the stories such as Black Science, where one man is willing to go to virtually any lengths, including breaking up his family, to show that pure, uncompromising "punk rock" science is the answer to solving all of humanity's problems. Or in the book Low, where one woman wages a lonely battle against the slow descent of humanity into the depths of nothingness, even at the cost of her relationships. In Tokyo Ghost, technology has made everyone but one brave woman into mindless drones, and only she can stand and resist its lure, and hopefully save the world.

In Seven to Eternity, first Adam's father Zebadiah and now Adam must be the lone man to make a stand. The whole society has devolved into a mess of lies, rumors and whispers (this very much feels like a metaphor for 2016, and makes me think of my conflicted relationship with social media), and Adam represents the rugged, uncompromising individualist standing against this descent. Remender has, I think, a complex view of the principled, uncompromising hero - it's not at all clear that the decisions they make are the right ones. The refusal to compromise always seems to cost them dearly, and many of these heroes' decisions are wrong. So I'm very curious to see what Adam does next, and see how this story proceeds. If you've enjoyed Remender's other works and want to see him explore these ideas in the fantasy genre (or are just looking for an entertaining read), Seven to Eternity is off to a strong start.

September 20, 2016

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All-Ages or Small-Ages #25 (Bee and Puppycat Volume 1 by Natasha Allegri, Garrett Jackson and Patrick Seery)

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?

Bee and Puppycat is a fan-favourite web series that received a legendary amount of funding from its supporters on Kickstarter back in 2013 and was subsequently picked up as a comic series by Boom! Studios in 2014. It follows the titular Bee, a young woman living on her own, and her magical pet dog/cat hybrid, Puppycat, as they attempt to blunder their way through the uncertainty of adult life. The duo head to other dimensions and meet fantastical creatures, all in an effort to avoid the responsibility of the real world.

This is a concept that unequivocally feels like it's best suited to animation, making its original source feel a lot more appropriate than this comic. It has an inherent episodic component to it that, when coupled with Allegri's original style, invokes a very specific genre of television. This first volume contains an array of various stories in this vein, jumping from a single-page gag to a ten page story chronicling an entire adventure. The wide array of creators on this book keep each entry feeling both fresh and consistently engaging for people of all dispositions.

Where this volume begins to fall down is the subsequent richness of each individual story. It’s a storytelling format where nothing is truly different at the end, where you’re along for the journey and nothing else; you’re here because you love these characters. Presumably due to the fact that this was a comic that was picked up due to its established fanbase, it’s a comic that assumes that you already know who these characters are. 

Heading into this world as a new reader, while a large proportion of the information can be gleaned from context, some plot elements are simply not explained before they get used. This makes the book ideal for dropping new young readers into, but leaves older readers feeling as though they need to spend time catching up before being able to dive into these characters. A first volume should be able to stand on its own merits and not rely on its already existing popularity.

Admittedly, this volume does take the magical girl genre into some pretty interesting directions. Primed for the quick cuts back and forth between scenes, it uses Puppycat’s magical abilities and Bee’s corresponding enthusiasm to marvelous effect. We’re taken through various worlds and see many different creatures, all the while keeping the focus firmly on the character’s home life. Bee is affable and grounded in a way that many characters in this genre are not, making you immediately interested in finding out more about her.

Unfortunately, this is undermined significantly by the flatness of both of the titular protagonists. Both of them have a distinct and well-defined personality, but it’s very one-note. Not every character has to be fully-rounded and have a complex backstory, but to sustain interest in an ongoing story in a serial format, it’s important to ensure that these characters can still surprise you. Once you’ve read the first two pages of this volume, you immediately know how they’re subsequently going to react in every situation.

This is a book that was definitively made for the fans and, honestly, that’s entirely fine. There are a few brief flashes of unadulterated hilarity, but a large proportion of the enjoyment seemed to hinge on an already established connection to these characters and this universe as a whole. Do buy this for your kids though; they’ll get a huge kick out of the silliness and it has absolutely fantastic representation in its main lead. Otherwise, only buy it if you already love the web series. If I’d watched it, I’d probably be telling you to go and watch that instead.

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 check out the podcast that I co-host You Know What I Like...? on SoundCloud.

September 15, 2016

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SPX Spotlight: David Rubin

It's another entry in Panel Patter's SPX SPOTLIGHT series! If you want to track our personal recommendations of creators who'll be attending one of the best small-press shows in America, make sure you follow along. It's a great way to create your own personal guide for the show on September 17th and 18th, 2016, in Bethesda, Maryland. Don't miss it! You can find all our SPX SPOTLIGHT posts here.

One of the creators you'll be sure to want to meet at SPX is David Rubin. Rubin is an accomplished, internationally respected artist; I first became aware of his work a few years ago when he was announced as the artist for the Battling Boy prequels chronicling the adventures of Aurora West and her father Haggard West (our review here). Rubin had a tough act to follow in Paul Pope (whose illustration in Battling Boy is superb), but Rubin meets that challenge with incredible skill and visual wit and humor. As seen in the examples below, Rubin has just as fluid of a line as Pope, and a very organic, lived-in feel.

These stories are a real showcase for Rubin's skill in conveying emotion through lovely, exaggerated-but-precise facial acting.  In the above and below panels, Aurora's eyes tell a whole story from panel to panel.  They're also a showcase for his ability to convey dynamic action and motion.  As seen in the below page, when Aurora and her father take a leap, I really feel like Rubin has captured a real sense of movement as the characters are leaping through the air. Rubin also does some great effects and hand-lettering to convey the real stakes involved in this action scene.

Another example of Rubin's versatile skill is the Dark Horse miniseries The Fiction, from Rubin, writer Curt Pires and colorist Michael Garland. The Fiction makes a nice contrast to the grayscale Battling Boy prequels, as it's fascinating to see Rubin's work paired with Garland's lush coloring.  The Fiction is a story of literature and lost worlds and imagination, and Rubin and Garland collaborate terrifically here, as Garland's bold, atmospheric colors complement Rubin's dynamic, emotional line work. 
While you're meeting Rubin, you should also be sure to pick up a copy of his original graphic novel The Hero (volumes 1 and 2), a modern retelling of the myth of Heracles.  I haven't read this yet but I look forward to doing so.  Seriously, just look at this art:

Lastly, let me mention that Dark Horse has also recently announced that Rubin and Matt Kindt (another of my favorite people in comics) will be collaborating in a new series about the intersection of science and magic called Ether.  I'm calling it "something I need to buy".  

Rubin is doing exciting, dynamic comics work and has for a while now.  I strongly encourage you to meet him this weekend and pick up some gorgeous comics.

David Rubin can be found on Twitter at @davidrubin.

September 14, 2016

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SPX Spotlight 2016: The Love and Rockets New Stories Years (2008-2015)

It's another entry in Panel Patter's SPX SPOTLIGHT series! If you want to track our personal recommendations of creators who'll be attending one of the best small-press shows in America, make sure you follow along. It's a great way to create your own personal guide for the show on September 17th and 18th, 2015, in Bethesda, Maryland. Don't miss it! You can find all our SPX SPOTLIGHT posts here.

With the upcoming release of a quarterly Love and Rockets comic, it's time to reflect back on the past eight years of Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez's seminal series.  The Love and Rockets New Stories yearly comics have been strange but fascinating creatures. Jaime Hernandez has used his half of the book to write stories of love, of fear, of gangsters and even of superheroes. Sharing the annual (o.k. semi-annual) 100-page book, Gilbert Hernandez has drawn his versions of offbeat and disturbing B movies, the kind of cult hits that don’t seem to exist anymore in the age of Netflix and Blu-Rays. Jaime is the classicist, drawing with the pure cartoonist line that would just as easily be at home on a Sunday gag comic strip as it is on the grueling emotional ride of young punks in L.A. Gilbert is the man who’s always moving on the page. His line just never stops as he keeps on moving from one story to the next.

It’s hard to quite figure out exactly what Gilbert has been up to lately because he's done so many different kinds of stories in the past eight years both in Love and Rockets and in other strange comics like Blubber or Fatima. Years ago, he said goodbye to his fictional town Palomar and said hello to Luba’s stateside family. There have been occasional and short returns to Palomar but the last few years he’s been more interested in creating B movies on paper, taking the fictional films of his character Fritz (a psychiatrist turned actress) and making comics of those movies. It’s like the old movie adaptations that Marvel and DC used to do but these are movies from Gilbert’s head. They’ve run the genre gamut from horror to science fiction to crime and even a bit of exploitation like his fake movie adaptation, “Proof That The Devil Loves You,” a slightly fictionalized story about Palomar. Just as Gilbert revisits his old narrative stomping grounds in the movie, his character Dora “Killer” Rivera visits the real Palomar, where her grandmother Luba spent so much of her life.

Gilbert actually plays it much more subtle than coming out and telling us that one Palomar is a movie and the other is real but as you’re reading it, something never clicks about the two parallel stories he’s telling. One story follows Killer and her discovery of the town that means so much to her past while the other follows the town's inhabitants, including Bula, the town sheriff, a dance teacher that wants to leave the town but just can’t do it and a family that has major problems with the sheriff. Gilbert peaks into the lives of many beloved characters and a few new yet familiar characters without ever letting on what’s real and what’s just a celluloid story. He lets you get close to the story but keeps certain elements of it hidden, keeping you at arm's length from the characters and their town.

While Gilbert plays with what is real and what is fiction, Jaime settles in for a good, old-fashioned story of sibling rivalry and small time gangsters. Taking a break from the heart-wrenching story of Maggie and Ray that he effectively gave a point of closure in The Love Bunglers, Jaime turns to Vivian "Frogmouth" Solis and her visiting sister Tonta. Viv actually shares a few personality traits with Gilbert's Killer, namely their self-obsessiveness. As if dealing with her younger sister wasn't enough, Viv attracts the attention of a small time gangster and can't quite see the trouble she's possibly in.

Jaime moves so gracefully over the page, with every line being the perfect ideal of that singular part of his storytelling. Over the years, he has developed a purity in his art, perfectly meshing it with the emotional beats of his story. Even without the gripping drama of the last couple of issues, his artwork is both uptight and simultaneously giddy, capturing the qualities of the two sisters. It's both fun and dangerous, often within the same panel. In a sequence where Tonta finds a hidden handgun, Jaime gives us a bit of sex, violence, slapstick and the innocence of youth. It’s one page but it speaks volumes about Tonta.

After 30 years, it would be easy to pick up a new issue of Love and Rockets and have it feel like visiting an old friend. It could just be the continuing adventures of Palomar or the unending love of Maggie and Hopey. It would be comfortable and warm but the Hernandez brothers refuse to make it that easy for us. Instead of getting caught up in the past and repeating the saga over and over on an infinite loop, Jaime and Gilbert have allowed their stories and characters to have their own lives and to keep moving forward. Their characters have lived and changed, loved and lost and continued to live, reshaping life from one year to the next like all of us do.

Both cartoonists have built up a history in their respective stories (let's not call it that ugly word "continuity") that informs the present as much as we know that it somehow sets up the future. As much as there is history, Jaime and Gilbert refuse to rest within the comfort of the past. They've always had large casts, with so many supporting characters ready and waiting to take on a lead role in the stories. Viv has existed as a character in Maggie's life, having a presence in Jaime's stories but usually just a foil for Maggie to react to. Now she takes center stage and has the story develop around her.

That strength in their characters, from the stars to the walk-ons, is what creates the reality of Love and Rockets. These are characters who have lived lives on the comics page and that’s what you see in every story that Jaime and Gilbert tell. From the odd movies to the brief glimpses into longtime characters that we see, time keeps on moving forward for these characters and for us. Sometimes they disappear for awhile (it’s been years since we’ve seen Hopey) but isn’t it that way in real life as well?

After 30 years, the Hernandez brothers still manage to surprise you with each new book. It’s not that they’re surprising you that the books are good or that they’re still pulling it off year after year. It’s the characters that surprise you through their actions, their words and the way they’re drawn. Gilbert and Jaime write and draw comics that begin with the heart of their characters and then spiral out of there, creating galaxies that exist with characters like Dora, Vivian, Tonta and even Bula at their hearts.

You can find Gilbert Hernandez on Twitter at @BetomessGilbert.  Jaime Hernandez is on Twitter at @xaimeh.

Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez will be at SPX2016 at table W56-61.

September 13, 2016

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All-Ages or Small-Ages #24 (Squid & Owl by John Holbo)

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?

I honestly do not know the best way to sum up what this issue is. As I sit to write this, moments ago I reached the end of this 106 page single issue and I don’t know what to make of it. Squid & Owl isn’t a comic in the traditional sense of the word, until it suddenly is. A large proportion of the book is not sequential art, but compartmentalised riffs ranging from simple wordplay to educational dumps of (supposedly) scientific information about the titular animals. This is a very, very bizarre issue and I honestly don’t know whether or not I liked it; hopefully by the end of me writing this column, I’ll have made a decision.

The issue revolves around a squid and an owl getting up to mischief in whatever world they find themselves in. That qualifier has been provided because it’s never truly explained what the purpose of each story is. When you start to believe that a narrative is forming around these creatures, it gets sucked away and you find yourself reading about something entirely different. Perhaps it’s due to my entire lack of knowledge going into this, but it took a long time to get into the rhythm of how the book works; even with that foreknowledge, I can imagine the transitions remain quite jarring.

This is the portion of the book when it’s easy to imagine this book’s suitability for a younger audience. Jumping from rhyming couplet to rhyming couplet, you’re shown all of these various one-off pages with one of the two animals in an unexpected costume or situation that appear to have been created purely to use the aforementioned rhyme. It therefore feels directionless in a way that will turn off the older reader as, beyond appreciating the ridiculousness of the situation, it doesn’t really mean anything.

The accompanying art with these little stories is uncoloured but is surprisingly detailed; as the owl and squid are visual flips of the other, it gives Holbo the chance to form some entertaining parallels. The way that textures and patterns are used in these scenes to fill in the outlines gives this issue a very scrapbook feel that, although it admittedly takes away from any sense of building immersion, it feels unquestionably authentic and gives the book very unique sense of character.

The direct visual links between the characters clashes very deliberately with how they’re portrayed as polar opposites in the stories. While they’re sometimes portrayed as friends, they’re more often pushed into antagonising roles. This creative decision is where I lose the ability to discern which audience Holbo is going for. You feel as though there’s an oblique metaphor hiding beneath the narrative, but it changes so quickly that it’s difficult to hone in on.

Nowhere is this more clear than in the various semi-parables that Holbo chooses to tell. They’re always set up as something recognisable, carrying on in that vein for quite some time, then suddenly taking a sharp left turn into the peculiar. Despite how this may sound, it actually comes across very positively as, although the meaning just about slips through your fingers, it feels undeniably fresh and creative. It speak’s to Holbo's talent that he’s able to use old narratives as a springboard for something so unique.

These short prose diversions, although honestly diversions are an intrinsic aspect of the entire book, are accompanied by intricate depictions of the animals within the stories themselves. The style implies that they have been physically constructed using some form of card which, as someone fresh out of watching The Little Prince, appeals to me tremendously. On top of that, a recurring antagonist known only as Fairy of All Forests has been drawn so delightfully creepily in both profile and silhouette that it adds a cohesion to the overall narrative of the book that it otherwise lacks.

With all of the innate creativity and strangeness in this issue, it’s difficult to do anything but respect it. Holbo had a dream to create a book full of adventures of a squid and an owl and, by golly, did he did succeed. The sheer volume of brief detours are endearing, even if they do sometimes go on for a little bit too long. Luckily, the structure of the book is retained due to the occasional parable, even if you do come away more confused than when you went in. This is by all definitions an all-ages story; be prepared for some brilliant bizareness and you’ll do just fine.

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 check out the podcast that I co-host You Know What I Like...? on SoundCloud.

September 10, 2016

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SPX Spotlight/Graphic Nonfiction: Lucy Bellwood Ships Facts About Shipping

It's another entry in Panel Patter's SPX SPOTLIGHT series! If you want to track our personal recommendations of creators who'll be attending one of the best small-press shows in America, make sure you follow along. It's a great way to create your own personal guide for the show on September 17th and 18th, 2016, in Bethesda, Maryland. Don't miss it! You can find all our SPX SPOTLIGHT posts here.

It's really been an amazing time for Lucy Bellwood. She's really exploded onto the comics scene, combining her love of all things nautical with her artistic talents. This year sees the release of her Baggywrinkles collection, which I urged you to back when it was a Kickstarter project. She'll definitely have copies at SPX, so if you missed your chance and you'll be at the show, make sure you grab one.

Baggywrinkles is a collection of Lucy's mini-comics about sailing, designed as a fun instructional tool. They feature an avatar of Bellwood going around correcting misconceptions, like the whole idea of "walking the plank" --which, while shattering my hopes and dreams, is one of the highlights of the collection. Done originally in black and white, they're colored now by the team of Joey Weiser (of Mermin) and Michele Chidester. The book's production values are second to none, and the writing is both crisp and funny--the perfect combination for learning.

To give you an example of Lucy's artistic abilities and also her dedication to research, I'm featuring her recent appearance in The Nib about Wind-Powered Cargo. It's a great short piece on shipping history, shipping present (and the unknown to me ongoing ecological disaster that is the huge shipping boats I used to see in Baltimore), and some hints at the future of shipping, if we open our minds to the possibilities.

While Lucy often works in watercolors, such as the gorgeous "Back to the Sea Again," this time we see her taking a more traditional approach, and the result reminds me a lot of the gold standard for graphic nonfiction, Andy Warner. Like Andy, Lucy balances showing the reader illustrations with actual quotes, statistics, and other needed information. It's truly a visual article, and the blend is spectacular. Here's a few panels to give you a feel for it, and Lucy's work in general as a nonfiction creator:

I selected these panels to give you a good idea of Bellwood's range. The first shows her attention to historical detail. The second is a sideways bar graph, but it's designed to catch the reader's eyes. In the third panel, perhaps my favorite of this group, Lucy puts herself in the middle of a scale, showing the difficult position of wanting to improve things, but also acknowledging that you can't just wish your way (or take radical steps) to a solution. Hard choices must be made, and Bellwood, by being on the scale itself, represents all of us. The final panel gives a good example of her figure work. I love the fuzzy beard!

Though this is true to some degree with any nonfiction comic, I can honestly say I really learned a lot from this one. I had no idea what was going in in the world of international shipping or how thin regulations are due to the use of international waters. It's a perfect example of why I started this feature on Panel Patter, and I hope you'll read the full comic here. It's extremely enlightening.

I also hope you'll visit Lucy at SPX this year. In addition to Baggywrinkles, she'll likely have copies of her smaller autobio works and will happily sign your copy of Cartozia Tales, the group anthology that's not quite finished yet and is a great example of imagination and group collaboration.

Can't make it SPX? Lucy's website is here.

September 9, 2016

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Rose City Preview: Sally Jane Thompson

[NOTE: Please welcome new writer Alex Green to the Panel Patter team! We'll have more to say on Alex soon, but wanted to get this preview in before the show. -Rob]

The web comic that I looked at is called From, A South African journal sketch book. It had a pleasantly distinct style unique to how most comics present themselves. When Thompson flips between first person and second person dialogue, the details and aesthetic of the comic change to reflect the changes in the dialogue as a means of plot progression.

In some comics, you will see a more cinematic approach where the angles, lighting and perspective change, but the medium and style of the art work from slide to slide remains constant. Thompson's work does not follow this formula. Instead, the medium consists of sketches that vary in detail and style to aid the atmosphere and provide emphasis generated by the script of the story.

The spontaneity of events, art, interpersonal and internal dialogue's with her characters are what help to culminate the story into a diary sketch book. This aesthetic makes the story light and quick paced, allowing twists and humour in the story to be more lively and surprising.

You can find more of her work here.
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SPX Spotlight 2016: Dan Clowes' Patience

It's another entry in Panel Patter's SPX SPOTLIGHT series! If you want to track our personal recommendations of creators who'll be attending one of the best small-press shows in America, make sure you follow along. It's a great way to create your own personal guide for the show on September 17th and 18th, 2016, in Bethesda, Maryland. Don't miss it! You can find all our SPX SPOTLIGHT posts here.

Written and Drawn by Daniel Clowes
Published by Fantagraphics Books

Don’t get too comfortable reading Daniel Clowes’ Patience. Don’t allow yourself to get 5 or 10 page into the book thinking you know what this story is. The book is a story about a young couple, expecting their first child and trying to figure out how they’re going to make ends meet. To keep his wife Patience calm and assured that everything is going to be o.k., Jack lies to her about his job, saying he’s on the fast track to a promotion while he’s really standing on a street corner, handing out flyers for some business or another. These first few pages almost seem like something more out of a recent Adrian Tomine book than a Clowes book. Then again, Clowes is the guy who did Ghost World, a book that has served as a template for so many of Tomine’s works. 

Patience starts out as a slice of life comic but quickly becomes a whodunit. But as a Clowes comic, it can’t remain a true whodunit as Clowes bends, twists and transforms these characters stories and their pasts to create a comic that exists now, blending the past, present and future into one point continuous narrative that doesn’t follow a continuous, single direction timeline. When Patience is murdered, Jack spends the rest of his life trying to find out who killed her. Patience is a murder mystery at its core but Clowes’ construction of the book tells the story of two people's’ lives together which began well before they met for the first time.

Clowes’ artwork is interesting because it almost puts up a barrier between the reader and the story. On the surface of it, his unadorned style feels out of its time. The workman-like steadiness of his storytelling recalls the older storytelling of the EC and pre-Marvel Atlas comics. Even the flat colors recall a different, older time in comics even if Clowes’ uses brighter colors than those old, washed-out comics. It’s not like Clowes is trying to recreate a whole aesthetic experience of comics dug out of a long box like Tom Scioli and Ed Piskor currently are. It’s more that the way that Clowes presents his comic is visually as unstuck in time as his characters and story are.

But when Clowes steps outside of drawing a 21st century-perceived world, the results are mind-bending. Patience’s death haunts Jack even in the year 2029 and the world that Clowes draws is so different than the world of 2012. Clowes has great timing in this book, knowing when to use the art to tell the story and knowing when the story needs to blow your mind with the art. He’s a great artist who knows how to use his characters to tell his stories. He always has. And you can almost get lulled into thinking Clowes is a slice-of-life cartoonist. But when Patience gets emotionally dark or narratively twisted, his artwork can hit like a wrecking ball.

Patience is filled with all of these kind of moments. It’s a mystery. It’s a love story. It’s a twisted psychedelic experience. It can be a bit schizophrenic as Jack starts to lose touch with reality but it’s incredibly consistent as Clowes remains as driven as Jack is to unravel Patience’s death. The book intricately folds in and back on itself as discovering the clues in Patience’s past just adds to the inevitability of the murder and the ultimate salvation of both Patience and Jack. So when Clowes goes wild with the story, he steps outside of normal perceptions as he questions what separates the past, the present, and the future.

It’s almost disappointing that old fashioned alternative comics have moved beyond the point of serialization and straight into graphic novels. Patience is a great book but it’s intriguing to think how much fun it would have been to get this comic in small chunks over a couple of years in the pages of Eightball or another comic. Clowes would have introduced Patience and Jack in the first chapter and set you up so you think you knew what the story was going to be and then would have pulled upset all of your conceptions in the second chapter and then again do the same thing in the third chapter. But we could have lived with these chunks of the story for weeks or months and then been constantly surprised again and again by a story that never wants you to rush through it. But that’s a small, inconsequential criticism. All that matters is that Daniel Clowes’ Patience is one of the great comics of 2016, constantly surprising you by its dark twists and fantastic art.

And you know what?  Maybe it is easy to say what kind of story Patience is.  It's a story about love and obsession, with all of that other stuff thrown in just to keep you guessing about it all the way through.

You can find Daniel Clowes online at his website and on Twitter.

Clowes will be at SPX2016 at table W56-61.

September 8, 2016

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Rose City Comic Con 2016: General Suggestions and Panel Guide


The Rose City Comic Con is happening in Portland this weekend! We'll be at the show, and hopefully those of you in the area will be, too! But maybe this is your first trip to the show? Maybe you're not sure what to do about panels? Here's some tips, culled from a few years of experience:

  • Make sure you eat before you get there. Look, I know convention centers have food, but no matter how good it is, it's expensive. Plus, if you eat before you get there, you can spend more time on the floor and in panels before you need to take a break. Regardless, make sure you eat. One of the biggest mistakes I make at cons is to forget to feed myself. Then I'm standing in line ready to talk to one of my comic heroes, and I'm about ready to faint. Bad plan!
  • Be prepared to wait in line. I'm press, so I get to go in as soon as the show opens. However, no matter how early you get there, there will be lines to get in. Especially when the show opens on Saturday. You'll also find there are waits for signing from the biggest names, like Kelly Sue DeConnick. And if you're there to see media guests, the lines can be huge. I'm line-averse, personally, and will look for less crowded opportunities, but sometimes they're unavoidable.
  • Your phone will lose its charge. This happens at every con. Service use is high, and that means delays. Delays eat battery life, and that's before you start snapping pictures of cosplayers or get a selfie with a creator. If you have one, bring a mobile charger. There are some plugs scattered through the convention area, but not many, and they're usually occupied.
  • Cosplay is NOT consent. I don't think any Panel Patter readers are jerks, but it's worth repeating. Folks who are in costume definitely want you to appreciate their work, but leering/touching/acting creepy is just shitty. I'll never forget seeing men outright staring at the ass of a women dressed as Ms. Marvel (before the Carol Corps explosion), nor how angry they were when I photobombed them. Taking ass shots with the cosplayer's back turned is low class. Not that I'd expect you to, but don't do that. Also, make sure you ask before taking a photo--or, as I sometimes will do, take your shot while others are doing the same. That way the cosplayer can move on. And last but not least--DO NOT block the show floor when taking your pictures. Rose City has plenty of space outside the show floor, and even a cool background. Take advantage of that. The worst thing you can do is block a creator's space in Artist's Alley. That's like someone sitting in front of your monitor at work--harming your ability to make money. Again: Don't. Be. A. Jerk.
  • Drink. Water preferably, but I'll leave that up to you. 
  • Make sure you know where your favorite panel is before you try to get there with five minutes to spare. The convention is a lot larger than it seems, kind of like a Tardis. There are smaller panels held across from registration, and the larger panels are upstairs, across from the main entrance (where the Dr. King statue is). If it's a popular panel, you'll want to be there before they open the doors. (However, please be respectful and don't hog space in a panel you'll ignore just to keep the seat. That's being a jerk. Don't. Be. A. Jerk.
  • If you're in a group, pick a meeting place and time. Did I mention the immense show floor? It's VERY easy to get lost or turned around, even though the sections themselves are pretty orderly. Given how crowded the floor can get, it's much better to say "Meet me by registration at 2pm so we can get food" or "See you outside at the Max station at 3pm" rather than, "Oh, I'll find you." Because you won't find them, and now you're losing time at the con trying to meet up.
  • Remember that kids are comics fans, too. Rose City is very kid-friendly, and we want them to have a good time and grow up to be amazing comics fans. I hate when adults act like children don't belong at cons. Because last time I checked, I was 4 when my obsession with comics started. I bet you were, too. I'll say it one more time: Don't. Be. A. Jerk.
So you're set on the guidelines. Now, what panels should you seek out? Here's a few I'll try to make. Maybe I'll see you there:

Queer Comics Take Over the World
Room: Panel Room 9
Time: 11:00AM - 11:50AM
Queer comics are taking over the world! Join LGBTQ comics editors and creators in a discussion about mainstream and indie queer comics and the importance of queer representation. Panelists include Taneka Stotts (Beyond), Ari Yarwood (managing editor of Oni Press/Limerence Press), Genue Revuelta (Love & Sprockets), Terry Blas (Briar Hollow), and D.J. Kirkland (Black Mage)!
Taneka is an amazing panelist and totally awesome person. Come hear her talk about the importance of queer comics!
Hidden Histories, Unfamiliar Narratives: Comics in the Margins
Room: Panel Room 9
Time: 12:00PM - 12:50PM
This presentation investigates comics and characters that exist in the margins of the canon., offering various lenses through which we might better understand comics in the mainstream and in the margins.
I wish I knew who was going to be on this panel, but it sounds interesting so if I'm free, I'm planning to check it out.
A Spotlight on Stan Sakai
Room: Panel Room 8
Time: 2:30PM - 3:20PM
For 32 years and over 150 issues, Stan has been crafting the unique world of Usagi Yojimbo. What goes into a life’s work? Here’s your chance to find out while he does live demonstrations of his art.
So I've already heard Sakai speak before, and it was a real treat. If you've never been to a panel with the creator of Usagi Yojimbo, you're in for a can't-miss treat!
The Importance of Street Heroes
Room: Panel Room 6
Time: 3:30PM - 4:20PM
Not all superheroes fight cosmic battles to save the known universe. Some take the fight to the streets in gritty tales set just around the corner from the world we live. The down-and-dirty world of Street Level superheroes is discussed in this panel featuring creators of such titles as Daredevil, Nighthawk, Kingpin, Power Man & Iron Fist (Charles Soule, David Walker, Ramon Villalobos, Matthew Rosenberg).
David Walker is another creator who is also an amazing panelist. Don't be scared by the capes-heavy description here. I don't doubt for a second they'll go into their own creator-based work.
Comics and Disability
Room: Panel Room 9
Time: 5:00PM - 5:50PM
How is disability represented across different comics genres? How might comics help support disability rights and neurodiversity? We’ll address these questions and more in a thought-provoking panel on the relationship between disability and comics.
Assuming this panel goes past Barbara Gordon, it should be really engaging and thought-provoking. Again, wish I knew who was on the panel, but I'd recommend putting it on your list of panels to see.
30th Anniversary of Dark Horse
Room: Panel Room 4
Time: 5:30PM - 6:20PM
Thirty years ago, Dark Horse arrived with an agenda different from that of any other publisher in comics. The young company was founded on the belief that comics creators should have the option to retain the rights to their own work, and it continues to be a highly fertile breeding ground for new characters, concepts, and more!  Join Dark Horse masters of craft Mike Mignola (Hellboy), Eric Powell (The Goon), Vivek Tiwary (The Fifth Beatle), Cullen Bunn (Harrow County), Chris Roberson (Serenity, Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.) and Gail Simone (Wonderfall) for an exclusive look at upcoming creator-owned work from some of the biggest names in and outside the industry.
I tried not to double-up on times here, but in case you weren't interested in the other panel or it turned out to lack substance, then sneak over to this one. Dark Horse is a comics institution and one of the anchors of the Portland comics scene. It's not easy to keep going for 30 years, and still put out amazing comics work, but Dark Horse manages it easily.
A Spotlight On Cullen Bunn
Room: Panel Room 8
Time: 10:30AM - 11:20AM
Whether it’s Sixth Gun, Deadpool, or Uncanny X-Men, Cullen brings the hurt. Join one of the most prolific writers in comics as he breaks down how he does it.
How can they list comics by Cullen and omit Harrow County, his best work yet? Sheesh! Anyway, I am a big fan of Cullen's, and I want to hear him speak. You should, too!
Queering Up Comics: LGBTQIA and Beyond
Room: Panel Room 5
Time: 11:00AM - 11:50AM
They're queer and they're here--and they have been for ages. Join queer cartoonists as they discuss the developments in their industry that allow them to create and explore new themes and narratives, in indie and mainstream publications alike.
Unfortunately, I also want to go to this panel. UGH! So yeah, either one of these would be great, and I wish they weren't up against each other!
Busting Myths with Grant Imahara
Room: Panel Room 1
Time: 11:00AM - 11:50AM
As an electronics and robotics expert, Grant helped expose the truth for years on the hit show Mythbusters. Now he’s here to answer all your questions about science and debunking myths.
Oh, hell! Yeah, draw straws or something. Or ask Multiple Man to help you. Why are there three good panels at once, Rose City? AAAAAA!
Color Me Intrigued! Storytelling Through Color
Room: Panel Room 4
Time: 11:30AM - 12:20PM
Join Oni Press Editor-in-Chief James Lucas Jones and a group of insanely talented pixel pushers (Bill Crabtree, Kelly Fitzpatrick, Ryan Hill, and Paul Reinwand) for a discussion on the role of on the role of colorists in comic book storytelling. You'll never look at color comics the same way again!
Make that 4 hard-boiled eggs.*
Gods, Cats, and Yokai: The Way Forward with Wayward
Room: Panel Room 7
Time: 12:00PM - 12:50PM
Yokai; New gods and old; Real Japan and fantasy; And lots and lots of cats. The hit series Wayward from Image Comics is a clash of modernism and tradition. Now into its second year, come see what lies ahead and behind with series.
Wayward was one of my favorite series of 2014. Have you read this yet? If not, you should go, because Jim Zub is a great person to listen to. This narrowly beats out another great panel on ODY-C at the same time. Darn you, schedule of panels!
Historically Inaccurate:The true story behind pirates, privateers, and the Golden Age of Sail
Room: Panel Room 5
Time: 3:00PM - 3:50PM
The privateers of PDXYAR answer questions and discuss some of the truths, lies, myths, legends, and Hollywood "tall tales" regarding those who sailed the seas during the "Golden Age" of piracy. Expect a rousing discussion and perhaps even a shanty or two. Huzzah!'
Yar! Pirate history from people who study it and go around as pirates in the Portland area! Not sure if Panel Pal Aaron Duran will be on the panel or not, but these are his peeps, and they're fun people!
Dark Horse Manga
Room: Panel Room 4
Time: 3:30PM - 4:20PM
Dark Horse’s history with Japanese comics can be traced back to the company’s earliest years, with a legacy that includes such legendary series as Lone Wolf & Cub, Berserk, and many more! Now Dark Horse continues to publish some of the industry’s best-selling titles, like Unofficial Hatsune Mix, I Am a Hero, Danganronpa, and the works of the creative powerhouse CLAMP. Join Dark Horse editors Carl Horn, Philip Simon, Jemiah Jefferson and translator Zack Davisson for a look at the past, present, and future of manga at Dark Horse!
If you're not into Pirates, here's the panel you should go to instead. Dark Horse's taste in manga is second to none, really, especially when it comes to horror manga.
That's it for now! Hope to see you at the show!
*Don't be a Groucho, that's a perfectly valid Marx Brothers reference.