September 14, 2021

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"Space is weird and terrifying!" and other themes: Catch It September 15th, 2021

Welcome to Catch it at the Comic Shop, where the Panel Patter team looks at what's coming out at your favorite store or digital device this week. Each one of us that participates picks up to five items due out this week, with a little bit about why we like them. (NOTE: We use solicitation material for this, so if we miss creators, please talk to your publisher!) Sometimes we might only have a few items to share, other weeks, keeping it to five will make for hard choices. Here's what the team wanted to highlight this week...
 
James' Picks:
 
Canopus TP by Dave Chisholm, Published by Scout Comics
Canopus is a weird, beautiful poetic story, about loneliness, determination, and hope. I don't want to say too much about the details but it's an absolutely wonderful, slightly bizarre journey into space and memory. There's an astronaut marooned on a barren planet, alone except for her robot companion. She just wants to get back to Earth. And things get...strange. It's a compelling story, about finding things to believe in when that seems impossible. Chisholm is a fantastic storyteller in all aspects, and his animated, expressive, dramatic art tells the story beautifully. 

September 7, 2021

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Deadly DVD Machines, unhappy robots, the end of the world, and More! Catch It September 8th, 2021

Welcome to Catch it at the Comic Shop, where the Panel Patter team looks at what's coming out at your favorite store or digital device this week. Each one of us that participates picks up to five items due out this week, with a little bit about why we like them. (NOTE: We use solicitation material for this, so if we miss creators, please talk to your publisher!) Sometimes we might only have a few items to share, other weeks, keeping it to five will make for hard choices. Here's what the team wanted to highlight this week...

Deadbox #1 by Mark Russell, Ben Tiesma, Vladimir Popov, and Andworld Design, published by Vault Comics

If Mark Russell is writing a comic, I am *going* to check it out. He's got a great track record of writing fascinating comedic series full of sharp social satire. So, I'm excited for Deadbox because it seems like a change of pace. I'm sure it will be full of smart observations, but this seems like more of a horror story and I'm thrilled to see him play in that genre. The idea of a cursed DVD machine seems like a great one, and I'm thrilled to check this out. I'm not as familiar with Ben Tiesma's work, but what I've seen from him so far looks terrific. Providing vibrant colors to suit this eerie tale is the excellent Vladimir Popov, and letters are by the always great Andworld Design. 

August 31, 2021

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Get Outdoors! Camp with Girls and Groo! Catch Its for September 1st, 2021

Welcome to Catch it at the Comic Shop, where the Panel Patter team looks at what's coming out at your favorite store or digital device this week. Each one of us that participates picks up to five items due out this week, with a little bit about why we like them. (NOTE: We use solicitation material for this, so if we miss creators, please talk to your publisher!) Sometimes we might only have a few items to share, other weeks, keeping it to five will make for hard choices. Here's what the team wanted to highlight this week...

Rob's Picks:

Groo Meets Tarzan #2 by Sergio Aragones, Mark Evanier, Thomas Yeates, Tom Luth, and Stan Sakai, published by Dark Horse
Our hero must fight off lions and snakes and rhinos just to survive! But enough about Sergio. Groo finds his way into Tarzan's world in his own inimitable way, getting ready to bravely (if obliviously) face off against the slavers that vex the Lord of the Jungle as this preposterous but unambiguously awesome story kicks into high gear. As I wrote about the first issue, Mark and Sergio are doing an amazing job of finding a way to make this all work, wrapped around a silly set of circumstances for the two creators. (I'm not sure who has it worse--Sergio trapped in a bargain basement Tiger King nightmare or Mark having to sit on so many Comic-Con panels!) Jokes aside, Evanier's script for the Tarzan section is really good, its seriousness just as solid as the silly "reality" sections and of course, Groo's desire for cheese dip. Aragones' linework is its typical detailed self, as is Yeates, though in a completely different fashion. Watching the two artists interact on the same page, as we start to see here, is going to be a real treat. I especially love how Luth ensures that the coloring purposefully highlights the differences, too. With 2021 starting to look like a different variant of bad, a comic like this is a lifeline of escape.

August 24, 2021

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Manga Noir? Yes Please! Catch Its for Aug 25th, 2021

Welcome to Catch it at the Comic Shop, where the Panel Patter team looks at what's coming out at your favorite store or digital device this week. Each one of us that participates picks up to five items due out this week, with a little bit about why we like them. (NOTE: We use solicitation material for this, so if we miss creators, please talk to your publisher!) Sometimes we might only have a few items to share, other weeks, keeping it to five will make for hard choices. Here's what the team wanted to highlight this week...

Rob's Picks:



Gamma Draconis by Benoist Simmat, Eldo Yoshimizu, Lauren Bowes, and Mark Bourbon-Crook, Published by Titan Comics
Comic book characters never learn, do they? Don't investigate the occult. It never, ever ends well. Lucky for us as the reader! Aiko Moriyama is an art student with an eye on the religious, but when she gets hooked into studying some occult work, things quickly spiral out of control. Soon she's replacing lecture halls and art galleries for secret talks and dark alleys as she's drawn into a web of intrigue. It's a fast-paced plot from Simmat (more on him from my colleague Kelli below) that keeps moving, aided by the artwork of Yoshimizu. My God, he draws the hell out of this graphic novel. The details are at the level of George Perez, which is about the highest complement I can give on background work. Even better, he's done an amazing job of varying the panels and packing them to the gills, all the while ensuring that the pages don't look either cramped or same-y. This is a great comic that should be on the radar of anyone who enjoys a good crime story in graphic form.

August 17, 2021

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Soaring with the clouds and the Kaiju: Catch It Aug 18th, 2021

Welcome to Catch it at the Comic Shop, where the Panel Patter team looks at what's coming out at your favorite store or digital device this week. Each one of us that participates picks up to five items due out this week, with a little bit about why we like them. (NOTE: We use solicitation material for this, so if we miss creators, please talk to your publisher!) Sometimes we might only have a few items to share, other weeks, keeping it to five will make for hard choices. Here's what the team wanted to highlight this week...

Kelli's Picks:

Go with the Clouds North by Northwest vol. 5 by Aki Irie published by Vertical [now Kodansha Books]
Aki Irie’s Go with the Clouds North by Northwest is part travel guide and love letter to Iceland and part mystery novel. Kei Miyama left Japan to live with his eccentric grandfather in Iceland. To stay occupied and make ends meet he works as a detective, taking simple jobs like finding stay dogs, tracking down runaways and lost lovers. Little does he know that his skills will be put to the test when his kid brother, Michitaka, is accused of murdering their aunt and uncle. Kei is also hiding a secret; he has a unique connection to and can communicate with mechanical objects. A useful ability to have as he continues to track down his illusive and increasingly violent brother. Meanwhile in Japan the police continue to dig into Michitaka’s troubled past. Slowly a portrait of a disturbed youth begins to build. Kei doesn’t believe for a moment that his brother is a killer, but can he continue to believe in his innocence as the evidence piles up? Go with the Clouds is not your conventional mystery story. I mean the main character communes with cars, cell phones and other electronics. His grandfather can communicate with and control birds and his kid brother can apparently kill people with his mind and a touch. The murder mystery is interspersed with tours of famous and not so famous spots in Iceland. Volume 5 sees Kei heading out to Laki, a mountain in the south of Iceland. He’s on a job, but he has Lilja, his love interest, in tow. They are like fire and ice so expect lots awkward flirting and the odd fight. Michitaka, meanwhile is making his way to Kei’s house, hoping to connect with his brother and assert his innocence.

August 15, 2021

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MICE is Back! Mini-MICE is coming, August 28 - 29, Central Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Are you going to be in the Boston area on August 28-29? If you are, then you should definitely go to Mini-Mice, the outdoor comics event taking place in Cambridge, Massachusetts that weekend. It's brought to you by the good folks behind MICE (the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo), the absolutely fantastic event that's become a great local institution in the Boston comics scene. 

I've loved getting to go to MICE in prior years. There's always something for comic fans, young and old, new and long-time. This year's event will be a little different, as it will be entirely outside, and set up in a way that is COVID-safe for artists and guests. The event will be held outdoors and masks will be mandatory for all. There's a lineup of 64 artists, with different artists on Saturday and Sunday. So, you'll want to go on both days!  Erica Henderson, Karl Stevens, Kurt Ankeny, Colleen AF Venable, Andrew Maclean, and many more! This really looks like a wonderful (completely free!) event, and I recommend you go if you can. 

August 28 – 29, 2021 | Starlight Square | Cambridge 

12 – 4:30PM • 84 Bishop Allen Dr • Central Square • Cambridge, MA














August 14, 2021

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Ceci n’est pas​​ un lever de soleil - a look through Evan M. Cohen's Morning


“I woke up today to find my wandering mind searching for a moment that was left behind.”

Reading Evan M. Cohen’s Morning is a lot like watching a sunrise.  You see something dawning and the effects of that action ripple out of it.  It can be a life-altering experience to see the renewal of time happening right in front of you. Cohen’s storytelling, largely wordless, leads from one ripple into another, intersecting with other ripples to transform into something new. Maybe the act of just trying to recapture the feeling of a sunset in this comic is one of those ripples, one that blends with an actual sunset to give birth to this comic that’s far more a sensory story than a narrative one.  Cohen’s art is something to stare at, wash over you, and let it transform you even if it’s only for the time you spend reading this comic.

This comic envelops you, pulling you into it as you become an element of it.  On a very basic level, it’s about watching a sunrise.  It’s an ode to that daily event that happens whether we witness it or not. Cohen’s comic turns the event into transformative action. His artwork displays the breakdown and reconceptualization of an idea, of a person, of life as we know it on an almost daily basis.  A sunrise is not just a sunrise.  It’s a new beginning. It’s time and space full of infinite possibilities, all happening at once. The progression of time and space happens in small, incremental changes that welcome you while happening where you’re present or not.


Cohen sees time as a progression of smaller moments.  These moments contain even smaller, fractal-like moments as space becomes living, breathing, and organic. It’s constantly unfolding but always embracing. Each page contains a mystery and the answer to it while Cohen plunges deeper and deeper into the concept of a “sunrise.” This almost falls into the classic “Ceci n'est pas une pipe” territory but Cohen’s comic isn’t about a sunrise but the idea of sunrises. ​​A sunrise is a daily certainty that we have mapped down to the minute of its happening. Cohen uses that to express his feelings during the sunrise.  

Blue lines with color pencil-like red, orange, and yellow hues help suspend time and expand space in this comic. The cool night gives way to the warm day but that transition is largely balanced with neither set of colors dominating the image.  The blues are a base and the oranges rise out of the night, revealed by the sunrise. Creating this hazy moment that’s neither night nor day, Cohen uncovers this magical time outside of reality.  HIs panels flow one into the next, creating an animated sense of movement, color and light become our guide on this journey.  You have to read the images and follow this constant transformative propulsion only to have the images embrace and enfold you.




Cohen provides a Rorschach test of a comic.  The images aren’t abstract or random but there are probably as many interpretations of Morning as there are readers of it (which should be a lot.) With the constant dissolving and reforming of images, the optimism of the comic is almost overpowering.  We fall into, get absorbed, and then metamorphosed into something new only for the cycle to happen again over and over until the sun finally rises. The ability to recognize an obliteration of self while still retaining an individual consciousness makes this a fascinating reading experience.

Trying to describe Morning feels a lot like trying to read one of its pages, an exercise in giving a voice to something that doesn’t need a voice. The page exists; there’s a point where we should just let Cohen’s comic be. We should let it exist so that we can experience it, letting it do its work, to do its thing. It is not that Cohen’s work is inexplicable but in a lot of ways, it feels like it doesn’t need us.  It exists where we’re here to read it or not. It doesn’t need us but it’s a gift to be able to experience it.  A lot like a real sunrise, I guess.

August 10, 2021

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Dancing with the Devil in the Pale Moonlight - Catch It Aug 11th, 2021

Welcome to Catch it at the Comic Shop, where the Panel Patter team looks at what's coming out at your favorite store or digital device this week. Each one of us that participates picks up to five items due out this week, with a little bit about why we like them. (NOTE: We use solicitation material for this, so if we miss creators, please talk to your publisher!) Sometimes we might only have a few items to share, other weeks, keeping it to five will make for hard choices. Here's what the team wanted to highlight this week...

Mike's Picks

Batman '89 #1 by Sam Hamm, Joe Quinones, Leonardo Ito, and Clayton Cowles, published by DC Comics

August 6, 2021

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Maybe We're All Cat People-- a look at Karl Stevens' Penny: A Graphic Memoir


Some will tell you that a cat is the ultimate house animal, better than a dog, a guinea pig, or a goldfish combined.  Reading Karl Stevens’ book Penny: A Graphic Memoir, it’s hard to tell if those people are the sanest and most normal people around, seeing truths that the rest of us miss, or the most delusional people on this planet, fooled by the consummate trickster of the animal kingdom.  Spending her says high on catnip, wondering what cosmic mysteries exist on the other side of the door, and hoping that her humans don’t die just so they can continue to prepare her food, Penny is the grand, philosophical feline of her time, pondering the depths of existence while perched on top of her cat tower.  To get at this wonder, Stevens puts himself into the headspace of his cat, trying to see the world through her eyes. Along with his wife, Stevens himself appears in the book as supporting characters in Penny’s story.  That’s actually a good and fair representation of any person that shares their home with an animal; we’re there for them as much, if not more, than they’re there for us. And they know it.

Stevens’ watercolors tell Penny’s story through body language and facial expressions, something that’s hard enough to do with people but must be infinitely harder to show in a cat.  His realistic treatment of Penny and her home is made all the more mundane but in a spectacular way through his brush. His apartment becomes her domain, one that she lazily rules over.  Examining this world through Penny’s eyes, Stevens recenters our understanding of what life must be like for someone who believes the universe revolves around them.  Almost every page is constructed around Penny, giving us a much more narrow perspective than our own even though her perspective can be sitting on a windowsill, on the floor, or perched on a high shelf.  Stevens’ watercolors show us this world that’s so familiar but from angles that we’ve rarely seen before.


Each page is practically its own gag strip, with a setup and punchline delivered with skillful grace. In other hands, this would be a Garfield ripoff but Stevens finds a unique angle for these stories. Penny would be insufferable if she were a person, believing that the world needed to bend to her needs. We’d either feel sorry for or detest a person like Penny. Her interests are shallow; she doesn’t do much; she’s needy and lives almost only to be served. But in a cat? We coo at the animal, commenting on how cute it is, and accepting the general demeanor of the creature. Penny is inquisitive but cautious and generally lazy. Those are human qualities, words that describe human nature that one way or another we project on animals, including cats. Stevens locks in on this, turning a housecat into a mirror of us. This is Penny’s world and we’re just living in it.

What’s probably most shocking is the philosophical nature of this book, as Penny uses her days to question not just her existence but all of existence. She is a great questioner of why she’s here and what before she’s meant to do before usually just brushing off the question to accept the general meaningless of everything. It’s not that she’s nihilistic as much as she’s not too sure that the questions she’s asking are that important. Stevens uses her in this book to explore our purpose in this life before realizing that the answers to those questions won’t really change anything. She questions, she explores, and then she falls back into her regular ways, comfortable with the way things are.


That’s not to say that she never acts on her thoughts and desires.  For instance, she always watches her people go through the door and then come back hours or days later.  What’s on the other side, she constantly wonders until one day she’s able to slip through the door and into the outside world.  This housecat now becomes a stray and the world changes in ways that she’s not capable of adapting to.  She tries; she honestly does. But eventually, those journeys lead her back to the life she knew, little changed or wiser.  Stevens’ cat wants the world but when she gets it, realizes that it’s not all it was cracked up to be.

Penny: A Graphic Memoir sounds like a joke at first; life from the perspective of a cat.  It’s not like we don’t have enough comic strips and cartoons about that.  And even though it borrows a lot from the gag strip format, Stevens uses his character and her stories to show us how a lot of us go through our daily lives, wanting something more and then rejecting it when we get it.  Penny provides a wonderful perspective on this domesticated world, where we think we have everything but still feel empty inside.  Wisdom out of the mouth of cats.

Penny: A Graphic Memoir
Written and Drawn by Karl Stevens
Published by Chronicle Books

August 4, 2021

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Rachel's Picks of Best and Worst Manga of 2021

Last week I was on a panel hosted by the amazing Deb Aoki to discuss the best and worst manga of 2021. You can view that panel here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IikaGHY-hww. Each panelist presented one pick from the following categories:

·        Best new manga for kids/teens: this is for any manga that was released in North America between July 2020 and July 2021 and is appropriate for readers up to age 16

·        Best continuing manga for kids/teens: a series appropriate for readers up to age 16 that released at least one volume (digitally or in print) in the qualifying period

·        Best new manga for grownups: a title appropriate for readers over 16 years old that released one or more volumes between July 2020 and July 2021

·        Best continuing manga for grownups: a title for older readers that released one or more volumes in the qualifying period

·        Most anticipated: a title that has been announced and licensed for English language release after July 2021

·        Most wanted: a title that hasn’t been released in English and also hasn’t been announced. It could also be a title that was published in English but is now out of print. This is the one category that I didn’t have a pick for.

·        Worst manga: either a new or continuing manga that has had at least one volume released between July 2020 and July 2021

·       Underrated gem: a title that, in your opinion, not enough people know about. It should be a current release or a title that isn’t hard to find. I choose a title that is currently out of print but which can be purchased digitally, so hopefully I followed the spirit of the guidelines.

We were asked to submit multiple picks for each category in case there was overlap, which was the case with Heaven’s Design Team being picked by three people, including myself! What this means is that in this list I can add some of my number two picks that I didn’t get to discuss on the panel. This list represents my own opinion and while I have read a lot of manga this past year, I most certainly did not read every series. So, if your favorite isn’t on here, it’s very likely that I didn’t get a chance to read it.

Best New Manga—Kids/Teens

1    Cells at Work! Baby written and illustrated by Yasuhiro Fukuda, published by Kodansha

 

August 3, 2021

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Loving More Llovet, Clever Subclause here: Catch Its for Aug 4, 2021

Welcome to Catch it at the Comic Shop, where the Panel Patter team looks at what's coming out at your favorite store or digital device this week. Each one of us that participates picks up to five items due out this week, with a little bit about why we like them. (NOTE: We use solicitation material for this, so if we miss creators, please talk to your publisher!) Sometimes we might only have a few items to share, other weeks, keeping it to five will make for hard choices. Here's what the team wanted to highlight this week...

Rob's Picks

Maria Llovet's Porcelain #1 by Maria Llovet and others, published by Ablaze.
I'm not sure if superstar in the making Llovet is Jack Kirby-level fast or just has a lot of work that's only now getting published for English audiences, but either way works for me. (It's clearly the latter, with this story dating from 2012, but that opening line was too fun not to keep!) Fresh off the heels of publishing Eros/Psyche, Ablaze is ready with another creepy horror story from Llovet's pen. This time, a haunted house is capturing children and turning them into dolls, with Beryl set to be its latest victim unless she can overcome her own fears. It's another great concept from Llovet, taking the idea of making kids doll-like and turning into a literal concept that sounds like something a manga horror master like Ito might come up with. From the visuals I've seen so far of Porcelain, it's definitely got that vibe to it as well, with one image she shared on Twitter involving a giant face with a forked tongue. Llovet's talent is extraordinary and it's great to see more of her work being shared with an English-language audience.

August 1, 2021

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Being Just What They Should be- a look at Miss: Better Living Through Crime


To a large degree, crime stories tend to be violent or romantic.  Not necessarily romantic as in the way of love and kissing (although there can be those) but in the way that it idolizes the criminals.  It’s the difference between a Brubaker/Phillips production and something like Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals, night and day in terms of what they’re going but both are still crime comics.  What there is often not any room for is showing crime as a job, as a profession. It can be something to keep food on the table, to provide a living, and something to aspire just to be better at.  About 20 years ago, Philippe Thirault, Marc Riou, and Mark Vigouroux told the story of Nola a poor white girl from the wrong side of the tracks, and Slim, a black pimp who spends his days scheming on ways to get to tomorrow.  1920s New York City wasn’t made for either of them; it wasn’t the place for a strong, independent woman or a black man who had to live by his own rules.  Or at least, that’s the way that these French creators picture the roaring 1920s in NYC.

Nola and Slim find that crime is just a job that they happen to be pretty good at.  But they also do it because it’s a job.  Maybe not a 9-to-5 job but it’s a profession that Nola kind of stumbles into after her boss is killed.  She was a private eye’s secretary but when he was killed doing a hit on the side, she picks up his contract and performs the killing.  She’s not bloodthirsty or even visibly sociopathic; it’s just that she finds that she’s good at it. Slim is a bit more immersed in the world, a criminal in his own rights but with the swagger and smile of a hero.  Essentially, they’re gangsters but the type who see where there’s a buck to be made.  When Miss: Better Living Through Crime focuses on the professional side of the story, it is all business.  When someone needs someone taken out, they knock on Nola and Slim’s door.  It’s a job;  it’s not necessarily who Nola and Slim are.  Well, it’s mostly not.

Capturing the 1920s, Riou and Vigouroux never make this feel like a period piece.  Their drawings focus on creating a sense of a time that’s a bit different than our times.  By placing the characters at the center of their storytelling, you almost glance over the historical details of the artwork like the fashions or the cars.  Nola moves through this story as a solid figure, the master of her destiny.   They draw her as this presence of strength, unwavering in her actions.  This is contrasted by Slim, a man who is always scheming and looking around the corner.  Their artwork tells us so much about these characters because a large part of this story is about their physical attributes of being a woman or being black.


The sharpness in their line produces a staccato sense when reading the book. Their sharp lines are almost painful to look at for too long. That’s not a flaw in their artwork but the strength in it. Riou and Vigouroux keep the story moving along, quickly implanting the panel in your head before ushering you to the next drawing. There are no soft edges in this comic or areas where your eyes can rest. It’s not that kind of world that they’re presenting. And the colors of Mare Malès or Scarlett Smulkowski add to the harshness of the world, bathed in a constant brown or green light. Contrasting the high-life, partying nostalgia of the roaring 1920s, the linework, and the color show a down-to-earth existence, where any partying may be happening on the other side of town while we spend our days and nights in the streets and dirt.

In that harshness, Thirault tells a dual story of love and crime. There’s a work-life and a private life that he keeps separate for Slim and Nola until the walls keeping them apart break down. This is the roaring 1920s but it’s also a time leading up to great turmoil; the Great Depression (which is explicitly a part of this story) and World War II, which is something that none of these characters see coming. But throughout the story of Nola and Slim taking on lethal jobs for hire, there is very much a sense of waiting for the bubble to burst. Nola and Slim live in this time of great uncertainty and great change. The racial tensions of the book alone drive a lot of the conflict in this story. Nola is white and Slim, her partner turned lover is Black. In that way, this story sits in a precarious time, past the days of slavery and the civil war but still well ahead of any kind of organized Civil Rights movement. There’s a small sense of hope in Harlem as the people there, the descendants of former slaves, try to build a place for themselves. There is an uneasy peace as neither Nola nor Slim is completely accepted in the other’s world.

So when they are not on the clock, the heart of the story centers on these two characters, both broken in their own ways, learning to exist in these worlds that they don’t know. And they’re not being forced into these worlds; they want to be in these worlds. Slim’s immersion into the white world is more business-related initially but it’s rarely something forced upon him, even when he has to act as a servant or treated as something less than human because of his skin color. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt or affect him but he accepts these blows as he knows that his worth is not tied into other’s perception of him. There’s only one opinion that counts and Nola treats him exactly like the man he is. From the moment he meets Nola, he uses these jobs as a way to be near her. You get the feeling that he wouldn’t be doing this if he didn’t want to. He’s strong enough of a character that he would walk away if that’s what he wanted to do. He’s not trapped in or by this world.


Examining Nola, she doesn’t have the normal connections of family or even friends.  Thirault, Riou, and Vigouroux give her a hard-knock childhood so this book shows her building a family that she didn’t grow up with through and with Slim.  It’s in Nola that the creators stretch their skills, using her as a mirror of the times and situations. She doesn’t belong in any of these social circles but she’s the one who brings them all together.  The great thing that these French creators get right is never turning her into a victim or someone who needs saving.  She’s in control as she finds the angles in every situation to survive and to succeed.  She’s drawn to exude that she’s all about business all the time, short-cropped hair, sensibly brown-colored blouses, and eyes that barely reflect any emotion other than simmering anger.  All everyone sees in her is a small white girl; no one but Slim really sees who she is.  

Thirault, Riou, and Vigouroux let Nola and Slim’s relationship build up slowly and almost in the background.  He’s obviously in love with her from the get-go but she tempers her feelings for him, mostly following a business firsts strategy when it comes to Slim.  But she’s not all cold; she shows feelings toward him while trying to keep them out of their work relationship.  Thirault uses the time and the place to explore this relationship as a mirror of its time; there’s a sense of old-world thinking while trying to build something better and something new.  It’s a story that still resonates today as it sometimes feels like we’ve taken steps backward in terms of how we look at gender and race.  

With all of that text and even subtext, how exhilarating this work is almost gets lost in everything it’s doing.  Thirault, Riou, and Vigouroux have crafter a true page-turner as you get wrapped up in the plot of these stories.  With their compelling skills at suspense and character development, you can get lost in the Harlem streets with all of the men and women you meet.  With the focus on Slim and Nola, the creative team practically slips in all of these other players, from Nola’s mother who shows up after being missing for years to Pat, the boss of Harlem who keeps Slim and Nola close by for jobs and other reasons.  The rich supporting cast they develop provides key insights into Nola and Slim’s story.

Miss: Better Living Through Crime succeeds both as a relationship story and as a crime story as Thirault, Riou, and Vigouroux provide a picture of an old America, one where so much of our societies were being formed.  The Roaring 20s are long enough ago to feel like a history lesson but recent enough to still feel relevant to nearly everything that’s happening today.  This writer and these artists were able to lock into this turbulent time, not as a history lesson but as a reflection of the world around us.  And they did it while telling great, thrilling tales that make you want to see what happens next.  


cover by Greg Smallwood

Miss: Better Living Through Crime
Drawn by Marc Riou & Mark Vigouroux
Colored by Mare Malès and Scarlett Smulkowski
Translated by Justin Kelly and Natacha Ruck
Published by Humanoids


July 29, 2021

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"Growing Up is Vicious" - The Emergence of Tillie Walden through "Alone in Space"



For whatever reason, my mind likes to work in ways that are chronological and categorical. I love to classify things by their movements; I love the progression of it all: that led to this; the roots of B are in A, and so forth. I can't tell you why my brain works this way, but I realized this penchant even when I was young. The first band I ever loved was Nirvana, and I remember being transfixed by both the way Bleach predicted Nevermind and the way Nevermind represented a fundamental break with many of the sonic qualities of Bleach. The album - if you can call it an album - that seemed to occupy my mind the most, however, was Incesticide. When I was young, I wasn't sure what to make of it. It seemed both familiar and strange at the same time, sounding more like Nirvana than any other release, but also entirely singular. As I grew to understand music more, I had a better grasp of the compilation. I began to understand that the value of the album was not just in the broad sonic qualities that would clearly codify into the Nirvana I would come to know, but in the less obvious notes and tones that emerge in between the clearer sounds, but that might represent the core foundation of the band. I bring up this digression of a metaphor to compare that experience to reading Tillie Walden's Alone in Space, a similar compilation of an artist's earliest published and non-published work, one that gives us a window into her development as an artist and a narrative storyteller. At points, Alone in Space seems obvious, like you could trace the line directly from Are You Listening back through each work and eventually to the clear start point. At other times, it's more opaque, but still recognizable to some degree. Even when it doesn't perfectly feel like a Tillie Walden page, it is recognizable as something that will become a Tillie Walden page. While at other points in the collection, it is only glimpses, smaller hints of who Walden will become on the page. 

I personally came to Tillie Walden rather late, but I did so thanks to Panel Patter, and specifically my friend and colleague, James Kaplan. It was after the hype of On a Sunbeam but before the publication of Are You Listening, which was the first Walden I read upon release. As a result, I can't help but read Alone in Space with that sort of archaeological lens, wondering how her lines would morph into the lush textures I can't help but associate with her while also marveling at how well she was able to embrace the surreal at such a young age. (Who am I kidding, everything she's done has been at a young age!) The most impressive thing about Tillie Walden for me has been the way she manages to balance the surreal with the realistic, almost to the point that she disarms the reader to the point they are almost unaware they've slipped into a dream made manifest on the pages in front of them. That Walden has always appeared to have that grasp is impressive. Even in her debut graphic novel, she found a way to achieve the kind of sublime balance, and it's a trait that she's only continued to hone.

It's hard to classify the stories in this collection by length. Remember when you were in school, and you could read a short story by Hemingway that was only about five pages, and then the next assignment you'd get would be a sixty-page Flannery O'Connor work also classified as a short story? Anyway, I only bring that concept up because it struck me that everything in Alone in Space is significantly shorter than the rest of her career. The collection includes a novella, short stories of varying lengths, and shorter strips, and one-panel pages, all of which offer specific insight into how Walden constructs her narratives. It's fun to see, for instance, Walden musing on the same themes or emotions she'd excavate in Are You Listening in a quick one-page strip. What follows, thus, is my attempt to learn more about the Tillie Walden I know from her most recent publications. I haven't read a single piece in this collection, and most of what arrives on the page here is lifted from my notes as I read it. Obviously, I'm expanding my analysis, but I tried to keep the core noticings and reactions intact. I want to use this essay to document that reaction as much as work through it.

The first third of Alone in Space is dedicated to the reprint of Walden's first published work, a graphic novella titled The End of Summer. In it, Walden highlights the balancing act between the real and the fantastical, and she approaches it with a degree of expertise I find utterly impressive. In his forward to this book, Warren Bernard provides some necessary insight into the inspiration for the story, and it feels like a story positively unique to comics. I'm a sucker for that concept. I love when creators produce works that can only really exist in comics form. I'm sure at some point animation can also achieve the same balance, but I think there is something to be said about this certain type of story that can either only or best exist in comic form. What I love about The End of Summer, and what I'll also admit caused me to flip back and forth a few times to ensure I was picking up every detail, is how remarkably well Walden plays things close to the vest. I'm always impressed when an author pulls back, possibly because I have no ability to do that myself. But Walden doesn't feel the need to explain everything, either trusting that the reader will fill in the blanks or even continue to ponder long after putting the book down. Such restraint is remarkable. That Walden pulls off this feat while still a teenager is even more astounding. I feel that teenagers, quite understandably, have a need to be heard, but more importantly, to be understood. In many circumstances, I'd contend that is why some of the music or literature aimed at young people comes across as a little overwrought when re-examined in adulthood. I don't know how Walden developed that part of her craft at such a young age.

As The End of Summer opens, we are immediately flung into a world that feels somewhat familiar in the vein of a Victorian children's story or one that is Narnia-adjacent. The children of this story - it's a big family of course - live in an infinitely large villa with tunnels and pools that seem absolutely commonplace. There is never any acknowledgment of the extraordinary, no comparison to what would potentially be "our world." It's all laid out straightforwardly. The lack of context we receive is almost more impressive than the actual narrative. Reading it, I was stunned by how tight Walden kept the world, never once deigning to explain to the reader what she was doing. I can't help but find that impressive in any writing, let alone a debut. I'm the kind of reader who almost invariably thinks stories are too long, that more should have been left to the imagination, and Walden truly seems to exemplify that notion in The End of Summer. I found myself paging back and forth as I read to be sure I was tracking correctly. Part of my, for lack of a better word, confusion is a result of the book being black and white. Some of the character designs are just close enough to one another that I often had to double-check. To be fair, I think that is intentional - it is a family, after all. And again, I'll gladly do the work of double-checking. I don't mind. I'd much rather work than read a ham-fisted approach.

Lars is our protagonist, an ill child who opens the collection explaining to the reader that he will likely be dead before Winter's end. Winter, though, for this story, takes on more of a mystical and treacherous connection, elongated a la Game of Thrones to last what the characters estimate to be three years. Lars, who has some sort of unrequited love from his twin sister, rides through the halls of their mansion on a gigantic cat named Nemo. For the core of the story, Walden chronicles the madness of living indoors for three years, gradually depicting the breakdown of the family - an illicit pregnancy, upstairs/downstairs love affairs, jealousy, and, ultimately, the burden of expectation. 

Thus, it is very clear the seeds that Walden has planted in this story will continue to develop and blossom as she progresses on a few short years through her career. She lays the groundwork for the type of allegory she'll embrace in On a Sunbeam and the more surreal sections of Are You Listening, while also prefiguring, via that core theme of the burden of expectation, the core of Spinning. She also establishes the crucial theme she returns to in each piece with increased rigor and vitality, that of the reconciliation of oneself. Walden's characters often need to come to terms with who they are, namely their sexuality, and the fundamental anguish for Lars seems to be that he knows he is going to die before he can become who he thinks he should be, or perhaps even that he has lost what he wants, never to be able to retrieve it. He thus must embrace his fate at a certain point and attempt to interrupt his prescribed course, a trait that becomes a hallmark of Walden's characters taking their lives into their own hands, eschewing the artificial restrictions levied upon them. Walden understands what it means to be young and in need of nothing more than getting out of wherever you are, both physically and metaphorically.

Artistically, it's fun to look at how Walden specifically progresses as an artist. To some degree, it's easy to make some stark comparisons because Walden's most recent work is rightfully characterized by her lush coloring and use of light and shade to add layers to her pages. To another degree, though, it's easy to let that absence of color convince you that Are You Listening is worlds away from The End of Summer, but a closer look at her debut shows the patterns of shading and contrast are there if perhaps not as easily noticeable compared to her full-color work. To be fair, Are You Listening might ultimately represent a big step forward for her style as an artist because it's far more unrestrained in its use of line. But yes, the colors - the colors are something else entirely. It might be even easier to trace Walden's development directly to On and Sunbeam. By the point of its release, Walden's Ghibli-esque line structure seems to have coalesced. You'll notice glimpses of that line structure in The End of Summer, but really, they are only hints. Her use of panels is more rigid and precise, and that's fair - even though she seems to have emerged fully realized as a narrative storyteller, one can't necessarily expect a ton of experimentation in a debut piece. In fact, later in the collection, Walden addresses how she gradually dropped the use of her trusty ruler for a more experimental use of space on the page as she describes some of her earlier strips. 

It is especially intriguing to consider her line structure. The backgrounds of The End of Summer are exceptional and provide perhaps the best pure "art" of the story. The intricacy of detail in set pieces like the ornate front doors of the villa, lavish cakes, and other delectable treats, and long hallways adorned with baroque moldings and tall columns all demonstrate how much effort and attention Walden gives to the world of her work. But it's easy to notice the difference in how she constructs her characters. By the time of On a Sunbeam, Walden seemed to fully embrace her Studio Ghibli-inspired character aesthetic. You can see the seeds of that progression, but it's clear that Spinning represents another step before it all seems to coalesce in On a Sunbeam. The characters of The End of Summer, in interesting contrast to both its backgrounds, are more impressionistic in comparison to the cleaner lines of her later work.

Original Cover of "I Love this Part"

The second larger piece of the book is also Walden's second published work, (what I'll categorize as) the short story, I Love This Part. It probably resonates the strongest with me in terms of its emotional component, even more so than the very visceral end to The End of Summer. This story is really where I see Tillie Walden become who she is as a storyteller and cartoonist. I Love this Part is both beautiful visually and thematically, and it's easily my favorite part of the collection. Told through entirely full-page panels, it either fully embodies the components of Walden's art and storytelling, or prefigures them enough that the next steps seem natural. It looks and feels more like her later work than The End of Summer. She captures the surreal in a beautiful, metaphorical way, depicting the two main characters as giants who tower over the landscape. I can help but feel touched by that metaphor. I Love this Part is a love story, or more accurately, a story of heartbreak, and Walden channels the way a young romance feels at each stage. Her giant girls are larger than life because that's how young love feels. Part of youth is the idea of invincibility, and one hardly feels stronger than when they're at that point in a relationship. They're also isolated - there aren't any other giants around. It's only the two of them - nothing else matters and, more to the point, nothing else can truly challenge them. I can't think of a better way to capture this notion, and again I return to the brilliance that is Walden's ability to hold back, to show rather than tell. That she is creating these works while she is still very much an adolescent herself (perhaps still is if you consider the full maturation of the brain at age 25) allows her proximity to these feelings is one thing; that she espouses with a profound yet subtle consideration is another. 

While the way Walden conjures heartache and loneliness in I Love this Part builds a foundation for her approach to similar themes in the rest of her portfolio, it also represents a significant building block for her artistic style and sees her further honing in on some of the styles of The End of Summer while moving on from others. Specifically, this is where we begin to see her characters look like, well, Tillie Walden characters. This is where you can truly see the Ghibli influence clearly emerge, while it only existed at the edges of The End of Summer. Even more important is the way she brings shade and color to create what I always feel looks like a watercolor aesthetic (though I believe I read she colors digitally). What I love most about this type of style, and what Walden typifies with her own approach, is the wild nature of it. You get hints of this in The End Summer, but it comes out much more pronounced in I Love This Part and will continue as a core element in the rest of her works. 

There is an imperfection of the color (and in I Love This Part, she's truly only using a purplish-gray to accent the other shades) that feels inherently more natural. Too much comic coloring is sharp and precise. There is bleed here, and it's beautiful. Not everything has to be precise. It's even more beautiful in contrast to the way Walden crafts architectural backgrounds. There is a particularly exceptional scene where Elizabeth and Rae complete their homework on top of skyscrapers with fluffy clouds off in distance, the contrast between the precise lines that comprise the buildings and the flowy, almost wobbly lines that shape the girls and the speech bubbles. 

The last longer work in this collection is the short story A City Inside, a work Walden herself describes as one of her weirdest. Not to belabor a point, but it's another prime example of Walden's ability to dip into the surreal, channeling some magical realism to elevate metaphor and bring a daydream kind of quality to another love story. A City Inside represents something different from I Love This Part in that it feels more indebted to The End of Summer than it does predict her future stylistic choices. Her black and white panels are sharper, and she uses thicker shades compared to the lush textures of I Love This Part. One of the hidden treats of Alone in Space is that we see that Tillie Walden did not necessarily move in lockstep from one stylistic progression to the next. Instead, her progression more spirals and loops. She pushes away from a precise geometry at one point only to return to it again before lading on her freer expression of space. She plays with lines, from their thickness to their sharpness, looking for that Goldilocks moment of creativity. Much of this stylistic experimentation and maturation owes itself to the idea that most of Alone in Space essentially functions as a chronicle of Walden's coursework at the Center for Cartoon Studies. What we get is almost a portfolio, with some works created deliberately in a style to grow and challenge the young artist, and others representative of the magic of putting a pencil to a page and discovering where it can go. In this particular situation, Walden's voice comes through almost as fully formed as it does on her most recent release. What we get to experience is her journey into how to best amplify that voice with lines on the page. I can't help but imagine that it's almost the reverse of what we'd see if we read a creative writing student's MFA portfolio; I assume most writers would possess the core of their style, and the growth would be how to find their particular voice. 


An early Tillie Walden strip from 2016, the first time she drew space!

But, if you've been following Tillie Walden's career, you probably know most of what I'm saying. You're not some newb like me who jumped on the train late. You've read these when Avery Hill originally released them, and what you're interested in is the end of the book, the collection of some of her earlier work - some pre-publication, some assignments from her CCS time, and other strips commissioned for various online publications along the way. There are two that I find particularly intriguing. One is In the Palm of Your Hand. It's a prime example of Walden's maturation as a cartoonist because it demonstrates how she, very early on, has that sublime ability to toe the line between real and surreal. In much of her early work - both her early published work and the assignments she completes for CCS - Walden experiments giant girls. In some instances, I think she uses the larger-than-life ladies to mine a metaphor, but in other circumstances, I think that she is simply exploring the spatial phenomenon. In the Palm of Your Hand marries the giant girl concept with the themes of fragility Walden explores throughout her work. She explores both the confines and comforts of connection that connotes the kind of feeling your get when you reminisce for just long enough that you start to regret things. 

The other early work that jumped out at me is one that looks to be Walden's oldest work, a short story from 2013, three years before she would publish The End of Summer. If I've spent some time tracking the progression from End of Summer to Are You Listening, there is assuredly an equal if not bigger progression from this work to her early published material. One thing that struck me throughout this collection as a whole is how much she plays with panel layouts, perhaps even more so than other aesthetic considerations like line or color. Walden lays out Glare entirely via six-panel pages aside from deliberately missing panels towards the end of the story utilized to connote the commotion of the climatic event. Yet again, she proves that very early, she was adept at showing us more by telling us less. But outside of that storytelling technique and Walden's subtle yet pointed dialogue, you'd be hard-pressed to realize this is a Tillie Walden strip. She does happen to create some very detailed backgrounds, but everything else looks so incredibly different. Most of the shading and coloring outside of the darkest blacks seems to be done with pencil and the story, set at night (the Glare in the title refers to headlights) is dark both artistically and thematically. It is beautiful, though, to see how she understands the pain of being young while being young. This isn't reflection; there is no attempt to reconcile the past. Glare is the process; it's her feelings laid bare on the page. Walden wryly comments on her angst in the brief blurb that introduces this story, but she connects with a core component that I would contend continues to define her work. She almost dismisses this piece before she tosses a subtle comment, "growing up is vicious." 

Alone in Space is available now. Check out Avery Hill's website for insightful interviews about some of the works in the collection.



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Go Watch The Beat's Best and Worst Manga 2021 Panel

 


This past Monday, our own Rachel Lapidow joined Brigid Alverson, Colton, Jillian Ehlers, and Deb Aoki to talk about the best and worst manga of the last year, as well as throwing in some plugs for what they're looking forward to reading in the next year.  It was a great panel that had me immediately ordering some manga (can't wait to check out Cells at Work: Code Black purely for Rachel's description of it) and learning more about Rachel as well (self-proclaimed font nerd?).   Thanks to The Beat for hosting this.

Watch the whole thing below.


July 28, 2021

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Still Fraying After All These Years: Groo Meets Tarzan Swings into Stores

 

Groo Meets Tarzan #1
Sergio Aragones with Thomas Yeates: Line Art
Tom Luth: Color Art
Mark Evanier: Word Art
Stan Sakai: Contractually Obligated Letter Art
Art Garfunkel: Underrated Art
C-: My Typical Art Grade
Dark Horse: Publisher of Art (and this comic)

With the poignant opening line of "One Day at the 2021 Comic-Con That Never Happened..." Groo Meets Tarzan opens neither with expansive jungle scenes by Yeates or the comedic destruction of the title character from Aragones. Instead, we get an acknowledgment of what we lost in terms of the comics community. Yes, media dominates, but SDCC is still very much a comics show, too, and one where I often only see my scattered comics colleagues and fellow Panel Patters. I'm sure that's similar for Mark and Sergio and many others, and the sentiment in that opening really slammed me in the face when I started the comic.

And of course, because it's a Groo story the sentiment lasts all of about one panel before Evanier's taking potshots at himself, cosplayers, fans, and of course, the long-time relationship between Mark and Sergio as they present on a panel about, well, this comic. It's the typical meta-commentary the pair are known for across both Groo and other projects, such as the amazing Destroys DC/Massacres Marvel one-shots from the 90s. Sometimes Evanier misses the mark on these jabs, but this time around, he's nailing every joke. From the slow burn on creators being mistaken for others to Mark's response to Sergio's safari outfit ("What are you doing? Cosplaying as Elmer Fudd?"), the jokes in the "real life" sections go a mile a minute. 

They form one-third of the plotting, along with a Groo narrative that's extremely silly (villages trying to lead Groo by the nose--literally--via a moving chance at cheese dip) and a Tarzan tale that's definitely very fitting for the character if a bit on the serious side for this kind of team-up (slavers the law can't touch but Tarzan can). Each gets their own moments here, and while it might ordinarily be jarring, Evanier sews the threads together with story beats that work well. Showing he's able to write for a traditional comic when given the opportunity, Mark's Tarzan has a great cadence that feels very much like the other Tarzan comics I've read, which are admittedly limited, minus some of the unpleasant stuff that comes with age. The conceit itself definitely hasn't exactly matured like fine wine, but I trust Mark and Sergio and Yeates to make it work.

Art by Sergio Aragones

While I'm discussing the Tarzan sections, I came away extremely impressed by Thomas Yeates. I'm not familiar with his work at all, but he does a great job of balancing realism with impressionistic storytelling. The linework is just rough enough to keep the sheen off the characters, aided by Tom Luth's coloring. If it feels a bit like Kubert, you aren't far off, because he's a graduate and the influence shows. He also does good work at adapting the traditional comic page to work within a format that could easily be pasted into a Sunday newsprint format. I imagine some of that was from Mark's plotting work, but regardless, it's clear that Yeates understood his inspirations and used them to melt splashes with normal panels. Yeates also ensures that there's a strong sense of moment, even in the talking scenes, doing things like having Tarzan talk *while* mounting his elephant instead of just posing. It couldn't be more different from Sergio's linework, but that's also the point. 

The draw (pun intended) to any Groo comic is definitely another chance to see Sergio Aragones draw the hell out of every page, adding more details in the corner of a splash than others seem to do manage in an entire 20-page book. As Periodic Paneler Erica noted while we lingered over the SDCC floor double-page spread together, "I don't care that it's 'cartoonish'--I'd rather read anything Aragones draws over a large portion of superhero artists." I'd probably argue the point because there's a lot of great work being produced right now, but she gets to the heart of what makes Groo--and Aragones in general--so enduring. Yes, he "draws funny" as he will tell anyone asking for a sketch, but the amount of little moments within those insanely fast scribbles* put the visual medium of comics front and center. 

A perfect example of this is the splash I referenced above. I can't even tell you how many characters there are on those two pages, and even when he's drawing them in the same outfit to punctuate Mark's verbal jokes about cosplay (more on the words and pictures harmony shortly), there are little touches thrown in to make them look different. Once you notice this, you have to look over every costume to see what he's done to keep them varied. And if you're a con-goer like me, you'll even realize just how many of the outfits are drawn from ones we see regularly--both good and bad. Then you start looking at the Easter Eggs--references to the late, lamented Bongo Comics, a Blue Meanie (referencing his former Editor Bill Morrison's adaptation), Groening's Life is Hell rabbit, Beetle Bailey, the Cartoonist Society, and that's just a few. I'll let you find the other neat little touches, several of which I didn't catch on my first, fifteen-minute pass at spotting as many as I could.

Art by Thomas Yeates


Yes, hiding references in group shots like this isn't new. But the difference is just how damned detailed they are. This isn't a vague background shot--everything is given the same Sergio touch, daring you to explore. You rush your way through an Aragones comic at your own peril--you'll miss the best parts. He never wastes a single spot of real estate. A kid, bored at the panel, tries to talk to a Wookie. Fans swarm Stan Sakai with copies of Usagi, and while I can't swear to it, I think Aragones even used real covers of actual issues for the models. A tannery unlucky enough to get visited by Groo is fully functional. Is that necessary? Probably not, but that's just what Sergio does. 

Because there's so much detail, the jokes land with an impact you don't really see anymore in comics. Hell, they land better than a lot of regular, dramatic comics do with matching actions and dialogue. How many times has a character said, "Let me put on my coat" while being near an empty coat rack? (An imaginary example to protect the guilty.) Those kinds of things really throw me out of a story, because a simple artistic or word edit would fix the problem. In a comedic book, that sort of symmetry is even more important. The long-time collaboration of Mark and Sergio definitely makes this easier, but even from their earliest days together, if a verbal joke needed a little bit of visual punctuation, Aragones delivers. In one scene, Sergio's verbal line extols the exotic tropical birds while Mark points out they're pigeons. It's funny, but the plainness of the birds, Sergio's broad grin and gestures, and Mark's exasperated look and gestures back bring the panel--and the gag--to life. 

I could poke through this issue and find plenty of other examples, but I'd rather let you experience this for yourself. It's a damned clinic on not just how to make a comedic comic but how to craft one worth reading and re-reading. 

Groo's various mini-series are always a welcome sight on the new comics roster for me, but being honest sometimes they get bogged down a bit in winks and nods. That's not true here, and while it probably helps to know at least some of the history of Groo and his creators to get everything out of the jokes, this is very accessible to a new reader. The jokes are funny, fast, and fresh. Aragones's art, with great colors from Luth, is as good as ever, and Yeates' contributions really evoke the right mood. Watching the two conflicting styles interact in future issues is going to be a real treat, assuming Evanier can keep them threaded together as well moving forward as he does here. I have no idea how the former worker on the Tarzan Estate, Bat Lash's creator, and a man who took over Prince Valiant are going to end up in a blender, but the results should be even better than some good cheese dip. Just don't tell Groo I said that. My insurance plan doesn't cover being a victim of fraying. 


*I've stood in line, watching him draw. Sergio likely could put a sketch of a gunman down faster than a real life gunman can draw his pistol. Unfortunately, you can't shoot a sketch at someone. Maybe turn it into a paper airplane and fly it at them, but I doubt that would work well in a duel. Probably might just make them more likely to kill you. Folks get really angry when you throw a paper airplane at them. 

July 27, 2021

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Rachel Killed It on The Beat’s Manga Panel and also Some Picks - Catch It at the Comic Shop July 28th, 2021

Welcome to Catch it at the Comic Shop, where the Panel Patter team looks at what's coming out at your favorite store or digital device this week. Each one of us that participates picks up to five items due out this week, with a little bit about why we like them. (NOTE: We use solicitation material for this, so if we miss creators, please talk to your publisher!) Sometimes we might only have a few items to share, other weeks, keeping it to five will make for hard choices. Here's what the team wanted to highlight this week...

Rachel's Pick:

Sweet Paprika by Mirka Andolfo, Simon Tessuto, and Fabio Amelia, variant covers by Stanley "Artgerm" Lau, Peach Momoko, published by Image Comics
It's tough to introduce a female character who is rude, demanding, and assertive without making her unlikeable. Mirka Andolfo manages to not only make Paprika, the main character in Sweet Paprika, intriguing but she also makes us understand why Paprika is the way she is. As Paprika herself explains, "I am just a little bit of a superbitch [...] at least I'm SUPER." Andolfo's characters are sexier and better dressed than most of their American contemporaries, and they also take their coffee drinking more seriously. She draws female breasts and hips in a more realistic manner than most comic artists. It's nice to see characters depicted with bosoms that don't just look like melons shoved under a sweater. Sweet Paprika is set in the publishing world on New York City where everyone is either an angel with a halo or a devil with horns and a forked tail. Both angels and demons get along just fine and even traffic lights and teddy bears have their own sets of angel wings or devil horns. The coloring by Simon Tessuto evokes a candy store and is so fun to look at. Be aware that there is nudity and sex, so you may not want to read the issue while on the bus. If you like The Bolder Type, The Devil Wears Prada, and Younger, you will probably enjoy Sweet Paprika. Just like a good latte, Sweet Paprika is caffeinated, frothy, and hot.

July 23, 2021

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Cooking The Laughs in Matt Lubchansky's The Antifa Super-Soldier Cookbook

 


Matt Lubansky’s The Antifa Super-Soldier Cookbook riffs on the current political climate that we’ve found ourselves trapped in for far too long now. Through their humor, Lubchansky reminds us that while there was political change this past January, a lot more work still needs to be done as what once seemed to be a civil matter of different opinions has turned into a fundamental right that exists in our society. This book doesn’t focus on particular people or events but finds the spirit of the times to focus on. They paint both the Antifa-left and the law-and-order right as two extremes, creating an image of how the two sides of our political spectrum see the other. Lubchansky explores these opposing visions through Agent Max Marx and Officer O’Shea, the two super-soldiers of the left and the right.

Marx, the bespectacled hoodie-wearing protester takes his order from a cabal of left-wing radicals, the best being Plucky who looks a lot like the life-sized muppet mascot of the Philadelphia Flyers. If there was ever an agent bent on destroying the American life that we know, it’s Philadelphia’s Gritty. Just look at him. But on the other side with Officer O’Shea, Lubchansky shows a militarized police force, one that looks all too scarily familiar, particularly after the summer of 2020. These images of heavily armed cops in riot gear are now burned into our cultural consciousness. If Marx ends up looking like something out of a sci-fi action film, O’Shea resembles a figure in a war movie, armed to the teeth to deal with the rabble-rousers and insurrectionists.


Lubchansky’s story takes a look at the way that the police force has become increasingly armed over the years while also parodying the idea of an organized Antifa movement. If you miss the subtlety, it could look like Lubchansky isn’t pulling any punches toward either side. It almost feels like someone more moderate and in the middle poking fun at both sides. Looking at their comics at The Nib, it should be obvious which way Lubchansky leans politically even though they have a much broader view of what’s happening than just left versus right. But then again, one of Lubchansky’s go-to moves is depicting the world since 2016 as a Mad Max-like wasteland so there’s that.

But this book almost feels a bit too (I hate to say this) fair and balanced. It’s not necessarily clear from the book’s viewpoint what side it’s on or even if it’s on a side. Its jokes are even-handed and feel almost like it’s evenly having fun with both sides of its targets. The book is a farce and the characters are caricatures but Lubchansky gets a bit too clever with the way that he depicts the liberals in this book, almost hiding that this is how the right imagines and sees their opponents. The left is Antifa militants, hellbent on tearing down the foundations of society while the right is power-hungry cops, protecting the institutions at the expense of the individual. Both sides look far more organized and unified than they actually are. A text page at the end of the book makes it very clear that Lubchansky is writing about the ways that the police force has turned into another arm of the military to be used against the people it has sworn to serve and protect.

The images of both sides are pulled from talking head media personalities, Facebook conspiratorial posts, and every offensive thing your extreme relatives say at the dinner table. Lubchansky is aware of the perceptions and the truth of all the sides, pulling their humor out of the ways that we villainize the others. On one hand, they’re optimistic enough to believe that their side isn’t what the extreme conservatives think it is while recognizing how the other side is probably even a more serious threat than what their book shows. The humorous laughter that you may experience at the beginning of this book turns into a sad chuckle as you realize just how divided and torn apart the society shown in Lubchansky’s book reflects just how broken we are.


Lubchanskhy’s art is born out of comic strips and editorial cartoons. With a simple style, they convey story and character but there’s not a lot of room in it for anything else. In their shorter Nib cartoons, that style works because it’s all set up and punch line. While The Antifa Super-Soldier Cookbook is longer than their Nib work, Lubchansky’s style transitions easily into this relatively brief comic as they continue to build up the joke over the length. There isn’t quite the punchline approach in their Nib strips as Lubchansky uses the space of this book to expand the scope of their exploration of the issues that they are trying to tackle. Lubchansky is using the room for more humor that both hides and emphasizes the all-too-real issues that are facing us in this comic.

As they create this farce where the liberal left and the conservative right continue to escalate the culture wars, Lubchansky plays offense and defense at the same time, trying to show how ridiculous the idea of an organized Antifa organization is while using a bit of humor to show the increasing militarization of the police. But their book plays both sides with a wink and a nod, trusting that you get where Lubchansky is coming from before finally telling you just what their real concerns are.


The Antifa Super-Soldier Cookbook
Written and drawn by Matt Lubchansky
Published by Silver Sprocket