Friday, December 19, 2014

Weekend Pattering For 12/19/14

** Annie Koyama has a wonderful picture on her Instagram feed of Art Spiegelman surrounded by fans at a show opening.  Spiegelman is a cartoonists that I'm so thankful is just out there in the world and I love this picture.

** At The Comics Journal, Howard Cruse draws a comic based on an essay he wrote around 56 years ago on Slang and Profanity.  There's an innocence to the essay that's so wholesomely 1950s and Cruse is still a fantastic artist.  I love how the 70 year old cartoonist steps out of the way of the 14 year old student except to point out the problem of his logic at the end there.

Howard Cruse

** Also at The Comics Journal has been a fun run of unpublished interviews with Zap Comix cartoonists, such as this one with Gilbert Shelton (more can be found in their Zap tag).  The underground cartoonists that created Zap are probably some of the cartoonists that I know the least about but Fantagraphics just put out a Comics Journal Library Edition filled with art and interviews from that crew.  I'll be enjoying reading this book over the next couple of weeks.

The Comics Journal Library- ZAP: The Interviews
** Another year of Eisner judges being announced and another year I get snubbed.  I'm the Susan Lucci of the comics world.  Honestly, that's a pretty good list this year.  I always like how the Eisner judges span through different comic-related communities.

** On Panel Patter this week:

Conan Red Sonja 1 Attacks Comic Shops January 14th

2015 looks like it's going to be another very good year for comics, after 2014 totally rocked the house. The team-up Robert E. Howard (and old Roy Thomas) fans have been waiting for finally arrives this year, as Dark Horse and Dynamite get together to bring the pulp writer's two most famous characters together again for the first time in the upcoming Conan Red Sonja Mini-Series.

The mini is co-written by Gail Simone (currently the writer on the ongoing Red Sonja series from Dynamite) and Jim Zub (of Skullkickers), making for a team that understands what makes a great sword and sorcery story--and how to keep Sonja from being just a walking sex object. Art is by Dan Panosian, who gives it a slightly looser, slightly grittier John Buscema feel, which is very much appropriate for the characters.

I've had the pleasure of reading issue one already, and I can tell you that it's very much in keeping with the personalities of the characters we know. Both are young thieves out to make their mark, using their own special skill sets to get what they want, and their distaste for the rich and the false power it bestows upon lesser beings shines through nicely. You can tell their distinctive voices and styles, and the world is very familiar to those of us who've read about them in print and comics, both in Howard's hands and elsewhere. (Fun fact: Sonja was actually a 16th century character from Howard's plentiful imagination, and never met Conan in the pulps. Roy Thomas, aka Conan's Best Adapter for Comics, introduced the character most people are familiar with.) Meanwhile, Panosian's art does a great job building up the world, showing the odiousness of those around Conan and Sonja, and making the action flow while giving an edge and menace to our pair of heroes.

There'll be more to say on this when it's released and I can speak freely, but suffice to say this story, which promises to touch on different parts of the iconic characters' lives (Oh man, imagine Sonja meeting Belit!), is off to a great start, doing just about everything right in this kind of crossover.

I realize I'm waxing enthusiastically, but let's be honest here. If you have been following me here and at my former home at Newsarama long enough, you know that this is basically like Jim and Gail sat down and wrote a story just for me, that Dark Horse and Dynamite published. (Thanks, guys!) So yes, I'm biased, but keep in mind I have no problem dismissing Conan stories when I don't like them. This is genuinely good, and is well worth grabbing for fans of the characters and fantasy fans alike.

A preview kindly provided by Dark Horse is below. Conan Red Sonja 1 is available for pre-order now at your local comic shop, and will be $3.99 well-spent on January 14th, when it's available for purchase either at your friendly neighborhood store or on the Dark Horse Digital platform. You shouldn't risk Crom's wrath--if you're a Conan fan, get this on your pull list!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

RobM's Single Minded for 12/17 P1: Anthology Edition (Shadow Show 2, DHP 5, Eerie 6)

Apparently, 'Tis the Season for a week with several anthologies. I figured I'd look at those in this post, then try to swing around to some other single issue stories later this week.

I am, as long-time readers know, a big fan of anthologies. and getting three of them in one week was pretty awesome. We'll start with IDW's Shadow Show, continuing its adaptations from the short story collection dedicated to Ray Bradbury...

Shadow Show 2
"The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury"
Original Story by Neil Gaiman
Adaptation by Mort Castle
Line Art by Maria Frohlich
Color Art by Gabriel Nilsson

"Backward in Seville"
Original Story and Adaptation by Audrey Niffenegger
Illustrated by Eddie Campbell
Published by IDW

Two more stories in the style of Ray Bradbury, one which invokes him literally, split time in the second issue of this story, continuing the long tradition of Bradbury's relationship with comics.

Split in half this time, both of the line artists have to compress the tales they're illustrating this time, and they do it in very different ways. In "The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury" Frohlich works in a traditional comic book narrative, while "Backward in Seville" features Eddie Campbell using the technique that features in many of his own comics, where illustrations work side-by-side with large swaths of narrative text.

It's a bit odd that Gaiman didn't adapt his own story, but I thought that was strange for Joe Hill's tale as well. I guess they were just busy. At any rate, I loved what Mort Castle did, working with Frohlick to echo well-known Bradbury stories while not doing too much to tip the hand. That's exactly how Gaiman wrote it, and it comes out spectacularly well here, mixing tight panels for some homages, while others get a full splash page. If you're a Bradbury fan, you'll recognize them instantly. Mixed in are faded images of the writer himself, which I thought worked very well. This is a great story--and I'm not a huge Gaiman fan--and the adaptation was picture-perfect. It gave a sense of hope as the images of Bradbury grow ever-stronger until we reach the climax, and through the man's efforts, he is whole again.

Frolich's line work is not complex, but the angles and selection of images do a lot to move a story forward that does not have a narrative arc for the main character. It's not easy to make a series of images still feel alive, but I think she made it work.

Ironically, the man who often does static images, Eddie Campbell, was called upon to do the more narrative of the two stories, and while I generally like his work, I don't think he's at his best here. There's just too many walls of text for his images to really pop, and they're often reduced to tiny snapshots, capturing only a tiny piece of what's going on. He's his usual innovative stuff, with distorted perspective, some photo-realistic sections, and figures that clearly indicate the fragility of the characters, but the towers of text show that adaptation work is more than just "here's an abridged version of my story." Niffenegger don't really change things much from if this was just a book with illustrations, and it really takes away from realizing just what the main character wants for herself.

Shadow Show wears its love for Bradbury on its sleeve, but as with any anthology series, it's not going to be perfect on every page. Despite the weakness of the second story, this one is worth it for the adaptation of Gaiman alone. I'm looking forward to seeing how Harlan Ellison's turns out next issue.

Dark Horse Presents 5
Odin's Mighty Return by Joe Casey (words) and Jim Rugg (art)

Semiautomagic Chapter 2 by Alex de Campi (words), Jerry Ordway (line art), 
and Marissa Louise (color art)

Wrestling with Demons Chapter 5 by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray (words), 
Andy Kuhn (line art) and John Rauch (color art)

The Chaining Chapter 3 by Tyler Jenkins (words and line art) and Kelly Fitzpatrick (color art)

The Mighty Chapter 2 by Keith Champagne (words and inks), Leonard Kirk (pencil art), 
and John Kalisz (color art)

Murder Book: Double Tap by Ed Brisson (words) and Declan Shalvey (art)
Published by Dark Horse Comics

It's a bit unusual to admit your cover image is a recycled art piece, but that's what Mike Richardson does on the first page. But leave it to the ever-out there Joe Casey and the ever-versatile Jim Rugg to turn it into a short story where Odin has to fix a mess created by the modern heroes inability to stop a menace. Rugg revels in being able to have the character let loose with no moral boundaries, aiming for kill shots in amazing panels that vary between splashes and tight looks. It's a very angular, line-based style, with a bit of Kirby eyes mixed in, a shade of Mignola here and there, and just plain eye-catching. He uses a lot of tilting the view 45 or so degrees, alternating how we see the tilt.

Casey of course is his usual self, also feeling free to engage in as much bombast as he wishes, and it works--this is an Odin at his full-on jerk mode, dismissing all that others do to claim the glory for himself, even at the expense of his heroic son. It all combines for a fun ride that, while probably not a great choice to lead off a comic, still was fun to read.

Alex de Campi and Jerry Ordway move into the second slot this month, as Alice goes against the advice of her sometime partner and leaves to get her friend's son back. de Campi continues the very tongue-in-cheek nature of the narration, quipping about having Alice take a plane instead of using magic to arrive at her destination. It might fall flat, except that Ordway gives Alice this wide-eyed look at the reader, as if she's telling the story just to you, something that really pulls this one in. Once on the amazingly-detailed plane, Alice finds that traveling by air can be hazardous, especially if you fasten your seat belt.

Most of the issue is Alice fighting against a deception, with quick thinking and innovative spell work that shows the vivid imagination of these two great creators. Everything designed to keep you save on a plane is turned into a hideous, writhing creature here, and because it's Ordway, not a single opportunity for indicating every menacing tooth is missed. You'll never look at those air bags the same way again after reading this one, let me tell you.

The thing that makes this story so much fun is the fact that de Campi and Ordway are taking a pretty typical plot and finding ways, in action and dialogue, to really make it stand out against the pack. They're succeeding, and I can't wait to see what fresh-eyed horror we'll get next here.

Wrestling with Demons is going on a bit too long. We knew going in that Matt was going to have to fight the demon boss, and not enough was done to make us care about Ted, so waiting around cooling our heels this issue while Ted's sordid (and frankly, cliche), history is illustrated by Andy Kuhn was not a good idea. Kuhn does his usual solid work creating new demons and creatures and his final look for the boss is stellar, giving a great sense of danger and menace, but this part was clearly filler. It wraps up next month, as does the Mighty arc. If you're a fan of that series, it's probably nice to see more in that world, but yet another "evil Superman" story felt very much "okay" to me, as we learn he's really even more horrible than the first part indicated. There's nothing wrong with that, I've just had my fill.

Closing out this issue is a new series, Murder Book. It's a crime story about two guys hauled in about missing drugs, at which point things turn ugly as double-crosses pile up on one another. As a fan of crime fiction and media, I enjoyed this one a lot, even if it didn't do anything fancy. Ed Brisson gives one of his protagonists a choice, and seeing what he does with it drives the narrative. Declan Shavley works well in this black-and-white world, zigging where others might zag by not oppressing the reader with solid black ink. In fact, this might be the most white space I've seen in a noir since Frank Miller was doing quality work on Sin City. Shavley's use of point of view for the images helps make this work, too, and he's also aware of how to keep the tension up by what we're shown. This should be a good series, especially if it's a rotating artistic cast--an anthology within an anthology!

Eerie 6
The Ash Tree by M.R. James (story) and Kelley Jones (art and adaptation)

Run, Run As Fast As You Can by Landry Q. Walker (words) and Dev Madan (art)

The Night the Snow Spilled Blood by Don McGregor (words) and Tom Sutton (art)
Published by Dark Horse Comics

It's an Eerie Chistmas, as your cousin keeps you awake as you wait for Santa with three Christmas-themed stories, highlighted by a Kelley Jones creation. Though I'm sad they didn't do anything involving the entire family (seems like Uncle Creepy should have been in here somewhere), it's always fun when people take the peace and harmony of Christmas and turn it on its ear.

And what better way to honor this long-standing tradition than adapting an M.R. James story, given he's a master of the ghost story? With Kelley Jones giving it creepy--but restrained--visuals, we're able to watch as a woman is condemned to death for witchcraft and gets a gruesome revenge that leaves the victims in a horrible state. It's one of those sins-of-the-father stories that makes up a lot of Gothic horror, and plays out with the big reveal that gives us the true story. Being extremely faithful to the source material, Jones doesn't try to spike the narrative at all--which is a bit of a surprise. There's not a lot to mark this as a Christmas story, either, but that's okay, because seeing up-close boils all across a dead, bug-eyed face or looming, condemning faces of power more than make up for any shortfalls in the story itself. Though it's lacking in outrageous scenes, seeing what happens when Jones doesn't go for exaggeration was fascinating. There's powerful in looming realism, too, and I'll be curious to see if his next contribution continues in this vein or returns to a looser style.

The middle story from Walker and Madan hews more closely to the holiday theme, with a tale of a woman who is very unstable and claims to have baked the horror of her father into a minature gingerbread army, which attacks her husband in hysterically horrible ways. This is one of those horror stories that's going for camp rather than creepy, and I think it does it pretty well. I wasn't as thrilled with Walker's narration, but Madan's visuals really pop, especially in one panel, where the woman is throwing her creations at the hapless victim. Eye-poking, ceiling fan-dropping, rope-working cookies are the bane of every party, am I right? A fun tale from this pair.

As per usual, there's a reprint, and this one is a story that requires it to be black and white for the punchline to work, which I'm not fond of. As Christmas approaches, a man decides to kill his wife's lover, as a storm rages that's panicking the populace and drives the man to make a desperate move that turns out to be his undoing. When he runs into his wife and the police, a chase ensues, and only a Christmas miracle saves the day. The big reveal is that the man's madness was driven by a freak problem with a maguffin.

The reprint is, of course, over-narrated and over-captioned, and Sutton isn't able to really overcome this. His faces, when terror-stricken, flatten out too much, and throwing in the rain/snow effect just blurs everything, instead of building tension. It's all very cramped and claustrophobic. I know Dark Horse likes to use their reprints in this horror anthologies, but I don't think they're of the same quality, and hurt the overall work, though Eerie remains a regular part of my reading rotation.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Tis the Season for Comic Sales [Most Recent Update 12/17]

December is a month where lots of folks hold lots of sales, to capitalize on that sweet holiday money cash--and to clear out some inventory, making tax-time easier, too.

Here's a round up, in order of known expiration date and then alphabetically, of some sales that caught the eyes of the Panel Patter team. It's not comprehensive by any means. We'll update it periodically through the end of the year.

As an aside, remember that Comixology always runs digital comics sales on a regular basis, as does Dark Horse Digital. So there's plenty of chances to get good stuff from them, but it happens so often (and changes so quickly), we're not listing them here.

Ends December 19th:

Northwest Press is holding a 40% off everything if you spend $20 sale, and by everything, they mean everything, including t-shirts along with physical and digital books. These guys do great work in the realm of ensuring there is a high quantity--and quality--of queer comics, including work by our own Rob Kirby and Panel Pals Tony Breed and Leia Weathington. Use the code XMAS14.

Ends December 22nd:

The Top Shelf Seasonal Sale  includes a bundle of 20 of Top Shelf's best books for $69.99, an American Elf collection, a Jeffrey Bown bundle, and several other grouping of comics. This is via Comixology, but remember, it's now also DRM-free.

Ends December 31st:

Nix Comics is offering free shipping within the United States on all of its comics, including the rock 'n' roll horror anthology Nix Comics Quarterly, Nix Western, and the other books he's published or reprinted. Most of the single issues are $5.

Subverted Expectations in Bitch Planet #1

Bitch Planet #1
Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick
Drawn by Valentine De Landro
Colored by Cris Peter
Published by Image Comics

Bitch Planet #1 is not what you probably expect it to be. Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro's women prison comic book could easily be a screed against the patriarchy that sadly exists in our world. It could be a cunning spoof of women-in-prison movies, having fun with the genre but adding little to any conversation. It could be just another science fiction story, so wrapped up in its setting that it forgets to any real plot or characters.

Bitch Planet could come from a place of anger and there is probably some of that behind this comic. Unfortunately this world is a man's world and DeConnick and De Landro use one of the inmates and her ex husband to demonstrate that. She in the offworld prison and he in some type of administrators office, both trying to plead their case to the authorities, describing his affair and each of their culpabilities in driving him into another, younger woman's arms. DeConnick and De Landro intermix their pleas of leniency, making you think that both the man and the woman are begging for the same thing. Only they are as far away in what they want as they are physically at this point and the husband ends up getting everything that he wants while the woman only gets the coldness and violence of Bitch Planet.

That anger exists in this book, where a man gets what he wants and the wronged wife gets punished for being cheated on. If that isn't an attack on the way that things are, I don't know what it. But DeConnick and De Landro bring something more than anger to this story; they bring sadness to it. It may not be resignation but while they acknowledge the way things are, they're also mourning the loss of it being able to be any other way. That one-time couple, who probably were in love once upon a time, look like they still may be in love thanks to the distance that DeConnick and De Landro throw between the characters and the readers. The way they construct the scene, the back and forth between the man and the woman trick you into thinking that their goals are the same. It's easy to see these pages and think that the husband knows and repents his sins against his wife. So why is she in prison and he gets what he wants and gets to go on with his life, a free man?

It's that way that the creators are subverting many different genres in this issue. Think about women-in-prison stories and you half expect something lurid and voyeuristic but there's nothing like that in this book. There's nudity but it's not sexualized. It's not even emotional; it just is a state of being unclothed in this book as the prisoners settle into their new life on Bitch Planet. The nudity represents the loss of freedom as the women transition from one state to another. After whatever they were before, housewives or criminals or something else, they're now becoming inmates. The nudity is just a passing phase in this comic, getting the characters from Point A to Point B. There's nothing sexy about that. De Lando draws women with all kinds of real body types and he draws them realistically.

In this women's prison, the only sexualized figure is the virtual warden/mother superior who gives the cheated wife a chance to confess her sins. This computer creation, shaded in seductive pink, walks around the prison with high heeled boots, a perfectly rounded butt, an impossibly small waist and two too perfectly shaped breasts. This computer program is the creation of men but how could they be so disconnected from any kind of women to think that this would be an authority figure for the female prisoners? In every way, she intentionally sticks out like a sore thumb in this book, an accusation of the male-dominated ideal of womanly beauty.

That's the sadness of this book. We see real women and constructed women and we place the constructed, imaginary woman in a position of power and authority over the real women. DeConnick and De Landro do an excellent job in setting the stage with Bitch Planet #1. They set up the expectations and then immediately subvert them time and time again.

RobM's Single Minded for 12/10: Sci Fi Rides High with Copperhead, Eternal, and More

It's time once again to share my thoughts on some of the books that came out this week in single-issue form, and it's yet another bumper crop of science fiction comics, which might be the biggest thing that happened to comics in 2014. Speaking as a person with a long-time love of science fiction, I'm extremely pleased to see everything from space westerns to near-future advances are finding their way into the mix.

I already wrote about Flash Gordon separately because I had more to say then I'd planned, so let's look at some of the other sci-fi comics that came out on Wednesday, along with a few others of note, leading off with BOOM!'s new series, Eternal...

Eternal 1
Written by William Harms
Line Art by Giovanni Valletta
Color Art by Adam Metcalfe
Published by BOOM! Studios

Everybody must get cloned! In a world where human cloning is boosted by the ability to move your consciousness into another body, not everyone is buying into the scientific miracle. With hints of torture for the genetically pure, a resistance movement fights against an overwhelming system at the start of this new sci-fi series.

This one has a very interesting premise, given that while we often see cloning and we frequently have stories where minds can shift from body to body, putting the two together isn't nearly as common outside of the superhero set. It's also often given a chance to appear good before shifting into a great moral evil, but that's not the case here. Opening with stories of teens abusing the ability to die, Harms makes it clear we're not meant to like this advance one bit.

That theme continues as we're introduced to the resistance, who work to save those with genetic purity from being placed in camps. Now camps/preserves/reservations are never a good thing in fiction (or real life), but just in case, Harms adds that this one has "Indian" in its name, which will trigger immediate reactions from American readers, who know just how awful the treatment was of indigenous people in the United States with regards to reservations.

By the time a good cop gets overruled in favor of brutal interrogation techniques, we know that there's only one side to this equation, even if the terrorist actions of the resistance are uncomfortable. All of this is drawn solidly by Valletta, making the world feel very realistic and near-future. We aren't in a far-flung fantastic time period. This is an Earth that could very well be ours within the next fifty years. The art and story make this very much science of the improbable, rather than science of the fantastic.

But despite the strong visuals, great emotion on the faces, and art that moves the story impressively well, I was a bit disappointed that things aren't a bit more gray. I like it when I'm not sure out of the gate who I'm rooting for. When I read Spider-Man, I know that I'm supposed to be rooting for the guy in the blue-and-red spandex. When I read an indie sci fi book, I want there to be a place to make my own decision. Having the bad guys be not just a little bad, but downright evil from their first appearance hurts that feeling of ambiguity that I think makes for the best stories.

That said, once you relax and understand it's looking like a black-and-white story (from the information we're given in issue one--that can change!), Harms gives us some nice pathos and shows the dedication of the resistance--and isn't afraid to kill people off, either. Combine it with panel work that knows you don't just draw everything from the same angle--and has one of the best modern uses of the "Kirby Eyes" I've seen in awhile, and you get a comic that has a lot of promise. Eternal doesn't look like it will make you ponder morality, but it should be a good, solid, science fiction comic, one that I'm looking forward to following as it develops.

Copperhead 4
Written by Jay Faerber
Line Art by Scott Godlewski
Color Art by Ron Riley
Published by Image Comics

Sheriff Bronson's job isn't getting any easier, as she uses some unorthodox methods to try to find a murderer, but the main suspect might also be the same creature that saved her son. Meanwhile, a spurned deputy tries to prove his worth as this space western mystery keeps hitting all the right buttons for me on story and art.

So yeah, this is a Space Western with a murder mystery thrown in for good measure, written by one of my favorite creators who knows how to deal with imperfect characters, Jay Faerber. You might as well have just handed me a plate of supreme nachos, because there's pretty close to a 100% certainty I was going to like this one, and now that we're four issues in, I'm digging it even more.

After using the first few issues to establish the main characters, Faerber moves into kicking the plot up a notch. Because we know the deputy (who was passed over for Sheriff) is trying to show his worth, he's going to risk everything to solve the case ahead of Bronson. Deftly adding in a flashback to his time in the service, where he also had trouble following orders, Faerber really nails him as a sympathetic--if a bit self-serving--character here. Godlewski's visual parallels between past and present in this section of the issue are a highlight, as he draws them to be similar enough to understand the deputy's mindset, but not clones of each other. Ron Riley's coloring finishes the effect, taking a slight tone change to the flashback--nothing fancy, just a bit of a fade--to really complete the effect of the panel sequences.

That's typical of the art quality on this one, where Godlewski designs several different kinds of aliens without going crazy. They're still humanoid, as befits the setting he co-created with Faerber, but there's something different about them. Like fur or scales or elongated necks. My favorite part is how they're sprinkled into the scenes, too. These creatures show the diversity of the universe organically--we don't need a ham-fisted discussion about it.

But the highlight of this one is when Bronson has to talk with her son, who has a very different opinion of her number one suspect. We start at an odd angle, with the eye of the reader looming over the boy, who is reading. The conversation gets increasingly uncomfortable, and that's when Godlewski pulls back in terms of his usual detailed scenery, placing them almost in a stark, black place, which mirrors the mindset perfectly. The looks on Bronson and her son's faces could kill, and his line where he straight-up hopes she fails is chilling.

It didn't take much for me to enjoy this premise, but watching it be executed so amazingly well at every level has been a pleasure month in and month out. Copperhead gets an unqualified recommendation.

Hexed 5
Written by Michael Alan Nelson
Line Art by Dan Mora
Color Art by Gabriel Cassata
Published by BOOM! Studios

Back from the dead, Lucifer, magical thief, and her new assistant, the unwilling necromancer Raina, try to recover the objects lost in their fight against Cymbaline, finds the dark side of an amusement park and even more trouble as this excellent series moves into its second arc.

Hexed caught my eye because of the Emma Rios covers, and I quickly became a fan of the very engaging main character, Lucifer. Michael Alan Nelson keeps her tone loose while making sure there's very real danger--and a price to pay--for all the dabbling in magic she--and the rest of the cast--are practicing. There are some definite echoes of Hellblazer (not that crap New 52 "Constantine" that isn't really John), but Nelson keeps things fresh enough in terms of how he deals with demons, magic, and cut-throat killers to make it feel like its own thing.

The "I don't really like you but I'm stuck with you, and you're a newb to boot" concept works very well here, with Lucifer playing reluctant tutor to Raina, who's been thrown into the deep end. Their odd couple pairing gives Nelson a lot of room for comedy, which Mora plays up at every opportunity by exaggerating facial expressions, body language, and visual clues. (My favorite is when Raina walks in, looking dressed for sex play, thinking "don't be seen" means black latex and Lucifer calls her a Rocky Horror extra. Hah!) Mora's style is very influenced by manga, but I wouldn't call it OEL, either. He uses angular faces, CLAMP-style, but the rest of his layouts and figures feel more like what we see in Western comics. It's a nice blend, but may be a bit too fine for the taste of some, who are used to their horror books looking dark, sketchy, and gritty.

What begins as a simple heist turns deadly fast, and now Lucifer once again has to keep them both alive while trying to figure out what makes the object they're after so important. Meanwhile, she's still got the lagging worry of being tapped to take over for a dying witch and Cymbaline still wants to kill her, too. There's a lot of nice subplots hiding behind the action and supernatural foes, making this one something I'm glad I took a chance on a few months ago. It's shaping up to be a great series to add to my ever-growing horror reading list.

Herald: Lovecraft and Tesla 1
Written by John Reilly
Line Art by Tom Rogers and Dexter Weeks
Color Art by Dexter Weeks
Published by Action Lab

What do you do when you're a brilliant scientist who worries that your aviator girlfriend is in danger from the occult? Look up a crank who lives with his mother, that's what! It's another historical figure mash-up, and how much you like this one will depend on how much you enjoy those kinds of stories.

This is a very earnest comic, and it's clear that the creators took their time to put together a story they're very proud of. They've taken the time to make sure all the little historical details fit together, such as Tesla's run-in with Edison, placing Albert Einstein in a patent office, and other flourishes. But when you throw Houdini into the mix on top of everyone else, the effect is stifling. Instead of following the story, you start waiting to see who's going to show up next. An incredibly strong story can hold under that strain, but the plot here is pretty vanilla: Tesla worries about other dimensions, Lovecraft worries about demons, and when their paths cross, you know what's coming next.

If Rogers and Weeks were able to bring more life to the art, that, too might have pushed this one above treading water, but while their likenesses are pretty good, the panels do nothing innovative or compelling. When Houdini pops out of a barrel, he doesn't shoot towards the reader's eye or the audience. It's played straight. Similarly, our first demon offers no sense of menace. It stands at the stairs like it was calling for dinner, then waits for them to attack in panels that don't try to play up the horror. It faces Lovecraft and Tesla with its claws down, flat, like it's just waiting to die.

You just can't do that in a horror comic. It's not going to work. Not when you have things like Atomic Robo using the same characters, making for an instant point of comparison--which Herald fails badly. This is a comic that tries hard, but just wasn't ready. It's too generic, like something you'd look at--and then pass over--at Artist's Alley at a con. I really wanted to like it, but I just wasn't able to, and those who like historical mash-ups would be better served elsewhere.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Two Cool BOOM! Announcements: Pietsch on Adventure Time Mini and Moreci Cultivates Burning Fieldsnow

2014 was a very good year for BOOM!, and it looks like 2015 is going to be just as good, if not better. Hot on the heels of ending 2014 with more Roger Langridge, comes news that two of my favorite creators are getting more work at BOOM!, albeit on two very different projects.

Adventure Time: Marceline Gone Adrift #1
cover by Reimena Yee
First came news of another Adventure Time mini-series focusing on Marceline and Princess Bubblegum called Adventure Time: Marceline Gone Adrift, written by Meredith Gran and illustrated by Panel Patter favorite Carey Pietsch of the Dirty Diamonds group, Snapdragon Queen, and many other mini-comics. 

The premise this time really pushes things in terms of moving outside the usual Ooo orbit. From the press release: 
Marceline is on a rampage for mysterious reasons, and the kingdom of Ooo is desperately scrambling to stop her. In trying to save both Ooo and Marceline herself, Princess Bubblegum accidentally propels Marceline into the farthest reaches of space...and strips her of her powers! Guilt-ridden, Princess Bubblegum sets off on a space rescue that’ll test the power of her well as the power of friendship.
I've really enjoyed the Adventure Time comics from BOOM!, and the best of those, I think, have been the graphic novels and mini-series, with the Paul Tobin-Colleen Coover-Wook Jin Clark The Flip Side being the best of the bunch. Pietsch illustrated the Lumpy Space Princess section of Adventure Time 30 (the zine issue), so she's familiar with the world. I can't wait to read this one in January, and I'm sure I'll have a review.

Adventure Time: Marceline Gone Adrift #1 is scheduled to be released on January 14th, and is $3.99. It's a 6-issue mini-series, and of course there will be variant covers for those so inclined.

Burning Fields #1 cover by
Colin Lorimer
The second project is extremely different, but that's no surprise given that it's from the writing team of Tim Daniel and Michael Moreci. They worked together on an excellent horror mini, Curse, last year, which also came out from BOOM!, and now they're back again, with one of the Curse artists, Colin Lorimer, for a new series. It's called Burning Fields, and this time their target is a military procedural mixed with ancient evil for a concept that's sure to push readers into thoughtful comparisons between horror tropes and the things that happen as part of everyday, cruel, reality.

Here's the press release, giving the premise:
Dana Atkinson, a dishonorably discharged army investigator, is pulled back to the Middle East when a group of American oil technicians disappear under bizarre circumstances. With the help of an Iraqi investigator, what Dana discovers is unimaginable: a series of unusual incidents at the drill site lead her and her unlikely ally to discover a mythic evil that has been released, one that threatens both the lives of the entire region and the fragile peace that exists.
 Mike Moreci is one of the best at using horror to explore the mindset of humanity, and given the topical nature of the content this time, I expect to see this one really challenging its audience while also ensuring that there's a definite shade of gray. I really liked how Mike and Tim worked together on Curse, and it's great to see them working with Lorimer, who also killed it on art for that series. The longer artists and writers can work together, the more their stories improve, because they know how to play to each other's strengths. I'd happily read one new series from this year every year, and I expect this one to be perfect for horror fans looking for an early fix in the new year.

Burning Fields is also $3.99, and comes out January 21st, to your favorite comic book store or digital device.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Rob Kirby Interviews Max Clotfelter

Max Clotfelter's comics represent a missing link between the punk-fueled underground comics of the eighties and the spikier corners of the present more "respectable" graphic novels scene. Clotfelter writes and draws from the dark side, with a certain bewildered sweetness and the bracing honesty borne of a true outsider. His comics make me laugh out loud, often while wincing in empathy or delighted horror. Whether describing the agonies of adolescence, delineating the lives of grungy street people or spinning out into the ether with more abstract visions, Clotfelter remains a vital figure in the modern Seattle comics scene. He graciously agreed to answer me some questions in the last few weeks, the results of which I now transmit to you.  

Rob Kirby: Can you tell me where you're from, and how that may or may not have contributed to your vocation as a cartoonist? Basically, I want your origin story.

Max Clotfelter: I was born in Marietta, Georgia in 1978. My mom was an elementary school teacher and my dad worked a variety of jobs ranging from some kind of "supervisor" position on an assembly line at Lockheed to owning liquor stores. A really basic middle-class upbringing.

Growing up, I always felt naturally attracted to drawing, but I was never very good at it. I never did any illustrations for the yearbooks and my work was never chosen for any of the county scholastic art shows. I just had a compulsion to draw whatever I felt like, and never cared whether I improved or not. I also read a bunch of comics and would redraw images created by my favorite artists. So eventually that impulse to draw single images developed into drawing comics.

Also, I sucked at sports and I was a weirdo loser outcast. Marietta was a strange little town. Lots of old southern values, lots of churches and lots of athletics, and I was pretty much on the bottom of the social ladder. Drawing the most disturbing stuff I could imagine became a way for me to reach out and beg for attention, and it kind’ve worked. By the 8th grade I was creating these filthy transgressive comics. I'd show them to kids in the hallways and pass them around in class. At one point a teacher found a notebook filled with about 150 comic strips and I was immediately suspended from school and required to go through a full psychiatric evaluation (My mom showed me notes from the evaluation years later and I guess there had been fears that I was illustrating demonic hallucinations.)

But ultimately they sent me back to school and told me not to draw unless it was G-rated. (I disobeyed this of course - only from then on I only drew on loose leaf sheets of paper, instead of filling an entire notebook. “The Notebook," btw, was never returned to me and I still think about it often).

Anyway, in my senior year of high school I tried taking art classes again and did a little better. I still had no understanding of simple concepts like color theory, perspective, or light & shadow. I was an underachiever who approached art with the same inhibition that also kept me from doing anything well in life. 

Kirby: Tell me about your influences.

Clotfelter: I always remember trying to read newspaper comic strips. Peanuts was great, but Garfield was the Boss. Then I became a fan of Mad Magazine when my mom would sit me at the newsstand at the grocery store while she did her shopping. My favorite artist in Mad was Sergio Aragones, and I found out he had a monthly comic called Groo. So that was the first comic I started collecting. My dad enjoyed taking my brother and me out and supporting our baseball card and comic book hobbies. We'd always be driving around looking for new shops and going to conventions on Sundays. Atlanta had some pretty serious comic stores and I got heavy into collecting by the time I was 11.

Larry Hama's writing for G.I. Joe was great. I tried to pick that up every month. I collected all of the Punisher comics, especially anything with artwork by Mike Zeck (who drew a bunch of G.I. Joe covers) and Jim Lee. I was a total Rambo nut at the time, obsessed with guns and knives and running around in the woods hacking at trees with a machete, totally locked in this isolated fantasy word inspired by action movies, comics and toys. I was painfully aware of how everyone around me was transitioning into adolescence. My parents had to be a little concerned, but didn't know what to do. I was stockpiling bb guns, cammo gear and martial arts weapons at a rapid pace. Eventually though, I just trashed it all and became completely obsessed with comics.

Once all my attention was focused on comics it began influencing my drawing. I started picking up anything by Sam Kieth, especially his Wolverine comics in Marvel Comics Presents. They were so loose and the wide-open panel compositions were unlike any I had ever seen. I started tracing his art a lot. I was also tracing a lot of Arthur Adams and Todd McFarlane. Simon Bisley's Lobo comics became my biggest influence up until that point, with his super-violent, detailed art. The Lobo Paramilitary Christmas Special (where Lobo is hired to kill Santa Claus) inspired me to start drawing my own violent and horrible comics at school.

The Lobo comic had a "Mature Audiences Only" label on it, so I went back to the comic shop looking for anything else with the same label. That's when I started picking up any black and white alternative/underground comic that I could find. Stuff like Nina Paley, J.R Williams, Heavy Metal and trashy, hyper-violent Texas Chainsaw Massacre comics.

I was reading Wizard Magazine cover-to-cover every month - they had a column dedicated to alternative comics, and that informed my tastes as I got into high school. I called all the shops in town trying to find one that carried Pete Bagge's Hate and had my dad take me to go buy The Bradleys and Hey, Buddy! It was the funniest shit I had ever read. I also found some Eightball and Love & Rockets collections at a thrift store, and I remember not even understanding them at first. I remember my mom being annoyed at how loud I was laughing at Clowes' Lout Rampage while she was trying to drive on the interstate. The humor was so sarcastic and mean, it felt like I was in on something that nobody around me understood. I was also reading fantasy/adventure stuff like Sandman, Grendel, Nexus and Madman, totally getting lost in it all and obsessing over the worlds they had created. I started trying to develop my own stories and cast of characters, but it was all horrible.

Around this time I got a driver’s license started hanging out at a comic shop every day after school. The three clerks were the only adults who I could show my drawings to and they totally encouraged me to push it to the limit. The weirder and more deranged the better. We would smoke cigarettes and talk about Tarantino and Kevin Smith and listen to college radio for hours (They were always smoking weed, but I was too scared to partake). They couldn't believe I had never heard of Crumb and gave me a copy of Zapp #0. That was a pretty big deal. One of these guys was Shane from my Tablegeddon comic.

The shop went out of business my senior year of High School. This is also about the time I learned how to make a minicomic from an issue of Too Much Coffee Man. I printed my first mini on a run-down gas station photocopier four months before graduation. The cover was a swipe of the cover to Zapp #0. It was pretty thrilling to be able to make my own little comic. 

Kirby: I really relate to all that that – being interested in everything, all kinds of comics, picking up by osmosis all the disparate elements that would eventually coalesce into my style (as it were). That's so funny that you got into Peter Bagge's comics. I've been convinced all along that you would have totally been a contributor to Weirdo during his tenure as editor, had you not been, you know, a toddler at the time!

Clotfelter: Oh Yeah: Weirdo, Real Stuff, Snake Eyes, Zero Zero. I always dreamed of being in one of those anthologies. 

Kirby: Tell me about going to School of Art and Design at Savannah (SCAD) (from 1997-2002). Was this successful for you? Did you specifically learn comics or was the program more broad-based?

Clotfelter: It was crazy going to art school. I had never really been around other people my age who took art seriously (or even made art!). The first thing I noticed was how far behind I was compared to the really talented people there. I had no education in art history. I had never painted with anything but watercolor. I had never used Photoshop. I didn't even have an email address. So I struggled really hard through the first year of foundation classes, but once I made it into the Sequential Art program I had a blast! My comic drawing continued to slowly develop and I made a bunch of great friends who really inspired me to work harder.

Also, all of the professors in the department were nuts. It's like they knew we were the outcast department of this big school, so there was this informal demeanor to the way they taught. Some days James Sturm would bring his dog to class for life drawing, or maybe the next day his friend Ed Brubraker would show up unannounced and rip us all to shreds in a critique. One time James found some crazy old character around town and had him sit for us in class for 3 hours to interview and then turn it into a comic. Another professor, Bob Pendarvis, would have people show up to class in costumes or go on hour-long monologues about mysterious vending machines he wanted to place around the city. All of it created this really creative environment.

Kirby: Oh my god, that all sounds so awesome! You’d at last found your niche. I hope you put some of these experiences into comics already; in fact, there’s your first graphic novel, right there, starring a supporting cast of alt-comics weirdos! So what happened after you graduated, what was your trajectory?

Clotfelter: I graduated from school, got a shitty job and kept making mini-comics. I ended up back in my hometown, which was kind of grim. But luckily I moved into a house with some outsider musicians who had found themselves stranded in Georgia. I was also really inspired by a John Porcellino interview in The Comics Journal. So the goal at that point was to make zines, send them to as many people as possible, do some anthology stuff and just be a part of a community. I went to SPX a few times and gave out a bunch of comics. Danny Hellman asked me to contribute to Legal Action Comics as a result of that. And USS Catastrophe was selling my mini-comics online.

A good college friend, Aaron Mew, had moved back to Hawaii and started an anthology with his old friend Kazimir Strzepek called Paper Cuts Machine. I contributed a few pages to that, which also featured Liz Prince, Ken Dahl and Kelly Froh. I remember reading it and asking Aaron more about Kelly. And apparently she had asked him about me. She lived in Vancouver B.C. and pretty soon we were writing lots of letters back and forth. 

Kirby: What was it about Kelly’s work that attracted you? Did you think her cartoon alter ego was cute?

Clotfelter: Ha...Um, what stuck out to me was how personal and honest it was. The first comic of hers i read was about an embarrassing crush on a college professor, and she told the story with a really down to earth sense of humor. 

Kirby: Funny you should say that, because the first work of yours I ever saw was in the mini-masterpiece Stew Brew #3, the split-zine in which you and Kelly traded off comics about your respective childhood experiences with television. I was really impressed with the brutal honesty of your comics in there (and in subsequent work of yours I’ve seen). You took these really painful, lonely experiences and made them really funny, in an unsparing sort of fashion. Does this come naturally to you? Did you always draw autobio comics or did you start out in a different direction?

Clotfelter: I've always juggled a bunch of different styles of comics. There are plenty of autobio stories, and a lot of cornball gag strips. But there are also the conspiracy-themed comics and some hallucinogenic pantomime stuff. I've just tried to create as many assorted cast members as possible, so that I can utilize whichever character best fits the story I want to tell.  Sometimes it's a banjo-playing rat or a mutated latchkey kid, and other times it's just a caricature of myself.

As for the themes, I've always tended to steer my comics toward the rougher elements of life. So if I'm doing something that's autobio, it's probably going to be a pretty dark or embarrassing moment. But I think that also helps the nice moments look even better in contrast! 

Kirby: Yes, I've seen some non-autobio work of yours in tabloid anthologies like Pork & Intruder, and I loved that surreal pantomime piece reprinted in Treasury of Mini Comics Volume One from Fantagraphics last year. I get the sense you really like publishing in anthologies, collaborating with others, participating in drawing events, collectives, etc. Can you talk about these experiences a little bit? Are you at heart, you know, a PEOPLE PERSON?

Clotfelter: A lot of the anthology stuff suits me well because I'm more of a short story guy than a graphic novelist. Plus, all the individual deadlines keep me on point because I can be very easily distracted when I'm just working on my own stuff. I also get a big thrill out of being in anthologies with a bunch of people whose comics I love! I remember emailing Sean at Pork and begging him to publish my comics just so I could be in the same magazine as Bobby Madness, Tim Root and Tim Goodyear. Since there's so little financial reward involved in all of this, I feel like I need the community of friends and anthologies to help make it all worth it. Maybe one day I'll collect all the anthology stuff into a big fancy book, or I'll attempt a graphic novel, but right now I really just don't have the desire. I'd rather just get my Not My Small Diary pages finished!

There's also something really important about the community aspect of comics, jamming and anthologies on a local level. I'm really lucky to be living in Seattle with so many great artists. I keep a list of the people I meet in the city who identify as comic artists and/or illustrators and number is nearing 300. I belong to a collective of friends who self-publish a quarterly comics newspaper the Intruder. We all split the printing costs and Marc Palm donates time to do all the production work, so we're able to give it away for free! Belonging to that has been huge because we're all really supportive of each other and we've used our strength as a group to achieve some pretty cool goals like gallery shows and release parties. It's also really great to have a group of folks you can hang out with, talk shop, and pass around a jam comic.

Seattle's got so much happening right now. Short Run keeps attracting more attendees every year, it seems unreal that 1,850 people were interested enough in comics to show up and buy little handmade books from all of the exhibitors. Larry Reid does a great job of booking events at the Fantagraphics shop, which in turn provides a consistent hub of comic networking. There are lots of new publishers, distros and markets popping up all the time. And I'm still organizing the Dune night every month, which just hit the two-year mark. It's like everyone's taken on a unique task that collectively benefits the entire community. All with - up until this point - very little drama!

Kirby: That’s really wonderful to hear. It sounds as if you’ve really found your place, your home. Before we wrap up, it is time once again for The Totally Random Stupid Question™! Max Clotfelter, can you reveal to us now a special hidden talent of yours, heretofore unknown to your general audience?

Clotfelter: I'm a meticulous list maker and note taker. I've got nearly 400 little books full of notes I've kept over the past 12 years. Plus I'm really into going to concerts and I've maintained a detailed list of every one I've ever gone to. (1,000+ and counting!)

Kirby: Color me impressed, Meticulous Note Taking is a highly underrated talent. Finally, what is coming up next from you in 2015? Any reveals?

Clotfelter: I've got a few things cooking in 2015. I'm gonna continue drawing Hobot strips for Pork and the Wiregrass Enforcer. The next Intruder is scheduled to come out in mid-February. I've got a few pages in the next issue of Kroger Kromix! Last Gasp is publishing a brand-new book full of Dennis Eichhorn comics and I've got 6 pages in that. I'm also hoping to hit the road and do some tabling in Portland and LA. with my bud Tom Van Deusen, so I'll definitely have some new zines ready for those shows. So maybe I'll see you out and we can do some trading!

Thanks much to Max for taking the time to talk with me! I encourage all interested parties to seek out more of his work, either in person at the places mentioned above, or  at his website:

Until next time, have a good holiday, and we’ll see you in the New Year for more scintillating conversations with cartoonists who will, you know, will scintillate you. Rob K.

Images above: 1. Max himself; 2. Comic from Meat #1; 3. Excerpt from Tablegeddon; 4. Comic from Stewbrew #3; 4. Comic from Custard Record #1; 5. Excerpt from Not My Small Diary #17; 6. Comic from Ghost House Anthology #3; 7. The artist in full-fledged tabling mode. All images © by Max Clotfelter.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Weekend Pattering for 12/12/14

** Two Panel Patterers (Patterites?) have published their Best of 2014 lists.  Rob Kirby breaks his list down into mini comics and books.  Meanwhile Whit Taylor, who had a great reason to read a lot of comics this year, showcases a lot of books.  Between Rob and Whit's lists, I'm making my own list of stuff that I never got around to reading this year but should have.  

Not Tom Spurgeon.
** Tom Spurgeon at The Comics Reporter on taking a job with the Cartoon Crossroads Columbus festival.  There's a lot to chew on in this piece from Tom.
* one thing I hope the next 20 years of my life will be about -- if I'm given 20, which would be amazing -- is making for a better industry and art form with as much significant impact as I can muster. I'm a comics person. I'm here; I'm not going anywhere, not if I can help it. I think a lot of you feel the same way. Further, I don't think that those of us in the non-creative positions in comics have done nearly enough to support and aid this tremendous flowering of expressive talent over the last two decades. I hope that with the festival and with CR I can be a part of building on this creative energy so that comics stays the best art form for years to come.
Honestly, if Tom thinks that we non-creative types haven't done enough, I don't know if I can disagree with him. He's one of the best ambassadors for comics that the once-and-future blogosphere has. Go and read that article because Tom covers a lot of ground from initial thoughts on the CXC to hazy, hinting plans about the future of CR.


** Speaking of comic book festivals with an odd abbreviation, the sorely-missed Matt Brady of Warren Peace Sings the Blues seems to now be handling CAKE's (Chicago Alternative Comics Expo) website and has the lowdown on the special guest list for next year's CAKE , which already looks to be a tour de force of comic book goodness.
    • Eleanor Davis
    • Lale Westvind
    • Jaime & Gilbert Hernandez
    • Zak Sally
    • WIlfred Santiago
    • Keiler Roberts
    • Dash Shaw
    • Jillian Tamaki
And that's just the special guests so far.  CAKE 2014 was one of my best comic experiences of the year and I'm bummed that I have to wait until June to experience it again.  As a Chicago-centric side note, C2E2 is coming up but there is Friday night mini comic fest going on at Reggie's Rockclub.  ICE 2014 has a Kickstarter up right now and I'm already willing to bet that night will be better than the rest of C2E2 (look at me already sabotaging my ability to get a press pass for C2E2 this year.


** And if you haven't had enough about the festival circuit, B.K. Munn talks to Andrew Woodward Butcher about the TCAF store that opened in the Toronto Reference Library.
Things came together really quickly, so we’re operating through December as more of a Pop-up Shop. That said, we do have some library- and book-themed merchandise (t-shirts, tote bags…) in stock now, as well as a few lines of journals, notebooks, and sketchbooks. In the new year you’ll see us continue to add not only “gift shop” types of product lines, but also writing and art materials, more artist-exclusive merchandise, and merchandise related to our partnership with Toronto Public Library.
The quick evolution of TCAF has fascinated me as I've watched it from hundreds of miles away.  One of these years, I'm hoping to be in Toronto when that festival is happening.


** Matt Seneca at The Comics Journal dissects the new expanded edition of Ralph McGuire's Here.
Where the original “Here” suffers from the young McGuire’s uncertain figuration, the new book sets down each human (and animal) form with the casual certainty of a veteran illustrator. Where the original’s black and white printing pushes the reader back, reducing one’s participation in the story to remote appreciation, the new book is alive with a veritable encyclopedia of beautifully considered color schemes designed to draw the eye into the pictures, leaving the world outside its pages behind. Where the rigid six-panel grid of the original has a claustrophobic, staccato feel no matter what size it’s printed (especially once McGuire starts in with the insets), the new book splashes each “master” image across a whole double-page spread, allowing juxtaposed windows into different times to breathe and roll into one another, like nouns in a line of poetry. All the space is necessary — from the start, Here the book has the cast of an epic about it, and an epic is exactly what McGuire delivers.
Matt Seneca writing about comics is always a good thing.


** Jim Viscardi talks to Rob Liefeld here and here on his Lets Talk Comics podcast.

Or if it's like the other podcast interview I've heard with Liefeld, it's Rob talks while the host gets an occasional moment now and again to interject and remind the listener that this is something that resembles a two-way conversation.  I'm quite fascinated with the seemingly recent positive re-evaluation of Liefeld's work.  I picked up a small collection of that Spider-Man/X-Force crossover he and McFarlane did in their pre-Image days but I just can't bring myself to read it.  There are... charms(?) to Liefeld's work.  When great cartoonists like Jim Rugg and Ed Piskor sing his praises, I start to think that maybe I'm missing something.  Or maybe it's just that I'm old.  Personally, I was always more of a Jim Lee man myself.