Thursday, October 30, 2014

Halloween Horror: Alternative Comics Offers Free Lasky Halloween PDF

If you love horror,you've come to the right place! It's another entry in Panel Patter's Halloween Horror 2014! You can find all our eerie entries by following this Halloween Horror tag.

Trick or treating doesn't start until tomorrow, but Marc Arsenault's Alternative Comics has a gift for you as a free download in the 8-page mini, All Monster Comics from David Lasky and a host of creators assisting on inks.

Lasky wrote the script and pencilled it, then Marc gathered some of his comics friends to ink the work so that it could be done in time for Halloween. The lineup includes Roland Pete Friedrich, Gabrielle Gamboa, K. Thor Jensen, Karl Stevens, Dalton Webb, Scott Stripling, Patrick Lugo, Reid Psaltis, David Lasky and Andrei Molotiu.

The story itself is pretty silly, involving a lost cell phone that turns into a monster fight that only the biggest of them all can stomp--er, stop. Basically, it' an excuse for Lasky to draw a bunch of classica creatures, ranging from Dracula to the Frankeinsteins to just about all of the Universal pantheon.

And if that was the end of it, that'd be fine, because anyone who loves horror and comics loves it when creators play with the creatures we all grew up with. But this one has an extra twist, and that's watching the passel of inkers show how the same creator's pencils can be re-interpreted. It's something that gets talked about a lot, but when you get to see the experience in an actual comic, with notes telling you who each inker was, it's a great time for those of us who enjoy looking at comics from a craft perspective.

I won't belabor it here, but just a few quick examples:

  • When K. Thor Jensen gets the Bride of Frankenstein, her hair is a solid block of black with the traditional white streak. In the very next panel, however, Karl Stevens gives her hair individual strands. When we see Reid Psaltis ink the monster's hair, she's got more of a wave, giving her slightly natural curls. The white shock is now more grey, as it is flecked with black lines, not just as a white shock, imitating what real hair might do.
  • The use of hatching or solid shading varies from creator to creator, adding or subtracting to the level of depth and detail. Some prefer to keep it basic, focus on the characters, while others show that there's gradients across the brick buildings.
  • Patrick Lugo's panel is the most dramatic, using a spiral pattern to focus on the fact that the Bride has attacked our protagonist. It's impossible for me to know how many of those lines were in the original pencils, but the inking is all designed to take advantage of the spiral construction of the pattern, radiating out from the punch to the gut.


It's great stuff, both on a macro and micro level, and you can't beat the price of FREE. I don't know how long the PDF will remain up for nothing, though, so make sure you grab it right away. Classic monster fans enjoying a little comedy will be glad they did!

Halloween Horror: Study Group Gets Haunted Again!

If you love horror,you've come to the right place! It's another entry in Panel Patter's Halloween Horror 2014! You can find all our eerie entries by following this Halloween Horror tag.

They've started a little bit later this year, but the fine folks at Study Group have once again pulled out all the stops and increased their content to provide their readers, old and new, with the best in horror comics posted to the web.

Called "Halloween Haunting 2" it's going on right now, across the main page. If you're the type that prefers to go straight to a tag, you can find all of the horror-themed comics here.

Despite the fact that they're starting a bit later, there's no shortage of comics. Here's a few that may entice you to take a few moments of your time to read:

  • Rich Tommaso brings out "Blood King," a story of Vlad the Impaler, using his very distinctive line work to highlight the strong contrast between his start blacks and very vivid white space, an interesting choice given the horror subject. Another twist is that instead of focusing on his horror issues, Tommaso looks at his inner life and a struggling relationship. Touching at times, with some great use of abrupt scene changes, this was a lot of fun to read.
  • Sam Alden checks in with a creepy story of a meadow that features a dancing man and a woman who becomes obsessed with the idea of the dancing man. Soon it infects her whole life, in a nice psychological horror short that Alden fills with some great patterns and repetitions that take advantage of his particular take on the craft. He does a great job with the narration, too, allowing us to go down the road of madness with the main character.
  • Art and story by Patrick Dean
  • Patrick Dean returns again this year for a short, funny tale where a city of monsters is flooded by a river of blood when a vampire gets careless and lets the dam break. It's a fun frenzy of creatures drawn in Dean's distinctive style, with a strong emphasis on humor in the scenes and dialogue. The color is a bit too bright on this one, but other than that, it's another great story from a guy that I really think should have a bigger following.
  • In shorter work, Andrice Arp turns a love song into a marching scene of horror images done in silhouette style, adapting "Music to Watch Girls By."
  • Those who enjoy things a bit more on the raw end of the comics spectrum will enjoy the really strange "Food Chain" by Sophie Goldstein, in which humanoid quadrupeds mate and frolic, only to be killed by slightly higher-level humans who are in turn exploited by an anthropologist, who turns their survival food into a high-priced dish. With visuals that will remind readers of Box Brown, using deceptively simple lines to create scraggly creatures and self-righteous society, Goldstein creates a world that's very rich without having extreme detail, along with a few images that are designed to shock.
Those are just a few of the comics you'll find with a horror bent at the ever-excellent Study Group. Why not check them out today (but probably not on your work computer)?

Halloween Horror: Horror Show #1

If you love horror,you've come to the right place! It's another entry in Panel Patter's Halloween Horror 2014! You can find all our eerie entries by following this Halloween Horror tag.

Written by George Lennox
Art by Chris Connolly (A Late Night in Royston), Jason Mathis (Lost Souls), and Norrie Millar/James Devlin (Partyman)
Published by Cult Empire Comics

A new horror anthology gets its start with a trio of tales from the publisher's editor in chief, designed to evoke a more traditional feel of older horror comics and movies. Two guys don't listen to advice, a woman scorns the warnings of a ghost, and a party of jerks sees their soiree go straight to hell in a comic that definite is meeting its objective. How much you like the comic will be based on whether or not the style is for you.

It probably wasn't a stretch to think of Panel Patter as a place to send a review copy of an indie horror comic with a goal of classical storytelling. If you know anything about my taste, it's a pretty safe bet that you've sold me on your premise, at the very least. I once used to describe myself as growing up on Marx Brothers, Universal Horror films, and Warner Brothers, so yes, I have a strong backing in the classics.

My comics taste also has a strong love for classic horror, though oddly not so much for the 70s Marvel stuff.* Give me some old EC, Ditko Archives, classic Creepy/Eerie--anything like that and I'm happy as a clam.

The trouble is that most of those things were made in a particular cauldron, and trying to recreate it can often fail badly. For as good as Dark Horse's new Creepy can be, not all of the writers understand the formula, which means that you get stories that feel very stilted or who go for the cliche instead of just trying to tell a story in that vein.

So where does this new series, Horror Show, fall? Not bad, actually. It would certainly be unfair to expect people who are still honing their craft as writers and artists to be comparable to those who work on the higher-end horror books. When I examine something like this, I'm looking at against similar titles. On that score, it fits fairly well, perhaps a bit on the obvious conclusion side, but there's a sense of fun within the proceedings that's sometimes lost when creators try to go for a more somber horror moment. Part of what makes horror work is knowing what's going to happen, yet still being entertained. Can Horror Show make that work?

The answer so far is a bit mixed. In the first story, "A Late Night in Royston," two guys try to get into the pants of a pair of attractive women at a bar, only to find they are of course horrible creatures out for their blood and guts. That's a classic horror trope, which is the point, so that's fine as far as it goes. I also liked the fact that it felt set during the height of the 70s drive-in horror films, too, given the illustration style of Chris Connolly. There's a slight fudge to the line work, too, which gives it a bit of a hazy, not-quite-real look, which serves the story well. As with many books of this type, the action itself is a bit on the stilted side, with Connolly not quite able to convince me of fluid movement, though he does a good job of selecting what we see in each panel, which pace out nicely across the story. George Lennox's dialogue is okay, but there's nothing spectacular, and he's a bit quick to fall back on the cross defense against creatures of the night. Overall, it's an okay start for the anthology.

Unfortunately, the middle story didn't do much for me. A woman sees other dead women, who warn her against something nebulous, which ends up coming into play at the end of what I understand is a two-part story. It's way too talk-heavy for a comic, with Lennox having her debate a therapist, and there's no life in the art to make up for it. Jason Mathis tries to do some use of panels as separation devices, but overall, there's no sense of creepiness in the figures, their placement, or their world.

My favorite, though, was definitely the closing story, "Partyman," which looks like it walked right out of an old issue of Creepy, took a bath in color, and stopped by to say hello. Norrie Millar's linework is clearly inspired by the old code-dodging magazine-size comics, with its realistic portrayals touched with a bit more rounding than normal and positioning of characters to get the best reaction shots. After a quick set up, an unliked party goer returns with a gift from hell to take revenge in the most gruesome fashion. It's an over-the-top gorefest that's close to comedic in its level of violence, matched by dialogue that's supposed to cause you to roll your eyes. Lennox and Millar are on the same page here, and it's turned to about 1977, making it something that fits right in my wheelhouse. James Devlin's coloring brings it to life--or death, if you prefer--with the dead man's red skin looking amazing against the more natural tones of the party people who rejected him.

Just a great time, and I'd like to see more of that style in this anthology rather than trying to go for an actual scary story, which I think hurt the middle tale. Lennox is at his best when he's being unrestrained in channeling older horror.

Overall, Horror Show #1 won't be for everyone, but those who like classic horror comics, especially the Warren stuff, should check this out and see what you think. I think it has a lot of promise, and I hope they get to keep going past issue one. For any new indie series working in a floppy, color format, facing the ability to keep publishing may be the scariest thing of all.

You can buy Horror Show #1  at the publisher's website.

*I tried reading it in the Essentials, and maybe I'll try again sometime if they're on the Marvel app. But while the visuals were cool a lot of the time, the walls of text bored me to death, and my only fear was blindness after reading them all.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Halloween Horror: Julia Gfrorer and Sean T. Collins Talk Scary Seas

If you love horror,you've come to the right place! It's another entry in Panel Patter's Halloween Horror 2014! You can find all our eerie entries by following this Halloween Horror tag.

Not all horror has to be traditional or fictional. In a nice, timely piece syndicated by Matt Bors' The Nib, a part of the Medium platform, writer Sean T. Collins and artist Julia Gfrorer provide a look at just what might be the reason we're scared of the ocean and other large bodies of water.

Called The Deep Ones, it's available here and well worth your time. Collins gives it a suitably moody set of captions, slowing the reader's pace in order to linger over the rich, detailed illustrations of Gfrorer, who evokes familiar themes, such as the Loch Ness Monster, without either word or visual calling them out by name.

Perhaps most haunting of all is the depiction of the dead, drowned and waiting for unlikely companions.

Truly great stuff, but that's no surprise, given that Bors's online curating makes him practically a one-man Google Reader for great webcomics. (I know he has help, but it was his idea to start with, and I'm very grateful it exists.) 

Make sure you check it out, but only if you're safely on land!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Panel Patter's October Small Press Picks

Hi All and welcome to the October 2014 edition of our Small Press Picks, which is the slightly changed name of our column where we sit down as a group and tell you about books we think you'd like to read, but either did not get time to do a full review or are just excited about the comic and waiting for our own chance to read it!

After starting this last month, we're still tweaking the format a bit. Unfortunately, unlike major publisher that can use lead time of months, small presses often are a bit closer to the vest, and that goes double for the folks who are out there publishing mini-comics, often between their paying jobs.

So instead of being used to preview stuff that's coming out soon, we're going to instead make this more about picking books that are new(ish) that we want to highlight.

We hope you like this slight shift, which may be the format going forward, we'll have to wait and see. What you don't have to wait for are this month's selections. As we did last month, these are in alphabetical order. Lining up for the column this month are James Kaplan (JK), Rob Kirby (RK), Rob McMonigal (RBM), and Guy Thomas (GT). Let's get started!

Heart Farts by Cara Bean, Rebecca Viola, and Jason Viola. The back cover of this 36-page mini identifies this as a “Collection of comics about dreams, teaching, creativity, and pets.” Bean’s contributions include two very funny comics detailing her mother’s dreams about football star Tom Brady, a piece on meditation and classroom dynamics, and “Ashes,” a touching vignette about deceased pets and letting go. Meanwhile, Viola contributes “Bento: Beyond Sandwiches,” which will make that Lean Cuisine you’re lunching on seem even more banal, and the adorable “The Greatest Cat of All Time.” It’s all really charming, entertaining, and relatable. Self-published, available here. $4. (RK)


Legend of Bold Riley #3 by Leia Weathington and Joanna Estep. We all know how I feel about this series that takes the best of the pulp adventures and removes all the racist, sexist shit. Bold Riley continues her journey of recovery, this time with a renewed sense of purpose, in the first part of a two-part tale that is available for order but isn't quite ready yet, so that gives you time to catch up first. Weathington finds amazing collaborators and Estep is one of the best. This is a series I recommend to everyone, and having a queer protagonist just adds to the enjoyment. Northwest Press. $4.99. (RBM)



Puppyteeth 4 by Paula Almeida, Jon Gott, Laura Knetzger, Jenn Lisa, and Jess Wheelock. Anytime there's an anthology with people I like (in this case, Knetzger) put out by someone who's got a great reputation in comics (Kevin Czap), it's going to put me on notice as something worth seeking out. Five stories spread out across 56 full color pages, ranging from re-imagining yourself in an anime to Applebee's decorations trying to free themselves from being stuck forever near mediocre food and beer. If that sounds interesting to you, then make sure you look for this at your local store, at a show, or online. Czap Books. $12. (RBM)

RIP Meghan by Meghan Turbitt. In this world of increasingly slick, chrome-colored art and digital fonts, I find Meghan Turbitt’s scrawly, wildly expressionistic drawings and comics a refreshing, in-your-face change of pace. Wacky, ribald, and sometimes gross (yay for gross!), Turbitt strikes me as a sort of newfangled, millennial Aline Kominsky-Crumb. I look forward to watching as she further develops. Self-published, available here. $5. (RK)

Strong Female Protagonist by Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag. Originally a successful webcomic, Strong Female Protagonist has been well-received as a funny, entertaining, insightful superhero comedy series from the perspective of a teenaged girl with super powers. The collected edition should make for a terrific read. Top Shelf. $19.95

SubCultures edited by Whit Taylor. This often fascinating anthology examines a variety of subcultures, ranging from cosplayers to cryptozoologists, ham radio enthusiasts to home schoolers, and real doll enthusiasts to Reborners. There are 36 different stories here (full disclosure: I contributed a 3-pager), and while not everything works, the batting average is well above average; among the alt-cartoonists featured: Cara Bean, cover artist Box Brown, Jesse Lonergan, Dan Mazur, Hazel Newlevant, Liz Prince, and Daryl Seitchik. Kudos to editor Whit Taylor for a killer theme in the first place; I learned a lot reading this. Ninth Art Press. $15. (RK)


Tales of Good Ol' Snoop Doggy Dog by J.T. Yost. Haven't we all had dreams about Snoop Dogg? The second printing of J. T. Yost's mini, collecting his recollections of a few dreams he had featuring the rapper, as well as a fictional story about him as well, just came out. No more excuses, it's worth your time. Birdcage Bottom Books. $3. (GT)

Tiny Pencil IV by Various Artists. I don't know any of the artists involved in this one, but the idea of an anthology series that's themed not around the stories or the artists, but the medium they use to create their drawings. That's a dedication to the craft of making a comic, and I wholeheartedly approve. The medium in question is graphite, and here are 72 pages of folks using graphite to create things, which actually does have a theme--death and resurrection. Grey toned gothic work? Yup, that's something I'd definitely like to call attention to! Tiny Pencil. £11. (RBM)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Mind MGMT by Matt Kindt (Series Review)

Mind MGMT (Series Review)
Written and Illustrated by Matt Kindt
Dark Horse

"You base your existence on certain givens. The sky is blue. Gravity never fails. But imagine if gravity didn't always work. Or what you called 'blue' everyone else saw as green."

"Ever have a dream that was like a story...? And at the end of the dream there's a twist ending? Some kind of shocking surprise? How can your mind do that to you? You're creating the dream. How can you surprise yourself?"

- Henry Lyme, Mind Management

Mind MGMT is a story about many things, but it is, at least in significant part, a story about our limited ability to perceive the reality around us. Our perception and observations about reality are unreliable, they can be manipulated.  We know this, it is science. You are being manipulated right now, in ways you may not even realize.

That (unsettling) premise is the hook for Mind MGMT, one of the most interesting, distinctive, and thought-provoking comic series being published today.  To be clear, the idea that your reality is being manipulated is not new. There are a number of recent popular examples of stories where there is a hidden reality that you're not seeing (Lost, The Matrix, Men in Black, The Adjustment Bureau, Inception, etc.), and many others in media. But Mind MGMT stands out, for its gorgeous watercolor artwork, unusual layouts, complex plot, and general sense of existential unsettlement one gets when reading the book.

I'm not going to provide a detailed plot overview for the story because (1) I'd be here all day writing it, (2) you'd be here all day reading it (if you hadn't given up), and (3) it might drive my editor crazy. So, speaking generally, the story significantly involves Meru Marlowe, an investigative journalist. She's had one best-selling book but is down on her luck (and out of money and options) when she decides to investigate a most mysterious occurrence.  A few years earlier on Flight 815 every single person on the plane experienced total amnesia. The only passenger unaccounted for was a man named Henry Lyme.  As the story begins, Meru decides to pursue this mysterious Henry Lyme and hopefully get to the bottom of Flight 815 mystery. Immediately Meru runs into surprises and danger, gains both allies and enemies, and eventually confronts Henry Lyme.  The story only gets much bigger and much stranger from there. Henry was part of an organization/agency called Mind Management, an organization to which Meru has ties as well. As the story continues and expands, Kindt shows us more about the history of the organization and the various people involved. New threats emerge, and old alliances re-form, and battle lines are drawn.

This book looks unlike much anything else on the stands.*  It's an engrossing, dense read (this is not a book you can skim or half-read while watching TV, and I also wouldn't recommend trying to read it when you're tired, trust me). What's interesting about the series starts with Kindt's overall look and design for his creation.  Kindt illustrates the book using watercolors, and it's hard to imagine the story being told in any other way. Additionally, nearly every page of Mind MGMT appears to be a report page on official stationery to the Mind Management organization (as it contains bureaucratic instructions at the top of each form), so the book reads as if it is prepared by an agent of the organization.  

Kindt uses every part of the page to tell the story. Many of the pages are laid out in such a way that the gutters also contain related but completely separate information. These might be excerpts from the Mind Management field manual, the text of an interview of an Agent, a completely different cartoon depicting a related part of the plot. The effect of this creative usage of the gutters is that the book reads a little like a page from the Talmud, with the main text and the supplemental commentaries surrounding it. 

Mind MGMT demands something of you, as each page may require multiple rereads in order to understand how the additional text/comic fits in with the main body of the story.  The connections there may not always be direct or obvious, but nothing in this book feels like it's there by accident.  Kindt also makes creative layout choices in that sometimes the panels are meant to be read across first and then down, and sometimes they're simply meant to be read vertically in order.  Part of the fun and challenge of the book is figuring out, structurally, how an issue is meant to be read. 

Moreover, from issue to issue there's not necessarily a linear focus on story, so the reader is never quite sure (at the start of an issue) where the story in that issue is going to go. This adds to the general sense of disorientation, which may be unnerving (to someone expecting a more linear narrative) but it's keeping with the themes and ideas of the story. It's less unnerving than getting your memory wiped mid-flight, but only just barely.

Kindt is also willing to take other interesting chances artistically in this book.  One recent example of these artistic choices (and chances) was an entire issue which took place without dialogue and only through thought balloons of the characters.  An earlier issue concerned an Agent whose ability is to understand the emotional state of animals - a few pages in the story are illustrated as an homage to the art style of Richard Scarry.**  A different example concerns a character whose memory is being manipulated - this is captured very effectively by showing the actual captions fading out, and by having the face only be sketched in and not colored (as if this character is fading from someone's memory).

Kindt's washed-out, impressionistic watercolor designs lend a dreamlike sense of unreality to the whole book which is highly effective (and appropriate) given the subject matter. Characters are sometimes exaggerated or distorted in perspective (such as in the panel above which is drawn to show Henry from Meru's perspective) and the line is looser (as in, character design can vary slightly from scene to scene) but the characters are clear and distinctive.  Notwithstanding the painted, impressionistic nature of the book, facial acting in the story is expressive (particularly in the case of Meru, who we see go though a lot), though many of the characters (such as Henry Lyme) have an impassive appearance and keep their outer expressions of emotion in check (possibly as a result of their Mind Management training)

Kindt has created a dense, compelling world. The agents who once comprised the Mind Management Organization are an extraordinary group of people with remarkable abilities.  Twin sisters who artwork and books are capable of starting riots. A man capable of reading every mind simultaneously within a 5-mile radius, giving him the ability to anticipate the future. A man capable of creating subliminal advertisements capable of starting revolutions.  Men and women who can manipulate the emotions and memories of everyone around them.  People who have used their minds to conquer their bodies, so they are essentially immortal. All of these people were once part of the government agency known as Mind Management, and they used their abilities to serve those in control of this agency.

They're remarkable people, and the world of Mind MGMT doesn't make clear where exactly these abilities come from, but its not a world of mutants, just people who can use their minds to perform extraordinary tasks. However, with extraordinary power comes extraordinary cost. Much like in Ales Kot's Zero (reviewed here), essentially everyone involve in Mind Management is a broken person, to one extent or another. They often seem to be broken in some ways by the time they're recruited to Mind Management at a young age, as being so very different from their family and peers would be profoundly alienating. Mind Management reshapes them and gives them purpose, but in doing so emotionally breaks them in other ways, as a result of the often very dirty work they do in service of the organization. Sometimes, their own abilities break them.  Sometimes, when Mind Management has no more use for them, it gets rid of them (one way or another).

Without giving away too much, Meru's connections to Mind Management have had a profoundly damaging effect on her life. Her ability to overcome this is shown effectively throughout the story, as she demonstrates her strength and determination despite the damage done to her (but the difficulties and struggles in her life can be directly traced back to her connections to Mind Management). Henry Lyme is Mind Management's greatest and most powerful Agent, and a master manipulator of others. Eventually, even he starts to mistrust his own reality. Even he feels manipulated and doesn't know if the feelings of those around him are real, with devastating consequences for him and others.  Another character's ability to predict the future essentially causes all of the relationships in his life to lose value. He knows exactly what a person wants, what they're thinking; imagine the boredom that would set in, and the potential consequences of that boredom.

Moreover, in addition to the individual problems of the Agents, Kindt shows ultimately that the people who run Mind Management don't necessarily have any idea what they're doing, both when it comes to the macro-level consequences of of manipulating society, and the individual consequences of training incredibly powerful, unstable people to undertake highly problematic work. If the lives of the Agents seem like collateral damage? They are. And if that makes you uncomfortable? It should.

Mind MGMT is not an easy read (and to really get the story, you should go to the beginning). However, for those looking for a visually unique, engrossing and rewarding story which will make you think about all the ways in which your mind is being toyed with, it's a must-read.

Mind MGMT #27 will be out on Wednesday, October 29th, from your favorite local comic shop or on the Dark Horse Digital App. The first 18 issues are available in trade form across three volumes.

* Full disclosure, I haven't read every book currently on sale.

** You know, Busytown, Lowly Worm, etc.

Rob Kirby Interviews Cara Bean


Meet Cara Bean. She's an ambitious, thirty-something artist, entranced enough with the comics medium and its possibilities that she managed to wrangle a year's sabbatical from her job as a high school art teacher in Massachusetts to journey to Gainesville, Florida to the Sequential Artists Workshop (SAW). There she will further her craft and learn, learn, learn until sometime next summer. Though Cara is a pal of mine and I may be prejudiced, I’ll state with confidence that she is going to become better known in the alt-comics scene in the months and years ahead, which she deserves. A few years ago I became an instant fan upon reading her first minicomic, Squeaky Noises, with its distinctive blend of surreal whimsy and melancholy (plus a dog and a squirrel as the main characters). Her subsequent minis, among them Ms. Bean's Art Class and the 2 issues to date of Gorilla Year confirmed her gift for crafting creative, warmly funny and humane stories. I emailed her questions over the course of several weeks this fall to find out about her progress at SAW, about her new book, and engage in a little bit of banter about this and that. I very much appreciate her willingness to take time out from her intensive studies to answer my insistent, nagging questions.  

Rob Kirby: Hey Cara! What's up? How are things going in Florida? Have you gotten
 into the swing of things yet?
 
Cara Bean: Hello, Rob! Florida is vastly different from my normal New England habitat. It has far more rainstorms and insects that I had anticipated.  I am currently living in a cottage on a cow farm by a lake.  It is right outside of Gainesville, where I'm studying comics at the Sequential Artists Workshop (SAW).  In the evenings my windows are filled with newts and frogs that are attracted to the light inside.  Last night I watched a small frog ingest a moth that was around the same size.  I couldn't help but be proud of him. 
 
I am currently three weeks into the program and learning so much.  We have four regular instructors that we meet with weekly and will have various guest teachers that visit for workshops.  I'm pleased to be doing assignments that are already helping me with creative story structure, world and character building, human anatomy, and comics history.  I'm still kind of amazed that I'm here and not in my usual role as a high school art teacher.  It feels really good to be focusing on my own work right now.
  
Kirby: That all sounds so cool. BTW, I love the project you put up on Festival Season this week (Cara drew comics in the style of other cartoonists who have inspired her) and look forward to seeing more. Do you have a largish project to complete during your residency there, or are you just going with the flow for now and doing whatever assignments are meted out?

Bean: Thanks! That was the very first project that we were assigned. The objective was to draw seven diary comics and utilize the techniques of other cartoonists. This gave me permission to steal freely and proved to be a helpful creative exercise. It seems like common sense that drawing from the work of other artists is educational.  But it’s challenging to be motivated to try this outside of a classroom environment.  It helps to have an experienced and encouraging mentor, as well as firm deadlines. Tom Hart is providing the perfect environment thus far.

I’m noticing that the classes at SAW are structured in a similar way to my classroom at the high school.  First we complete many small skill-building exercises, then later we’re given time to pursue more in-depth projects.  I hope to be very busy and complete higher quality comics this year.  Some of them will be a continuation of my series like Gorilla Year and Ms. Bean's Art Class.  Other projects will likely come out of the work that I’m doing with the teachers/cartoonists at SAW. (I recently created a caterpillar character that I’m having a lot of fun with in Kurt Wolfgang's class.)  In addition to this, I have some talented cartoonist pals who have expressed interest in collaborating with me.  I'm excited to find out how much I can accomplish in one uninterrupted year.

  Fun Fact: Barefoot Justine is a very cool teacher at SAW.  She is teaching our class how to draw human anatomy convincingly.  Her homework involves drawing the human figure over and over again in many different poses.  It can be tedious, but this discipline is clearly necessary to improve skills. Our recent homework assignment was to draw three different scenes that are inspired by 1950's pulp fiction magazines and novel covers.  For example, one of the prompts is to draw a scene involving Nazis, murderous crabs, and 1950's underwear – we’re encouraged to let our imaginations wander.  This is a naughty, playful task that allows students to practice dynamic, narrative anatomy.  Justine is holding our attention by encouraging an indulgence in lurid, cheesy, sleazy subject matter. She asks us to experiment with gender roles and power play in our sketches.

Kirby: I’m glad you mentioned Gorilla Year. You know, I recommend that comic (two issues to date) to people all the time, but it’s sort of hard to describe.  How do you describe it?

Bean: Gorilla Year is also difficult for me to describe!  I think this is because it has a meandering subconscious vibe to it.  I like how Rob Clough described it: "an amusing stream-of-consciousness series wherein the author gets involved in a series of gorilla-related situations."  My initial inspiration for the series is taken from my graduate school experience at the University of Washington in Seattle when I was in my early twenties.  During this time I would visit the gorilla exhibit at the Woodland Park Zoo to draw.  I have always been an animal freak, and become preoccupied with all furry creatures in my company.  However, after 2001, my sketchbooks show that gorilla imagery became the most dominant piece of my visual vocabulary.  Later when I fell madly in love with comics, I began absorbing any gorilla imagery in fiction that I could find. (I especially enjoy finding gorilla cover art from the Silver and Golden Age of comics.)
 
I look back on it now through the filter of having been through therapy, I can acknowledge that this series is an attempt to understand my younger, confused self.  This is the emotional spark that motivated me to draw this series. This time period was a tipping point for me in being overwhelmed with anxiety and depression.  As someone who works with young people in my current life, I am often reaching out and trying to empathize with their inner suffering.  I like working with troubled kids because I was pretty mixed up as a teen and especially during my twenties.  In some respects I guess that creating Gorilla Year is a way for me to reconnect with a time when I couldn't articulate my feelings.  I'm trying to give a voice to that awkward, angry girl. At the same time I'm having fun letting my imagination wander though my emotional memory in an experimental way.  (I am afraid this might sound stupid, writing about drawing is hard.)



Kirby: No, no that all makes perfect sense! You know, I can’t help but notice that whenever you start to talk about your art and comics, you always incorporate teaching/learning into the mix. You are a born teacher!

Which brings us to your new book, 20 Ways to Draw a Mustache (Quarry Books, 2014). Can you tell us a little bit about how that came about, and the process of working on it?

Bean: This drawing book was my first time doing work for hire.  It was exciting, uncharted territory for me.  This project came to me by chance when the editor contacted me after noticing my artwork online. The publisher, Quarry Books, has a 20 Ways to Draw series and I’m one of several artists that filled a book with examples of how to render things in an assortment of ways. My book focuses on drawing characters, expressions, and accessories. This project was something I was doing last fall and winter while teaching full-time and drawing my own comics. I would meditate on one topic at a time and draw it as many ways as I could. Topics included mullets, eyes, mouths, hands, legs, braids, and even bums. I would send my work to the editor and she would usually encourage me simplify my drawing style. The project required me to work mostly with basic geometric shapes and lines.  It was good practice for my cartooning.  Hopefully my greatest enemies will see this book in stores and know that they have not defeated me!



Kirby: I have a hard time believing you could have any enemies, Cara. But you have just now revealed to an unsuspecting world one of the great motivators of all artists: being good enough and/or successful enough to make those we despise GREEN with envy - basically, to CRUSH THEM.

Moving on, I wanted to ask you about your friendships with other cartoonists. You and Jason Viola seem especially close. Did you stare at him at this year’s SPX? If that has not yet become a tradition I think that it should.

Bean: It is true that Jason Viola is indeed my very dear friend. We have tabled together at lots of comic book conventions over the past several years.  That requires traveling together, and sitting in tight quarters for many consecutive hours.  If it is a slow day and our conversations run out, I might find myself looking into the void of Jason's face as he gazes into a crowd of people uninterested in our comics.  I stare through Jason's being and into my own oblivion.  I contemplate how we have become frail ghosts of the cartoonists who created the comics on the table. (Keep in mind, this internal melodrama will end as soon as someone picks up my book Squeaky Noises and begins showing me pictures of their dog.)

In truth, friends are the riches within independent comics. Making and reading comics has introduced me to really cool friends that have changed my life. (You included, Rob!) There are compassionate, fun, and intelligent people in comics worth knowing. My experience has been that the independent comics community is a safe, welcoming place to dwell. Being open to new friends and supporting each other has lead to good things. I've found people who value my opinion and nurture my ideas when they are delicate and premature. I have also have cartoonist friends who volunteer to visit my classroom and mentor my students.  Comics people are generally good people, well... except for the few jerky people who might be reading this.  My enemies!  You know who you are.

Rob: This is good stuff, Cara. When you talk about the void of Jason’s face and your own oblivion I feel the strangest sense of camaraderie and déjà vu. I also recall the time I tabled with you and the woman to our right thought she was far too fabulous to, you know, talk to us or even try to be nice. I’d never encountered a snotty tabling neighbor before. Tabling is a funny business. It takes it out of me. But I always come back for more, you know?



At any rate, what was the inspiration for your new zine collaboration with Jason’s wife, Rebecca Viola (w/ Jason), Heart Farts?  It’s a charmer.

Bean: Heart Farts is a mini comic that is a collection of some of odds and ends of our sideline comics. Jason assembled it as a mix of his wife Rebecca's writing, his art, and my comics.  I've spent a lot of time with the talented Violas and consider myself fortunate that they have adopted me as a friend.  Heart Farts somewhat encapsulates the conversations of our friendship.  We like talking about psychology, dreams, mindfulness, teaching, and pets.  

Kirby: That’s all much classier than talking about other people! Being in Florida, do you miss your friends back home? Or are you just too busy and/or making new friends there?

Bean: Wouldn't it be horrible if I decided that my friends, students and family were all dead to me now for the sake of comics? What if I told everyone to burn this bridge of beans because I'm like a cartooning nun, monk, or uni-bomber?  Luckily I didn't have to do this because my loved ones have been generously supportive toward me in this pursuit.  I am really enamored with my friends and family and desperately hope that they don't forget about me. My school, friends, boyfriend, students, nieces and nephew have allowed me to disappear in order to do this even though we miss each other a lot. Like most cartoonists, I have powerful introverted tendencies and relish having big chunks of time to myself.  I am human though, I need love.  My new family at SAW does not replace my hometown folks, but these people are great. Everyone I've met connected to SAW has been friendly, open, and likable.

Kirby: Cara Bean, answer me this, the Totally Random Stupid Question™: Boxers or Briefs?

Bean: Boxers if we are talking about dogs, but briefs if we are talking about underwear.

Kirby: Is there anything left that you’d like to say to those reading this? Any advice? Dream interpretations, warnings?  Or even just a plug for upcoming projects?

Bean: Advice: Cartoonists should support each other and the younger generation. Keep the fire burning for yourself and others.
 
Dream Interpretation: When I go to bed hungry, sometimes I dream about eating a bowl full of chocolate frosting. No cake necessary.
 
Warning: If you are teaching a workshop, don't let kids use your own personal art supplies. They will break or steal the good stuff.

Plugs: Festival Season: http://www.festivalseason.org/
 
My Website: badgigi.com

 20 Ways To Draw a Mustache:
http://www.amazon.com/Mustache-Other-Funny-Faces-Features/dp/1592539203

 Sequential Artists Workshop:
http://sequentialartistsworkshop.org/wordpress/
 
Images from up top: Ms. Cara Bean, holding up a drawing by Mr. Dan Moynihan; a drawing done at SAW; another drawing done at SAW; the cover of Gorilla World #1; cover of 20 Ways to Draw a Mustache; Cara stares at Jason Viola at SPX in 2013; excerpt from Cara’s story (in collaboration with Sally Carson) in TABLEGEDDON (2013). All images ©

Friday, October 24, 2014

Planet Gigantic #0 and #1


Planet Gigantic #0 and #1
Story and letters by Eric Grissom
Art and cover by David Halvorson
Action Lab Entertainment

Planet Gigantic is an entertaining new all-ages science fiction series from Action Lab Comics, with a classic 50's sci-fi feel to it. Issue #0 tells the origin story for two of the main characters, and issue #1 contains two stories, "Planetfall" and "Lyana the Seeker."  These are good stories for school-age kids and up, and are engaging, mysterious and fun.

Issue #0 isn't necessary for enjoyment of the series, but provides some helpful background that is alluded to more indirectly in issue #1. The Wunderkind Corporation (great name for a futuristic company) genetically engineers two children, siblings Yuri and Valentina*.  Valentina has the ability to manipulate gravitational fields, and Yuri has power over electromagnetic energy. They're sent into deep space to collect and analyze mineral samples, aided by an android called MOTHER. The story jumps ahead 15 years, where Yuri and Valentina are doing analysis outside their ship when them come under attack from space spiders(!).  Using their skill and abilities, they're able to return to their ship, but it's heavily damaged in the attack.  They're going to have to set down...on a GIGANTIC PLANET.

The "Planetfall" story in Issue #1 picks up immediately thereafter. It begins with a beautiful, pastoral scene, the tranquility of which is disrupted with falling space debris (the Wunderkind ship). Yuri and Valentina survive the landing, but MOTHER does not (however they're able to save what appears to be her CPU). The siblings begin wandering towards a castle in the distance, only to find a rock monster battling a group of what appear to be soldiers. The twins intervene to subdue the monster, and are greeted by Queen Neva of Woodmere (the realm in which they've landed, and one of the realms of Planet Gigantic). Rather than thank them, she takes them prisoner, and after a brief struggle they are subdued.

"Lyana the Seeker" introduces, well, Lyana the Seeker, one of the Seekers who serve Queen Ina, ruler of the skies. She is the greatest of the Seekers, brilliant acrobats for whom nothing is impossible. She's on a mission (flying on her winged lion Syd) to retrieve an ancient artifact known as the Eye of the Sun. She makes her way into the tomb of Zon the Betrayer (essentially a floating skeleton that has formed islands around it over time). Using her intelligence and skill, Lyana enters the tomb inside Zon's skull (whoever he or she was). There she discovers something surprising, but eventually (by using both her skills and compassion), she gets the artifact she was seeking.

There's a lot to enjoy in the first few issues of this series. What's clear at the outset is that the creative team is setting this up to be a big (or, GIGANTIC) anthology series where they can tell many different stories, which might intersect at some point. As it's been introduced, there are seven realms on Planet Gigantic, and we've only seen two of them. So, there's potential to expand the series and do a lot of world building.

The art here is bright, dynamic and engaging.  Many of the elements of the series, from the cover to issue #1 to the design of Yuri and Valentina's space-suits, is evocative of classic 1950's science fiction magazines, but with a modern twist (like digital readouts inside their helmets).  Halvorson has an attractive, painted watercolor style here with big, vivid colors well-suited for the subject matter.  Explosions (of which there are a lot, particularly in "Planetfall") are rendered with jarringly bright colors, and some excellent sound effects lettering from Grissom.  Halvorson's lines are dynamic and rough, as in certain places (such as when debris streaks down from the heavens), he goes outside the panel lines. This works nicely to show how disruptive and destructive the falling debris is, compared to the peaceful scene before.

The human (or humanoid) characters are rendered in an exaggerated, angular, cartoon style. In farther-away shots, the character's features are rendered with only small details, but still very expressively (it reminds me a little of Calvin & Hobbes meets Darwyn Cooke, at least in the expressive facial acting). The action and fight sequences in this story are drawn in a big- exciting way. Valentina and Yuri's powers are rendered nicely in those sequences, as her gravitational powers are given a circular effect, and his electromagnetic powers are visualized with something more like a Kirby crackle.  In "Lyana the Seeker," Lyana spends a lot of time in flight, and Halvorson does a great job of portraying the openness and sense of movement in those scenes.

These are compelling stories, particularly the tale of Yuri and Valentina. The siblings only have each other, they're stranded on an alien world, and their first encounter with the locals hasn't gone so well. They've got their special abilities, but it's clear the planet possesses significant threats as well. We don't know so much about their individual personalities, but from the #0 issue it seems like Yuri has been getting bored with their stated mission of collecting and analyzing mineral samples (and really, can you blame him?) but Valentina wants them to stay focused on the mission and is a little more cautious.  Thus far, the story has demonstrated that when they work together, they're very powerful and difficult to stop. I assume that as the story goes along we'll see more of their distinct personalities beyond Yuri being the fun and daring one. The story has already shown that Yuri very much needs Valentina as much as she needs him.  Lyana is also a compelling character that kids should instantly like and relate to. Apart from the fact that she rides a flying (and talking) lion, she's brave, clever and resourceful.

I'm often on the lookout for comics that I can read with my kids, looking for both for appropriateness of subject matter, and even more importantly, something they'll find interesting enough to read. I'm happy to say that Planet Gigantic succeeds on all those counts.  There's enough drama, humor, action and danger to engage bigger kids, but not so much as to scare away the littler ones. You'll enjoy it too.

* Nice nods to Yuri Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova, Soviet space pioneers.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Kingdom/Order Part 1

Written and Illustrated by Reid Psaltis
Print Edition Self-Published
Digital Edition Published by Alternative Comics
Webcomic Edition via Study Group

An ordinary guy wearing an ordinary tie looks to have an ordinary life. But as soon becomes clear, he's got a strange affiliation with the birds and beasts that finds him driving away from the city and into the woods in the first part of an intriguing, richly illustrated story from Reid Psaltis.

The first thing that really stands out to you when paging through Kingdom/Order is the artwork. Not every creator is able to switch easily between wooded glens and urban banality, but Psaltis is able to make it work. Opening in the forest, with the sounds of creatures dominating the landscape, we aren't quite sure what's going on, other than there will be a focus on the idea of sound and how the main character, an everyman wouldn't be recognizable in a police lineup, reacts to them.

This brings me to the second clever thing about Kingdom/Order, namely the fact that each animal is given their own distinctive image for speaking, none of which are at all decipherable by the reader. We see that animals are going to be important, but they aren't--at least not in this stage--going to be speaking to us or understandable. Later, we come to realize we aren't going to get human speech, either, and that the man, instead of focusing on the humans around him, prefers to listen to what the animals are saying, from pigeons to rats to toads. Hell, even leaves themselves start to "talk" to the man, assuming we're in his point of view. (That's not 100% explicit, but I believe that to be true.)

It makes for a strange atmosphere, and when combined with the heavy use of black ink and panels within panels, there's a definite sense of the unreal, even though just about everything we see (save an expanding hole underneath the subway) is perfect normal. A good example is roughly to the right of this paragraph, where we see an overarching page scene (the subway), with three smaller panels depicting the main action (the man discovering the hole and getting pulled in).

I really like how this effect allows Psaltis to set the scene with a larger image and still provide extra scenes. He sometimes does this over half or even a third of a page, too, which again makes the whole story feel like it has extra depth.

Psaltis' art style is extremely realistic throughout, with most objects receiving quite a bit of detail, like the contours of a pigeon's feathers or the tiles on the wall of the subway station. When not fully fleshed out, they're usually silhouetted in black, but it's still clear what the animal or object is supposed to be. What I found interesting was that most of the human world objects are given more white space and light, while anything to do with the animals, particularly in the woods, is shown mostly in black, with white being used to create details and reverse shading. It's a great effect, and again gives this comic a lot to recommend to a reader who can appreciate the art and craft that went into its design.

Most of this review has focused on the artistic side of things, because it's a bit hard at this point to know the overall story, since this is just the first part (of three planned sections). We understand that the man has a connection to animals, but what he'll do next is as much a mystery to him as it is to us by the end of this section. For some, that may be a bit unsatisfying, as there really isn't any resolution here; Psaltis is just stopping things at a breaking point, but it's not a dramatic one or a revelation. If that tends to bother you, or you like to read complete stories, it may be better to wait for more of the story to be completed. Right now, Part 2 is going live on Study Group, so it looks on pace to finish, always a good thing (and not to be taken lightly, given how many minis I've read where I never got to see the end).

I immediately got behind this one because of the visuals, and I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes. This one is definitely on the strange/mystical side, and anyone who enjoys comics of that type definitely need to check it out.

You can get it digitally from Alternative here.
Here's the link to Part 1 on Study Group
And here's Reid's website

Zenith: Phase 1

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Steve Yeowell
Published by 2000 AD

While best known for publishing Judge Dredd, the long-running British comics anthology 2000 AD frequently publishes stories within different continuities. Zenith is one of these offerings, and it's also the first long-form comics work of Grant Morrison, better known as the writer behind the amazing modern relaunch of the Doom Patrol. (And some other stuff. This reviewer only knows about the Doom Patrol.)

The titular superhero is the offspring of two other superheroes, members of the government-bred team Cloud 9, which was itself created in the moments after World War II in order to protect Britain from rogue Nazi supermen. (Its previous safeguard, a superhuman named Maximan, was blown up along with his Nazi equivalent by an American atomic bomb. As one does.) Cloud 9, however, came of age in the swinging sixties, and the ones who don't disappear become hippies and malcontents, eventually losing their powers along with their ideals. The second-generation Zenith is himself a Billy Idol-esque rock star who uses his powers as mere stage pyrotechnics. But when Britain is again threatened by crypto-Nazis performing the Ritual of the Nine Angles (Grant Morrison, everybody!), will Zenith have the strength to put aside his fame and get the remaining members of Cloud 9 back together for one last fight?

As the story goes on, readers learn that just as Germany hasn't lost its Nazis, the surviving Cloud 9ers haven't lost their powers. The team includes Peter St. John, a mystic turned Tory politician, an alcoholic Welshman known as the Red Dragon, and mild-mannered journalist Ruby Fox as Voltage. Together with Zenith, this very British superhero squad takes on Lovecraftian monstrosities, and if the final act is a bit of a deus ex machina, it can mostly be forgiven. The art is of a standard superhero style, occasionally panning out to a splash page (some of which are in color), but mostly arranged in a typical grid. It's a fun comic, even if the Morrison-isms only come out in dribs and drabs. (Though this reviewer did notice the description of a failed Cloud 9 test baby in the form of a living whirlwind that "rose up in a storm of shapes, speaking in tongues, and simply would not die.")

The real question is, does this hold up? Yes and no. While the story is weird and fast-paced, it's also quite dated, both in the references to eighties culture and in the general style of storytelling. It is clear even without being told that this is a story by a new writer, one obviously influenced by the deconstructionist work of then-revolutionaries Frank Miller and Alan Moore. One gets the feeling that this probably wouldn't have been reprinted (in a deluxe hardcover, no less!) if it hadn't been for Morrison's current cachet.

If you're a diehard Morrison fankid, you'll want this in your collection. Same if you're a huge fan of 2000 AD. But if you're new to either, start elsewhere. Zenith is a history lesson in the early years of both Morrison and deconstructionist comics in general, and can be appreciated as a comic in its own right, but there is weirder and stronger stuff out there by Morrison.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Flowers of Evil


Written and drawn by Shuzo Oshimi
Published by Vertical Inc

It seems to be a pretty common consensus that middle school sucks. It’s a time in which a lot of things change, when you start to come in to who you are and figure out what you enjoy and start to get the vaguest inklings of what you want. It is before you know what is normal, and start to question if you are (even though you’re pretty sure you’re not and that funny feeling you get sometimes or all those stupid pimples make you a freak). Coming of age is a terrifying thing, no matter who you are, or where you’re from. The Flowers of Evil is a bildungsroman in the vein of Palahniuk, exploring self-imposed isolation as well as the societal boundaries of normal and perverse during an emotionally intense time in one’s life, and it does so in a way that is both intellectually and emotionally engaging.

A quiet middle school boy steals his crush’s gym clothes in a fit of emotion, but he is seen by Nakamura, the strange (and somewhat sadistic) girl from his class. She forces him to sign a contract guaranteeing their friendship, threatening to tell his secret should he ever break it. The story is ultimately about loneliness, that singular, sad person who is just a little too awkward, a little too different to make friends easily, and it is meaningful for this reason. Oshimi’s art is excellent – I never found myself confused as to who was who, nor was I ever unclear on what was happening in the story. In particular, I was blown away by his panel layouts. There were several times in the eleven volume series that I found myself simply fascinated by his creative usage of panels and page.

It is often difficult to force oneself to consider not only the circumstances, but personality of someone else. It’s hard to accept that another person’s reality is extremely different from our own, that what they see and what they think will never be exactly the same as what you see and think. Nakamura is a lonely girl, sad and strange. When she is presented with the possibility that she is not alone, that Kasuga is an individual who is unlike the rest of the placated shitbugs that surround her, and may be as different as she is, she takes full advantage of the chance (and him) to finally have a friend. She gets her hopes up, she thinks she may have found what she needed. What both she and Kasuga find, though, is not what either of them expect. It is this dive into the nature of solitude, feeling and filling that need to have someone else who is like you, as well as the reality/relatability of Nakamura’s character, that makes The Flowers of Evil such a powerful book.

This is not a manga for everyone. I, personally, loved it. But there are several elements that may turn some people off. The nature and point of the story, combined with the age of the characters as well as the implied (but never explicit) sexuality and perversion, may make this an uncomfortable read for some. However, I feel The Flowers of Evil tackles a topic that needs to be discussed, and does so in a way that is tasteful and engaging. If you can appreciate a coming of age story that actively discusses all of the weird stuff that happens at that time (in a rather Palahniuk-esque way), then The Flowers of Evil should be in your to-read stack now.